The Lord’s Supper
Imagine following in the footsteps of Moses – how huge a task that would be. Moses is probably the most important person in the Old Testament. It was through Moses that the nation of Israel was delivered from Egypt. It was Moses that led and judged the people for decades. It was Moses that climbed Mount Sinai to meet with God, and Moses who shone with the Shekinah glory, terrifying the people by his closeness to God. It through Moses that God gave Israel the Law, the Priesthood, the Tabernacle, and the Pentateuch. He wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and most of Deuteronomy.
Just for a moment, turn back a page to Deuteronomy 34:10–12,
“And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
Those are big shoes to fill. Now, turn back to the first lines of the book of Joshua:
“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.”
Now there’s a big job, right? It’s no understatement to say that the people of Israel are a tough group to try to lead – and now Joshua not only has to deal with the daily problems of the nation but actually lead them in countless battles to conquer the entire Promised Land.
And Joshua has seen how this goes. He’s been Moses’ right-hand man since they left Egypt. He was there as Moses ascended Mount Sinai, and he saw Israel worshipping the Golden Calf when they came down. Joshua was one of the twelve spies Moses sent to explore the Promised Land and knew how strong the armies and how fortified the cities were. He watched as the courage of Israel fell, was there as they turned on Moses and Aaron, and saw the heartbreak in Moses’ face as the people lost faith in God. He saw that over and over. God makes a promise, the people break faith almost instantly, they blame or even try to kill the leader, and the nation suffers. I can’t imagine how trepidatious he must have been when Moses laid his hands on him, telling him he would be the next leader of Israel – and how difficult it must have been to see Moses die.
Tough for Everyone
What Joshua was feeling is something that all Christians can relate to. Like Israel and Joshua, someone enters our life to tell us God’s plan of deliverance, we then experience God’s power-saving us from our slavery to sin, and then we enter a new reality where we now live in relationship with God. And in that new reality, we are sometimes like Israel – rebellious, short-sighted, faithless, foolish – but eventually, we come around to God’s plan. And we are sometimes like Joshua – blessed to have a mentor who is close to God, get commissioned for some kind of ministry, and are released to go forth to win victories in God’s name.
But all along the way, like both Israel and Joshua, even though we have experienced God’s promise and power, it often seems unnecessarily difficult. People let us down – or we let ourselves down. The enemy sends temptations and lies that we fall for. We face a challenge – or series of challenges that look so daunting that we wonder how we could ever go through them. Whether it’s the ministry God has given you, the struggles of raising a family, or just your own, individual troubles, I’m sure you know how Joshua might have felt.
And I’m sure you wonder, as I have, just as Joshua and Israel did as they stood on the edge of the Jordan looking out over land full of enemies – how am I going to get through this? Have you asked that question? That’s not a question that God is unprepared for. God knows what’s going on in your heart, just as He knew what was going on in Joshua’s. God knew Joshua needed a message of hope and strength beyond himself, and so God, in His grace, gave him the recipe for success. And I believe it’s the same recipe for us today. It’s the same recipe I’ve been introducing for the past couple weeks as we’ve been covering the ascension of Christ.
I’ve been holding off going through the actual questions of the Heidelberg because I wanted to do some introductory stuff, but I think now’s the time to bring them in because, if you’ve been following the last two sermons they’ll make a lot more sense.
So, question 46 is,
“What do you confess when you say, he ascended into heaven?”
and the answer is,
“That Christ, before the eyes of his disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that he is there for our benefit until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.”
We’ve already covered a lot of that. Jesus, in His resurrected body, ascended into Heaven in view of many witnesses, is there “for our benefit”, and will come back again.
Question 47 comes next saying,
“Is Christ, then, not with us until the end of the world, as he has promised us?”
And the answer is,
“Christ is true man and true God. With respect to his human nature he is no longer on earth, but with respect to his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is never absent from us.”
That’s what we covered last week, right? Jesus is in heaven, but within the mystery of the Trinity, because of the Holy Spirit, He is also with us.
Brief Excurses: The Hypostatic Union
Question 48 follows up with a technical question,
“But are the two natures in Christ not separated from each other if his human nature is not present wherever his divinity is?”
In other words, if Jesus has a human body in heaven, isn’t it impossible for him to be two places, or a million places, all at once? The answer given here is,
“Not at all, for his divinity has no limits and is present everywhere. So it must follow that his divinity is indeed beyond the human nature which he has taken on and nevertheless is within this human nature and remains personally united with it.”
If you’ve been around me for the past couple weeks you know I’ve been dropping the term “hypostatic union” into conversations lately. That’s what this is all about. “Hypostatic union” is the complex term for how theologians describe that Jesus can have two natures at the same time – fully God and fully man. It’s not that we can really understand it, but that we accept it because it’s what the scripture teaches.
Keep your thumb in Joshua, but turn with me to Hebrews 1:1-4 which begins by explaining the hypostatic union saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
That term, “nature” is the Greek word HUPOSTASIS, where we get Hypostatic. Jesus, the man, has the same, exact nature as God. Jesus was born fully human, died a human death, had a bodily resurrection, and still has that resurrected, glorified body right now – the same kind of body we will get when Jesus comes back. His humanity takes nothing away from His godliness – meaning in adding flesh He never subtracted from His Godliness. And His godliness takes nothing away from His humanity – meaning that His life, temptations, pain, and death were the same as any human faces. One creed says it this way: that Jesus’ two natures are perfectly unified “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation”.Hence the term: Hypostatic Union. This is a critical part of understanding who Jesus is.
Three Benefits of Christ’s Ascension
But now we come to question 49, which is the kind of question we’ve seen all along,
“How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?”
In other words, “So what?” Ok, so Jesus ascended into heaven and a bunch of stuffy theologians come up with a weird, complex term to explain something nobody really understands. So what?
Well, the answer is what we’ve been talking about for the past few weeks. It says that the reason Jesus’ ascension is a benefit to us is that,
“First, he is our Advocate in heaven before his Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that he, our Head, will also take us, his members, up to himself. Third, he sends us his Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.”
So first, it says that Jesus is our Advocate before the Father. If you recall, I’ve brought up the image of Jesus as a lawyer a few times lately. That’s what an advocate is. Jesus, as our Advocate defends us before the Judge of the universe (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1). If it were not for Jesus as our Advocate, we could never approach God – not even in prayer.
Listen to 1 John 2:1,
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
When you blow it as a Christian, who stands up for you? Jesus does.
Listen to Romans 8:34,
“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
When Satan accuses you, shames you, makes you feel guilty, and says you deserve condemnation, who supports you, advocates for you, defends you, and stands with you between Satan and God? Jesus does.
If your still in Hebrews, turn to Hebrews 4:14–16,
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
When you are afraid, tempted, weak, in need, who makes it so you can come near to the throne of God and receive the grace you need? Jesus, the Son of God. The One who can sympathize with you, who has compassion on you, because He lived a human life and faced everything you’ve faced, but can also stand before God because He is without sin. If you are a Christian today, one who has asked forgiveness for their sins in the name of Jesus, then Jesus isn’t up there judging you, angry with you, disappointed in you – He’s advocating for you.
The second benefit we’ve already covered a lot, that what happened to Jesus shows what will also happen to all those who follow Him. He died and rose again, so will we. But look at the third benefit of Christ’s ascension: That Jesus “sends us his Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above…”.
We’ve talked about that a lot too – that Jesus had to leave so the Helper would come (John 16:7) and what I want to close on today is how that works.
Life With/By the Spirit
If Jesus is up there advocating for us and has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper, how do we tap into that power? How do we get that help? How do we face all the trials and temptations and pain and battles and disappointments that are going to inevitably come – and do it in a way that we know that God is at work? How do we tap into the supernatural power and promises that God has said He would provide?
This is something I’ve been chewing on for a while now and the answer is far simpler than you might think. And the answer is to live by, or walk with, or keep in step with the Spirit of God. Now, what does that mean?
For that I want you to keep your thumb in Joshua, but turn with me to Galatians 5:16-26. It begins,
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
There’s the problem, right? Our flesh, our sinful side, our former self, has desires that go against what God wants. Our bodies, which are still affected by sin, still have to deal with addiction, stress, fear, anxiety, depression, hunger, thirst, lust, and all the rest, and it is always pulling us in the wrong direction. Our spirits want to connect to God and live His way – to be kind, patient, self-controlled, joyful, temperate, loving – but our flesh fights against us. It wants to fulfil our desires in bad ways. Our fear fights with our faith. Our depression fights with our desire to worship. Our lusts fight with our desire for purity. Our willpower fails, we lose self-control, and we go for immediate gratification – even if it makes us sick.
So how can we win more battles than we lose? It says in verse 16, by “walking with the spirit”. That answer hasn’t changed for thousands of years. It’s the same answer that God gave Joshua. Look back at what God says to Joshua in 1:5. He was about to face a lot of enemies and was surrounded by a lot of weak, sinful, difficult people. He had his own weaknesses too.
So what was the recipe?
“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.’”
Over and over God tells Joshua to be “strong and courageous”. In our culture that might sound like God is telling Joshua to “suck it up”, “get tough”, “try hard”, “workout”, “do it right”. But that’s not what it means. God gives Joshua lots of promises. That He will always be with Joshua, that God will secure the victories, God will make sure they get what He promised them, God will make him prosperous and successful.
But how can Joshua make sure that he gets those promises? How can he be strong enough and courageous enough to do what God is calling him to do without blowing it? By walking with, walking by, living by the Word of God. Look at verse 7,
“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
The promises weren’t something Joshua and Israel would gain through their obedience – they were something they would lose by their disobedience. We often get that backwards. We think that if we do good things God will reward us. That’s not how it goes. It’s the opposite. All of God’s promises are already available to His people. The Armor of God, the Fruit of the Spirit, freedom from condemnation, the peace that passes understanding, answers to prayer and spiritual and temporal blessings are all ours already because they are promised to us – and God never breaks His promises. God secured those promises in Jesus Christ. That’s what the Lord’s Supper is about. But… but… God leaves it to us to access those promises. God told Joshua to eat, sleep and breathe His word – to read the Law over and over, to meditate on it, to remember everything that God had said – or Joshua would forget and turn away.
Now, turn back to Galatians 5 and notice how similar it sounds. Joshua wants to know how to conquer the Promised Land. God says, “Walk with me. Do things my way.” We want to know how to escape the works of the flesh, the sinful desires that keep us so messed up, and be able to live by the fruit of the spirit. God says, “Walk with me. Do things my way.”
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Look back at that list in verses 19-21 and take a moment to see yourself in there. I’m sure you’ve asked yourself. How do I get rid of this fleshly desire for sexual immorality? How do I rid myself of all the addictions I run to when I get worried or stressed out? How do I stop being so angry, argumentative, and bitter? How do I get rid of my penchants for superstition? How do I stop being jealous of people? You’ve been a Christian for a while, but these things still plague you. They’re almost automatic – your body seems to jump at the chance whenever it can – almost before you can even decide to. How do you deal with that?
Now, look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit. I’m sure you’ve prayed, “Lord, how do I experience real love? How do I find real peace? How can I become more patient and kind? How do I start doing good things instead of the bad things I keep doing? How do I become gentle? Where do I get some actual self-control, because my willpower just isn’t doing the trick?”
It comes by “walking by the Spirit”. What does that mean? It means the same thing it meant to Joshua. Joshua was told that the victories are already won. Just walk in and take the land. God is with you. God will fight for you. God will make sure it happens.
What did Joshua have to do? Cross the Jordan, walk with God, and remind Himself every single day that God is with Him. I’m sure there were times he said to himself “I don’t have to be terrified. I don’t have to be dismayed. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go. I don’t have to be terrified. I don’t have to be dismayed. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go.”
In the same way, Christians can say, “I don’t have to sin. I don’t have to be discouraged. I don’t have to be afraid. Christ Jesus has crucified my flesh with its passions and desires and I have new life by the Spirit. All I have to do is believe it, ask Jesus for help, and walk where He tells me to go.”
Ordinary Means of Grace
You see, it’s not about trying harder, going through a Bible in a Year program, pulling up your socks, and white-knuckling your way into becoming more patient, kind, self-controlled. It’s about reminding yourself that God has already won those victories in your life and invites you to simply take them. These promises are available – but they do not come to those who do not ask.
In Joshua 7 we see Israel blow it big-time. After the huge success of the fall of Jericho, Joshua and the people of Israel are feeling pretty confident. So confident they forget to ask God what to do next, someone breaks God’s law, and when they head off to their next battle they get utterly wrecked. Why? Because they stopped obeying God’s word and depending on God for their victory.
God was happy to give them victory – right up until they forgot about Him and started thinking that the victory was their own. Right up until someone decided to go against His word and do what they shouldn’t. Then they lost the blessing – until they dealt with the sin. That’s how it goes, and that’s how it always will go. God will give you the victory over that sin you want to kill. He will demonstrate great power in your life – but only if He gets the credit for doing it.
But let’s get practical. How do we walk in step with the Spirit? What does that look like? What did it look like for Joshua and Israel? What did it look like for Moses and Elijah? What did it look like for Peter and Paul? What did it look like for Jesus? Same answer.
Through what Christians have called the ordinary means of grace. If the question is, “How do I, as a believer, get access to all the Grace the Lord wants to give me for all the needs I have? How do I walk in step with the Spirit? How do I find Jesus every day? How do I hear His voice, find His wisdom, feel His presence, get His protection, sense His correction when I’m going wrong, and know His comfort when things are hard?”
The answer is so very simple and has been the same one forever: It is the simple, daily obedience of talking to God in prayer every day, regularly reading and sitting under the teaching of God’s word, participating in the life of the community of believers, and reminding ourselves of what God has done through the ordinances He provided.
That’s how it worked for Israel, for Jesus, for Peter, and how it works for us. Sure, there are special times when God shows up in a unique way, but God isn’t playing a game of “catch me if you can” where we have to go looking for Him. God makes Himself available everyday all day, and is interested in every part of our life, and has given us these ordinary ways to connect with Him regularly. Talking to God every day, sitting under the teaching of God’s Word regularly, participate in a community of believers, and follow the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
That sounds too simple, too easy – there must be something more complicated that God wants, something that specifically targets my own sin, my own issue, my own fears – some special book or discipline or exercise – but ask yourself how easy is it really?
How hard do you find it to read God’s Word and pray every day? How hard is it to attend church once per week, 52 weeks in a row? How hard is it to fully participate in a worship service? How hard is it to commit yourself to serve in even the most simple ministry? How hard is it to fully participate in the Lord’s Supper with repentance, reverence, and celebration? How hard is it (or was it) to submit to baptism and attend someone else’s? How hard is it to have other Christians over for a meal? Or, how hard is it to ask other Christians to pray for you?
It’s actually very hard, isn’t it? Those ordinary means of grace sometimes feel almost impossible! They should be easy! There are a dozen things we do every day without even breaking a sweat. So why is reading God’s word and praying every day so hard? Why is Sunday morning such a struggle? Because the enemy knows that these simple things, prayer, studying God’s word, and being here together, are the single greatest weapon we have to defeat him.
If the enemy can get you distracted with 1000 good things – but keep you from your devos, you’re an easy target for temptation and lies. If he can get you bitter against just one person at church, and keep you from attending or being able to pay attention – you’re an easy target for temptation and lies – and then he can use you to divide the church and wreck it for everyone.
That’s why Sunday morning is such a battle, why prayer is such a battle, because the ordinary means of grace are so incredibly potent that they can dismantle the works of the enemy in our lives. They are what keep us in step with the Spirit. They are what help us bear fruit in our lives. They are what allow us to hear the voice of God. And they are the ways by which we are able to conquer sin.
My encouragement to you is to commit to these ordinary means so you can walk in the Spirit, walk with Jesus, and let Him destroy those sins and strongholds in your life.
Tonight we are going to be doing something a little special, something we haven’t done since I’ve been the pastor here, and that is to have an evening communion service. It’s interesting how this happened. Some people came to me and said that they felt like they wanted to “change up communion”.
If you know me you’ll know this immediately raised my hackles and made me wonder what was about to go down. I’m all for new worship music, trying things in church, experimenting with new ministries and seeing what happens, but I’m definitely going to have some issues with messing with the sacraments. They’re a big deal.
My first thought was an unfair one to them. I thought, “Oh great, these people want to make the Lord’s Supper cool by doing weird stuff with it.” And I’ve heard some weird things. I know of churches where those leading communion didn’t say anything, but just played a couple songs off YouTube hoping people would get the gist. I know of churches that refuse to serve gluten-free bread because it’s not as holy as bread made with wheat. I know of churches that make women wear doilies on their head or they won’t be served. I even lived next to one church that encouraged people to bring their pets to church so they could have communion too. I’ve heard all kinds of ways to fancy up Communion. Things like doing it at McDonald’s with hamburgers and coke or even serving it with French onion dip or whip cream.
Thankfully that’s not what they meant. The idea, they explained after I calmed down a bit, was that instead of having it as a short tack-on to the end of a worship service, to meet together at a special time so we can concentrate on what we are doing. Instead of little, tiny pieces of bread, serve an actual loaf and let people have something to chew on. Instead of teeny, Barbie-sized cups of juice, use dealcoholized wine in a bigger cup. The mission wasn’t about making it “cool”, but to make it more authentic, more prayerful, to take better care of how we do it, and to have a greater experience with it than is possible in the 10 minutes we spend at the end of a service.
That was something I could get behind and was more than happy to help plan. So that’s what we’re doing tonight. In my original plan, I intended on giving a short sermon explaining what communion was all about, but it occurred to me that speaking for too long might distract from what we are trying to do there, so I figured I’d give it a bit larger of a treatment this morning in preparation for tonight.
The Lord’s Supper and Signs of the Covenant
So with that in mind, please open up to Matthew 26:26-28, which tells us of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
This is the Thursday evening before Good Friday, mere hours before Jesus will go to Gethsemane, Judas will betray Him, Peter will deny Him, the disciples will abandon him, and Jesus will be arrested by the wicked Sanhedrin, falsely accused, brought to an illegal trial, and then sentenced to death. It says,
“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.”
Part of what you need to know about the Lord’s Supper is that Jesus didn’t invent it out of whole cloth. Jesus took an old ceremony and imbued it with new meaning. This was the festival of the Passover which had been instituted in the Law of Moses and celebrated for hundreds and hundreds of years so the Israelites would remember the miracle that occurred when they were slaves in Egypt; the plagues, the miracles, and especially the final miracle when God sent the angel of death to kill the first-born sons of Egypt, who could only be spared when a spotless lamb was killed and it’s blood spread on their doors.
Jesus took that powerful symbol, which all Jews knew intimately, and effectively said, “I’m the true Passover lamb. Sin and death hover over everyone, but I will be your spotless lamb who covers and protects you from the consequences of your sins. I will give up my body for yours and allow it to be broken for you. I will spill my blood so you can live.”
Jesus was creating a powerful object lesson. The broken bread and poured wine symbolized His death on the cross. But the cup had a double meaning. During the celebration of the Passover, four cups were traditionally drunk. This was probably the third of the four cups which would be passed around so all could drink out of the same cup. And before passing it, Jesus said, “…this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (vs 28) That was very specific language and there’s a lot going on there.
Covenants are simply agreements between two parties, like a contract. And throughout the Bible, God often forms covenants with His people and then seals them with a sign. He established a covenant with Noah not to flood the earth and sealed it with the sign of the rainbow. He made a covenant with Abraham and the sign was circumcision. When God rescued his people from Egypt and gave them the Law, He made a covenant with them at Sinai. It said,
“Then he [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” (Ex 24:7–8)
In the same way, Jesus took the Passover wine and amplified its meaning. As He was promising to be their Passover Lamb and save them from sins, He made a promise, a covenant with them and all who would believe, written in His spilled blood, symbolized and remembered every time we pour the wine, and then drink it, making it a part of us – and as we share the cup, share the wine, we become part of each other. The blood of Jesus, the covenant that saves us, is the banner we all come under during the Lord’s Supper. It’s a great levelling field and a powerful, important, and serious symbol – and that’s why we don’t mess with it.
Why can’t we use burgers and coke? Why can’t animals take it? Why do we give warnings before we do it? Why is it for believers? Why do we take it so seriously? Because it’s a very serious thing that Jesus told us to do, symbolizing the very essence of our faith.
When The Lord’s Supper Isn’t the Lord’s Supper
Now, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11:17-32. This is the passage I usually read when we have Communion, but I don’t read the entirety of it, usually due to time constraints, but I would like to today. This is another passage speaking to the serious nature of the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, and how important it is that we get it right. Now, when I say “get it right” I don’t necessarily mean “do the ritual properly”, which you will see as we read. If you recall, the Corinthian church was kind of a mess and had gotten a lot of things wrong, and the Apostle Paul was writing this letter to correct them. It says:
“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
There are three things I want to point out in this passage to help guide what we are going to do this evening.
First, I want you to notice verse 20 which says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” What does that mean? This church was doing the same thing we have done each month for many years and will do again tonight. They were meeting together for worship and fellowship and then taking time to break bread and share the cup of the covenant together. So how could it not be the Lord’s Supper? The answer isn’t that they were doing the ritual wrong, but that their hearts weren’t right before God as they were eating and drinking. The offence was that instead of having the Lord’s Supper in the way Jesus intended, they were simply going through the religious motions (something many so called “Christian churches” are guilty of institutionalizing today, by the way.) What was the evidence that God didn’t accept their Lord’s Supper? Because of how they were treating one another. Sure, they had the elements before them, they were eating the bread and drinking from the cup, saying the words, and singing the songs – but the church was divided.
Paul says there were “factions” and “divisions” among them. They had separated themselves by class, race, economic status, gender, lifestyle, even by favourite apostle and beliefs. People were treating each other carelessly, with disrespect, forgetting each other’s needs, not caring for the poor and needy and oppressed among them, but instead were using those situations as a way to gain advantage over one another. They weren’t in “communion”, united under the banner of Jesus, and it showed in how they sinned against one another in so many ways. They weren’t caring for one another or forgiving one another, or doing most of the “one anothers” in the Bible. That meant they weren’t listening to the Holy Spirit, which meant they were still in unrepentant sin, which meant their hearts weren’t right with God, which meant they weren’t worthy or ready to take the Lord’s Supper, the very sign God gave us to demonstrate humility, sacrifice, forgiveness and unity.
I think that’s something our church needs to be very careful not to skip over. I know we are a friendly church, but I also know that there are a lot of hard feelings among the people here, offenses given and taken and not dealt with, old rivalries and unforgiveness, even bitterness here in our church. Don’t assume that this verse isn’t talking about us. Examine yourself. Why?
Because of how seriously God takes this offence? Look at verses 29–30,
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”
To “discern the body” has a two-fold meaning. First it means to understand what Jesus did for us on the cross, and second, that they are in right relationship with the Body of Christ, or other Christians. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is reserved for humble, believing, repentant, forgiven Christians. It is for people who understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:23–24 when He said,
“… if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
And in Matthew 6:15 where He said,
“…if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
God doesn’t want our worship until we’ve show sacrificial love to others, especially those who make it difficult.
How serious does He take this? Not only will He reject our worship, He actually brought sickness and death to the church to demonstrate His displeasure. Would God do that? Certainly. Consider what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 when they lied about their tithing and God struck them dead. Consider God allowing the city of Jerusalem to be razed to the ground, sending His people into Babylonian captivity, far from their Promised Land for 70 years. Yes, God takes our faith, His church, and the sacraments very seriously and will sometimes allow His discipline to show in serious ways. We talked about that a little bit a few weeks ago.
Why is It God Not Blessing Us?
This all reminds me of Isaiah 58 where the nation of Israel wonders why so many things are going wrong with them. Turn there, but keep your thumb in 1 Corinthians. God says to the prophet in verse 1,
“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.”
The next verse is dripping with sarcasm:
“Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.”
Every day they come before God, perform religious rituals, read some bible, say some prayers, tell God how great they are and how much blessing they deserve, and wonder why everything around them is falling apart. In verse 3 the people say,
“Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”
What’s going on here, God? We’re coming to church, singing the songs, studying your word, saying the prayers, doing the ministry stuff, going to meetings, eating the bread, drinking the wine, even fasting? Why are we not seeing victories, answers to prayer, miracles? And the answer comes from God,
“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…”
Stop there. That’s the problem. They’re not fasting or worshipping God. All they have in mind is their own pleasure. Back to verse 3:
“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?”
God is saying, “Do you think I just want you to go through some religious motions and then treat everyone around you badly? Do you think you can come before me and ask for things when I know that you are utterly indifferent towards those who I’ve told you to take care of!”
People sometimes ask, “Why isn’t God answering my prayers?” One answer is found here, and is echoed in the New Testament book of James 4:2-3,
“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
God was rejecting Israel’s worship, their religious activity, their prayers, and bringing harsh discipline to them because their hearts were not in the right place. How did that show? By the fact that they weren’t repenting from their sin, and were, in fact committing sins against one another, even against the weakest among them. That’s exactly what was happening in Corinth, and I fear, it may be happening here too.
The point is that what Paul is saying here, when he says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.”, is that though they were going through the motions of Communion, performing the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, their private lives and how they treated each other showed that their hearts were far from God, and a far cry from the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus was trying to teach them through this sacred meal.
A Reminder of The Cost
Flip back to 1 Corinthians. The second thing Paul tells them in verses 23-26 was to remind them of the cost of their salvation, found in the elements – the very body and blood of Jesus. The reason we celebrate communion is to remember the Life, Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus – to remember the cost of our sins and how terrible it was when we were enslaved by them. And then, to remember that our sins, no matter how terrible, are forgiven because of the goodness of God sending His own Son and the love of Jesus demonstrated on the cross. And then, to take that love and grace and share it with one another in His name, exemplified by eating and drinking His Body and Blood together!
Communion is a powerful time, but it becomes meaningless, even dangerous, when we do it with our hearts in the wrong place.
That’s why the third thing I want to point out is what we are supposed to be doing before the Lord’s Supper – and that is to examine ourselves; to do an inventory of our head, heart, and soul, to examine our actions, thoughts, and motives. Look again at verses 27-29,
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
We are commanded to invite God to open us up the way Psalm 139:23-24 says,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
To open the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to do soul surgery on us. As it says in Hebrews 4:12–13,
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
That is actually what we are going to spend the majority of our evening doing tonight. In order to obey Jesus in this way, we will be reading scriptures, privately confessing our sins to God, publically confessing our sins to each other, accepting forgiveness, and then having the Lord’s Supper together. My invitation to you is to take time to prepare for it today. To read scripture, get right with God, prepare yourself to confess to your brothers and sisters, and to accept Jesus again as your only hope of salvation, the only one who can cleanse you from sin.
We don’t know many names of people who were pastors of churches in the time of the Apostles. But we do know who the pastor of the church in Smyrna was. He was a man named Polycarp. Pastor Polycarp. He was born in about 70 AD, in the days of the Apostles, and studied under the apostle John, probably in Ephesus. When Jesus addresses this letter to the “angel of the church in Smyrna”, he is most likely addressing it to Pastor Polycarp.
In the year 155 AD, when pastor Polycarp was 86 years old, he went to visit Rome and when he came back to his church in Smyrna, he had the misfortune of returning during the time of a great festival that was attended by the proconsul. Part of the festival was to be a series of great sporting events in the arena – including the spectacle of watching Christians being torn apart by lions for the entertainment of the crowd.
Eleven Christians had already been put to death in the arena, but bloodlust of the crowd was so high that they longed for a fresh kill. The cry was raised out, “Let us search for Polycarp!” As pastor of the church, he was well known to the community and they wanted to see what would happen if he were to face the lions.
Polycarp, at first, was persuaded by his friends to hide from the pursuing soldiers at a local farm-house, but in their search the soldiers tortured two of the farm boys until they gave up Polycarp’s location. Escape was still possible, but after seeing the suffering his pursuit was causing, the old man refused to run away. He walked out to the soldiers and asked them to wait while he had a short time of prayer. They allowed it, and Pastor Polycarp actually ordered food for the men while they waited.
When he was brought to the arena, surrounded by thousands of spectators, the Proconsul actually tried to spare Polycarp’s life. He made it as simple as possible and said to the old pastor, “All you must say is, ‘Caesar is lord’ and ‘Away with the atheists’. And you will be spared. (Ironically, one of the accusations against Christians was that they were atheists because they wouldn’t worship the emperor or in the temples of Rome.) The charge brought against pastor Polycarp was treason.
Polycarp smiled and said, “Well, if that’s all you want me to say, I can say that.” He looked at the stands where the throngs of citizens and representatives of the Romans state and pagan religions were seated, raised his hands towards them and said yelled, “Away with the athiests!”
This isn’t what the Proconsul had in mind, but he tried again to get Polycarp to deny Jesus Christ to save his life. He said, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar. Take the oath and I will release you. Curse Chris and live!”
Polycarp replied, “Eighty and six years I have served the Lord Jesus Christ, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?”
Hearing this, that Jesus was Lord and King and not Caesar, the onlookers in the arena demanded that the lions be loosed on him then and there. There was nothing more treasonous!
“Swear by the fortune of Caesar”, the Procunsul insisted.
Polycarp stood firm. “If you vainly imagine that I will swear by Caesar, and pretend that you do not know who I am, listen plainly: I am a Christian.”, came the reply.
“I have wild beasts”, the proconsul warned. “If you do not repent, I will have you thrown to them!”
“Let them come, for my purpose is unchangeable”, Polycarp said.
“If the wild beasts do not scare you, then I will order you to be burned alive!”, the Proconsul shouted.
“You threaten me with a fire which will burn for an hour and then go out, but you are unaware of the fire of the judgment to come, and the fire of eternal punishment which is kept for the ungodly. Why do you delay? Bring on the beasts, or the fire, or whatever you choose; you shall not move me to deny Christ, my Lord and Saviour.”
When the Proconsul saw that Polycarp would not recant, he sent the herald to proclaim three times in the middle of the stadium, “Polycarp has professed himself a Christian.”
As soon as they heard these words, the whole multitude of Romans and Jews furiously demanded that he be burned alive. Though it was Saturday, even the Jews ran out of the arena to gather timber and scraps of wood, breaking their laws of the Sabbath, so they could watch the Christian burn alive.
Polycarp was bound and placed on top of the pyre. “This is the teacher of Asia,” the it was announced. “This is the father of the Christians, this is the destroyer of our gods, this is the man who has taught so many no longer to sacrifice, and no longer to pray to the gods.”
The old pastor looked up to heaven and prayed, “O Father, I thank you that You have called me to this day and this hour and have counted me worthy to receive my place among the number of the holy martyrs. Amen.”
As soon as he had said the word “Amen” the officers lit the fire. The fire burned around him, rising high above his body, but burned away from him. Then someone called for a soldier to finish him off quickly with a dagger, and Polycarp was stabbed to death and left to burn.
Polycarp was charged with treason and his punishment was a terrible one. Why wouldn’t he just relent? Why not just tell them what they wanted to hear and then ask God’s forgiveness later? Why not simply sidestep the persecution and then go on with his life? Because there was a greater treason, far greater than treason against Rome or Caesar.
Let’s open up to 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 and read together: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 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? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
In this section, the Apostle Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is making a very clear point: idolatry is a big deal. We talked a little about this last week, but I want you to remember the context. Throughout all of chapters 8-10 Paul has been answering the question: What about food offered to idols? The situation in the church was that some people were still buying and eating the foods that were being offered as sacrifice to the pagan gods of Rome. If you recall, the temples were like a mix of churches, grocery stores, restaurants, and meeting halls, and it was common practice to buy and eat the food that was leftover from the rituals.
The Christians were torn on this issue. Part of the church thought this was no big deal. Paul said as much throughout and again here when he says, “That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No…”. That was one side of the argument, that it was no big deal because it’s just meat, just drink, just food, and as long as you know that who cares.
The other part of the church thought it was a HUGE deal. They didn’t want to go anywhere near the pagan temples and sacrifices! Every time they did their conscience started freaking out. And this created a rift in the church because both of them had a really good point.
It really was just meat and any Christian could eat it with no problems. But it is also unwise to go against your conscience or put yourself in a place where you will be tempted to sin. It’s similar to the conversations that Christians still have about going to the movies, or to a bar, or reading certain books, or playing certain video games. Half the church says it’s totally fine and the other half is waving the big, red warning flag. Which is right?
We’ve talked for a long time about that, so I’m not going to retread it here. It’s also continuing from last week where Paul is giving warnings about how serious this is. He says, flat out, that the meat is just meat, the idols are just statues, and the pagan gods aren’t real gods, but demons – but then wants to impress the church with just how serious the situation is.
Remember last week we talked about how someone in the church can think they are a Christian because they hang around other Christians, but not actually be saved? Paul drives that point telling them to really, really check their heart about this. Are they going to the pagan temple as a mature Christian, with a good conscience, or are they just people who take communion on Sundays and then do whatever they want during the week, assuming that they are going to be saved by their religious Christian actions. There’s a big, big difference between participating in the Christian religion and actually being a follower of Jesus, so he gives the warning via the example of the Israelites who left Egypt under Moses. They all thought they were saved, but in truth their hearts were far from God. They weren’t followers of God, but sexually immoral idolaters and grumblers who didn’t trust God at all. And they were banned from the Promised Land because of it. We talked about that last week.
And so here, God, through Paul, wants to make abundantly clear that going to the pagan temples and participating in their events has huge, spiritual consequences. It needs great consideration. So he gives the direct warning, again, in verse 10, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” and then gets into the spiritual reality going on around them. He says in verse 16-18, “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? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?”
He’s talking about the Lord’s Supper, or what we call Communion. He says that when we participate in Lord’s Supper we are doing something extremely special and it’s all wrapped around that word “Participation”, which is the Greek word KOINONIA or “fellowship”. This word is used all over the New Testament.
It’s used in Acts 2:42 when it talks about the very first Christian church formed after Pentecost. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship (KOINONIA), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” We have fellowship, unity, sharing, participation with each other as the church, the body of Christ.
It’s used in Philippians 2:1-2 which says, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship (KOINONIA) with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” We have fellowship, unity, sharing, participation with the Holy Spirit who binds us all together.
The Apostle John, in 1 John 1, says that the proclamation of the gospel was “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (vs 3) KOINONIA is a big, biblical concept.
God created man to be in fellowship and participation, KOINONIA with Him. But we sinned and broke that bond. God cannot be associated with sin and our sin made it so we could no longer be with Him, and became, in fact, His enemies. He is life, sin brought death. He is good, sin brought evil. We were created to be rulers and stewards of His Kingdom of light, sin made it so we would be bound as slaves to Satan, the prince of darkness. God created KOINONIA, our sin brought division.
The gospel is that Jesus came and saved those who had been made dark, dead, enemies of God. He entered the world that he might save sinners and restore the KOINONIA between God and man, for anyone who would believe.
One picture God gave us to remind us of all this is the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. We show all these truths every time we celebrate it together. We take one loaf and break it. We take one bottle and pour it. Then we take our own little cup and our own little piece of the bread and we recognize them as symbols of our KOINONIA with God and our fellow Christians. When we drink and eat together the symbols representing the body and blood of Jesus, we are eating and drinking in memory of Him and all he has done to bring us back into KOINONIA with Him and each other. We once participated or fellowshipped or shared in Adam’s sin (Rom 5) and Satan’s rebellion (Eph 2), but now we participate or fellowship or share with Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, his holiness, sufferings, and glory.
Taking communion is for Christians. Eating the bread and drinking the cup shows that we have changed fellowships, changed teams, and are now totally with Jesus. We are His because He bought us with His blood shed on the cross. He is our Lord, King, Saviour, Master, God and Friend, and we are his people, his body, his church.
This is why it says in verse 18, “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” The word “Participants” is a form of the word KOINONIA. Remember all he just said about Israel. The altar in the Old Testament was a table on which food was regularly sacrificed to God. The priests ate from the offerings, sharing the table with God, as a representative of the rest of Israel. It was a symbol of their desire for KOINONIA with God. In the same way, Christians also have a table on which food is served as a symbol of our KOINONIA with God – the Lord’s Supper.
And so, he continues in verses 19, “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
Why was it such a big deal to simply go into a temple and eat the food there? Because, what is happening in that building, at that table, at that altar, is a reflection of the fellowship, the KOINONIA those people have – not with Apollos or Aphrodite or whatever made up god, but with demons. Just as we are fellowshipping with, united with, participating with, sharing with, bound to, God in the Lord’s Supper, so they are fellowshipping with, united with, participating with, sharing with, bound to, demons.
You can’t have both. Polycarp knew this, which is why he faced lions and the pyre instead of simply uttering those few words, “Caesar is lord.” It would be, as one of my favourite theologians RC Sproul says, “cosmic treason”. This is what Adam committed. Cosmic treason is the ultimate definition of sin.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t play for both teams. You can’t eat from both tables. You can’t have two lords. You must, must, must choose. Jesus promises a separation in the end and we’d better be on the right side of it.
Which is why we read, “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” Or more colloquially, “What are you, nuts? Are you trying to bring God’s discipline upon you? Do you not remember what happened to Israel when they set up idols in their nation or worshipped Baal? Do you want that to happen to you? Do you think you are the one person who can play both sides, acting like a Christian sometimes and playing with demons the rest, and that you won’t get burned? Do you think that you can take God’s plan, His righteousness, His gift, and His concern to protect the truth that He alone is God and the only way of Salvation, and stomp all over it by also worshipping the ‘gods’ of human invention? Do you think that God is going to share praise and worship and his people with demons? If you do, you’re insane! He has promised that those who worship idols will provoke His jealousy and his wrath – just as we saw Israel experience over and over.” Polycarp knew this and had a right fear of God.
Modern Equivalents and Conclusion
Now you may be thinking, “Ok, Pastor Al, I promise that if anyone ever invites me to a Greek temple to worship Apollos, I definitely won’t go, ok? If anyone asks me to come over and eat meat offered to idols, I will definitely decline. Thanks for the warning.” But how often will that kind of thing come up these days?
Let me give you four ways that idolatry still comes up today:
First, there still are pagan religions out there and Christians still often tempted to mix their beliefs and practices with them. The horoscopes and psychics and crystals and chakras and angel worship and other new age stuff we have around us are demonic and some Christians are tempted towards them. Some churches try to incorporate pagan rituals like prayer labyrinths into their spiritual disciplines. Some people try to use God as a good luck charm by going to church and having communion on Sundays, but then try to incorporate Wiccan rituals, Buddhist meditation, Islamic prayer times, and other religious thinking into their relationship with God. God is clear that we can’t do that.
The Second, way is what I’ll call, Blending. This isn’t purely pagan or demonic, but it’s something that Christians need to strongly consider in light of what we have learned here today. Think about how much spiritual blending there is during holiday times like Christmas and Easter – and of course Halloween.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we also have holly, ivy, mistletoe, Christmas trees, yule logs, lights, gift giving, fruitcake, and Dec. 25th, which all have pagan origins! We celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus with bunnies, candy, chicks and coloured eggs. And Halloween is just a mess that I won’t get into now. Even our church has some of this blending. The fact we are meeting in a special church building and called Christians came from pagan origins. The days and months on our calendar are based in ancient pagan mythology. Birthdays also have pagan origins.
Does this mean we declare anyone who eats fruitcake or colours eggs or has a birthday party to be anathema from the church? No, that’s not what this is teaching us. What it’s saying is that we need to think about this stuff. There’s a website online called GotQuestions.org that I really like that tries to answer a lot of these questions with biblical wisdom. Just a quick scan of their topics comes up with things like: Should a Christian play Pokemon, use Facebook, go to parties, do jury duty, watch mma, read Harry Potter, practice feng shui, do cosplay, and much more. Christians care about the truth and about what God thinks of things. So we ask, what does the Bible say? What does our conscience say? How does it affect others? We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth remembering that some of the traditions and practices we hold so dear need to be carefully thought through.
The third I will call, Cultural Corruption. This is a big deal these days as it comes up all the time. There are some churches that are claiming that God has sanctioned things, or is celebrating things, that He does not. They take a biblical teaching, corrupt it, and then invite people to celebrate it. Here’s a couple examples.
The blessing of pets or giving pets communion. Some churches do this as an outreach and invite people to come to make sure their pets get into heaven. This is wrong and a corruption of the Lord’s Supper, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and of the teachings of the Bible, and therefore Christians cannot participate. For us to go to that event would be saying that we agree with what they are doing. Our presence gives our blessing to their sin and error.
The same sort of thing happens with where we give our money or work. Sometimes the groups that are sent to help during a crisis also promote evil practices. For example, there are some organizations that not only fund education and healthcare, but also abortions. A Christian simply cannot willingly give their money to a group that funds abortions. Or consider personal, financial investments in companies that are known to use child or slave labour. There have been Christians who have been put in the position where they would be forced, by their employers, to do something unethical and unbiblical. They refused to compromise their integrity or disobey God, so they have had to quit.
Another example is attending or participating in the wedding of a gay, adulterous, or ungodly couple. In one sense, it’s a good thing to be friends with anyone who cares for you enough to invite you to their wedding. Jesus ministered to and befriended all kinds of people and that’s a good thing you are like Him in that way. And we know that being a Christian doesn’t make us better than anyone else, so it’s not about that. Some Christians think that they should attend any kind of wedding because it’s a celebration of love and even if the couple is in sin, at least they can extend Christ’s love to their friends without judging them. This isn’t true.
As a pastor, I have quite a long marriage policy that covers a lot of ways that I will not marry a couple – and there’s way more on it than just gay marriage. I won’t marry people who aren’t active Christians attending the same, sound, evangelical church. I won’t marry people who don’t have the blessing of their families on their marriage. I won’t marry people who have prenuptial agreements. I won’t marry people who are having sex before marriage. I won’t marry people who refuse to have premarital counselling. I won’t marry some divorced couples if their situation is still unbiblical. Why?
Because marriage is something God has spoken very clearly about. He says in Hebrews 13:4 that “marriage should be honoured by all” because it’s not a human construction, but a divine one. It’s His idea, not ours, and therefore we must do it his way, not ours. And if the couple isn’t going to do it God’s way, then I will not stand before God as the official who tied them together. In the same way, every Christian needs to know that their participation – as in making the cake, taking the pictures, attending, or being in the wedding party, is you saying that, by your presence, you agree with and support this union. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you believe and obey what God says in scripture about marriage and then also celebrate people that are disobeying what God has said.
And finally, the fourth way we do this is simply by being a leading two different lives. Following Jesus and the world. Trying to balance God’s priorities with your own. God’s plan with your own. God’s ways with the world’s. Simply put, this is hypocrisy. It means that out of one side of your mouth you say you believe that Jesus is God and the only one you will worship, while out of the other side of your mouth you worship and prioritize all sorts of other things. It means saying that you believe God answers prayer, but never actually pray. It means you say that God’s word is true, but then disagree with it when it commands you to do something difficult like submit to authority or forgive someone. It means that you say that generosity is important, but then live like a miser. It means that you say you trust God, but then build materialistic walls out around you out of money and stuff and put your faith it them. It means you say that you trust in God’s plan, but then pursue the worldly version of success all week long.
You can’t have it both ways. Jesus says in Luke 16:13, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” He says in Matthew 12:25, “a house divided against itself will not stand.” James 1:6-8 says this person “is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind… a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
I implore you to ask God to reveal the ways that you are trying to stand on both sides of the fence, or play for both teams. The ways you are trying to serve two masters is causing you to be unstable. Ask God’s forgiveness for having these idols and for him to you, restore you back to KOINONIA with Him.
For some, a “church” is simply a building. If you punch the word “church” into Google images that’s what you get – pictures of beautiful buildings. You’ve probably been asked the question, “Do you go to church?”, as though “church” was a destination to reach, or an address to be found. If it was the middle of the night and you happened to drive by your church building you might say, “That’s my church!”, even if the lights were off and no one was there. The word “church” can be used to describe a building, but that’s certainly not the full meaning, and the etymology of the word “Church” is actually quite interesting.
EKKLESIA – “A Congregation”
The word we normally read in the New Testament as “church” is the Greek word EKKLESIA, which simply meant “a congregation of citizens called out from their homes into a public place” – there wasn’t really a religious connection to the word – it could be any congregation of people for any reason. When Jesus looked at Peter and said in Matthew 16:18, “…on this rock I will build my church…” He was used the word EKKLESIA to refer to His “called-out ones”, or His “congregation” – the special group of people that would be His followers.
Throughout scripture the word “church” is used to describe a congregation of believers, but never to describe a building. In Romans 16:5 Paul says, “Greet also the church in their house.” showing the clear difference between the congregation and the building. A New Testament believer would never have said “I go to church”, they would have said “I’m part of a church”. The church is the people, the house is the building.
HODOS – “The Way”
Another common word used in scripture to describe the followers of Jesus was HODOS, or “The Way”. When Paul was running around persecuting the church he was chasing a group who called themselves “The Way”. Acts 9:1-2,
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Jesus called Himself “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6), a word that simply meant “the path”, or “the road”, but was also used to describe “A way of thinking, feeling or deciding”. Just like today if we said we want to “walk a mile in their shoes”, we don’t their actual shoes, but their way of life. Followers of Jesus said that they were following The Way of Jesus.
CHRISTIANOS – “Christians”
“For a whole year they met with the church [Notice it doesn’t say “they met at the church”] and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
This wasn’t meant to be complimentary. The ending “–ians” simply means “belonging to the party of” or “follower of”, so it was shorthand for this crazy group of people who kept talking about this back-from-the-dead Jesus fellow who turned random people into brothers and sisters who met together regularly to eat His body and drink His blood (Christians were pretty misunderstood at the beginning – and still are today, I suppose). These “Christians” said that Jesus was the one whom the Jews called Christ, so the culture around them started calling them “Christians” – “followers of Christ”. Amazingly, and in a relatively short period of time after Jesus walked the earth, these believers went from being a small “congregation” to an identifiable group, distinct from Judaism and distinct from the Gentile religions.
KURIAKOS – “Church”
Let’s see what we have so far. We have a Congregation [EKKLESIA] of Christians [CHRIASTIANOS], who call themselves “The Way” [HODOS]. So why do many English translations of the bible use the word “Church”? Where did that come from?
The word “Church” actually comes from a different Greek word – KURIAKOS which simply means “the lord’s” or “belonging to the lord” (KURIOS = “lord”). It is used in scripture a couple of times (1 Cor 11:20, Rev 1:10), and the word could mean any human lord, but it always refers to Jesus in scripture. For Christians there really is only one Lord, so when Christians started to gather into larger groups, designate places of worship, and even build buildings, they would call them KURIAKOS – places that “belong to the Lord”.
This really took off when Emperor Constantine (circa 300AD), the first Christian Emperor of Rome, started building places of worship all over the place and wanted to set them apart from the other public buildings he was erecting and so called them KURIAKOS. The pronunciation of the word changed over the years, but now the buildings that we build which are meant to house a group of believers still have that same name –we call them Churches.
And so, to summarize, on Sunday morning you sit in a “Church”, a KURIAKOS, which is a building dedicated to the Lord. Surrounding you are Christians who make up the EKKLESIA, the Congregation of people who have been called out from the world to become followers of the HODOS, The Way, of Jesus the Christ. Don’t you love word studies‽
Word studies are so much fun, let’s do one more. We’ve talked about the names of this body of believers, but there’s another great word that describes what happens among the people who are part of this group. It’s a word that is used both to describe and to identify what the church is and does.
It’s the word KOINONIA. The Church of Jesus Christ is meant to practice, experience and be defined by their expression of KOINONIA. It’s used 20 times in the Bible and is such a wonderfully expressive word that it takes many English words to fully capture it’s meaning.
KOINONIA = Commitment
It’s first occurrence is in Acts 2:42, right at the birth of the church, shortly after the Apostle Peter has given his first sermon and 3000 are converted to Christianity. It says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship [KOINONIA], to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” It describes the group of people who had come together under the banner of Christ. They committed themselves to one another. They became a community, a group, a united front built upon faith in and love for single leader, Jesus Christ.
KOINONIA = Spiritual Unity
aul uses it in Philippians 2:1-2 as he is teaching believers about pursuing Christ like humility and how to treat other believers. He says,
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation [KOINONIA] in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
This is the spiritual aspect to KOINONIA. It’s not just about being united in our minds, wills, and decisions, but also describes how Christians are drawn together by the Holy Spirit to care for one another and worship God. It describes a group of people who are not only seeking agreement and united in their purpose, but serving God, one another, and serving alongside one another with love and joy.
KOINONIA: From Jesus to Church
This love for one another does not come from inside ourselves, but is built upon and flows from our relationship with Jesus. KOINONIA is also used to describe our relationship with Jesus. Listen to 1 John 1:6-7,
“If we say we have fellowship [KOINONIA] with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship [KOINONIA] with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
If we are in KOINONIA (loving fellowship, agreement, service, intimate communion) with Jesus, then we will have KOINONIA (loving fellowship, agreement, service, intimate communion) with the people of the church. It’s a powerful truth that the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we will feel to His people, and the further we are from Jesus, the further away we will feel from His church.
We cannot say that we are loving, serving, enjoying, and participating with Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, passionately pursuing the mission God has for us, while at the same time being distant from His people, arguing with another believer, avoiding another Christian, or sinning against a brother or sister in Christ. They work together. We express our love for God by loving His people. We express our service to our Lord Jesus by serving His people. When we are listening to the Holy Spirit, He will point us towards His people. Our KOINONIA with God flows directly into our KOINONIA with His church.
Therefore if you feel stuck in your spiritual life, if you feel a distance from God, if you are feeling dispassionate in your relationship with Jesus, if you don’t regularly see the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, one sure way to reclaim that is to pursue KOINONIA with His people.
KOINONIA = Sacrifice
Consider that another way this word is used is to describe a sacrificial gift given from one believer to another (or group of believers) who is in need. In the same section of scripture where Paul is talking about being a cheerful giver and teaching that God supplies our needs generously so we can give generously (2 Corinthians 9:6-15), he uses the word KOINONIA to describe “generously sharing” with other believers who are in need.
In other words, when you are meeting the needs of another believer, whether in friendship, or service, or through a financial or practical gift, you are exercising KOINONIA and are not only growing closer to that person, but closer to God.
KOINONIA = Communion
Allow me one final use of KOINONIA in scripture. Listen to 1 Corinthians 10:16-17,
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation [KOINONIA] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [KOINONIA] in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
When we have Communion, the Lord’s Supper, we are participating in an exercise of KOINONIA. We are expressing our KOINONIA with Jesus, and our KOINONIA with His church. I read a section from a passage in 1 Corinthians 11 every month during the Communion Service, but let’s read context:
“17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!”
So what’s Paul’s problem with the church here? The KOINONIA, the intimacy, fellowship, joy of service, unity in spirit, is broken. The church gets together to eat, to worship and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but they aren’t serving one another, they are divided, they are abusing each other, disregarding each other’s needs, not helping those who need it, letting those who need food go hungry, some eating and drinking it all before the rest can even get there!
Like many churches, they are doing their religious thing, putting in their time, going through the motions, but the KOINONIA isn’t there. They should be loving one another, serving each other, seeking unity, taking care of the ones who have needs, blessing each other, encouraging the weaker among them… but instead they come to church and pretend that it exists for them, and that their relationship with God has nothing to do with the Christians around them. They do their religious duty thinking only of themselves.
Paul looks at this church and says, “You’re not eating the Lord’s Supper, you’re just having a worldly party. Because you have lost your KOINONIA, you are no longer a church.”
He continues in verse 23,
“23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Now read to the next part carefully:
“27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”
Communion is a time for us to examine ourselves, but some ministers (myself included) may be negligent in reminding us what we are to be examining ourselves for. Consider the context, what is Paul really concerned about? KOINONIA!
An Unworthy Manner
What does it mean to “eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner [and] sin against the body and blood of the Lord”? We often assume it means just searching our hearts for sins that no one knows about, that we haven’t confessed yet, bitterness or jealousy or lust we have in our hearts… and that is only part of the meaning. We should certainly do that. But remember the context.
We “sin against the body and blood” when we participate in the Lord’s Supper and are not in KOINONIA with Jesus and the brothers and sisters around us. This is why the Lord’s Supper is reserved for believers alone. Only those who have given their lives to Jesus can have KOINONIA with Jesus, and with the Church. This is why many churches only allow members to take Communion, in an attempt to not bring judgement upon their church for allowing people who are not in KOINONIA to participate in the Lord’s Supper.
Eating & Drinking Judgement
Look at verse 29 again to see how serious this is, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” What does it “recognizing the body of the Lord” mean?
It means two things:
First, we have to recognize the actual body of Jesus Christ, which was give up for us at the Great Exchange, made the Propitiation for our sins, and which was hung on the cross in our place. We must have that at the forefront of our minds as we partake in the bread, which symbolizes Jesus body, given for us, and the cup, which reminds us of His blood which was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
Second, we must also recognize the other way the “body of the Lord” is used in scripture. Over and over and over in scripture the Church is called the “body of Christ” (Romans 12:5, 1 Cor 10:17, 12:27, Eph 4:12…”). Jesus is the head, we are the body. We are His hands and feet in this world, the body by which He manifests His will and through whom He works the most.
When we take communion without being in KOINONIA with the brothers and sisters around us, we eat and drink judgement on ourselves. How serious is this? Verse 30 says that in the Corinthian church God’s judgement came down “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”
One of my commentaries says this,
“To not come to the table in unity and acceptance of fellow believers revealed arrogance and ungratefulness for what Christ had done. To take the Lord’s Supper – to eat the bread and drink the wine – as though it were no more than a regular meal to assuage hunger is to miss the sanctity of this spiritual rite. Those who did so were eating and drinking God’s judgment against themselves. This ‘judgement’ was severe, one of the most severe in the New Testament. The judgement was disciplinary in nature; that is, it did not refer to eternal judgment, but it was sever enough to cause many of the believers to be weak and ill, while some had even died. That some of the people had died may have been a supernatural judgement on the Corinthian church. This type of disciplinary judgement highlights the seriousness of the Communion service. The Lord’s Supper is not to be take lightly; this new covenant cost Jesus His life. It is not a meaningless ritual, but a sacrament given by Christ to help strengthen believers’ faith.” (Life Application Bible Commentary – Pg 165-166)
What’s In A Name?
There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of the word “church”, and the complexity of how it came about. The story of how we came to call this place, and these people, a “church” gives us a glimpse into the complexity of the organization and the simplicity of what is meant to do. What happens here, among us, each day, each week, while we are in service together and while we are caring for one another during the week, is unique to the Christian church. We are the only group that can experience KOINONIA with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, and with Each other.
We are the only group who has the HODOS, The Way, because we know the One who truly is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are the EKKLESIA, the called-out ones, who were once part of the world, but are no longer. We are now CHRISTIANOS, those belonging to Christ, His people. And we come here, to this KURIAKOS, this place that belongs to the Lord, this place of worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, love, joy, commitment, praise, power, unity… so that we can be KURIAKOS a people who belongs to the Lord.
Through my years as a Christian, and as a pastor, as I have learned to love Jesus, I have learned to love His church and His people too, and it is my prayer that you would do the same.
Sermon Reflection Questions:
- What do you think of when you hear the word “Church”? What positive and negative connotations does the word
- What does it mean to be part of an EKKLESIA – “A Congregation”
- What does it mean to be part of HODOS – “The Way”?
- In what ways has the meaning of the word Christian changed for you?
- What is KOINONIA?
- How serious does Jesus take The Lord’s Supper? How has today’s lesson changed your view of Communion / The Lord’s Supper?
Small Group Study:
Icebreaker: What are three things you would most like to accomplish in the next year?
Read & Discuss: 1 John 1:6-7
- Why would some say they have “fellowship with Him”, but not really mean it? What benefits are there in giving lip-service to the faith?
- What does it mean to “walk in darkness”?
- What does it mean to “walk in the light”? How can we “walk in the light as He [Jesus] is in the light?”
- Look at how the verse builds. “IF we walk in the light…[THEN] we have fellowship with one another AND the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” How does all that work together? What is the connection to having “fellowship with one another” and being “cleansed from all sin”?