THE FULNESS OF THE SUPPER — Notes of Readings with Charles A. Coates

THE FULNESS OF THE SUPPER

Mark 14:22 – 24

(Substance of Two Readings)

I have no doubt that it was intended that we should carry with us the thoughts suggested in each gospel with regard to the Supper. We do not get the same presentation in each gospel, but the Spirit would enable us to hold each in its place with intelligence. We shall then distinguish and gain the value of each. The institution of the Lord’s supper is only in Luke; only in that gospel do we find the words, “This do in remembrance of me”. We could not gather from Matthew or Mark that it was ever to be done again. The thought of remembrance is not introduced there; what is suggested is rather the spiritual apprehension and appropriation which would qualify us to take up the remembrance as in Luke. We have to carry in our souls what Mark and Matthew present as well as what Luke presents; we should then be prepared spiritually to take the Supper together as instituted in Luke.

The disciples’ thoughts did not go beyond the passover, but the Lord was about to give great expansion. However far we have got in our knowledge of divine things, it is possible that the Lord may add something. We only know in part, so that we may look for continued additions. It is the Lord’s pleasure to add to us; so that we may come more and more into the precious light of God and be affected by it.

“And as they were eating, Jesus, having taken bread, when he had blessed, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, Take this: this is my body”. The lamb being killed and roast with fire spoke of the unblemished perfection of Christ and His ability to take up the question of sin and to bear its holy judgment so that every claim of God might be met and the ground cleared for the blessing of His people. The love in which Christ bore the judgment becomes the nourishment of those who believe; they eat the lamb roast with fire. That in itself is a great apprehension of Christ; it brings us to true self-judgment, for it is the evidence that all that attached to us, as in the flesh, was of such a character that it called for the judgment of God, but the spotless One has come under the judgment and been sacrificed for us, and the love in which He did so is food for our hearts.

But as they were eating the passover the Lord introduced a new figure of Himself; He took bread. This was something additional; it presented Him in an aspect different from the passover Lamb. The passover was the divine provision in view of sin and its judgment according to God’s glory; it spoke of the suitability and sufficiency of Christ in that relation. But His coming into the world in a body brought in all the pleasure of God in a Man here, and it had in view the establishment of the pleasure of God in the sanctified ones through the offering of that body.

The Lord blessed the bread in Matthew and Mark; He gave thanks in Luke. In blessing it He invested it with a new and spiritual meaning; He clothed it with a new significance for His disciples, but in giving thanks He took a place on their side in the acknowledgment of all that was set forth there as come in on God’s part for man’s infinite blessing. In giving thanks He takes up all the value of it as on our behalf Godward. But in the gospel before us He blessed; He gave that bread a wholly new character as constituting it a symbol of His body. When He says, “This is my body”, what wondrous thoughts are suggested to faith! It is no longer a question of the removal of sin or bearing its judgment but of the coming in, according to Psalm 40, of all that is positively delightful to God, and of its coming in in such a way as to be available for all who believe on Him. The whole sacrificial service of judaism, failing to meet the pleasure of God, is set aside.

My impression is that, the Lord having connected this precious figure of Himself with the passover, that feast will never more for faith be separated from the apprehension and appropriation of what came here in Christ for the positive delight of God. That blessed One coming in flesh, the second Man out of heaven, could not fail to bring in this new and greater blessing, and He linked it on to the passover by giving it to them as they were eating the passover. A young convert might not apprehend more than the passover aspect of Christ’s death. Indeed I suppose many pious persons do not go beyond this. They come to what they call the holy communion with affectionate gratitude to the Lord for having died for them and borne the judgment due to their sins. But the Lord would lead them to see much more than this in His body given and His blood poured out. The communion which Christians are privileged to enjoy together, of which the eating of the Lord’s supper is the public expression, takes its character from what the Lord instituted Himself, which every spiritual person must see goes much beyond what was set forth in the passover. We could not eat the passover now in a spiritual sense without recalling that the Lord has connected with it this new and blessed figure of Himself. To everyone who knows what it is to eat the passover the Lord would say, “Take this: this is my body”, and He would help each one to apprehend what was secured by His taking that body, and by the offering of it in death. Israel in a coming day will not only know the passover aspect of the death of Christ, but they will see Him as the One who has brought in all the will of God — the Servant of divine pleasure. How they will delight in “my servant”, as Isaiah speaks of Him! They will see the law, the sacrifices, the promises, all fulfilled and perfected in Christ. They will apprehend all the pleasure of God in Christ; they will “take” it as made good in Him. This is our great privilege today; we take up the will of God in an entirely new way as made good in Christ. None of it could be available for us apart from His death. It was through the offering of His body that all was secured. They would not take the bread actually until He broke it, neither could we take it spiritually apart from His death. The Lord breaking the bread would intimate that the pleasure of God could only take effect in regard of us through His death. Now He says, “Take”. He would have us apprehend all that has come in through the dedication of His body in death. It is our privilege to apprehend the wondrous ways of God in Christ: how He has brought in His whole pleasure as unfolded in Hebrews 10, and how we are perfected in conscience and set apart for God in the value of it. The passover clears the ground; the man under judgment has gone in judgment. But that is not all, the pleasure of God has come in as fully secured in Christ, who has gone into death that we might be sanctified according to that pleasure.

The Lord’s calling attention to His body in Mark would specially bring before us what that body was in relation to the service of God; He was “my servant”. The effect of His coming in was to introduce every element that was delightful to God. But then the fact that He took bread intimates that it was to become food for us, so that we might live by Him, in the strength of what came here in Him. What is prominent in Mark is that the Lord says, “Take”; in Matthew He adds, “Eat”. We must “take” before we can “eat”; apprehension comes before appropriation. We must first spiritually apprehend what is set forth in the bread as His body, then we can eat; we can appropriate what is spiritually set forth in that bread. Eating would suggest that the spiritual constitution of the disciples was to be built up on Christ so that they might come out morally in the life of Christ, so that what was true in Him might become true in them. There is nothing in us for the pleasure of God which has not been derived from Christ, and of which Christ is not the strength. Matthew presents very fully the moral character of Christ — the true character of the kingdom set forth in the King. The beatitudes give us this, and it is in that gospel that He says, “Learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). We are to take character and constitution from Him. All that is pleasurable to God having come in, it is to be perpetuated in the saints as brought under the influence of heaven, and strength for this lies in the appropriation of Christ. If we have apprehended the fulfilled pleasure of God in Christ and have appropriated Him so as to live by Him, we find ourselves in a world where Christ is not, and we find that we are privileged to come together for the affectionate remembrance of Him in the eating of His supper.

The ‘taking’ as in Mark, and the ‘eating’ as in Matthew, would have a spiritual import, and would be preparatory to the affectionate remembrance of the assembly as called for in Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11. In the latter scripture the eating is the public act of eating the Lord’s supper, which may be done worthily or unworthily. The Lord would take account of anything irreverent or unbecoming in the manner of our eating His supper. If one took it as one would take bread and wine in an ordinary sense it would be profane, and would make one guilty in respect of the body and of the blood of the Lord. If one did not distinguish the body (1 Corinthians 11:29) it would prove that he had not really taken it according to Mark 14:22. Taking and eating in an inward and spiritual sense would be necessary as a preparation for rightly remembering the Lord, and announcing His death, as those who love Him and who feel His absence here.

Then the cup does not speak of the blood of the passover lamb, sheltering from judgment, but it is the blood of the covenant, shed for many. It secures righteously the setting up of relations between God and His people which give satisfaction to His love. The covenant is unalterable because it stands in virtue of the blood of Christ. God found fault with the first covenant because it did not make His love known to His people, and it did not set them before Him in suitability to His love or in response to it. But “the covenant” — it is doubtful whether “new” should be in Mark or Matthew, though it is in Luke — now makes known the love of God in its fulness, for it is in the blood of His own Son. God has revealed Himself in the blessedness of His nature; He yearned to be known in His love, and that not by a few, but by “many”. He is going to bring “many” into the covenant. Whatever is needed on their part He will do. He will work in them by a thousand exercises, stripping them of every bit of self-complacency and self-confidence, emptying them of everything that they have trusted in, or thought of value, but this is all that they may acquire ability by His own work to appreciate His love and respond to it. He will give Israel a new heart and put a new spirit within them; He will put His Spirit within them, and give them one heart and one way so that they fear Him all their days and do not turn aside from Him. See Jeremiah 32 and Ezekiel 36.

The aspect of the covenant that is brought before us here is that it is a cup out of which all the disciples drank. It is a drinking of the love of God such as could not really be apart from the gift of the Holy Spirit. The love of God known as a rich and cheering draught making glad the heart as He is known there in the blessedness of His holy love. “All shall know me in themselves”. The knowledge of God in love comes into the hearts of “many”, and becomes the living power of the covenant bond which binds His people to Him in an unalterable way. I have no doubt that when the apostle says that we “have all been given to drink of one Spirit”

(1 Corinthians 12:13) there was a link in his mind with what he speaks of as “the cup of the Lord”. As drinking of one Spirit the saints are possessed of divine love; they have it in themselves; and this becomes the spring in their hearts from which such features develop as are described in 1 Corinthians 13.

But we are possessed of love as having found it in God, and as having drunk into it through the death of His Son, so that what is witnessed in the blood of Christ has a real place with us inwardly by the Holy Spirit. In Luke it is “for you”; the assembly is there in view as the company that alone stands in the blessedness of the new covenant now. But in Matthew and Mark it is “for many”; the outlook embraces all that will come into the bond of the covenant, whether the remnant, or the houses of Israel and Judah in the coming days. Saints of the assembly know the covenant in a peculiar and blessed way as the ministry of the Spirit and the ministry of righteousness (2 Corinthians 3). It is characterised by subsisting and abounding glory, and it gives access to the holiest. How blessed to drink into the love which is the spring of all in the heart of God!

The Lord adds a word which He emphasises by “Verily I say to you”, as to “the fruit of the vine”. He felt it to be of much importance to them to know this, and surely it is not less so to us. It is essential to the spiritual understanding of christianity that we should know what the Lord meant when He said, “Verily I say to you, I will no more drink at all of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God”. “I will no more drink” intimates that up to that time He had drunk of it. It referred, I think there can be no doubt, to the joy the Lord had in being with His beloved disciples after the flesh. He had His delight in that association. They were very precious to Him as the “little flock”, “the salt of the earth”, and “the light of the world”. They were the children that Jehovah had given Him. He had been with them as the Bridegroom, and they had been “sons of the bridechamber”.

This expression “the fruit of the vine” lets us into what it had been to Him to recognise in them as the true Israel, the product of His Father’s planting (Matthew 15:31), and yielding Him such fruit as He had looked for in the vine which He brought out of Egypt. He had found it pleasant to drink of the fruit of that vine in the midst of all the wild grapes which the nation at large was bringing forth.

The blessedness of the covenant was there in His own Person, for He was the Covenant (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:8). All the wealth and blessedness of God was there to win men to Himself, and the disciples had in some measure entered into this, and been sharers in the ministry of it. It had been a festive time (Mark 2:19) with its own peculiar character of joy. There was something of new covenant character about it as making God known, but it needed His death to do that fully, and that meant the breaking of the link of association as according to flesh. All that could be made known of God was there in Christ incarnate. But the full revelation of His love could only come out through the death to which all was leading.

It was blessed for Christ to be with His own according to flesh, and to have them as His eye-witnesses and attendants, companying with Him. It was a joy that was of God, so that it was “the fruit of the vine” to Him. His delight was in the saints (Psalm 16:3) and His companionship with them as “the sons of the bridechamber” was sweet to Him as it was also their joy. But they had to be prepared for that association coming to an end, so that its joy might be known in a new way. None of its blessedness would be lost, but it would be tasted under entirely new conditions. He could not continue with them as the Bridegroom; He would no longer enjoy their companionship as with them according to flesh. However blessed the remembrance of the association in which they had been with Him here, it was according to flesh, and they were to know it as having been terminated by His being taken away from them.

If we are to understand christianity, we must know the great change from Christ, according to flesh, to Christ, risen and glorified. We must know the difference between being disciples here awaiting the gift of the Spirit — though knowing the joy of the Bridegroom’s presence — and being put into correspondence with a risen and heavenly Christ by the reception of the Holy Spirit, and thus set up in the kingdom of God.

It is worth while for us to pay a good deal of attention to this statement of our Lord as to “the fruit of the vine”. There was to be another day in which He would drink it in a new and different way. He would be a risen and exalted Man, and His disciples would stand in all the blessedness of His body as given, taken and eaten, and in the joy of the covenant in His blood. Though the disciples were subjects of the Father’s work and teaching, plants of His planting, they could not possibly apprehend or appropriate His body or His blood until He died. They were still in the flesh, but He had just been leading them, anticipatively, to apprehend and appropriate His body and His blood, that they might pass into new spiritual conditions. It is as having done so that we can look back, and say “when we were in the flesh” (Romans 7:5). We know Christ according to flesh no longer; we know ourselves according to flesh no longer. We stand in the value of His body given for us, and of the covenant in His blood, and we have the Holy Spirit. Christ having died is no longer “according to flesh”, and as we apprehend and appropriate His body and His blood we realise that we are not in the flesh.

“That day when I drink it new” tells of the present joy of the Lord in and with His own. The day has come when the Lord drinks of the fruit of the vine in a new way in the kingdom of God. He has joy in His own in a new way. He has gone through death, and He has brought them through death on to entirely new ground. They stand in the value of His body and His blood in the power of the Holy Spirit, and they are in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the sphere where the will of God is carried into effect through the Lord Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. There the Lord has His joy; He drinks the fruit of the vine. He has joy in His own as blessed in Himself, and blessed in the knowledge of God as revealed in love. It looks on, no doubt, to the time when the will of God, as established through the death of Christ, will have its place with Israel, and they will drink into the covenant and be in the kingdom of God. But this is anticipated in saints of the assembly now. In thinking of the joy which we have in drinking of the cup of the covenant, let us not forget His drinking — the joy which He has in His saints as blessed according to the pleasure of God in Him, and as made to drink into the love of God. We may gather many precious thoughts of the Lord’s joy in His own from John 13 – 17. All this is the precious divine truth. It is for us to recognise it, and to identify ourselves intelligently and affectionately with it. Our great concern should be to know the truth and to be thoroughly identified with it. Nothing else is of any value.

Then we must not overlook the sweet touch in Matthew 26:29: “Until that day when I drink it new with you”. This is additional to what we have in Mark 14:25. It is His own portion and joy in Mark, but in Matthew it is added that He would drink with His loved ones. He would share with them, and they with Him. It is the joy of the Head shared by the whole company of those who have taken and eaten His body, and who have drunk the blood of the covenant. Our Lord and Head is joyous; He has brought to pass the pleasure of God, and revealed the love of God, and on His side He has set His saints in the blessedness of this. It is a searching question for each one of us, ‘Am I enjoying what the Lord enjoys? Am I really in accord with Him?‘ Where would be dissatisfied or unsatisfied hearts if we knew this in spiritual reality?

But then if He associates His own with His joy, and shares it with them, we find ourselves carried beyond the thought of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 26:29 it is “in the kingdom of my Father”. A sweet and holy touch of relationship is brought in. It is the kingdom of Him who is in the affectionate relationship of Father to Christ. The character and features of that kingdom were seen perfectly in the beloved Son as Man here. The rule of that kingdom was in manifestation here. So that when He taught His disciples to pray that the Father’s kingdom might come, they knew what they were praying for; they had seen the true character of it in Him. Well might they pray that it should come and irradiate the earth with its light and blessedness.

His Father’s kingdom will be realised and set forth in a company of sons, who will “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). Matthew 17 begins with the transfiguration where Jesus is announced by the Father as “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight: hear him”. But in hearing Him we learn how He sets His own in the same relationship; this we see at the end of the chapter. “What dost thou think, Simon? the kings of the earth, from whom do they receive custom or tribute? from their own sons or from strangers? Peter says to him, From strangers. Jesus said to him, Then are the sons free. But that we may not be an offence to them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when thou hast opened its mouth thou wilt find a stater; take that and give it to them for me and thee”.

Think of the joy of the Lord in having a company of sons to be with Himself as knowing the Father’s rule in parental affection. They are in the kingdom of His Father; they have learned to know God as Christ’s Father, and to know Him in the liberty of the Spirit of sonship, but also in the rule and discipline of His love. In the kingdom of His Father there is parental government (see 1 Peter 1:17) and fatherly chastening (see Hebrews 12:5 – 11). Those in that kingdom have not only received sonship through infinite divine favour and love according to Galatians 4:4 – 7, but they have known the instruction and correction of sons under the Father’s disciplinary rule. In that way they acquire the education and manners of sons. What joy has Christ in and with such! In an order of things which is of His Father, Christ can have joy with His own. We cannot have the companionship of Christ in the world of lawlessness, but we can have it in the kingdom of God and of Christ’s Father. What is still future as to public manifestation is spiritually present now.

This leads to singing. “And having sung a hymn, they went out to the mount of Olives”. We cannot doubt that the Lord Jesus led that singing. It was an anticipation of how He would as the risen and ascended One be found singing in the midst of the assembly (Psalm 22:22; Hebrews 2:12). We do not know what they actually sang in the guest-chamber, but what a hymn does Christ sing in the midst of the assembly! How He celebrates the praises of God as having secured the establishment of His pleasure! He hymns the One who has made known the depth and blessedness of His love in the covenant. He sings as One who delights in the company of His brethren to whom He has made known His Father and God as their Father and God. He sings as knowing the Father’s delight in having a company of sons, of whom He Himself is the Firstborn, and who are to be brought to full conformity to Him in heavenly glory. The assembly is the fruit of God’s eternal purpose and electing love, now brought to light through redemption. It is composed of those into whose hearts the Spirit of God’s Son has been sent out crying “Abba, Father”. How rightly is God praised in song for all this! If we taste the joy of it how can we help singing? The hearts that know it, even in small measure, must be uplifted in grateful and joyous notes. Our Lord and Head is in the perfect intelligence and joy of all that He has revealed, and of all that He has secured for God and for us. The nearer we get to Him the better shall we understand it, and the deeper will be our joy. I have no doubt we have an intimation here of how these precious spiritual realities work out in the souls of saints as divinely taught under the influence of Christ.

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