Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reformed Wisdom

John Calvin on John 13:22 --

"This passage shows that we ought sometimes to reprove the ungodly in such a manner as not instantly to point the finger to them, until God, by his own hand, drag them forth to the light. For it frequently happens that there are secret diseases in the Church, which we are not at liberty to disguise; and yet the wickedness of men is not so ripe as to be capable of being laid open. In such cases we ought to take this middle path."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"The Blessing of the Elements" Sermon: Matthew 26:26-29

“The Blessing of the Elements”

[Matthew 26:26-29]

January 27, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            Last week we began considering the elements of the Lord’s Supper – the bread and the wine – grape juice.  We saw that the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus during that Last Supper – that Jesus took the elements of the Passover meal and assigned additional or fuller meaning to them.  Whereas in the Passover meal the lamb represented the blood that must be shed for the forgiveness of sin, the bread represented God’s salvation coming quickly and the need to be ready to move at a moment’s notice when God told them to, the bitter herbs represented their suffering, and the wine represented God’s Faithfulness and His Promise to keep the Covenant He made with Abraham, now each aspect was fulfilled in Jesus’ Work, and the apostles and all we who believe were told to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, remembering what Jesus did by the bread becoming symbolic of Jesus’ human body suffering and dying for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and the cup – and the wine in it – being symbolic of the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood – that is, that the Covenant Law was now written on the hearts of believers and enacted upon by the Holy Spirit and that salvation was explicitly for all peoples, not just the Jews.

            We saw that there are two major interpretations about the elements – one that says they become – in one way or another – the human flesh and blood of Jesus – and one that says that the elements remain bread and wine.  We noted that the Reformed Church in America – which is our denomination, understands the latter view:  the bread and the wine remain bread and wine, they do not become real human flesh and real human blood.

            We argued that the bread and wine do not turn into the real flesh and real blood of Jesus because Jesus was right there with them when He said that the bread and wine were His flesh and blood – and if He had given them real flesh and blood to eat, it would have been meaningless, because He had not died and risen yet.  Also, Jesus often used symbolic language, so it would not be out of character for Jesus to use symbolic language here.  And, if His body, after the resurrection was able to be everywhere at once – in the elements of every celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we would no longer have a real human interceding for us before the Father, and, since our bodies are promised to be as Jesus’ is, we would expect our bodies to be deified as well – that we would become gods.  Finally, we looked at the language and saw that though Jesus said the bread was His body, He did not say that the wine was His blood – He said the wine was the new covenant in His blood.  So, the elements of the Lord’s Supper do not become real human flesh and real human blood.

            However, we noted that there are two different views about the bread and wine remaining bread and wine – and that is what we are looking at today.  There are some denominations – like the Methodists – who say that the elements of the Lord’s Supper are a mere memorial – they are nothing more than a way to remind us of what Jesus did and promised to do.   The Reformed view, while acknowledging that we are to remember what Jesus did and what He promised to do when we receive the elements, understand that something more happens – Jesus is here doing something as we receive the bread and the wine.  This view is called, “real presence.”

            Matthew records the Last Supper and the institution of the Lord’s Supper similarly to Luke:  “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.’”

            We agree with those who say that the elements were merely given to us as a memorial on several points:

            The Lord’s Supper and the elements we receive were given to us that we would remember the love and forgiveness that we have in Jesus if we have believed in Him Alone for salvation.  If we received the elements by faith – if we truly believe in Who Jesus is and what He did and will do, we will remember His Sacrifice on our behalf as we eat the bread and drink from the cup.  We will remember what He endured that we would be forgiven for our sins and be made righteous before the Father.  We will remember that love that Jesus has for His people.

            As we receive the elements, we should remember – graphically – what Jesus did to accomplish our salvation, and we should receive the elements in thanks to Him.

            And as part of this remembering of what Jesus did, we should remember that Jesus acted as our Substitute – He stood in our place as God judged Him according to the Law – according to the Covenant, and since Jesus had taken on Himself all of our sin, His blood had to be shed.  As we will remember:  “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV).  And this was not a mere cutting of the finger or a donation of blood like some of us do – the word that is translated “shed” indicates that the blood was “drained” – Jesus did not merely bleed for us, He gave up all of His blood as our Substitute – as He took upon Himself the full Wrath of God against every sin of every person who would ever believe in Him Alone for salvation.

As we receive the elements, we should remember – graphically – what Jesus did to accomplish our salvation, and we should receive the elements in thanks to Him.

            As we receive the elements in faith, we should also remember the promises that Jesus made – that this life is not the end – we will live eternally – all we who believe – with Jesus in the Kingdom.  We have hope in the future glory – the future kingdom – that Jesus is readying for us even now.  That future which is described in part in the familiar passage from John’s hand: 

            “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

            “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son’” (Revelation 21:1-7, ESV).

            As we receive the elements, we should be filled with hope, knowing that Jesus will bring to pass everything that He promised – there is an eternal home in glory with Him for all those who believe.

            If we merely go through the motions of receiving the elements of the Lord’s Supper, we may forget Jesus’ Work and these reasons that we receive the Sacrament – and we may also forget that we receive true blessing through the reception of the elements.  And here is where we differ from those who say that the Lord’s Supper is merely a memorial of what He did and promised to do – we understand that Jesus is here now ministering His Grace to us through the elements – as we receive the elements in faith, we are blessed by God.

            What other denominations miss is that Jesus was not merely fellowshipping with His apostles in receiving the first Lord’s Supper, but Jesus promised future fellowship with all of His disciples – with each one who believes – until He returns, when we shall fellowship with Him in the flesh.

            The key is found in a passage that we have in our communion liturgy:  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16, ESV).

            Paul had been explaining to the Corinthian Church – to Christians – why they must stop worshipping idols – why they must flee all sin.  It is in this chapter that we have the promise from God that we will never be given a temptation that is too strong for us in Jesus, but with the temptation, God has made a way of escape for us that we never have to sin.  One of the ways that Paul justifies his words is by writing:  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

(1 Corinthians 10:16, ESV).  He tells the Corinthians to look at the Lord’s Supper and what happens as we receive the elements, and we will see that it is not possible for a Christian to remain in sin and really be a Christian.  Why?

            The key is in the word which is translated “participation” or, also, “communion.”  The word Paul uses here is koinonia.  Koinonia is not merely fellowship, not merely caring for one another, but it is union with one another.  And this is not merely a contraction union, but a union of the flesh.  The same type of language is used for the marriage covenant and all sexual union:

            “and [Jesus] said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:5, ESV).

            “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh’” (1 Corinthians 6:16, ESV).

            When we are united with our husband or wife – or with someone who is not our husband or wife – there is a sacramental union, and the two become one.  When a man and a woman are united together as husband and wife, there is a blessing in that unity.  When we are united with Christ, there is a blessing in that unity.  Two become one – it is a sin and an abomination to bring another into the bedroom or into worship.  Paul is making the point – in the text I just quoted – that there is no difference between trying to worship God and something else and being married and sleeping with a prostitute – because there is a sacramental union that occurs between the husband and the wife – and between Jesus and us.

            Paul helps us to understand as he pleads with the Philippians for unity – using the same word, koinonia:  “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,” (Philippians 2:1, ESV).  The unity that we have and the blessing that we receive through receiving the elements of the Lord’s Supper is spiritual – and through the Work of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in every Christian.

            As we receive and eat and drink the elements, we remember what Jesus did and the sure promises we have from Him – and He meets with us spiritually and gives us His Grace.  The believer who receives the elements in faith has his or her soul nourished by Christ through the Holy Spirit that we would be able to do and be the people that God has called us to be.

            We are one with Christ, as Paul explains: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16, ESV).

            “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

            “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-20, ESV).

            We are united with Christ at all times as believers, but the receiving of the Sacrament is one special way in which Jesus ministers to us and the Holy Spirit makes us into the Image of Jesus, as Jesus said,  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

            “’I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.

            “’These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’” (John 14:15-26, ESV).

            Jesus is not merely the Way and the Truth, but He is the Life, and one of the ways He vivifies us – grows us in life – is through the reception of the elements of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  That is the blessing that we receive – that Jesus is with us and increases His Life within us, as the Holy Spirit conforms us to Jesus’ Image.

            John Calvin wrote, “The sacraments, therefore, are exercises which make us more certain of the trustworthiness of God’s Word” (Mathison, 9).  “The sacraments properly fulfill their office only when the Spirit, that inward teacher, comes to them, by whose power alone hearts are penetrated and affections moved and our souls opened for the sacraments to enter in” (Mathison, 10).  “[The elements] do not bestow any grace themselves, but announce and tells us, and (as they are guarantees and tokens) ratify among us, those things given us by divine bounty.  The Holy Spirit…is he who brings the graces of God with him, gives a place for the sacraments among us, and makes them bear fruit” (Mathison, 13).

            Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, ESV).  One of the ways that Jesus makes us able is through the receiving of the Sacrament and its elements.  Through it, life is poured into us.

            And some of us might wonder, then, if eating a bit of bread and drinking a bit of wine enlivens us through the blessing of Grace enacted upon us by the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t we who want to be more like Christ each eat a whole loaf of bread and drink a whole bottle of wine?  The answer, of course – I hope “of course” – is “no.”  The size of the element received does not convey greater or lesser blessing.

            And the fact is, we ought not to be fixated on the elements themselves – they are just a bit of bread and a bit of wine.  The bread and wine are symbols of what Christ has done and promised, which become signs and a blessing to we who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation, as we receive grace through them.  Yes, we are to use bread and wine (and grape juice for those who have scruples about wine), but we may not use any other elements, because Christ said these are the elements that are to be used.  However, to fixate on the bread and the wine itself it to commit one of the errors of the Roman Catholic Church who have gone to the extreme of worshiping the bread and the wine itself, which is blasphemous.

            Although Jesus and the Holy Spirit work on us and in us and bless us through the receiving of the elements of the Sacrament, but the elements are not an end in themselves.  Just as remembering what Jesus has done and promised should cause us to look to Him and praise Him and glorify Him and thank Him, so as we receive the elements, our hearts and minds ought to be turned to Him – giving all praise and honor and worship to Him.

            So, let us receive the elements that Jesus consecrated – bread and wine, but let us not be obsessed with them – they are symbols which become signs in the believer, but they are just bread and wine.

            Let us look forward with great hope and expectation that, as we receive the elements, Jesus will meet with us and give us His Grace which the Holy Spirit will use to mature us in the faith and make us more like Jesus.

            And for the Sacrament, what it reminds us of and the work that God does in us through it, let us turn and give thanks and worship to our One God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for the gift and the blessing which is the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Help us to understand the mystery that though these elements are common bread and wine, You meet with us and work through them in us to Your Glory and for our benefit.  Help us to be thankful for this and all the ways that You meet with us – and keep our eyes ever fixed on You in thanksgiving, for You Alone are worthy.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"The Elements" Sermon: Luke 22:14-23

“The Elements”

[Luke 22:14-23]

January 20, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            Lord willing, for the next three weeks, we will be looking at different aspects of the elements of the Lord’s Supper.  That is, we will be looking at the bread and the cup in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Today, we are considering what the elements are and what they are not.

            The night that Jesus was betrayed, He instituted the Lord’s Supper, and we read:

            “And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’”

            The first thing we ought to notice in our text is that Jesus and the apostles were celebrating the Feast of the Passover – the Lord’s Supper is derived – or is a recasting – of the Feast of Passover.  To make sure we remember what the Passover was, we ought to hear the account of the institution of the Passover – we will better understand what the Lord’s Supper is by doing so:

            “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

            “’Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

            “’This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread’”            

(Exodus 12:1-20, ESV).

            The Passover Feast was instituted the night that God delivered the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt – and God instructed them to keep the Feast every year so they would not forget how God saved them.

            We notice four food elements in the Feast of the Passover:  first, a lamb, which was killed and its blood spread over the doorposts of the homes of the believers in Egypt.  This was to be a sign that the angel of death should not kill the first born in that house because God had provided those who believe with a blood sacrifice.  The author of Hebrews reminds us:  “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV).  Those believers in Egypt who spread the blood of the lamb God provided them on their doorposts were saved through that blood.  The unbelievers, who did not receive the lamb and its shed blood, suffered the loss of their own firstborn – the shedding of his blood, which did not forgive their sins.

            The second element of the Passover was unleavened bread.  God called for them to eat unleavened bread because there was not time to make leavened bread.  It was a sign that God’s salvation was coming to them quickly and that they would have to be on the run at a moment’s notice.

            The third element of the Passover was the bitter herbs, which was to remind them of the suffering and the slavery which God delivered them from.

            The fourth element, which is not mentioned in this text, was the glass of wine, which symbolized God’s Favor and Faithfulness to the Covenant that He made with Abraham.

            And we notice that God tells Israel that the elements of the Passover were to be for them an eternal memorial for what God did for them.  There is nothing in the text to suggest that the lamb, the unleavened bread, the herbs, and the wine, though symbolic, were anything more than actual lamb, unleavened bread, herbs, and wine.  They did not turn into anything, but symbolized something that God did for them.

            The traditional Passover meal begins with a prayer of thanksgiving to God and the drinking of the first cup of wine (Hendrikson, Luke, 959-960); and so we read:

“And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’

They shared the first cup of wine as Jesus told them, yet again, that this was the last Passover He would eat with them – that He would not join them in drinking the wine of God’s favor until His Work was completed, and, ultimately, until the Kingdom came in all its fullness on earth.  As John foresaw:              Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;” (Revelation 19:7, ESV).  In the Kingdom, the Lord’s Supper will become the Marriage Feast of the Lamb – the celebration of the full unity and salvation of the Church – given to her Husband, Jesus.

Next, they would eat the bitter herbs and remember that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a, ESV).  They would remember that they were enemies of God and had suffered for their sin until God stepped in to save them.  Jesus surely ate the herbs thinking of the suffering that He would shortly endure.  And the apostles likely thought back to this after the Resurrection when they themselves were suffering at the hands of unbelievers.  Yet – then – they would have had a new hope to look forward to, knowing that just as they had been delivered from Egypt, the Savior had and was delivering them unto His Kingdom.

The third part of the meal would be a recitation of the first Passover – as we read – and a discussion would have ensued about what it told them about the relationship between humans and God – and that salvation is by God Alone, and not by anything they did or could have done.

Fourth, they would have sang Psalm 113 and 114 – psalms of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance and a call to humble obedience to God in thanksgiving for His Salvation – and then they would have drunk the second glass of wine – affirming again the favor of God on His people – on all those who believe in Him and the salvation that comes from Him Alone.

Fifth, they would have eaten the lamb – and the lamb would have been eaten throughout the rest of the meal.  As the slaughtered lamb was brought to them on this somber night when Jesus told them that He was leaving to be put to death by sinners, what we they thinking?  What was Jesus thinking?  Was He remembering the day on the mountain when Abraham followed God’s instruction to sacrifice his son – his only son – his beloved son – only to be stopped as God answered Abraham’s faith-filled words to Isaac, “Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together”?  (Genesis 22:8, ESV).  Was He remembering the introduction of John the Baptist:  “The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”? (John 1:29, ESV).  Was He thinking of His Triumph when all the voices of heaven and earth will break forth:  “saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’”? (Revelation 5:12, ESV).

It was at this point that Jesus changed the Passover meal and instituted the Lord’s Supper – at the point when they would eat the unleavened bread and drink the second glass of wine:

 “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”

Jesus instructed them that in eating the unleavened bread – which He broke – they were no longer to merely remember the haste with which Israel left Egypt, but the power and swiftness of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection – that His Body – like the lamb – like the piece of bread would be broken – savaged tortured on their behalf and on the behalf of all those who would ever believe in Him – for the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of righteousness to them – that they would once again be delivered from bondage – not merely from the Egyptians, but from sin itself.  He told them – whenever they observed the Sacrament – to remember what He had done on their behalf.

While they ate, they would have drunk a third glass of wine as part of the Passover meal and continued to eat the bread and the lamb.

Then, they would have sung Psalms 115-118 – Psalms of deliverance by the Hand of God.  Psalms uplifting the Power and Love of God for His people.  Psalms calling – not only Israel – but the whole world to give thanks to the Lord for what He had done.

The conclusion of the Passover meal is a fourth glass of wine:

“And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”

Remembering that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood, Jesus told the apostles that He would not merely be savagely tortured, but His Blood would be poured out – He had to shed His Blood and die – just as the lamb they had eaten shed his blood and died – but now, as a Man for His people – as a Holy and Perfect Substitute – He was going to die in our place that we might live with Him eternally – forgiven of our sins and made righteous through His Work.

Quickly, then, we might still wonder, “Why is this a new covenant?”  It is a “new covenant” in two senses:  first, rather than having that Law written on stone; it is written on our hearts and enacted upon by the Holy Spirit, and, second, rather than the covenant being explicitly with the nation of Israel, it is now between all believers of every nation, tribe, and tongue.

Luke concludes this section with Jesus reflecting on Judas:  “’But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!’ And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.”

And so, now that we have looked at the transformation from the Passover meal to the Lord’s Supper, we address this morning’s question:  what are the elements?  Specifically, what are the bread and the cup – the wine?

As we looked at the Passover meal, we saw that the unleavened bread was symbolic of the need for Israel to be ready to quickly leave Egypt and the wine was symbolic of God’s Favor and Faithfulness to the Covenant that God made with Abraham.  Was the bread itself the ability to leave Egypt quickly?  No.  Was the wine itself God’s Favor and Faithfulness?  No.  They were symbols by which the people remembered what God had done for them in saving them from bondage in Egypt.

As we look at the Lord’s Supper, there are four major interpretations of what the bread and the wine are – or become, but they can be stated even more generally for our purposes this morning as two interpretations:  first, there are those who believe the bread and the wine – in some way – are transformed into the real flesh and the real blood of Jesus of Nazareth, Who died on the cross two thousand years ago.  Second, there are those that believe that the bread and the wine remain bread and wine and are symbolic of what Jesus did in saving His people.

The Reformed view – in which tradition this church is – holds to the second understanding – the bread and the cup – the wine – remain bread and wine and are symbolic of the Work that Jesus did in saving His people.  Why do we say that?  It largely hinges on the discussion of what the meaning of “is” is in the text.

First, as we look at the Passover meal that Jesus shared with His apostles, with Jesus there, in His real human body, prior to the crucifixion, He said that the bread “is” His body and the cup “is” the new covenant in His blood.  Is there any reason for us to believe that Jesus cut off pieces of flesh or bled into the cup at the Last Supper?  And if He did, what would it mean, since He had not yet died and risen?  No, at the Last Supper, Jesus was telling the apostles that when then celebrated the Sacrament in the future and broke the bread, they should understand it symbolically and remember that His body was broken for the sake of our sins, and, as they drank the cup, they ought to remember that His blood was shed for the sake of our sins, and, because He suffered and died in the flesh and under the Wrath of God and rose from the dead, we are forgiven and credited with His Righteousness – we are saved.

Secondly, we note that it was not unusual for Jesus to use symbolic language:  He called Himself “the door” (John 10:7), yet we do not believe that Jesus was made of wood and had hinges.  He called Himself “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11), but we know Jesus was a carpenter and then a rabbi, not a shepherd.  He called Himself “the vine” (John 15:1), yet we do not believe that He was a plant or had leaves.  And so forth.  So, it was not be out of character for Jesus to use symbols to refer to Himself and His Work.

Third, if, after the Ascension, Jesus body became divine, so He could be everywhere, and the bread and the cup could literally become His real human flesh and blood, then we would no longer have a human to intercede on our behalf before the Father (John 17:24).

Also, fourth, if Jesus body became divine, then we would also have to become gods in the Kingdom.  As Paul writes, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5, ESV).

Finally, there is a linguistic problem, Jesus does say that the bread is His body, but He says the cup is the new covenant in His blood – not His blood itself.

So, what shall we understand?

First, the bread does not in any way become the real body of Jesus.  And the wine in no way becomes the real blood of Jesus.

Second, the bread and the cup are given to us in the Sacrament – not that we would eat real human flesh and drink real human blood, but that we would remember that Jesus died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, that He is here with us now – in the reading and preaching of the Word and as we receive the elements of the Sacrament – through which He gives us His Grace (which we will talk more about next week, Lord willing), and that we remember and hold fast with great hope in the Promise that He made that He is returning to restore the Creation and banish sin and death and evil and raise everyone who believes in Him Alone for salvation in their real, physical, human, perfect, glorified bodies – just like His is now, seated at the Right Hand of the Father in Glory.

So, let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for these symbols that You have given us in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – that as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we remember what Jesus did for us on earth that we might be saved from Your Wrath and welcomed as Your sons and daughters, that we would spiritually commune with Jesus right now and be made able to do all that You have set before us, and that we would be stirred up with great confidence and hope in Your soon coming again to bring us into the fullness of the Kingdom.  Come, Lord Jesus!  For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

Monday, January 14, 2013

"Three Baptisms" Sermon: Luke 3:15-22

“Three Baptisms”

[Luke 3:15-22]

January 13, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            Today is the Baptism of our Lord Sunday and we have just read what is probably a familiar passage to most of us. In this familiar text, we see three baptisms occur: the baptism of John, the baptism of Jesus, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is about thirty years after the birth of Jesus.

            “As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,”

            As a youth, John the Baptist went into the wilderness to study and to prepare for his work as the voice to announce the coming of the Savior – his cousin Jesus. After probably decades of being in the wilderness – and about 400 years of Israel not hearing the word of a true prophet of God – John came out of the wilderness, and Matthew tells us, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”  Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:1-6, ESV).

            John came out of the wilderness dressed as a prophet, speaking as a prophet, and calling the people to repentance. He told them that he was preparing the way for the Savior to come. And the people were excited! They were oppressed by the Romans and they rejoiced to hear the Word of God spoken again.

            But they confuse the messenger with the Messiah – they questioned if John himself might be the Savior – why else would John be coming and calling them to repentance if he was not the Messiah? Why would John be baptizing people – Jews – if he was not the Messiah?

            We asked this question before – during Advent – but let us remind ourselves of what was going on. What was John doing? Why was John baptizing Jews? Baptism had been used as a symbolic cleansing to bring Gentiles into the Jewish faith, but why would the children of Abraham need to be baptized?

            “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3, ESV).  John's baptism was not merely a baptism for the reception of Gentiles who believed in the Savior, John's baptism was a baptism of recognition – as Paul explains, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:21-24, ESV).

            John was calling both Jews and Gentiles to repentance – to make sure that they understood that they could not be saved by the Law – by the keeping of the Law – or by being descendants of Abraham. No, in fact, all people have sinned, and all people fall short of the Glory of God – so no one can be saved by their works and no one can be saved by their biology – by their heritage. There is only salvation through the Savior that God sent. It is only through faith in Jesus Alone that a person can be saved from the Wrath of God. John's baptism was a baptism that called people to repent of their sins, to ask God for forgiveness of their sins, and to seek their hope only in the Savior that God would send.

            “John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’”

            John explained of the people that his baptism was merely a baptism of water – it was symbolic – it was a sign – it did not achieve anything without faith alone in the Savior, Who was to come. John explained that he was nothing before the Savior – he was unworthy to untie His filthy sandals – John was the forerunner to announce to the people that the Savior was coming and to get them ready by making sure that they understood that salvation is by faith alone:  it is not by anything that a person does or does not do and it does not have anything to do with a person’s genealogy or heritage.

            John explained that when Jesus came, He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. In the first place, Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit – that is, He would send the Second Person of God, the Holy Spirit, to indwell everyone who believed in Jesus by faith alone. We see this come to pass on the day of Pentecost, where we read, “And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them” (Acts 2:3, ESV). Prior to the coming of Jesus, God the Holy Spirit came upon people, but He did not indwell them permanently – now, with the coming of Jesus, the Savior, God the Holy Spirit would indwell each person who believed in Jesus Alone for salvation.

            The use of the imagery of fire is twofold: fire illuminates and it cleanses. The Holy Spirit would come upon people and open their eyes and cause them to believe, and He would also – looking forward – cleanse the world of sin – and those who do not believe. As Peter writes, “But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:7, ESV).

            John gives the example of the winnowing shovel or the winnowing fork – and so we remember, let me explain this again – when the grain was brought into the barn after the harvest, it contained both the seed which could be ground and made into bread and the chaff – that papery covering over the seed which was useless for food. The farmers would take the winnowing fork and throw the seed up into the air, and as it went up into the air, the chaff would come loose and blow away, and the seed would fall to the ground.  They would do this over and over again until they had separated the chaff from the wheat – the useless part from the seed, which was useful for food. Then the seed would be put into the granary. It would be put into the barn – into the place where it could be stored to be used for the good. It was created for. But the chaff would be gathered up and burned, because it was useless. Likewise, on the last day ,Jesus will separate the people into wheat and chaff:  Those who believed in Him Alone for salvation – those who are the result of His Work on earth – and those who refuse to believe in Him – those who are worthy of nothing but unquenchable fire.

            The fire that the farmers had burning eventually burned out, but the fire the John talks about here – for those who do not believe in Jesus Alone for salvation –  never ends. Jesus said that this place for the unbelievers is “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”

(Mark 9:48, ESV).  Daniel, in the Old Testament, confirms this distinction:And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2, ESV).  And Jude explains the separation this way:   “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire”          

(Jude 1:6-7, ESV).

            The preaching of John's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was one of serious consequence – eternal consequence: those who had faith in Jesus Alone for salvation would be saved forever in God's eternal kingdom, but those who did not have faith in Jesus Alone for salvation would undergo everlasting torment.

            Luke then gives us a thematic interlude in changing from the baptism of John to the baptism of Jesus where he explains what becomes of John – and then never mentions him again:

            “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.”

            John preached faith alone in the Savior, prior to the arrival of Jesus on the scene and after the arrival of Jesus on the scene. In that preaching, he condemned sin in all its forms, and he condemned King Herod, for having an adulterous and incestuous affair with his brother’s wife, who was Herod’s half-sister. It was the condemnation of this sin – and all of Herod's evil deeds – that caused Herod to lock John up in prison and – as we may remember – had him beheaded after making a foolish promise at a party.

            We return to the ministry of John – to the day when Jesus Himself was baptized. And I hope the first thing we think is, "Why in the world did Jesus need to be baptized?" The baptism of John was a baptism for of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in preparation of the coming of the Savior – Jesus had no sins to be forgiven – why did Jesus go to be baptized?

            Jesus Himself said that He was not a sinner: “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (John 8:46, ESV).  The author of Hebrews states without reservation that Jesus never sinned:   “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, ESV). Why did Jesus go to be baptized?

            Even John the Baptist argued against it:  Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented” (Matthew 3:13-15, ESV).

            What did Jesus mean? John Calvin explains, “The general reason why Christ received baptism was, that he might render full obedience to the Father; and the special reason was, that he might consecrate baptism in his own body, that we might have it in common with him” (Calvin’s Commentaries).

            There are two reasons why Jesus was baptized: first, to show His submission to the Father – that He was willing to take on His sinless person this sin of everyone who would ever believe in Him. Second, that Jesus would be in every way like us – in order for Jesus to be our Perfect Substitute, He had to experience everything that we experience – excepting sin.

            And quickly notice, that Luke tells us that Jesus was baptized and praying. Jesus submitted Himself to the Will of the Father, and He identified in every way with every person who would ever believe in Him, and He showed us that He needed to be in fellowship with the Father to be able to complete this work. It should be no surprise then, that in order for us to be healthy and grow as Christians and the Church, we must be in prayer – in fellowship with God our Father – that we would be made able to complete the work that God has given us to do.

            “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”

            And so, John, understanding what Jesus was doing, baptized Him. And while John was baptizing Him and Jesus was praying the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him – Jesus was baptized in the Holy Spirit – Jesus received the baptism of the Holy Spirit – Jesus was indwelled by God the Holy Spirit. And again we ask ourselves, “If Jesus is God, why did He need to be indwelled by God the Holy Spirit?”

            The answer is similar to the answer we have already given for why Jesus was baptized with water – Jesus had to be equipped for His work. Although Jesus is God, He is also a real human being – and just as we need the Holy Spirit within us to grow us and keep us and lead us and equip us to do what God has set before each of us to do, so Jesus in His humanity received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a foreshadowing of what would happen to all of His people – to all those who believed in Him – and to make Him able to do the work in His flesh that He needed to do.

            Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17, ESV).

            “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).

            We see in this whole tableau of the heavens opening, Jesus submitting to His Father, the Father speaking, and sending the Holy Spirit to indwelling Jesus as the Father expresses His delight in the Son.  As Solomon wrote about the Savior, and God, His Father,then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,” (Proverbs 8:30, ESV).

            We also see in this moment the revelation of the Three Persons of God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Father sent the Son to redeem all those who would believe in Him. God the Son submitted to the Father that He might redeem all those who the Father would give Him. God the Holy Spirit indwelled the Son that He – both in His Deity and His humanity would be able to carry out the work that was set before Him. And God confessed before all those who could hear that Jesus is His Son – that Jesus is the Beloved of God – that God was well-pleased with the work that Jesus was doing – that God was delighted in sending His Son for the salvation of all those who would believe in Him.

            As Peter preached, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24, ESV).

            And Isaiah prophesied,   Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10, ESV).

            And as the author of Hebrews explains, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV).

            These three baptisms occurred as part of God's Plan – His Promise – to send the Savior Who would save all those people Who believe in Him Alone. John was sent to baptize with the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins that all people would know that salvation is not by our works or by our heritage, but by faith alone in the Savior that God sends – Jesus Christ. Jesus was baptized, both to show His submission to His Father and that He might be like us in all ways – so He could be our Perfect Substitute – that He would be washed with the waters of baptism prior to taking on all of the sin of all of those who would ever believe – that we might be forgiven and made righteous through Him. And Jesus was baptized with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, both as a foreshadowing of the Gift that all those who would believe in Him would receive, and that He, in His humanity, would be equipped for the work that God set before Him.

            As we prepare to receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, let us ask ourselves if we have truly repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus Christ Alone for our salvation. Let us ask ourselves if we have received forgiveness for all of our sins through Jesus Christ and now seek to submit to Him – and the Holy Trinity – in all our life. Let us ask ourselves if we have received the Gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit – that we are now gifted and able to do those works that God has given to all those who believe in Jesus Christ Alone for salvation to do – and if so, if we are willing to do what God has told us to do.

            If God has made you His own to indwelling you with the Holy Spirit and changing your heart that you confess your sins and sought forgiveness and salvation only through Jesus Alone and you now submit yourself to the Will of God, you will be gathered as precious grain into the granary – you are not mere meal for food, but you are sons and daughters of God, and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. If you have not believed in Jesus Alone for salvation, if the Holy Spirit does not indwell you and remind you and lead you in all the ways of God, and if you unrepentantly turn your back on God and refuse to obey – God will take you as chaff and throw you into the unquenchable fire.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, as we look at the mystery of the baptisms of John and Jesus and the Holy Spirit – as we stretch our minds to understand how One Person is Holy God and a real human being – we look to Your Words, that this Jesus, the Savior, is Your Beloved Son – the Son in which You take delight and are well-pleased, and we ask that You would make us like Him, for through Him Alone do we have eternal life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.