7.3 The Breaking of Bread
There are times when for all the Bible reading in the world, the sincere prayer, the attendance of meetings- the flame of a true faith burns dim, the fire of real devotion flickers. And there may not be any particular omission or slip in our spiritual lives which is responsible for it; it simply happens. I would imagine every one of us are bound together by an assent to this. It's simply so. Reader and reader and reader, from Africans to the chain of believers strung out through the vastness of Russia, from little Indian congregations to the huge churches of Australia, from reader to writer- we're all bound together in this realization and admission. We hear words, read articles; and sometimes nothing can really reach us, nothing and nobody shakes us any more. And we are in that state of numb indifference more often and more deeply than we might care to admit. I read recently of how the Church of England interviewed people leaving church on Sunday mornings, asking them what they remembered from the sermon. The results were shocking. And when they were asked what was said the week before, or the month before, or how many sermons they remembered in their lives- it was pathetic. And we shouldn't be too complacent. People in the world around us don't remember sermons, and they don't act on them. And with us, for all our listening to and reading of Christian words, are we really better people? In this lies the limitation, it seems to me, of all platform speaking and article writing. We just don't remember, we rarely act- although, thankfully, we sometimes do. But it would be wrong to imply that our forgetfulness is of itself sinful. It would be like saying sneezing was a sin. It's just how we are. But all the same, realising this, we need something to shake us, right to the bone. Thankfully, there is just such a thing, something far beyond human words.
The Word Of The Cross
The blood of Christ is personified as a voice that speaks to us, a better word than the voice of Abel's blood which cried out it's message (Heb. 12:24 NIV; Gen. 4:10). This is after the pattern of how the commanding voice of Yahweh was heard above the blood sprinkled on "the atonement cover of the ark of the Testimony" (Num. 7:89 NIV). The blood of both old and new covenants enjoined the obedience of God's word upon those sprinkled with it (Heb. 9:19,20). The blood and God's word were linked. Rev. 19:13 draws a connection between Christ's title as "the word of God" and the fact His clothing is characterized by the blood of His cross. Hebrews 12:25-29 goes on to draw a parallel between the voice of the Lord's blood and the sound of the earthquake and voice of God when the Old Covenant was inaugurated, a noise that made even Moses exceedingly fear and quake. The voice of the Lord's blood shakes all things, the only thing unshaken by it is the Hope of the Kingdom. When 1 Cor. 1:18 speaks of "the preaching (Gk. 'the word') of the cross", we have the same idea; the word of the cross, the word which is the cross, preaches to us of itself, as we behold it. Paul declared unto Corinth "the testimony of God", i.e. "Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1,2). This message was "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power", "the wisdom of God", "Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:17,23,24; 2:4,5). Indeed, "the cross of Christ" is put for 'the preaching of His cross' (1:17). All these things are parallel. The cross is in itself the testimony and witness of God. This is why, Paul reasons, the power of the cross itself means that it doesn't matter how poorly that message is presented in human words; indeed, such is its excellence and power that we even shouldn't seek to present it with a layer of human 'culture' and verbiage shrouding it. In the context of commenting on His impending death, the Saviour said that He came to bear witness unto the Truth; for this cause He came into the world (Jn. 18:37 cp. 12:27, where the cross is again "this cause" why He came). His death was therefore a witness, a testimony, to the finest and ultimate Truth of God. "The work that the Father gave me to finish...testifies" (Jn. 5:36 NIV); and thus when "it[was] finished" in the death of the cross, the full testimony / witness was spoken and made. When He was lifted up in crucifixion, the beholding Jews knew that His words were truly those of the Father; they saw in the cross God's word spoken through Christ, they saw there the epitome of all the words the Lord spoke throughout His ministry (Jn. 8:28). Beholding the cross and the water and blood that flowed from it, John struggled with the inadequacy of human language: "He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true" (Jn. 19:35). Years later he described himself, in allusion to this, as he "who bare record [in the past tense] of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:2). He had earlier commented that the Spirit, water and blood of the cross bore witness (1 Jn. 5:8). John seems to be saying that the Lord's final death which he had witnessed was the word of God, the testimony of Jesus Christ. And as he had been a faithful witness to this, so now he would be of that further revelation he had now seen in the Apocalypse.
The Lord in Jn. 6 taught parallels between belief in Him leading to eternal life, and His words, blood and body having the same effect. The word of Christ is in that sense His body and blood; it speaks to us in "the preaching (word) of the cross". There are parallels between the manna and the word of Christ; yet also between the manna and His death. His words give life as the manna did (:63), and yet the manna is specifically defined as His flesh, which He gave to bring life (:51). In this context He speaks of gaining life by eating His bread and drinking His blood, in evident anticipation of the memorial meal He was to institute (compare 'the bread which I give is my flesh' with 'this is my body, given for you'). Eating / absorbing His manna, the sacrifice of the cross, is vital to the experience of eternal life now and the future physical receipt of it. Assimilating the spirit and life of His cross into our lives is the vital essence of eternal life; and He foresaw that one of the ways of doing this would be through remembering that cross in the breaking of bread service.
The Lord was "the word made flesh"; having spoken to us through the words of the prophets, God now speaks to us in His Son (Heb. 1:1,2 RV). His revelation in that sense hasn't finished; it is ongoing. Right now, the Lord Jesus speaks with a voice like many waters and a sword of flame- according to John's vision of the Lord's post-resurrection glory. John exalts in the fact they touched and saw "the word of life"; the Lord Jesus personally was and is the voice of God's word. When John writes that "that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you" (1 Jn. 1:3), he doesn't mean to say that he is simply giving a transcript of the Lord's spoken words. He is telling men about the person of Jesus, the man he personally knew, and in doing this he was declaring God's word to them. If the very being of the Lord Jesus was the expression of God's word, it is little to be marvelled at that the cross, being as it is the crystallization of all He was and is, should be in an even more intense sense the voice of God to us. And the same process of the word becoming flesh must be seen in us too. We have the witness within ourselves; for the witness is the word and life of Christ, His eternal life, which lives in us (1 Jn. 4:10,11). The Lord Jesus didn't witness to His word by giving out bits of paper or teaching a catechism; He was, in person, the constant exhibition of the word He witnessed to. And with us too. I'm not saying don't write books, give out literature, speak words from platforms...but the more essential witness to men is that of our lives, that witness which wells up from the word and life of Christ within us. The way God's word is made flesh can be seen in Hosea. His going and marrying a worthless woman is prefaced with the statement that this was the beginning of the word of the Lord (Hos. 1:2). The command to go and marry her was not so much "the word of the Lord" to Israel as his marriage and example of true love to his wife. Hosea's example in his marriage was the word of the Lord to Israel. He made the word flesh. The Lord did this to perfection, and yet like Hosea we in principle must do the same.
The Cross And Self-Examination
As a man or woman seriously contemplates the cross, they are inevitably led to a self-knowledge and self-examination which shakes them to the bone. A number of passages shed light on the way the cross leads to self-examination:
- As Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms, he saw in that beautiful little boy something terrible; for he looked ahead to how His soul would one day be pierced in crucifixion, "that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk. 2:35). The same word is used for how thoughts will be revealed at the judgment (Mt. 10:26; 1 Cor. 3:13; 4:5). In the piercing of the Son of God, the thoughts of hearts would be revealed. But the question arises: revealed to whom? We may (rightly) assume: to ourselves. But Luke's Gospel emphasizes the ability of the Lord Jesus to know human hearts (5:22; 6:8; 9:2,6,47; 24:38). Could it not be that the cross is used by the Father and Son to know the minds of men? They see in our response to it the real you and the real me. "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts" (Prov. 20:27); our self-examination is what reveals us to the Lord. What we think about at the memorial meeting, as we are faced with the memory of the crucified Saviour, is therefore an epitome of what we really are. If all we are thinking of is the taste of the wine, the cover over the bread, the music, what we didn't agree with in the exhortation, all the external things of our Christianity; or if we are sitting there taking bread and wine as a conscience salver, doing our little religious ritual to make us feel psychologically safe- then we simply don't know Him. We are surface level believers only. And this is the message we give Him. Our spirit / attitude is the candle of the Lord, with which He searches us. Our thoughts when confronted by the cross reveal us to Him who died on it. Likewise Joseph (one of the most detailed types of the Lord) knew / discerned his brethren by his cup (Gen. 44:5). 1 Cor. 11:31,32 further suggests that our self-judgment at the breaking of bread is in fact the lord's judgment of us: "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord". We expect Paul to say: 'But when we judged ourselves, we are chastened...'. But he doesn't; our judgment is what reveals us to the Lord, and is therefore the basis of His judgment of us. Even if we flunk conscious self-examination from an underlying disbelief that we will attain the Kingdom, then this of itself reveals our hearts to Him. Because of this connection between the breaking of bread and judgment, it would seem that the first century church experienced the physical chastising of the Lord in terms of being struck with sickness and even death at the memorial meeting (1 Cor. 11:29,30). Thus at ecclesial meetings- particularly the breaking of bread- the early church confessed their sins and prayed for healing from the afflictions some were smitten with as a result of their sins (James 5:14-16).
- Those who beheld the cross "beat their breasts", Luke records (23:48). The only other occurrence of this phrase is again in Luke, concerning how the desperate, sin-convicted publican likewise beat his breast before God in contrition (18:13). Does this not suggest that those breast-beaters were doing so because "that sight" convicted them of their own sinfulness? And yet the record of the cross also leads to faith, not only conviction of our desperation (Jn. 19:35, "these things" = the record of the cross).
- Serious meditation upon the Lord's work ought to have this effect upon us. Can we really see his agony, his bloody sweat, without a thought for our response to it? It's impossible to passively behold it all. There is something practically compelling about it, almost in a mystical way. Because "Christ died for the ungodly", because in the cross "the love of God" was commended to us, therefore "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:5,6,8). As the smitten rock gave out water, so the smitten Saviour gave out the water of the Spirit. This link between the shedding of the Lord's blood and the shedding of love in our hearts is surely because an understanding and relation to His sacrifice brings forth in the believer a response of love and spirituality. As the love of God was shown in the cross, so it will be reflected in the heart of he who truly knows and believes it.
- 1 Cor. 11:29 invites us to discern the Lord's body at the memorial meeting. The same word occurs in v.28: "let a man examine himself". It's too bad that the translations mask this connection. We are to examine / discern the Lord's body, and to do the same to ourselves (1). The two are inextricably related. Meditation upon and analysis of His body will lead to self examination and discernment. In this lies the answer to the frequent question: 'What should we examine at the breaking of bread? Our own sins, or the facts of the crucifixion / resurrection?'. If we think about the latter, we will inevitably be led to think of the former.
- In Isaiah 6:1-4 we have a vision of "the Lord high and lifted up", enthroned in the temple, with an earthquake, the temple filled with smoke, the doorposts that held up the veil being shaken (with the implication that the veil falls; 6:4). Note how Rev. 15:5-8, building on this passage, has the veil being removed, the Most Holy opened, and the temple filled with smoke. This sends the mind straight to the rending of the temple veil at the crucifixion and the earthquake (Mt. 27:51). The Lord "high and lifted up" (6:1) is a phrase that occurs later in Isaiah (52:13), concerning the crucified Lord, lifted up and exalted "very high" by the cross. John 12:37-41 tells us that Isaiah 6 is a vision of the Lord Jesus in glory; and in this passage John quotes both Isaiah 6 and 53 together, reflecting their connection and application to the same event, namely the Lord's crucifixion. So it is established that Is. 6 is a vision of the crucified Lord Jesus, high and lifted up in glory in God's sight, whilst covered in blood and spittle, with no beauty that man should desire Him. The point is, when Isaiah saw this vision he was convicted of his sinfulness: "Woe is me, for I am undone...". And yet the same vision comforted him with the reality of forgiveness, and inspired him to offer to go forth and witness to Israel of God's grace. So once again, the vision of the cross convicts men of their sin, and yet inspires them to go forward in service. In passing, it should be noted that the vision of Isaiah 6 has evident similarities with those of Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4. These likewise show something of the glory of God in the crucified Christ, and they likewise inspired men like Ezekiel and John in their work of witness and living the life of the spirit in the midst of apostasy. Rev. 4:9 alludes to the Isaiah 6 vision, and applies it to the future judgment. Yet silhouetted within the vision of the judgment throne is a slain lamb (Rev. 5:6), as if before the judgment, all will be aware of the Lord's sacrifice. The accepted will utter praise immediately after realizing the wonderful verdict pronounced for them- in terms of praising the Lord Jesus for his sacrifice, and recognizing their eternal debt to the blood of His cross (Rev. 5:9). The cross and the judgment and reward are connected. This is why the Sephardim called the Day of Atonement, with all its typology of the cross, "the day of judgment". Joel 2:1 speaks of blowing a trumpet to announce the coming of the final judgment "day of the Lord". The phrase "day of the Lord" usually refers to a Jewish feast, and it was the day of atonement that began with the blowing of trumpets. Thus the day of judgment and the day of atonement are again linked. This day is to be one of "thick darkness", with the sun withdrawn and an earthquake (Joel 2:2,10), just as there was at the cross. Note how Lam. 2:7,22 RV describe the day of God’s judgment as “the day of a solemn feast”
The Cross And The Judgment
So Isaiah 6 shows the Lord Jesus as enthroned in glory upon the cross. John says that Isaiah saw the Lord in His glory at this time. Yet He will sit on His throne of glory when He returns in judgment (Mt. 25:31). So there is a connection between the cross and the judgment. There the Lord sat (and sits) enthroned in judgment. There, "The Lord reigned from the tree" (Ps. 96:10 LXX- the context is of the final judgment, and yet the image is so appropriate to the Lord's death). This explains why when we come before the cross, not only at the breaking of bread but whenever we come into contact with Him, or reflect upon Him and His death, we are in some sense coming before Him in judgment. Indeed, any meeting of God with man, or His Son with men, is effectively some kind of judgment process. The brightness of their light inevitably, by its very nature, shows up the dark shadows of our lives. In the cross we see the glory of the Lord Jesus epitomised and presented in its most concentrated form. In Jn. 12:31,32, in the same passage in which Isaiah 6 and 53 are connected and applied to the crucifixion, He Himself foretold that His death would be "the judgment of this world". And He explained in the next breath that His being 'lifted up from the earth' (an Isaiah 6 allusion) would gather all men unto Him (cp. "all men" being gathered to the last judgment, Is. 49:22; 62:10; Mt. 25:32). When He was lifted up, then the Jews would know their judgments (Jn. 8:26-28). It is possible to read Jn. 19:13 as meaning that Pilate sat Him (Jesus) down on the judgment seat, on the pavement, replete with allusion to the sapphire pavement of Ex. 24.
The language of Is. 63:1-5 applies with equal appropriacy to both the cross and the judgment. It is the time when the servant gains salvation and redemption for His people, alone, when all others have failed, with stained clothes reminiscent of Joseph's, with all their reference to the death and resurrection of the Lord… and this is far from the only example of where prophecies can apply to both the crucifixion and the final judgment. Further connection between the cross and the judgment is found in considering Zech. 12:10, which states that men would look upon the pierced (i.e. crucified) Saviour, and mourn in recognition of their own sinfulness. This verse is quoted as having fulfillment both at the crucifixion (Jn. 19:37) and also at the final judgment (Rev. 1:7). There is strong connection between these two events. And so it has been observed that the cross divided men into two categories: The repentant thief and the bitter one; the soldiers who mocked and the Centurion who believed; the Sanhedrin members who believed and those who mocked; the women who lamented but didn't obey His word, and those whose weeping isn't recorded, but who stood and watched and thought; the people who beat their breasts in repentance, and those who mocked as to whether Elijah would come to save the Lord. There seems to be a link made between the Lord's death and the judgment in Rom. 8:34: "Who is he that judgeth / condemneth? It is Christ that died…", as if He and His death are the ultimate judgment.
The cross leads to thoughts being revealed (Lk. 2:35); and the judgment process likewise will lead to thoughts being revealed (s.w. in Mt. 10:26; 1 Cor. 3:13; 4:5). When the disciples got carried away wondering where the future judgment would be and how ever they would get there, the Lord replied that where the body is, thither the eagles naturally gather. One of the well known shames of crucifixion was that the body was pecked by birds, even before death occurred. The idea of an uncovered body attracting birds (i.e. the believers) would have been readily understood as a crucifixion allusion. Whilst this may seem an inappropriate symbol, it wouldn't be the only time the Bible uses language which we may deem unfitting. Consider how Ps. 78:65,66 likens God to a drunk man awakening and flailing out at His enemies, striking them in the private parts. I always have to adjust my specs and read this again before I can really accept that this is what it says. So in Mt. 24:28, the Lord seems to be responding to the disciples' query about the physicalities of the future judgment by saying that in reality, His crucifixion would in essence be their judgment, and this is what they should rather concern themselves with. They would gather together unto it and through this know the verdict upon them, all quite naturally, as eagles are gathered by natural instinct to the carcass. The thief on the cross wanted the Lord to remember him for good at judgment day. Yet He replied that He could tell him today, right now, the result of the judgment- the thief would be accepted. It's as if the Lord even in that agony of mind and body…realized keenly that He, there, that fateful afternoon, was sitting in essence on the judgment throne.
One of the most powerful links between the cross and the judgment is to be found in Jn. 3:14-21 (which seems to be John's commentary rather than the words of Jesus Himself). Parallels are drawn between:
- The snake lifted up on the pole (=the crucifixion), teaching that whoever believes in the crucified Christ should live
- God so loving the world (language elsewhere specifically applied to the crucifixion: Rom. 5:8; 1 Jn. 3:16; 4:10,11)
- God giving His Son (on the cross, Rom. 5:15; 8:32; 1 Cor. 11:24), that whoever believes in Him should live
- God sending His Son to save the world (1 Jn. 4:10; Gal. 4:4 cp. Jn. 12:23,27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1)
- Light coming into the world (at His death, the darkness was ended).
All these phrases can refer to the life and person of the Lord; but sometimes they are specifically applied to the cross. And further, they are prefaced here in Jn. 3 by a reference to the Lord as the snake lifted up on the pole. The essence of the Lord, indeed the essence of God Himself, was openly displayed in it's most crystallized form in the cross. There was the epitome of love, of every component of God's glory, revealed to the eyes of men. There above all, the light of God's love and glory came into the world. In this context John's comment continues: "This is the condemnation / judgment, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest". If we understand "the light" as pre-eminently the cross, we see further evidence that there indeed was and is the judgment of this world. The Lord described His impending death as "the judgment of this world" (Jn. 12:31); and here He says that the judgment of this word is that He is the light of the world and men shy away from Him. The link between the light of the world and the snake being lifted up on the pole would have been more evident to Hebrew readers and thinkers than it is to us. The "pole" on which the snake was lifted up was a standard, a pole on which often a lamp would be lifted up: "a beacon upon the top of a mountain...an ensign (s.w.) on an hill" (Is. 30:17). The 'light' would have been understood as a burning light rather than, e.g., the sun. The light of which the Lord spoke would have been understood as a torch, lifted up on a standard. Speaking in the context of the snake lifted up on a pole, He would have been inviting His audience to see Him crucified as the light of their lives. And this would explain why Isaiah seems to parallel the nations coming to the ensign / standard / pole of Christ, and them coming to the Him as light of the world (Is. 5:26; 11:10,12; 18:3; 39:9; 49:22; 62:10 cp. 42:6; 49:6; 60:3).
Is. 45:20-24 speaks of how "all the ends of the earth" will look unto "a just God and a Saviour [Jesus]" and be saved- evident reference back to the brazen serpent lifted up for salvation. The result of this is that to Him "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess" his moral failures, rejoicing that "in the Lord have I righteousness and strength...in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory". These words are quoted in Phil. 2:11 in description of the believer's response to the suffering Saviour. And yet they are quoted again in Rom. 14:10-12 regarding our confession of sin before the Lord at judgment day. The connections mean simply this: before the Lord's cross, we bow our knee and confess our failures, knowing the imputation of His righteousness, in anticipation of how we will bow before Him and give our miserable account at the judgment. And both processes are wonderfully natural. We must simply allow the power of a true faith in His cross to work out its own way in us. At the judgment, no flesh will glory in himself, but only in the Lord Jesus(1 Cor. 1:29). And even now, we glory in His cross (Gal. 6:14).
Is. 45:23-25 cp. Rom. 14:11,12, about our reaction at the judgment seat
Phil. 2, about our reaction to the cross of Christ today
:23 every knee shall bow
:10 every knee shall bow
:23 every tongue shall swear
:11 every tongue shall confess
:24 in the Lord
:11 Jesus Christ is Lord
:25 shall glory
:11 to the glory of God
Clearly our response to the cross is a foretaste of our response to the judgment experience.
There is a powerful practical result of this connection between the cross and the judgment. The Lord brings it out when He gives three reasons for denying ourselves and taking up the cross; the final and most compelling is "For (because) the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he give every man according to his works" (Mt. 16:24,27). Take up the cross, do what is hard for you spiritually, because this is the basis upon which you will be judged- how far you took up the cross, really denied yourself. Before the cross of Christ, we know the way we ought to take. Before the judgment seat, we will know likewise. But we make the answer now.
The second coming will be our meeting with the Lord who died for us. To come before Him then will be in essence the same as coming before His cross. Rev. 16 describes the events of the second coming, and yet it is full of allusion back to the cross: "it is done", the temple of heaven opened (16:17); an earthquake (16:18), a cup of wine (16:19). We were redeemed by the blood of Jesus; and yet His return and judgment of us is also our "day of redemption" (Lk. 21:28; Rom. 8:23; Eph. 4:30). Yet that day was essentially the cross; but it is also in the day of judgment. Likewise, we are "justified" by the blood of Jesus. Yet the idea of justification is a declaring righteous after a judgment; as if the cross was our judgment, and through our belief in the Lord we were subsequently declared justified, as we will be in the Last Day.
The Breaking Of Bread And The Judgment
All the Jewish feasts have some reference to the breaking of bread. The Hebrew writer picks up the image of the High Priest appearing to pronounce the blessing on the people as a type of the Lord's second coming from Heaven bearing our blessing. And yet they also all prefigure judgment in some way. Thus the Mishnah taught: "At four times in the year is the world judged" (quoted in Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching Of The Cross, 3rd ed., p. 266). Because the breaking of bread involves a serious concentration upon the cross, and the cross was in a sense the judgment of this world, it is apparent that the breaking of bread is in some ways a preview of the judgment seat. Our attitude to the cross and all that is meant by it is the summation of our spirituality. I normally dislike using alternative textual readings to make a point, but there is an alternative reading of 1 Cor. 11:29 which makes this point so clearly: "He who eats and drinks ['unworthily' isn't in many manuscripts], eats and drinks discernment [judgment] to Himself. Not discerning the Lord's body is the reason many of you are weak and sickly". The eating and drinking at the memorial meeting is a judging of ourselves. It's a preview of the judgment. 1 Cor. 11 seems to be concerning behaviour at the memorial meeting. Time and again the brethren are described as "coming together" to that meeting (:17,18,20,33,34). Believers 'coming together' is the language of coming together to judgment. Where two or three are gathered , the Lord is in the midst of them (Mt. 18:20) uses the same word as in Mt. 25:32 concerning our gathering together unto judgment. We should not forsake the "assembling of [ourselves] together" (Heb. 10:25)- the same word as in 2 Thess. 2:1 regarding our "gathering together unto Him". The church being assembled (Acts 11:26), two or three being gathered (Mt. 18:20)- this is all a foretaste of the final gathering to judgment (Mt. 25:32 s.w.). The command to examine ourselves (11:29) uses the same word as in 3:13 concerning the way our works will be tried with fire by the judgment process of the last day. If members of an ecclesia break bread unworthily, they "come together unto condemnation" (11:34). Yet we must judge ourselves at these meetings, to the extent of truly realising we deserve condemnation (1 Cor. 11:31). We must examine ourselves and conclude that at the end of the day we are "unprofitable servants" (Lk. 18:10), i.e. worthy of condemnation (the same phrase is used about the rejected, Mt. 25:30). This is after the pattern of the brethren at the first breaking of bread asking "Is it I?" in response to the Lord's statement that one of them would betray Him (Mt. 26:22). They didn't immediately assume they wouldn't do. And so we have a telling paradox: those who condemn themselves at the memorial meeting will not be condemned. Those who are sure they won't be condemned, taking the emblems with self-assurance, come together unto condemnation. Job knew this when he said that if he justifies himself, he will be condemned out of his own mouth (Job 9:20- he understood the idea of self-condemnation and judgment now). Isaiah also foresaw this, when he besought men (in the present tense): "Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty", and then goes on to say that in the day of God's final judgment, "[the rejected] shall go into the holes of the rock...for fear of the Lord and for the glory of His majesty when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth" (Is. 2:10,11,19-21). We must find a true, self-condemning humility now, unless it will be forced upon us at the judgment.
More positively, because we know God's judgment, we can have some knowledge of our acceptability with God as we face the emblems. Whilst it may be hard to believe, Gal. 6: 4 says that we can prove / judge our own works, and thus have rejoicing in ourselves. Although self-examination is fraught with problems, and even our conscience can be deceptive at times (1 Cor. 4:4), there is a sense in which we can judge / discern ourselves now.
This connection between the breaking of bread and judgment day is in fact a continuation of an Old Testament theme. Three times a year, the Israelite had to 'go up' to present himself before the Lord at the feasts (Dt. 16:16). He was to 'appear' there- a Hebrew word elsewhere translated approve, discern, gaze upon, take heed, look upon oneself, perceive, shew oneself. His very presence before the Lord would have this effect: he would be revealed openly to God, and he would see himself as he was. This was the intention; and yet Yahweh went on to warn them not to appear before Him "empty", vainly, 'to no effect'. Behold the intense relevance to our appearing before the Lord at our Passover: we can so easily present ourselves there 'to no effect', when the intention is that we should be manifesting ourselves to ourselves and to God. The familiar order of service, the well known hymns, the presence of familiar and often family faces...these factors (not wrong in themselves) all encourage us to 'appear' there to no effect. David describes the going up to keep the feasts in unmistakable judgment-seat language: "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go [up] into the house of the Lord...the tribes go up...unto the testimony of Israel [cp. the Lord Jesus, the faithful and true witness], to give thanks unto the name of the Lord. For there are set [AV mg. 'do sit'] thrones of judgment, the thrones [an intensive plural- the great throne] of the house of David [i.e. that of Christ]" (Ps. 122:1-5). David wrote this well aware that Messiah was to sit on his throne in Jerusalem at His return and final judgment. Is it going too far to suggest that David saw in the tribes going up to Zion a type of God's people going up to meet the Lord at the final judgment? If so, he understood their response to the invitation to go there as one of joy; we go to judgment to praise, joyful at the invitation.
The very nature of the breaking of bread brings us to a T-junction in our lives. It brings us before the cross, which is in a sense our judgment seat. There can only be two exits from the Lord's throne, to the right or to the left, and likewise we are faced with such a choice in our response to the bread and wine. The cup of wine is a double symbol- either of blessing (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25), or of condemnation (Ps. 60:3; 75:8; Is. 51:17; Jer. 25:15; Rev. 14:10; 16:19) (2). Why this use of a double symbol? Surely the Lord designed this sacrament in order to highlight the two ways which are placed before us by taking that cup: it is either to our blessing, or to our condemnation. Each breaking of bread is a further stage along one of those two roads. The table of the rejected becomes turned into their recompence or judgment (Rom. 11:9). Indeed, the Lord's supper is a place to which the rejected are invited (Rev. 19:7), or the redeemed (Rev. 3:20). Like the cup of wine, being invited to the Lord's supper is a double symbol. The rejected are given blood to drink (Rev. 16:6)- yet John's record here makes one of his many links back to his Gospel, this time to the way the Lord spoke of giving the believers His blood to drink. This is particularly relevant to the taking of the wine at the memorial meeting. It's a double symbol- we drink either to our condemnation or to our salvation.
And there is no escape by simply not breaking bread. The peace offering was one of the many antecedents of the memorial meeting. Once the offerer had dedicated himself to making it, he was condemned if he didn't then do it, and yet also condemned if he ate it unclean (Lev. 7:18,20). So a man had to either cleanse himself, or be condemned. There was no get out, no third road. The man who ate the holy things in a state of uncleanness had to die; his eating would load him with the condemnation of his sins (Lev. 22:3,16 AV mg.). This is surely the source for our possibility of "eating...condemnation" to ourselves by partaking of the breaking of bread in an unworthy manner. And so it is with us as we face the emblems. We must do it, or we deny our covenant relationship. And yet if we do it in our uncleanness, we also deny that relationship. And thus the breaking of bread brings us up before the cross and throne of the Lord Jesus- even now. It brings us to a realistic self-examination. If we cannot examine ourselves and know that Christ is really in us, then we are reprobate; we "have failed" (2 Cor. 13:5 G.N.B.). Self-examination is therefore one of those barriers across our path in life which makes us turn to the Kingdom or to the flesh. If we can't examine ourselves and see that Christ is in us and that we have therefore that great salvation in Him; we've failed. I wouldn't be so bold as to throw down this challenge to any of us in exhortation. But Paul does. It's a powerful, even terrible, logic. When the people ratified their covenant with Yahweh [cp. the breaking of bread], they had to confirm their agreement that they would be cursed for disobedience to it; and "cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them" (Dt. 27:26). They couldn't opt out of bringing this curse upon themselves for disobedience- if they did, they were cursed.
The Passover was another foretaste of the bread and wine service we participate in. If it was eaten unclean, the offerer ate condemnation to himself. He was to be cut off from the community if he opted out of keeping the Passover; and yet he was also rejected if he kept it unclean. So he couldn't just flunk his need to keep the feast. He had to keep it, and he had to keep in a clean state. And so with us. To simply not break bread is to deny our relationship with the Lord. But once we commit to doing it, we must search our houses for leaven, for those little things which over time will influence the whole direction and nature of our spiritual lives. The breaking of bread brings us face to face with the need for self-examination and the two paths before us. It is a T-junction which reflects the final judgment. Judas' reaction to the first memorial meeting exemplifies this. The Lord took the sop (of bread) and dipped it (in the vinegar-wine, according to the Jewish custom), and gave it to Judas. This was a special sign of His love and affection, and one cannot help wondering whether Peter and John observed it with keen jealousy. Yet after taking it, after that sign of the Lord's especial love for him, "Satan entered into" Judas and he went out and betrayed the Lord of glory (Jn. 13:27). In that bread and wine, Judas was confronted with the Lord's peerless love for the very darkest sinner and His matchless self-sacrifice; and this very experience confirmed him in the evil way his heart was set upon. And it also works, thankfully, the other way. We can leave that meeting with the Lord, that foretaste of judgment, that conviction of sin and also of the Lord's victory over it, with a calm assurance of His love which cannot be shaken, whatever the coming week holds.
Judging / examining ourselves is made parallel with discerning the Lord's body: as if discerning His body on the cross inevitably results in self-examination, and vice versa (1 Cor. 11:28,29). We must discern the Lord's body, and thereby examine ourselves (these are the same words in the Greek text). If we examine / judge / condemn ourselves now in our self-examination, God will not have to do this to us at the day of judgment. If we cast away our own bodies now, the Lord will not need to cast us away in rejection (Mt. 5:30). There is a powerful logic here. If we pronounce ourselves uncondemned, we condemn ourselves (Tit. 3:11); if we condemn ourselves now, we will be uncondemned ultimately. This is why the Greek word translated "examine" (1 Cor. 11:29) is also that translated "approve" in 11:19 (and also 1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 13:7; 2 Tim. 2:15). By condemning ourselves we in a sense approve ourselves. Our self-examination should result in us realising our unworthiness, seeing ourselves from God's viewpoint. There is therefore a parallel made between our own judgment of ourselves at the memorial meeting, and the final judgment- where we will be condemned, yet saved by grace (James 2:12; 3:1). If we don't attain this level of self-knowledge now, we will be taught it by being condemned at the judgment. This makes the logic of serious, real self-examination so vital; either we do it in earnest, and realize our own condemnation, or if we don't do it, we'll be condemned at the judgment. Yet as with so much in our spiritual experience, what is so evidently logical is so hard to translate into reality. The process of judgment will essentially be for our benefit, not the Lord's. Then the foolish virgins realize that they didn't have enough oil / spirituality; whilst the wise already knew this (Mt. 25:13). As a foretaste of the day of judgment, we must "examine" ourselves, especially at the breaking of bread (1 Cor. 11:28). The same word is used in 1 Cor. 3:13 concerning how the process of the judgment seat will be like a fire which tries us.
So, in the light of all this, break bread. Many readers of these words are isolated or only occasionally meet with their brethren for formal memorial meetings. But break bread alone, weekly if you can. I know, from years in semi-isolation myself, how terribly tempting it is to let it slip from a weekly habit. 'I'll do it tomorrow, next week, well soon we'll have a visit / meeting, I'll do it then anyway...'. Whenever the Lord started to speak about His death, the disciples invariably turned the conversation round to another tack. And it seems, from a careful analysis of the crucifixion records, that those who came to behold Golgotha's awful scene couldn't watch it for too long, but went away. And so with us, we have a tendency to defer facing up to the message of the cross as the emblems portray it; and even while we are doing it, to concern ourselves with anything but the essential essence of the cross; the taste of the wine, the cover over the bread, the music, what we didn't agree with in the exhortation... all these things we can so eagerly crowd out the essence of the cross.
When you're in isolation, nobody ever asks you point blank: 'Do you break bread alone every week?'. We may meet together with others occasionally, and when we do we all act as if of course this is the norm of our spiritual lives; when it can so easily not be so at all. If the above reasoning has been followed, the breaking of bread is a vital, God-designed part of our spiritual growth. It should shake us to the bone, as it brings us face to shame-bowed face with the crucified Saviour. It isn't a ritual which somehow shows us to be a keen Christian; it's a vital act within our very personal spirituality. And so I will ask you point blank: 'Do you break bread each week?'. Not that actually there's any specific command to do it weekly; but it's so evidently a vital part of our relationship with the Lord that we must ask ourselves why shouldn't we do it weekly.
And break bread properly, not just to salve your conscience or because it's expected of you, or because it's your psychological routine. Be aware that there is a psychology of religious experience; all religious people like to have some physical symbolism (e.g. bread = body, wine = blood), and especially, some solemn rituals that they observe; and they feel calmer, satisfied, fulfilled after keeping them. On one level, we are religious people like any other religious people, and have the same features. But on another level, true Christianity is the one and only ultimately true religion, which by grace we have come to know. Our breaking of bread is far far more than just religious ritual, although on one level it is that. But we must rise well above this. Israel kept the Passover (cp. the breaking of bread), and yet to God they never really kept it. The Corinthians took the cup of the Lord and that of the idols; they broke bread with both (1 Cor. 10:21). But they were told they could not do this. They took the cup of the Lord; but not in the Lord's eyes. They ate the Lord's supper; but they had to be told that they were not really eating it (1 Cor. 11:20). They turned His supper into their own supper. They did it, but for themselves. And so in spiritual terms, they didn't do it (1 Cor. 11:20.21). And so we must just accept the real possibility that we can break bread on the surface, but not break bread. We've probably all done this. Don't let it become the norm. Likewise Israel had to be asked the rhetorical question: "Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years?" (Am. 5:25). Because they also worshipped Molech, their keeping of the feasts wasn't accepted. So I can ask again: Do you really break bread?
So not only must we break bread by all means; we must allow ourselves the time and collected mind to enable us to do it as we are intended to. Like baptism, we can't keep in mind at the same time all the wonderful, high things which the service means to us whilst we perform it. But we should try, as far as we can, to be as aware as possible of all these things. So may I say some things which ought to be obvious:
- Don't noisily dash in to a memorial meeting late. Try to take your place with as little disturbance of others as possible. Bring your kids with you by all means; but try to make every reasonable effort to keep them from unduly distracting others. Try to remove all distractions, as far as you can, and minimize the possibility of interruption if you are breaking bread alone at home.
- Prepare your mind before the meeting. Realize something of what you are about to do. We could all ensure we sit in silence for at least five minutes before the meeting starts.
- If you are making comments on the readings or giving an exhortation, or simply seeking exhortation for yourself from the readings, concentrate on the things of the Lord Jesus and His cross. He is to be found in all the Scriptures. Don't use this time as a platform for airing your crotchets or hang ups about others (even if only within your own mind).
- Don't start talking (or thinking) about the things of this life the moment the last prayer finishes.
- Be sober, in view of the seriousness of what we are doing. Don't allow a spirit of levity to creep in to the proceedings. We are going through a dummy run of judgment day. We stand before the Lord's cross.
- And yet be joyful, as far as you can be. But don't let the expression of that joy in music take you away from the focus of the meeting. Intricate part-singing in the Western world and repetitive, rhythmic choruses used elsewhere aren't wrong per se; but if glorified in themselves they can take us away from the focus, the Head, which is the Saviour Lord Himself, and our desperate gratitude for His love.
- Don't hold yourself back during the meeting; allow yourself to make those mental commitments you are moved to. Our flesh almost makes us feel embarrassed or insincere if we resolve to make a major (or minor) change in our lives. Let true devotion and response rise above this. We must just accept that the memorial meeting is an emotional experience; it can be nothing else, to the devoted heart. And there's nothing wrong with this. Don't be too proud (brethren) to shed a tear.
And especially. Don't separate the act of breaking bread from the rest of your life. It should be the natural flow-on from your daily meditation on the Lord's love. The mind set we have in that quiet hour should in principle be that which we have all our hours and days; for we live as men and women under judgment, ever confronted and comforted by that love of the Father and Son, so great, so free. It demands by its very nature and existence our self-examination and response, far more than just one hour / week.
(1) In the Corinthian context, the body of Christ is to be understood as the ecclesia. 1 Cor. 12 is full of this figure. The need to discern the Lord's body at the breaking of bread means that we must go beyond reflection upon His physical body. We must recognize / discern His ecclesia too. The immediate context of 1 Cor. 11 is of unbrotherly behaviour at the memorial meeting. If we fail to recognize / appreciate / discern the Lord's physical body, we will fail to recognize His brethren. And if we do this, we have made ourselves guilty of His body and blood, we have crucified Him again. This is why I plead with those who use the breaking of bread as a weapon for division within the Lord's body to think again. The body which we must discern at the breaking of bread evidently has some reference to the ecclesia. We thereby place ourselves in a dangerous position by refusing to share the emblems with others in the body, and disfellowshipping those who do so.
(2) The very structure of the Hebrew language reflects this. Thus the Hebrew 'baruch' means both 'blessed' and 'cursed'; 'kedoshim' means both 'Sodomites' and 'saints'.