Shelby G. Floyd
“Hilltops of Glory” is a beautiful song that we have just sung in a great way. We are truly blessed with good song leaders and singing because everybody joins in and sings out with some volume. That is not the case in some places today.
DECORATION DAY – MEMORIAL DAY
I was trying to think of what would be a good topic to preach on during the Memorial Day holiday. And so after some reflection I thought to myself, why not just preach on “Memorial Day.” It is wonderful to hear all of the patriotic music the past few days? It is great to see the marching bands and the marching soldiers with all of their patriotic flags. That is refreshing because it demonstrates a lot of our citizens still love our country and everything that it has stood for down through these centuries. We all appreciate the sacrifices that have been made that we might be free. Therefore we are able to enjoy all the blessings that God has showered down upon us for over 200 years.
And sometimes people do not really think about the meaning of Memorial Day. Sometimes we get so involved in family outings, going to the race and other events, and we don’t think much about the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf. But those things are also good. It is wonderful that we can combine love of family and love of country and be together and enjoy each other’s company.
As I was driving past the cemetery on Main Street in Greenwood this week I thought of my father, mother and my brother who are buried there. I don’t drive into the cemetery except maybe once or twice each year to view their burial place. It is not always necessary for us to go to the burial place of our loved ones in order to remember them! We can remember them anytime that thought crosses our mind. And it is good that we can remember those who have fought and died on behalf of our country. And that is the purpose of Memorial Day—to remember. It is mainly designed for those who have died for our country in the many wars that have been fought in our history.
And Memorial Day started out about 1868. After the Civil War was over there were ladies in the south and in the north that started decorating the graves of the soldiers with flowers who had died in this awful conflict. And of course there followed a debate as to who started Decoration Day first – the north or the South? But it doesn’t make any difference because today both the north and the south observe the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. And all over the country many of those graves are still being decorated with flowers on Memorial Day.
One of the most popular flowers used to decorate those graves is the red poppy. The red poppy is symbolic of the blood of all our great patriots who died for our country. And I think these words by Morena Michael portray the reason we remember them on Memorial Day:
We cherish too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
These poppies grow wild out in many fields, like Flanders Field. And they have become the symbol of all that precious blood that has been shed for America and our liberties. And we need always to remember the blood that was shed for each of us. And let us remember those great watchwords we have heard for over 200 years:
Remember the Alamo.
Remember Pearl Harbor.
Yes, it is good to remember all of those sacrifices that have been made. And now I have said all of that in order to bring us to the main point of our lesson today. Our Lord Jesus Christ also said “remember me!” Or “do this in remembrance of me.” We remember a lot of things. We remember our graduation from school. We remember our birthdays. We remember our anniversary date. We remember the love, affection, devotion and all of the good things that brought you together and kept you together throughout your marriage until death separates you. It is good to remember these things. Memory is a wonderful thing. Jesus said, “Remember me.”
THE LAST PASSOVER SUPPER
And that brings us to the subject of “The Last Supper.” We all remember the famous painting of the Last Supper. A more accurate title would be “The Last Passover Supper!” Remember the story? Because of a great famine about 75 of God’s people came down into Egypt. And Joseph one of the sons of Jacob placed God’s people out in the best place in Egypt in the land of Goshen. This was the most fertile, prosperous area in Egypt. And they did great, they survived, they became wealthy and they had all the good things they could possibly want. But after the death of Joseph, there arose a King who did not remember the good that Joseph had done for their country. Out of fear he reminded his people that the Israelites were multiplying very rapidly. He feared that they would join the enemies of Egypt and overtake the country. Therefore they made slaves out of the Israelites. They had to make bricks and even had to go find their own straw to mix with the clay. But their quota was not reduced.
The Israelites reached a point where they could not take it any longer. They cried out to God again and again to deliver them from their bondage. And God sent a deliverer. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, across the Red Sea and marched them toward the Promised Land. Later after they had been in the land of Canaan for a long time and were threatened by Babylonia, they wanted to go back down into Egypt where they had escaped their bondage. God sent Jeremiah the prophet who warned them to stay where they were and not to go back to Egypt. But back to Egypt they went. Oh the irony! It took them 40 years to reach the land of Canaan. This was because of unbelief and disobedience. Finally they went into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua and then God established their Memorial of deliverance.
It was called the Passover. Why was it given this name? Because while they were in Egypt God brought the death Angel over the land, and every firstborn man and animal in whose home was not painted with the blood of a perfect Lamb on the framework of the door of their house perished.
And God instructed the Israelites that they should keep the Passover supper on every anniversary of this great event. God specified the items and the specifics as to how they were to keep this Memorial meal. There would be the perfect Lamb, unleavened bread, fruit of the vine, and bitter herbs to remind them of their slavery. Moses reminded the Israelites to “be careful that you do not forget the Lord …” (Deuteronomy 6:12). And the wonderful thing about this great event is that the Jews observed this for 1500 years exactly as God directed. And they were observing this Memorial meal even in the days of Jesus Christ.
And then we have the record of Christ eating The Last Passover Supper with his disciples as recorded in Matthew 26:17-19. Let us take note of the record and the preparation for the eating of this last Passover Supper. During the last week of his life before Christ was crucified, Jesus was staying at Bethany, some two miles East of Jerusalem on the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. We do not know exactly in whose home Jesus stayed, but I have a reasonable idea that it was the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They were the dearest of his friends. We all love our good friends. And we have some friends that are closer than others to us. One old preacher years ago in Indianapolis said, “Everybody is my friend. I have friendly friends and I have unfriendly friends.” When it comes our time to die, we want to be close to our good friends and family.
During this interval Jesus called two of his disciples, Peter and John, and gave them these instructions. I want you to go into the town, to a certain house and you tell the owner of that house, my master wants you to furnish a room where he and his disciples can keep the Passover. It seems that it was customary for the wealthy people in Jerusalem to prepare an extra room where visitors from outside Palestine could keep the Passover. This man agreed to prepare the extra room.
Peter and John found the items that were specified in observing the Passover meal. They would find a perfect Lamb, fruit of the vine, unleavened bread and some bitter herbs. Everything then was prepared for Jesus and his disciples to eat the last Passover Supper. Remember the Jews had been doing this for 1500 years and they were very exacting in their observance of this Memorial meal. We observe from the history of God’s dealings with his people in the Old Testament that when he tells someone to do something he expects them to obey. And when he tells them how they are to carry it out he expects them to be very exact—neither to add to nor detract! And so it is today. We are to do what God tells us to do, in the way that God tells us to do, at the time he tells us to do when he is that specific. When he gives us a generic command he leaves it up to us to figure out how to carry it out. The disciples prepared everything exactly as prescribed by the Law of Moses.
When it was time for Jesus to meet with his disciples and observe this last Passover Memorial meal, the biblical text states that he had a “double desire” to eat this meal before he died on the cross:
14 When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. 15 Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”
Jesus had a “double desire” to eat this Passover with his disciples. Other translations have worded it like this: “with desire I have desired,” and “double desire.” We should have a “double desire” to attend worship and observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday morning! A-Men! And it is with desire that we should desire to be here on the Lord’s Day to partake of the Lord’s Supper. After Jesus expressed his eager desire to eat this last Passover Supper he indicated that he would be partaking of a new Memorial Meal when the kingdom of God would be established: “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:17-18 NKJV).
THE LORD’S SUPPER ESTABLISHED
While eating the last Passover Supper with his apostles, Jesus took this occasion to establish a more significant supper to be observed by all Christians. Thus Jesus established his own Memorial before he died. What kind of Memorial do all of us want after we die? Personally, I just want a simple, flat marker on the top of the ground. That will identify where my mortal remains can be found. That will be good enough. My real memorial will be the life I have lived and the work done in the church of Christ.
This memorial is often called “the Lord’s Supper.” Sometimes it is referred to as, “breaking bread,” “communion,” and “fellowship” or “joint participation.” During this meal Jesus said,
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Jesus used two simple elements when he established his Memorial. There is something beautiful about simplicity. We live in such a complicated world and everything we do seems to become more difficult. Man likes to take things that are simple and make them difficult. Jesus used these two simple elements to portray how we would remember him. Jesus made it simple for all of us to remember him. What were these two simple elements that Jesus used for his Memorial?
First he presented the disciples with “unleavened bread” and “fruit of the vine.” Those two simple elements can be purchased just about anywhere such as Bible bookstores and our supermarkets. As we have visited other congregations we noticed that some of the ladies in the congregation had made the unleavened bread. In former times this is the way the Lord’s Supper was prepared in most places. Here is a recipe for making unleavened bread from the Gospel Advocate as recorded in 1866:
“Taking the best white flour, I mix it with pure sweet milk, with the cream still on, putting in nothing else whatsoever. The cream that is in the milk is sufficient shortening to prevent toughness, yet it is not greasy and does not bake so hard as when lard and water are used. It should be baked rather slowly and should not remain in the oven long enough to become hard” (Gospel Advocate, 1886).
The second element used in the Lord’s Supper is “the fruit of the vine.” Nowhere in the New Testament is “the cup” referred to as “wine.” The word wine (oinos) is used in the New Testament to refer to both fermented and unfermented fruit of the vine. Therefore one must look at the context to know whether it refers to one or the other.
The fruit of the vine and the unleavened bread are symbolic. It is very impressive that God gave us these simple elements to remember him. These elements are simple, beautiful and readily available to everyone everywhere. They are available to the poor as well as the rich. No one can be denied remembering their Lord because of their station in life.
This Memorial meal is symbolic in the sense that we are taking the Lord into our very spiritual being. In the physical world we become what we eat. Spiritually, this Memorial meal suggests the same action in taking Christ into our being. By eating the unleavened bread and drinking the fruit of the vine, in a symbolic way we are eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus Christ the son of God:
“Jesus said to them, I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”
Some teach that when we take the Lord’s Supper that we are literally eating and drinking the body and blood of the Lord. This statement means spiritually, symbolically, you are taking the Lord, his teachings, his example, his word, and his promises into the very fiber of your being. To eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus literally cannot be the case. Jesus was still standing there when he made the statement in Matthew 26:28-31. He was in his body and the blood was flowing through his veins. Therefore Christ was not using those words in a literal but rather a symbolic way. Jesus is simply saying this is my Memorial by which you can remember me.
But how often should we observe this Memorial meal? What is the frequency with which every Christian should partake of the body and blood of Jesus? Some in the religious community today are telling us that you can take the Lord’s Supper quarterly, daily, yearly or whenever you want to do. Many people today are changing things to fit their own selfish lifestyle. Some churches are observing the Lord’s Supper on Saturday night in order for people to sleep in on Sunday morning and then carry out their other activities of the day. Let us look at some historical evidence as to the frequency of taking the Lord’s Supper.
Justin Martyr who lived about 140 A.D., which was only about 40 years after the last apostle died had something to say about communion:
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place…. When our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the President in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.”
A well-known preacher by the name of John Wesley stated these words about remembering the Lord around his Memorial meal: “I also advise the elders to administer the supper of the Lord on every Lord’s Day.”– Letter from Bristol England and read in Baltimore, Maryland, December 24, 1784.
E. A. Elam, one of the preachers in the early 1900s taught: “the passages in the New Testament sealed by Christ’s blood teach the church to assemble on the first day of the week for the worship of God teach also that the supper was observed on that day.”
Now we do not rely on the mere words of men. When Jesus established his Memorial he stated to his disciples explicitly that he would not eat with them anymore until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Matthew 26:26-30).
When did the church or the kingdom of God have its beginning? Acts two records the beginning of the church or the kingdom of God. Isaiah two, Daniel two, Joel two, merge and are fulfilled in Acts two! The events that took place in Acts chapter two occurred on the Jewish holiday called Pentecost. Of those who heard Peter’s great sermon, 3000 were convicted and asked what they were required to do. The record reveals how they responded and what they did in worship: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about 3000 were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:41-42).
How often did they take the Lord’s Supper? The text says they were steadfast. But how steadfast or often did they take the Lord’s Supper? The text does not say! All this verse teaches us is that they were consistent and steadfast. They were not spasmodic, but periodic. Jesus when he established his Memorial said “as often as you do this you do this in remembrance of me.” How often are we to do this Jesus? He didn’t tell us how often! This simply means that we must consult the rest of the New Testament revelation to find out how often they observed this memorial.
We are not left in doubt. In this same book of Acts of apostles we have a window into the worship of a New Testament congregation. It was the church in the city of Troas. Paul was on one of his evangelistic journeys. He had six or seven young men traveling along with him. It is a good thing when younger people can have an older mentor who can teach them everything they have learned in a lifetime. I have learned a tremendous amount from older preachers that I have known and heard during my preaching career. I have always respected the message that I have heard from the older preachers from the time that I was a young boy. I took notes on every preacher that I heard and I still do that. Paul had these traveling companions who were soaking in every word that fell from his lips and every action that he took in serving the Lord.
And when it was time for the church to meet, the Scripture says, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight” (Acts 20:7). One translation says that Paul kept talking “on and on!” Perhaps Paul did this because he was going to leave the next day and had a lot to say in such a short time. All preachers do that sometimes.
But the point we make here is the frequency in which they came together to break bread. Scripture says they came together upon “the first day of the week.” The text does not say they came together upon “a” first day of the week but upon “the” first day of the week. “The” is a definite article and indicates that they came together every first day of the week. We celebrate “the” fourth day of July. The definite article “the” means that we celebrate every year on the fourth day of July. So it was with the early church in meeting together to break bread or observe the communion.
The weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper can also be established by “necessary inference.” We shall state an induction of the facts and then everyone can draw the obvious conclusion.
1. Christians are commanded to eat the Lord’s Supper by both Christ and Paul (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11:17-29, 33-36).
2. Christians are commanded also to assemble together (Hebrews 10:25).
3. But we are told in the Scriptures that they ate the Lord’s Supper when they assembled together (1 Corinthians 11:17-21, 28, 33).
4. We are also informed that they assembled to eat the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:33).
5. They assembled however on the first day of every week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
6. The commands of Paul were the commands of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:37).
7. Paul taught the same thing in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17).
8. Paul delivered unto the Corinthian church what he had received from the Lord:
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat;[a] this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
Therefore when we look at each one of these statements, by an induction of the facts we draw the conclusion by necessary inference that the disciples met together upon the first day of every week–Sunday–the Lord’s Day–to observe the Lord’s Supper.
The evidence that has been presented cannot be refuted. To remember our Lord in his suffering and sacrifice is something that we all should look forward to every week with joy in our heart.*
Copyright © 2016 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon Sunday morning, May 29, 2016, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 W. Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana.
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street