In June and July of 1897, Ellen White wrote a number of articles in the Review and Herald about the ordinances of the Lord’s house and the symbols that Christ has given to us. They are simple and they can be easily and plainly understood.
There are the three ordinances of the Lord’s house in the new covenant. One is the foot washing service, or the ordinance of humility; one is the communion; and the other is baptism.
The sacramental service that we call the Lord’s Supper has the deepest significance. Ellen White said that this service, instituted by Jesus, was to take the place of the Passover. “Christ left for His church a memorial of his great sacrifice for man. ‘This do,’ he said, ‘in remembrance of Me.’ This was the point of transition between two economies and their two great festivals. The one was to close forever [that is the Passover of the old covenant]; and the other, which He had just established, was to take its place, and to continue through all time as the memorial of His death.” Review and Herald, June 22, 1897
This service is so important that we find it recorded in a number of places in the Bible. I suppose that everyone has his favorite places where this event is described. Matthew 26:26-30 is mine. It is also recorded in Mark 14:22-26 and in Luke 22:14-23. The apostle John in writing his gospel does not record in detail the Lord’s Supper, but he records in great detail the ordinance of humility that precedes it. In fact, John 13 is dedicated almost wholly to recording this event. This is so important that it is recorded in other places in the Bible in addition to the gospels.
Many ministers, when they conduct a communion service, use 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. This passage is probably the one most commonly used and is not in the gospels at all. The apostle Paul says, “The Lord instructed me about this,” and then goes on to describe the service.
Jesus said, “This do, in remembrance of Me.” Do you have anyone in your life of whom you have some remembrances? The other day while working at the office, I reached into my pocket and felt a slide. I knew I would not have placed it there if there had not been a reason to do so, and immediately I said to myself, “It is a picture of Marshall.” I pulled it out and held it up; and sure enough, it was a picture of my brother.
You have remembrances of people that include both those who are with you now and those you used to know who are new dead. Possibly, you have a book or a picture or a letter that they wrote to you, or you have other things that remind you of them. When Jesus instituted this service, he said, “Do this, to remember Me.” This is a remembrance of Him; and every time we celebrate this service, we do it as a commemoration of our Lord, our Master. When we do this, we may know that God comes sacredly near to us.
One of the wonderful things about the story of Jesus is that it helps us to understand the character and the personality of God. We learn that he loves us so much that He sent His Son to this world when we were ruined, to save us. And if we appreciate what He has done, he says, “do this in memory of Me.”
When Jesus was here, he invited all men to come to Him. This is why, as Seventh-day Adventists, when we conduct this service, we do not exclude anyone. Anyone who desires may participate. Jesus was not exclusive, so neither are we.
As we meditate upon the meaning of this symbol, our heart needs to be broken and the selfishness and pride need to be cut away from our life. All sin needs to be removed. That is why, in the Passover service, they were not allowed to have anything in the house that was fermented. Now we ferment our bread. Yeast plus sugar produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. The carbon dioxide is what makes the bread raise, which is why the yeast is used. Of course, as the bread bakes, the alcohol is baked off and what traces of it remain after baking will evaporate if the bread is allowed to sit for twenty-four hours before it is sliced.
Before the fermentation process is a symbol of sin, unleavened bread is the only correct representation of the Lord’s Supper. And we must use only pure grape juice of the grape, or unfermented wine. This is what we call grape juice and is in harmony with the Scriptures.
If you look at Matthew 26:29 in the Greek language, it is very clear indeed. Now in the English it says, “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.” New is the word in English, and it means fresh, or just squeezed. That word can never be used in regard to fermented wine. We do not know that they had fresh-squeezed grape juice when Jesus instituted this service, but they had ways of preserving grape juice in those days just as we do. Jesus said, “I’m going to drink it the same with you in heaven.”
As we participate in this service, we cannot do it without thinking about the cross. The cross has a dark side. It is the most terrible thing that the human race has ever done; but Ellen White tells us that when we come to the communion service, “We are not to stand in the shadow, but in the saving light of the cross.” Review and Herald, June 22, 1897. What is the bright side of the cross? It is the side where you see the love that Jesus has for you. His eye looked down the stream of time, down to where you would be in the world. He went to the cross for you because He loves you. And when we come to this service, we are not to allow ourselves to spend all the time thinking about the sorrow and agony of the cross. We are to concentrate our mind on the love that was manifested for us at the cross. When we receive that love into our heart, it changes our life.
“On these occasions,” Ellen White says, “heaven is brought very near.” Ibid. Isn’t it wonderful to know that heaven is very near? In fact, Ellen White says that Jesus is there in person. “They,” that is, those who participate, “are brought into sweet communion one with another. These things we are never to forget. The love of Jesus, with its convincing power, is to be kept fresh in the memory. We must not forget Him who is our strength and our sufficiency.” Ibid.
Only by love is love awakened. As we receive His love for us, we respond to it; and when two, three, six, or a whole church full of people start to respond to His love, then he says to us, “This is My commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.” That is the miracle of the Christian’s religion. People have to see that Christians love each other the way Christ loves them. This is the greatest witness that can be given to the world.
Every communion service is a reminder. We are participating in this as a remembrance of Him until he comes. So it is a memorial and a reminder of His second coming. When Jesus instituted this service, there was dissension among the disciples as to who should be the greatest. Their hearts were not ready to have communion with each other or with their Lord. Sometimes as human beings, we try to teach someone something when their heart is not ready to be taught, and we meet with failure. Jesus understood that, and he did not institute the communion supper until He had prepared them with the foot washing service to enter into communion with Him.
“Christ gave His disciples to understand that the washing of their feet did not cleanse away their sin, but that the cleansing of their heart was tested in this humble service. If the heart was cleansed, this act was all that was essential to reveal the fact.” Review and Herald, June 14, 1898
Is your heart cleansed? The ordinance of foot washing or humility is a time for us to search our hearts and to say, “is there any sin cherished in my heart that needs to be cut away by confession?” One of the most wonderful things about Jesus is that if you choose to confess and make things right by going to Him, or going to a brother or sister, when you take one step toward Him, He takes more than one step toward you. It is not a fifty-fifty relationship. “The first look, the first act, of contrition and repentance that you direct toward Christ, does not escape His notice. The first step you take toward Him will bring Him more than a step toward you. All things, especially on this occasion, are ready for your reception. He will meet you in your weakness, repenting, broken-hearted soul, with His divine strength; he will meet your emptiness and spiritual poverty with his inexhaustible fullness.” Ibid.
None need to feel that they are so spiritually poor that they cannot participate. If you realize that you are spiritually poor and if you choose and say, “Lord Jesus, I’m choosing to come to You,” no matter how spiritually poor you are, the first look is noticed. He takes more than one step toward you. There is no one who is so spiritually poor that they cannot receive a blessing from Christ. Surrender your heart to Him, open your heart to Him, and He will give you a wonderful spiritual blessing.
Today we are in a time of theological controversy. Perhaps you have noticed a theological controversy that has developed over such things as the feast days. I want to share with you some very plain statements from the Spirit of Prophecy about the feast days. They have to do with the ordinances of the Lord’s house in the new covenant. I want you to notice how clearly Ellen White spells out the difference between what we are to do in the time of the new covenant and what the Jews did.
“In this ordinance,” she is writing about the Lord’s Supper, “Christ discharged his disciples from the cares and burdens of the ancient Jewish obligations in rites and ceremonies. These no longer possessed any virtue; for type was meeting antitype in Himself, the authority and foundation of all Jewish ordinances that pointed to Him as the great and only efficacious offering for the sins of the world. He gave this simple ordinance that it might be a special season when He Himself would always be present.” Ibid. Do you know what it means to be discharged because that one time, he was discharged from the army. It means that you are no longer responsible to that whole system. You are discharged. Notice that in this ordinance, Christ discharged them from all of these Jewish rites and ceremonies.
Now if that was the only sentence you had, you should be able to figure it out; but here is another one. (All of these sentences appear in this same series of articles that she wrote in June and July of 1897 in the Review and Herald.) “It was Christ’s desire to leave His disciples an ordinance that would do for them the very thing they needed,—that would serve to disentangle them from the rites and ceremonies which they had hitherto engaged in as essential, and which the reception of the gospel made no longer of any force.” Ibid.
Do you know what the word disentangle means? It means that you just completely cut loose form something.
Now that statement is quite clear, but I want you to especially notice the next sentence. Notice what she says, “To continue these rites would be an insult to Jehovah.” What does it mean to continue to participate in these Jewish rites and ceremonies? She says that it is an insult to Jehovah. Do you want to insult the Lord?
Here is a third statement. “The great Teacher’s wisdom in limiting the measure of our researches in earthly directions, called the attention of all to His legislation from the very foundation of our world,—to a code of morals, pure, simple, and practical, unencumbered by the long years of types and sacrifices, which passed away when the only true Sacrifice, Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, was offered for the sins of the world. His lessons to his disciples are received by all who would become His disciples , to the end of time. These lessons discharged His followers from the bondage of the ceremonial law, and left them the ordinance of baptism to be received by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the only One who can take away sin. The ceremony of feet-washing and the Lord’s Supper, in its simplicity, and spirituality, is to be observed with true true solemnity, and with hearts full of thankfulness. It s participants are not to exhaust their powers of thought or their physical powers on outward forms and ceremonies.” Ibid., June 21, 1898
There are people spending their time studying Jubilee cycles, the 6,000 year theory, and all manner of mathematical numbers, signs and symbols. They are seeking to determine when probation will close and when Jesus will return. Friend, what is important for you and me is to have our heart changed so that we will be ready in character for Him to come. The central issue for us to understand is the necessity of entering into communion with Jesus. We are to stand in the saving light of the cross, receiving His love into our hearts, entering into communion with Him. The result of this is that we will each one be led into communion with all of the other people who are having the same experience with Jesus.
Concerning the disciples, we are told, “When they were so eager to pluck from the tree of knowledge, He presented them with the fruit of the tree of life. They found every avenue closed to them, which should not advance them in spiritual understanding of the narrow way, leading to eternal life. They found every fountain sealed, save the fountain of eternal life.” Ibid.
Oh, friend, do not let the devil trap you into spending your whole life seeking the fruit from the tree of knowledge, trying to figure out things that God has warned us not to. You know that the Lord has told us in the Spirit of Prophecy that we are not to know when probation will close and when the Second Coming will occur; nor are we to spend our time trying to figure that out! That is not our job! Our job is to enter into communion with Jesus.
What does Jesus see when He looks into your heart today? “The Lord understands all the defects in human character. He desires to save man. It was for this purpose that He came to this world. In Him all sufficiency dwells. In Him dwells all ‘the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ The defective characters that remain thus, when One is among them who came to our world for the express purpose of taking away the sin of the world, make manifest that they do not appreciate the attributes of Christ sufficiently to hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Ibid., June 28, 1898. One of the great lessons of the communion supper is that if you hunger and thirst after righteousness, Jesus says that He will fill you with Himself.
Do you know that you do not have a single craving in your heart that Jesus cannot satisfy. “No man, woman, youth, or child can say, I have cravings that he cannot satisfy. All cravings that He does not fill are supplied with a superior sufficiency, which is for the perfection of Christian character.” Ibid. The communion supper is a symbol of the fact that if you come to Jesus, you are going to be satisfied. Have you ever thought of the fact that among the saved, throughout all eternity, there will never be a time when you will hear one person desire something that they cannot have. It will never happen. In Jesus, all will find satisfaction for every craving of the soul. There is no one else who can do this, but Jesus; and the communion supper is a symbol of that fact.
When the disciples met, they had been striving as to who would be the greatest. After He had waited a little while, Jesus got up from the table, filled a basin with water and began to wash their feet. I do not know of any place in the whole Bible where the Lord of Glory has given to the human race a greater rebuke. The disciples were so ashamed.
Do you know what is going to happen when we go to heaven? Ellen White saw it in vision. Jesus will say to his people, “Come, My people. You have suffered for My sake. Sit down. I am going to serve you.” The only way that you will be able to accept a service like that is if all of the pride is gone and you have a servant’s heart yourself. In the Christian religion, as we read in Ephesians 5, we are all to be in submission or in subjection to each other; that is, we serve each other. That is the way heaven is.
When the disciples saw Jesus washing their feet, they were so ashamed and humbled that they became teachable. They quit their dissension about who should be the greatest.
Is there any danger in the Christian Church today of dissension? Listen to this sentence, “Dissension always creates hatred.” Ibid., July 5, 1898. Did you know that? That is why dissension is so dangerous. If dissension is among us and we do not correct it, it will develop into hatred. That is one of the great reasons for the ordinance of humility. If there is any dissension among us, if we have something against each other, if there is something between us that we do not straighten out, it will develop into hatred every time.
This humble service is to recover man from the difficulties of sin. I want to have the experience that this service symbolizes, do you? We must not procrastinate till some future time. We do not know if we even have that future time. We need this experience today. Let us pray that the Lord will work this miracle out in our hearts.