1 Corinthians 11:23-26
If it were a normal Maundy Thursday, we would be gathering together for the Lord’s Supper tonight at 7pm. Usually Jon Walker would be leading the service in song with the help of a worship team and a collection of hymns mostly focusing upon the cross. Charlie DeRidder would then read a series of Gospel texts between the hymns and we would make our way to the Lord’s Supper together along this simple and yet profound path. It makes for a wonderful worship service as many of you know. A Pandemic has placed that experience out of our reach for this year.
However, the text that we most often read together when we gather for the Lord’s Supper is 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 which reads this way,
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26 ESV)
The sense of the highlighted sentence in the middle of verse 25 is the piece of this familiar passage that I would highlight for us on this Maundy Thursday – this Maundy Thursday within which we are not gathering together around the Table. This little phrase is at once deeply encouraging and disturbingly probing. For ‘the New Covenant’ referred to here by Paul is no doubt the New Covenant written about by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31 & 33 where Jeremiah wrote,
31 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,…For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer. 31:31 & 33 ESV)
The parallel passage to this among the Hebrew prophets is Ezekiel 36:25-27 – the passage that Jesus was alluding to in his dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3 – but it brings out perfectly what is accomplished through the ‘New Covenant’ ‘in’ or ‘by means of’ Jesus blood from 1 Corinthians 11:23ff. Ezekiel wrote,
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezek. 36:25-27 ESV)
Notice the twofold blessing of this ‘New Covenant’ that comes to us ‘in’ or ‘by means of’ Jesus blood. First, there is forgiveness – forgiveness of sins is the focus as Ezekiel writes,
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
But then secondly there is transformation toward holiness – this is what is usually referred to as sanctification. This is an equally essential aspect of the New Covenant blessing that comes to us through faith in Christ – through the faithful accomplishment of Jesus upon the cross, where he submitted to the shedding of His blood for us.
. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
These come to us as an inseparable package. Where there is really cleaning there will be a real newness – but on the other hand, this real newness, even at its best, in our experience within the present age, will always sense its deep dependence upon ongoing cleansing. To mirror this New Covenant properly there are three errors that must be avoided; we will take them each in turn.
First, and probably most common, is the assumption that I surely have the cleansing of my sins, even though I freely admit I have no interest at all in newness of life. That the thing that I like most about Jesus is that He forgives while insisting on no serious change at all. This is grace, we tell ourselves, and we really love grace. In truth neither Jesus nor Paul nor Ezekiel or Jeremiah leave the door open for this understanding.
Secondly, and common in some circles is the attitude that says ‘yes, I have a new Spirit and a new heart, and I really do quite an amazing job of walking in the Lord’s ways – I see other believers struggling and stumbling along, and I hardly understand them – for I find myself strolling about all shiny and new – all ablaze with transformation. It is this sort of attitude that causes John to shoot across the bow of their boat, so to speak; in 1 John 1:8 we read,
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 Jn. 1:8 ESV)
But then thirdly, we have the very opposite attitude that we find within the second error, for here we have the person who expects this new heart and new spirit to be so transformational that they doubt that they have it at all because they continue to struggle with sin in meaningful ways. Oh, they want to walk in newness of life – Oh, they long to be more like Jesus; but they are forever coming up short, and so conclude that this new heart and new Spirit must have passed them by. To them the whole context says ‘no, for of course you will always need the ongoing cleansing – AND IT IS THERE in the blood of Jesus. To the person with this struggle John writes,
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn. 1:9 ESV)
Be sure that you are a New Covenant person – be very sure.
Blessings upon you all this Maundy Thursday!