This is my second note in a series of five notes on the Lord’s Supper. There are five words that help us think about the meaning and significance of the Lord’s Supper: remembrance, covenant, anticipation, invitation, and examination. Last week I considered what Jesus means when he commands, “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24, 25). In this second note I consider what Jesus means when he says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25).
The Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal, for the cup from which we drink is the cup of the new covenant in his blood. A covenant is a relationship of mutual belonging. Marriage is a covenant. The bride and groom enter marriage by making promises to forsake all others and to have and to hold one another and love and cherish one another, until death separates them. They belong to one another, which is why the Bride declares in Song of Songs 2:16, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” Our relationship with God is covenantal, which is why the LORD says to Israel in Exodus 6:7, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.”
Jesus tells us the cup we drink is the new covenant in his blood. This is the new covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34. God makes three promises in this new covenant, all of which are fulfilled in Christ and confirmed in the Lord’s Supper.
The first promise: “I will forgive their iniquity and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). We drink from the cup of the new covenant in his blood, which was shed for us and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus died for our sins. On the cross, he bore our sins, he bore the punishment for sin, which is death, and he bore God’s wrath for sin. When Jesus instituted this meal, he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it, saying, “This is my body which is for you” (1 Corinthians 11:24). The bread we eat represents the body of the Lord Jesus, which is for you. He has given himself for you. His body hanging on the cross – bearing our sin, our shame, our condemnation, and God’s wrath – is for you. The cup from which we drink at the Lord’s Supper is not the cup of wrath, but the cup of salvation. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath for us and he now offers us the cup of salvation. The bread and the cup signify and confirm the new covenant promise: God has forgiven our iniquity and will remember our sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).
The second promise: “No longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Jeremiah 31:34). This isn’t a promise that everyone will learn theology and understand doctrine. Knowledge in Scripture is relational. Jesus’s shed blood for us on the cross has reconciled us to God, so that we are no longer estranged from God and at enmity with him. We know him because we are reconciled and in covenant with him. We know the LORD because he is ours and we are his. The Lord’s Supper confirms the covenant promise: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
The third promise concerns the Holy Spirit: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). This is a promise of regeneration and sanctification. The Spirit regenerates, removing our heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh, and the Spirit sanctifies, causing us to walk in obedience to God’s Word (Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27). It is the Spirit who writes God’s law on our hearts. The Lord’s Supper is a meal of covenant renewal, in which we’re confirmed as those who have been regenerated and are being sanctified by the Spirit. Having submitted ourselves in repentance to the conviction of the Spirit, we renew our covenant commitment to love and serve the LORD by keeping and proclaiming his Word, which he has written on our hearts.
The Lord’s Supper is a meal which confirms our identity as God’s covenant people in Christ. Our invitation and participation in this meal assures us that our sins are forgiven, that we belong to Christ, and that we are his bride and dearly loved children of our heavenly Father. The Lord’s Supper confirms us in our covenant calling to walk in obedience and faith, to the glory of God.