Strengthened by the Supper (3): What’s God’s Intent for the Lord’s Supper?

Let’s think about the Lord’s Supper. Let’s try to better understand this incredible gift from our Lord. What’s God’s intent for the Lord’s Supper? Why did God give you and me the Lord’s Supper?

Heidelberg 67 asks, “Are both the Word and the sacraments, then, intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?” It answers, “Yes, indeed. The Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel and assures us by the sacraments that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.” God intends the public preaching of His holy Word to focus your faith on the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the only ground of your salvation. Through preaching, the Holy Spirit teaches you the gospel and powerfully works faith in your heart. But God has given you more than preaching. God has given you the sacraments. The Lord’s Supper, then, is intended to teach you as well. The bread and wine are visible, tangible, and physical signs and seals through which the Holy Spirit further declares to you the gospel and assures you of the benefits of the gospel. The Lord’s Supper shows you that the gospel is true and real for you, and through the Supper, the Holy Spirit nourishes and strengthens your faith.

The Lord’s Supper is not a complicated ceremony. It’s pretty simple: bread and wine are served to eat and drink. In this Supper, Jesus himself communicates or gives or imparts himself to you (WSC 88). He said, “This is my body . . . this is my blood of the covenant.” As much as you receive the Supper by faith, Christ is giving you himself and all the benefits of salvation. The Supper is not magic. It possesses no power or grace apart from Christ (WSC 91). Nor does its grace and helpfulness depend on the minister giving it. Christ gives you himself and the benefits of salvation by his Holy Spirit working in you. Christ graciously blesses you, a believer, through the Supper. The blessing only comes through faith. In fact, one who participates in the Supper without faith eats and drinks God’s judgment and wrath against themselves. So faith is the means by which the soul feasts on Christ. Faith is the soul’s mouth.

What is the Lord’s Supper then? I mean, what are we talking about? Westminster Shorter Catechism 96 explains:

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, in which by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s direction, His death is shown forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of His body and blood, with all His benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. [1]

You need to get this. Christ gives you bread and wine. That’s what he commanded. The bread and wine are signs and seals for you; they truly show you Christ’s sin-atoning death. When you receive, you are eating and drinking substances with your mouth: bread and wine. But as you believe in Christ, you are actually eating and drinking Christ spiritually by faith. You are eating and drinking with the mouth of your soul, which is faith. This means that Christ is actually nourishing and growing you spiritually with himself! He is true soul-food for you. This means that Christ is actively comforting you with the gospel, with himself. Through his Supper given to you as a gift, Christ himself is confirming to you that you are united to him by true faith (WLC 168). But not only that, he is confirming that you are united to his body, the body of Christ, the church. You are sharing in Christ and his benefits with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Oh, how thankful we ought to be for how our Lord serves us in and through the Supper.

So, understand what’s happening. There’s something outward and inward happening. You are eating and drinking bread and wine with your mouth, but you are also eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood with your soul by faith. As the bread and wine nourish you physically, Christ is nourishing you spiritually as you trust and receive him by faith. See, there are two parts of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Westminster Larger Catechism 163 explains them: “The parts of a sacrament are two: the one, an outward and perceptible sign used according to Christ’s own direction; the other, an inward and spiritual grace signified by it.” [2] Dear friends, the Lord’s Supper is not empty of grace. It’s not a mere intellectual remembrance of Christ who died as if it’s a funeral. The Lord’s Supper is not a funeral meal. Christ is alive and you feast upon his body and guzzle his blood spiritually by faith as he nourishes, strengthens, and comforts you. He said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). In Luke 22:19, Jesus said, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Christ gives himself to you because he, along with all the benefits of the salvation he accomplished, is for you.

Last time I mentioned Belgic Confession Article 33. Please read it. Applying the truths of Article 33 to the Lord’s Supper, God knows that you and I are weak. You won’t make it without Christ. So, because God is good and loves you, he gives you the Supper to seal his promise of the gospel to you, to indeed “pledge His good will and grace toward [you].” [3] He also nourishes and sustains your faith. God is so good that He goes beyond “listen to this.” In the Lord’s Supper God tells you, “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8). Through the Supper, your loving Lord actually confirms for you the salvation that He gives you. He gives you something visible and external to see, touch, taste, and smell in order to communicate, “The Holy Spirit is giving you Christ and salvation for your benefit.” Saints, you receive Christ spiritually by faith, you are united more and more to his body, when you eat the Supper by faith. What a gift! Through the Supper, God is doing a gracious work in you. Article 33 rightly says, “So they are not empty and hollow signs to fool and deceive us, for their truth is Jesus Christ, without whom they would be nothing.” [4]

Next time I’d like to unpack Belgic Confession Article 35, but for now, I’ll end with Heidelberg 75:

How does the Lord’s Supper signify and seal to you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all His gifts? In this way: Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat of this broken bread and drink of this cup in remembrance of Him. With this command, He gave these promises: First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely was His body offered for me and His blood poured out for me on the cross. Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the minister and taste with my mouth the bread and the cup of the Lord as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely does He Himself nourish and refresh my soul to everlasting life with His crucified body and shed blood.

When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he was not simply saying, “Remember the historical facts of my death.” No, no. He was telling you to take hold of all that he accomplished for you by faith. He gave you bread and wine and the promise of the gospel. You see the gospel in the Supper. You also receive the gospel. Christ, through the minister, gives you bread and wine to taste, to eat, to drink, as signs and seals of his true body and blood. Through the signs and seals, your Lord nourishes you, refreshes you, comforts you, strengthens you, and heartens you as you walk this wilderness journey to the Promised Land. He is good.

[1] The Confessions of Our Faith, Fortress Edition, ed. Rev. Brian W. Kinney (Fortress Book Service & Publishers, 2007), 139.

[2] Ibid., 108.


[4] Ibid.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021).

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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