While in high school, I had two summer jobs to earn money for college. One was working in an automotive parts house, and the other was selling ice cream bars for the local Dairy Queen, right across the street from my other job. Actually, I sold Dilly Bars – frozen ice cream on a stick, dipped in chocolate. I drove a Cushman scooter with a little pickup bed in the back, which held a small freezer. Sitting in the front with two open side doors, I was eagerly pursued by children, as well as the neighborhood dogs, some not too friendly.
A problem arose when my schedule at the automotive parts house conflicted with my schedule at the Dairy Queen. Since my father was not skilled in automotive parts and repairs, he volunteered to substitute by delivering the Dilly Bars for me. Now you must understand that my father was the principal of a small elementary school, as well as a teacher. It was pretty humbling for him to drive that Cushman scooter around town selling Dilly Bars to little children, while fending off the neighborhood dogs.
One day, it became even more humbling for my father. A woman walked up to purchase a Dilly Bar, and as she approached the Cushman scooter, she recognized my father. The surprise on her face was obvious. My father recognized her as well – she was the wife of one of his school board members. Fortunately, my father saw the humor in it all, as he quickly said to the woman, “Care to help a boy through college?”
You might wonder what this story has to do with communion, or with the coming of our Lord, which we celebrate at Christmas. I hope to show how it relates in this message.
There are some who believe that the elements – the bread and the wine (or grape juice) – which we partake at Communion are more than symbols. They believe that in some mystical way the bread and the wine actually become the body and the blood of our Lord. I wonder if one reason this view is appealing is that the elements would seem too common otherwise. On the other hand, we believe that the bread and the wine are symbols. I would like to suggest that these symbols are very significant and meaningful, if we rightly understand them.
I will focus primarily on the bread, which we partake at Communion, because I believe this symbolizes our Lord’s incarnation. I would like to draw your attention to two ways in which the Communion bread symbolizes the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. First, it symbolizes the fact that our Lord was born without sin. No one else in history can make this claim, not even a great man like King David. It is David who wrote,
And yet our Lord could say,
“Who among you can prove me guilty of any sin? If I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me?” (John 8:46, emphasis mine)
There is a very important reason why our Lord must be born without sin. You will remember that in the Old Testament the Jews were instructed that they could only sacrifice animals “without spot or blemish”:
17 The Lord spoke to Moses: 18 “Speak to Aaron, his sons, and all the Israelites and tell them, ‘When any man from the house of Israel or from the foreigners in Israel presents his offering for any of the votive or freewill offerings which they present to the Lord as a burnt offering, 19 if it is to be acceptable for your benefit it must be a flawless male from the cattle, sheep, or goats. 20 You must not present anything that has a flaw, because it will not be acceptable for your benefit. 21 If a man presents a peace offering sacrifice to the Lord for a special votive offering or for a freewill offering from the herd or the flock, it must be flawless to be acceptable; it must have no flaw. 22 “‘You must not present to the Lord something blind, or with a broken bone, or mutilated, or with a running sore, or with a festering eruption, or with a feverish rash. You must not give any of these as a gift on the altar to the Lord” (Leviticus 22:17-22, emphasis mine).2
The Passover lamb had to be without blemish (Exodus 12:5), and this was clearly a picture of the Messiah (Jesus) who was to come.
18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed – not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19, emphasis mine).
Jesus was not born with a sin nature, like all of us were. He was born free from all sin. Satan did his best to tempt our Lord to sin, but he failed, and our Lord Jesus prevailed (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). It was because Jesus was without sin that He could take our sin upon Himself, bear the punishment we deserve, and thus provide salvation for all who will believe in Him:
4 But he lifted up our illnesses,
he carried our pain;
even though we thought he was being punished,
attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.
5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds,
crushed because of our sins;
he endured punishment that made us well;
because of his wounds we have been healed.
6 All of us had wandered off like sheep;
each of us had strayed off on his own path,
but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.
7 He was treated harshly and afflicted,
but he did not even open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block,
like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not even open his mouth.
8 He was led away after an unjust trial – but who even cared?
Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living;
because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.
9 They intended to bury him with criminals,
but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb,
because he had committed no violent deeds, nor had he spoken deceitfully.
10 Though the Lord desired to crush him and make him ill,
once restitution is made,
he will see descendants and enjoy long life,
and the Lord’s purpose will be accomplished through him.
11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work,
he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done.
“My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins.
12 So I will assign him a portion with the multitudes,
he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful,
because he willingly submitted to death
and was numbered with the rebels,
when he lifted up the sin of many
and intervened on behalf of the rebels” (Isaiah 53:4-12).
The Apostle Paul put it this way:
17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away – look, what is new has come! 18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, emphasis mine.)
The writer to the Hebrews wrote this:
11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God (Hebrews 9:11-14, emphasis mine).
James reminds us that God cannot be tempted by sin. Since our Lord Jesus is God, He cannot be tempted by sin:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one (James 1:13, emphasis mine).
The Apostle Peter strongly maintains the sinlessness of our Lord Jesus Christ, which enabled Him to die in our place, suffering the penalty for our sins:
21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:21-25, emphasis mine).
When we celebrate Communion, the bread which we partake is unleavened bread. It has no yeast in it, because yeast is a symbol of sin. Concerning this the Apostle Paul wrote:
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough – you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
After the celebration of Passover (when the Passover lamb was sacrificed and eaten), the Feast of Unleavened Bread began, lasting for a week. Jewish families would search through the entire house, looking for any leaven and putting it outside if they found any. The sacrifice of the Passover Lamb was to result in the removal of leaven. Paul draws upon this symbolism when he deals with immorality that is practiced – and condoned – in the church at Corinth. Paul reminds them and us that Jesus was the Passover Lamb, and that since He has been sacrificed, we should not tolerate sin. Christ was sinless, and He died for our sins. Thus, we should put sin away from us because of Jesus.
From this, we should recognize that the Messiah (Jesus) must be without sin, so that He can die for the sins of others, rather than for His own sins. In this way, God can forgive our sins on the basis of what Jesus has done for us. But how could Jesus enter this world without sin when every other person ever born has been born as a sinner? The solution is the virgin birth of Jesus. Our celebration of Christmas reminds us how Jesus could come to earth as both God and man and yet be without sin. Mary was the mother of Jesus, but Joseph was not the father. It was the Holy Spirit who made Mary pregnant. The virgin birth meant that the baby Jesus was born without sin. It meant that He, and only He, could be the Messiah. He could die for our sins because He had no sin of His own.
When we partake of the bread at Communion, we should be reminded of the virgin birth of our Lord and of the fact that Jesus had no sin. He was the “spotless Lamb of God.” And because of this, He could die on the cross, shedding His precious blood for our sins. Without the sinlessness of Jesus, which the bread symbolizes, His death would have no value for us. Thus, the Christmas story is essential to our salvation, and to Communion, which celebrates the salvation God has provided for us in Jesus.
The bread symbolizes something else, I believe. It symbolizes the humility of Jesus in coming to this earth as a man. Around the world, bread is one of the most basic forms of food. When the Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years, God fed them with manna (bread) and water. By the way, this is why the Israelites complained about God’s provision of manna – it was plain, and they wished for something tastier:
4 Now the mixed multitude who were among them craved more desirable foods, and so the Israelites wept again and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now we are dried up, and there is nothing at all before us except this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)
When there was a great famine in the land of Israel, God sent Elijah to live with a Gentile widow and her son. He came upon them as they were about to eat their last meal – a little bread and some water:
8 The Lord told him, 9 “Get up, go to Zarephath in Sidonian territory, and live there. I have already told a widow who lives there to provide for you.” 10 So he got up and went to Zarephath. When he went through the city gate, there was a widow gathering wood. He called out to her, “Please give me a cup of water, so I can take a drink.” 11 As she went to get it, he called out to her, “Please bring me a piece of bread.” 12 She said, “As certainly as the Lord your God lives, I have no food, except for a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. Right now I am gathering a couple of sticks for a fire. Then I’m going home to make one final meal for my son and myself. After we have eaten that, we will die of starvation.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go and do as you planned. But first make a small cake for me and bring it to me; then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour will not be empty and the jug of oil will not run out until the day the Lord makes it rain on the surface of the ground.’” 15 She went and did as Elijah told her; there was always enough food for Elijah and for her and her family. 16 The jar of flour was never empty and the jug of oil never ran out, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah (1 Kings 17:8-16).
No meal could be any more simple and still be called a meal than bread and water. And remember that this was unleavened bread. We are not talking about doughnuts or cinnamon rolls; we are talking about a flat (and relatively bland) piece of bread. Why did God choose bread – this simple food – to symbolize the coming of God in human flesh, to save us from our sins? I believe the bread is a symbol of the humility of our Lord. When Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah, he spoke of One who would not be looked upon as an exceptional human being, but rather as One who would be ignored as One who was not important:
1 Who would have believed what we just heard? When was the Lord’s power revealed through him? 2 He sprouted up like a twig before God, like a root out of parched soil; he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him. 3 He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant (Isaiah 53:1-3, emphasis mine).
Micah, who ministered in Isaiah’s time, spoke of the birthplace of Messiah as insignificant:
2 As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah – from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf, one whose origins are in the distant past. 3 So the Lord will hand the people of Israel over to their enemies until the time when the woman in labor gives birth. Then the rest of the king’s countrymen will return to be reunited with the people of Israel. 4 He will assume his post and shepherd the people by the Lord’s strength, by the sovereign authority of the Lord his God. They will live securely, for at that time he will be honored even in the distant regions of the earth (Micah 5:2-4, emphasis mine).
Jesus was born in an insignificant town like Bethlehem, rather than a great city like Jerusalem. And as Jesus was growing up, He lived in Nazareth, which was not a place that important people came from:
19 After Herod had died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 So he got up and took the child and his mother and returned to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. 23 He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:19-23, emphasis mine).
When Jesus began His public ministry, Philip found Nathanael and told him that they had found the Messiah. The problem was that Jesus was a Nazarene, and Nathanael could not believe that Messiah would come from such a humble place:
44 (Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter.) 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip replied, “Come and see” (John 1:44-46, emphasis mine).
In this great text below in Philippians, the Apostle Paul emphasizes the humility of our Lord in coming to this earth:
4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. 5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:4-8)
In His high priestly prayer in John 17, our Lord spoke of the glory He had with the Father in heaven before He came to this earth (in fact, before the earth existed):
4 I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created. 6 “I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word (John 17:4-6, emphasis mine).
Can you imagine the Son of God leaving the glory of heaven and coming to live in this sin-scarred earth, disdained by men, and ultimately crucified as a criminal? Christmas is about God the Son humbling Himself and coming to earth as a man. He came not as a rich and powerful man, but as a child born into poverty. The ultimate humility was His suffering and shame at the hands of sinful men when they crucified Him as a criminal, a criminal who was regarded as worse than Barabbas, a thief, a revolutionary, and a murderer.
I started this message with the story of my father, who humbled himself to the point of driving a scooter and selling Dilly Bars. He did this for me, because I am His son. Jesus humbled Himself to the point of leaving heaven and coming to earth as a man – a seemingly insignificant man – and dying on the cross of Calvary as a criminal, in my place. He did this for you and for me that we might become His sons. At that time, we were His enemies, and yet He humbled Himself, taking our sins upon Himself, dying in our place, that we might receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.
We cannot celebrate Communion without celebrating the Christmas story. Thus, we do not celebrate Christmas once a year, but every time we partake of Communion.
When we observe Communion, the elements are passed, and both the bread and the cup are before us. We must decide to take the bread and to drink the wine. These are only symbols, so we must first decide whether or not we will partake of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Do we believe in Him as the Son of God, who came to the earth in human flesh? Do we believe that He was born of a virgin by the work of the Holy Spirit, and thus free from the contamination of sin? Do we believe that the blood He shed was from the spotless, sinless Son of God? Do we acknowledge that we are sinners, whose only hope is in the work of Jesus on the cross of Calvary? We must partake of Him before we can enter into the benefits of what He has done. I trust that you have done this. If you have not, I pray that you will do so today and discover the joy that Christmas was intended to bring.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. 20 When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23 “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:18-23, emphasis mine).
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.