Jesus gave His Church two ordinances to practice, baptism and Holy Communion or The Lord’s Table. Some churches have added ordinances or rituals, but these two are the only ones ordained by Jesus and supported in scripture.
Baptism. Baptism is an outward sign and testimony to others of an inward reality. When a person is baptized, they are immersed in water to illustrate their old life without Christ is being laid to rest, buried, put to death. The water of baptism symbolizes the “living water” Jesus spoke about, “concerning the Spirit, whom those believing would receive” (John 4:10, 13-14; 7:37-39). This is being born again by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at conversion. A sinner admits their sins before God and asks His forgiveness as they put their faith in Jesus as their Savior Who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.
When the person is raised up out of the water it is a symbol of being raised to newness of life. “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is only one baptism for believers in that a genuine Christian is only baptized in the name of Jesus and no other name. Jesus is the only name by which people can be saved (Acts 4:9-12; Ephesians 4:4-6).
Baptism with the Holy Spirit. But the Bible uses baptism in a second way. The Bible speaks of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. We see this in the Book of Acts. This is a baptism or immersion in the Spirit so that one is totally surrendered to the Holy Spirit to empower for service. Jesus referred to this as the Promise of the Father (Acts 1:4-5). It was so important that He instructed His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” then he said, “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). All of what we see in Acts, the birth of the Church, the spread of the gospel, miracles, use of spiritual gifts, follows after the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
In Acts the baptism with the Holy Spirit is connected with faith and obedience. By faith – “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). A faith that is obedient – “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32).
Baptism is putting off and putting on. Baptism is also a symbol of how we put off the old man and put on the new. We see this in three epistles of Paul:
Romans 6:1–7 (NKJV) – What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.
Ephesians 4:20–24 (NKJV) – 20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Colossians 3:1–17 (NKJV) – If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. 5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. 8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. 12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
So baptism is a way to outwardly testify to the life changing work of the Holy Spirit experienced by the one who puts their faith in Jesus.
Holy Communion. The second ordinance Jesus instructed us to observe is referred to as Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. Some object to the use of the word Eucharist because of its use in the Roman Catholic Church, but the word eucharist only refers to when Jesus “gave thanks” at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:27-30). The word “eucharist” comes from the Greek term eucharisteo which means to be grateful to express gratitude. Since that is what the Bible says Jesus did at the Last Supper, i.e., “then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). Jesus then said, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:29-30). Jesus was soon after betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, crucified on Golgotha, and three days later risen from the grace (Matthew 26-28).
What Holy Communion means.
Some associate the meal Jesus had with His disciples with the Passover meal, others do not. The point is that this meal is sacred. There are two elements used in Holy Communion: unleavened bread and wine/juice.
The unleavened bread. The unleavened bread symbolizes first the sinless life of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21; Isaiah 53:1-12; 1 Peter 3:18-19; 1 John 2:1-2). It also symbolizes the brokenness Jesus experienced in heart (not body in fulfillment of scripture which says not a bone of Messiah would be broken – John 19:31-33 and Exodus 12: 43 and 46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20). Lastly, the breaking of the unleavened bread represents how those taking Communion are one in Christ. Each piece is individual and different, but they all come from the one loaf, Jesus.
The wine or juice. The wine or juice of Communion represent how the shed blood of Jesus atones for and cleanses away all our sins (Hebrews 10:19; 1 John 1:7 and 9). Our sins are cleansed away not by any work we do, but by the precious shed blood of Jesus who died in our place on the cross.
A reminder we are saved by God’s grace through the competed work of Jesus. Holy Communion is a reminder that our salvation is not by our works or efforts, but by the competed work of Jesus on the cross. On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). We are saved as a gift of God’s grace received by faith (e.g., Ephesians 2:1-9; Galatians 3:10-13). We may be tempted to emphasize our efforts to be just before God, but Holy communion reminds us we are saved and secure because of what Jesus has done on our behalf.
A reminder that though our salvation is freely given, it was not acquired cheaply. Holy Communion is a time for the follower of Jesus to express their thanks and to remember our salvation is freely offered to us by God in His grace, received by faith, but that though it was free it wasn’t cheap; it cost Jesus His life.
The Lord’s Table – Come and dine. We also sometimes refer to Holy Communion as The Lord’s Table; it is a way to communicate how we His bride and Church gather in the presence of Jesus to commune with Him and express our thanks to Him. This expresses the intimacy of our relationship with Jesus and with each other as we gather together with Him. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). When we come to the Lord’s Table, it is as though we are opening the door of our heart and inviting Jesus in to dine with us.
Holy Communion must be kept holy. The word “holy” means extraordinary not common. Holy Communion or The Lord’s Table should never be reduced to lifeless ritual. The Lord’s Table should never be a “common” thing. The Lord’s Table and our experience of it should aways be holy; extraordinary, special, meaningful, profoundly life impacting. Let’s make Holy Communion holy.
This is no casual matter. God doesn’t take lightly those who make His holy things common. Scripture states:
Hebrews 10:29–31 (NKJV) – 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
This doesn’t mean we should be solemn and dour as we approach The Lord’s Table. It simply means we should take it seriously. We should keep the profound significance of what Jesus did on the cross and what it means to us in our mind and heart. We should come to The Lord’s Table in a spirit of thanks and worship, praising God in Christ, in the Spirit for His redemptive work and His wonderful grace.
A time of deep heartfelt repentance. In light of all of what The Lord’s Table means, we should approach The Lord’s Table as Isaiah when he “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). We should hear the six-winged seraphim saying:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”
We should imagine:
4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
And then our response should be:
5 So I said:
“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The Lord of hosts.”
We should have a deep repentant sense that we are one of the “all,” who “fall short of the
glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And then we should look and receive the cleansing touch from
the altar of God.
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said:
“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”
Our position is different, fetter than Isaiah’s in that now it is the cleansing blood of Jesus that does away with our sins. For that we should be even more humble, even more thankful, even more surrendered so that when we hear the voice like Isaiah did, we jump to surrender and serve the Lord like he did:
8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
“Send me.” That is what Holy Communion does to us when it is experienced in a holy way. That is a holy, Holy Communion. That is what it ought to be. Not a dead lifeless ritual whose participants are going through the motions with some vague idea the ritual saves them, rather than the relationship by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
A final summary view of Holy Communion. When Paul instructs the church at Corinth about inappropriate behavior connected with the way they were taking the Lord’s Supper, he instructed them, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). Let’s use the time we have before our next time at the Lord’s Table as a time to examine ourselves. Let’s make our next time at the Lord’s Table a special holy time where we thank God for His redemption in Christ, ask His forgiveness for our shortcomings, and seek Him to help us experience all He has for us.
Some things to remember about Holy Communion:
1 Corinthians 11:23–34 (NKJV)
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you:
Like Paul we should seek to receive from the Lord. We should look to our Bibles prayerfully seeking from the Lord insight and truth to apply to our lives and life in general.
that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
Our salvation is in Christ. Our salvation and the work necessary to obtain it, has been completed by Jesus, TETELESTAI – FINISHED (John 19:30). Jesus has paid in full our outstanding debt of sin so that when we put our faith in Him, we receive full forgiveness. He gets our sin. We get His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). There is no better deal in all eternity. And we add nothing to our salvation. We simply rest by faith in the completed work of Jesus and worship Him for what He has done for us.
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
Remember, we will not be here forever. Either we will die (Heb. 9:27) or Jesus will return for us (1 Thess. 4:13-18). We should live in light of this truth (cf. Luke 21:36).
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
“Unworthy” (Greek anaxios) means irreverently, in a way that fails to see the worth of something. When we come to the Lord’s Table we need to do so with a sincere sense of its meaning. The Lord’s Table is a time to reflect and remember why and how we are Christians that have the promise and hope of eternal life.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
When we fail to see the worth of what Jesus has done for us it is an indication we don’t really know Him or are saved by Him. Eternal life is about knowing Jesus (John 17:3). When we participate in Communion irreverently it exposes our lack of genuine faith. When we fail to discern what Jesus has done for us, it exposes our lack of eternal life in us.
30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
I don’t believe that people who take Communion irreverently will get sick, (though they might). I believe the better sense of this verse is that those who irreverently participate in Communion likely fail to see the healing power available with Jesus. All the more reason to examine ourselves to see we are experiencing all God has for us.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.
It would be better for us to judge ourselves and address any sin or situation that is offensive to God or a hindrance to our walk with Him.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
If we judge ourselves inadequately or superficially, God who loves us will discipline us for our betterment (Hebrews 12). The objective and highest priority of God for us is that “we may not be condemned with the world.”
33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
A good point of examination is selflessness. Do we put others first or are we selfish? The greatest commandments are to love God supremely and others sacrificially (Matthew 22:37-40; cf. also Luke 6:27-36).
34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment.
The Lord’s Table is not a place for us to indulge our flesh. This is true of all practices or activities in the ministry of the Church. When we bring carnal self-centered indulgences into the Church, we are looking for judgement from God.
And the rest I will set in order when I come.
It would be good to establish a holy habit of self-examination on a regular basis. The danger of this is becoming overly critical of ourselves and others. We should never forget or live outside of God’s grace. But we should live a life of examination seeking and speaking God’s truth in His love (Ephesians 4;15).
That is what holy, Holy Communion looks like. That is what we need individually as Christians, and corporately as Christ’s Church. Examine yourselves! Examine yourselves and experience the benefits and blessings of The Lord’s Table. That’s my prayer. In Jesus’ name. Amen!