Monday, March 28, 2011

Sermon on Romans 5:1-8, for Children's Sunday, "Hero Worship"

Note to reader: Recently I've begun preaching from an outline, to try to sharpen my preaching skills, and so rather than a full manuscript, you have my outline below and the Sermon Talking points with Bible References. I may return to writing a full manuscript out soon, but want to work on better oral delivery. If you want to hear my full sermon, you can still access them on thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com
Thanks for reading!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Reading from Romans 5, especially verses 6-8: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

1. Fascination with heroes (examples: real-life heroes—rescue workers, Japanese nuclear workers, soldiers protecting, great leaders, comics, movies, sports heroes)

a. Elements of a good hero story: crisis/problems, helpless, rescue from outside, heroic actions, sacrificial efforts to help
b. Many of our problems might have earthly heroes that can help us. Many of you might be “heroes” to someone else. “Twenty-nine percent choose their mothers, 21 percent name their fathers and 16 percent pick their parents without specifying which one. Allowed to choose as many heroes as they'd like, nearly half mention at least one of their folks. Medical professional, EMT, police or firemen, a teacher, father or mother, best friend, counselor.
c. But what about when our problems are too big for any earthly hero? Disappointment; cynicism; not there when we needed them? Problems of hero worship. Modeling our heroes’ flaws as well as their virtues—seeing everything they do as admirable—whether it’s sin or not. “Bad men are wonderfully in love with bad examples.... Oh, that we were as much in love with the examples of good men as others are in love with the examples of bad men.”

2. Jesus—the Greatest Hero Story ever told

a. A God-sized crisis—problems we’re helpless to deliver ourselves from—sin, guilt, death. Earthly heroes are smaller than these problems, God isn’t.
b. Rescue from outside; sacrificial love; facing resistance and hostility
c. Ultimately rejected and alone when He went to the cross—but came for His enemies
d. We were ungodly, enemies of God, sinners
e. Through His death and resurrection He took us as sinners, ungodly, and enemies of God, and made us children of God—forgiven, made new to be godly and loving, and to become friends of God.

3. Hero is really an inadequate word to describe Jesus—a better one is Savior. What does it mean to call Him your Savior? Worship of earthly heroes and heroines is misplaced worship, but Hero Worship—or better yet—Savior Worship is not misplaced. Jesus is worthy of our worship and praise. All Glory goes to Him!

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.


Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Who are your heroes? What was it about those heroes that you wanted to imitate? What made their stories magnetic? What were their virtues, and what is it about their character that was worthy of imitation?

2. What happens when our problems/crises are bigger than an earthly hero can handle? Or when our earthly heroes disappoint or are found to be imperfect? Not there to help us when we need it?

3. What type of imitation is praised in the Bible? 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Timothy 3:10; Titus 2:7

4. How is the story of Jesus the “Greatest Hero Story Ever Told?” What are the “God-sized” problems Jesus came to rescue us from? Romans 5:6-12; Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 3:23-24; 6:23. Why is only Jesus able to rescue us from these problems?

5. What was different and greater about Jesus’ rescue than ordinary hero stories? Rom. 5:6, 8, 10 show us that Jesus died for us while we were: ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God. Rather than fighting to destroy His enemies, Jesus died and rose to save & rescue them.

6. Jesus is truly deserving of “hero worship.” He is the true Son of God, and God alone is to be worshipped (The First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” Exodus 20:3). See examples of Jesus being worshipped as True God: Matthew 2:2; 14:33; 28:9; John 9:38; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 7:9-12

7. Why is Jesus more than just a hero? What does it mean to call Him your Savior? Matt. 1:21; 1 Tim. 4:10; 2 Tim. 1:10.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, on the Second Sunday in Lent, "The Lord's Supper" part 4

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today we wrap up our sermon series on the Lord’s Supper. We’ve previously covered how we observe the Lord’s Supper at the institution and command of Jesus, how He taught that it is His true body and blood offered for us to eat and to drink, and what are the spiritual blessings and benefits of this blessed communion. Now we address the question of how we faithfully use that sacrament. Who comes to the altar to receive it, and how does a person receive the sacrament worthily—or for their good? The sermon talking points refer you to questions from the catechism and various Bible verses on this topic.

The text for today is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, where the apostle Paul addresses how the church had begun to misuse the Lord’s Supper:

17 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. 18 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, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 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.

23 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, 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 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.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

Basic to our understanding of who rightly receives the Lord’s Supper is the teaching of the real presence, which we discussed in sermon 2. This is the Biblical teaching that the bread and the wine are Jesus’ true body and blood. This is part of the reason why we don’t practice “open communion.” As you just heard in the reading, the apostle Paul warns that there’s a danger in misusing the sacrament: “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.”

If we take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way, we sin not against bread and wine as empty symbols, but more gravely, against the very body and blood of Christ. So the spiritual danger of misusing communion is to have guilt counted to you, instead of taken away, and Paul says that if we eat and drink without discerning the body, we eat and drink judgment on ourselves. Of course this is not the purpose of the Supper, and when we receive it worthily it takes guilt away. But this is the most important reason why we practice closed communion, and that is to prevent someone from eating and drinking judgment on themselves, and being responsible for guilt against Jesus’ body and blood. I have to make an important side note here, because in the old King James Version that some of you grew up with, it read: “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:29). Damnation of course, is eternal judgment. So is one eternally condemned if they inadvertently misuse the sacrament, or what kind of “judgment” is it? First we should note that all the other modern English versions render it “judgment” rather than damnation. There are actually distinct words in the Greek New Testament to speak of judgment in a general sense or temporal sense, and then also an eternal and therefore more severe sense, usually translated condemnation.

What does this mean for us? Well, it doesn’t mean that a person is guaranteed eternal condemnation if they misused the sacrament, but it does mean that they received judgment in at least a temporal sense. And the two degrees of judgment are related, because if we receive judgment now in time, and are not warned and brought to repentance and faith, so that we are cleared of guilt, than the present judgment can lead eventually to eternal judgment. Paul explains this right in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, by saying that there had been weakness, illness, even death among the Corinthians because of their misuse of the Sacrament. And so he warns them to judge or examine themselves so that they won’t be judged, and that being judged by the Lord (now) is discipline for us so that we’re not condemned (eternally). So pay attention to God’s judging or discipline now, through His Word of Law that shows our sins. Then we will turn from our sin and receive the Sacrament to be forgiven and cleared of our judgment and guilt.

So you can begin to understand why the practice of closed communion is a loving practice to make sure that everyone receives Jesus’ body and blood for blessing and not harm. We should not knowingly give it to someone who may receive it to their harm, or whose faith is unknown to us. So what does Paul mean by judging ourselves before we come to the Sacrament, or examining ourselves before we eat the bread and drink the cup, or by “discerning the body?” These are some of the elements of our Christian preparation for receiving the Supper. First of all, it goes without saying that we must first have received Christian baptism and believe the Christian faith. The Supper was not instituted to be celebrated among unbelievers, but for and by believers. Then, we must also have faith in Jesus’ words about the Sacrament, that this body and blood was given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. If a person does not yet believe this, they should not commune, but should study further and grow in their faith first. As Paul says, if they eat and drink without discerning or recognizing the body, then they eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Also, a vitally important part of our preparing for the Supper is that we’re knowledgeable and repentant of all our sins. That we’re not continuing to live in sin with no intention of changing our behavior. Of course as Lutherans, we recognize that Christians are at the same time saints and sinners. We recognize that sometimes the battle against our specific sins can be exhausting and overwhelming. Read Romans 7 to hear Paul’s own struggle against sin. While we don’t want to commit sin, we also recognize we will struggle against it until death, and that sadly we’ll often fail. So as Christians we make it our aim to change our sinful lives with the help of the Holy Spirit, never content to live in our sin or feel as though its “just ok” and we’ll be forgiven anyways. There is a big difference between a person who struggles with living a righteous life, and wants by the power of the Holy Spirit to do better yet stumbles, and a person who decides that God shouldn’t mind their sins, and makes no effort to correct their life.

Here we see how deeply the sacrament addresses us in our lives as sinners. Christ desires to take away your sin and give you His innocence. If you’re knowledgeable and aware of your sin, and have examined yourself to repent of it, then you earnestly need the sacrament and should receive it. If you are growing spiritually cold, and are losing the sense of your need for the sacrament, you earnestly need the sacrament to kindle and awaken your faith to a living heart. However, if you stubbornly cling to your sins, or don’t believe that you’re a sinner in need of forgiveness, then you should not receive the Sacrament. If you’re unwilling to be reconciled to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to forgive as Christ has forgiven you, then you may not be given the sacrament. This would violate the nature of the sacrament as a sacrament of love and reconciliation. You first must examine your heart, repent of sin, and be reconciled to your brothers or sisters in the Lord.

Because of the importance of making an examination of yourself before communing, we also do not give communion to our young children who don’t yet understand, or haven’t been taught the faith yet, and to those who’re unconscious or otherwise unable to examine themselves. As baptized Christians, they have the full grace and mercy of God, and aren’t deprived of forgiveness by not yet communing. Every child that receives baptism, and believes in the Word of God has the full promise of the forgiveness of their sins. This is one of the great blessings of the fact that God offers His forgiveness through these varied channels or means of grace. Once instructed in the faith and able to understand what they’re receiving, and they profess the Christian faith as their own, then they too receive the distinctive gift of the Lord’s Supper.

In addition to those who shouldn’t commune because they might come to harm, or not fully understand yet, there may also be visitors among us who are baptized Christians in good standing, that belong to another Christian confession of faith. Because the early example of the apostles was that fellowship in communion was also based on holding steadfastly to the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11:19), we ought not commune together with those of differing confessions of faith. While we may believe and confess the same Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, if we hold differing beliefs we should refrain from communing together, so that we do not falsely display a unity of faith that does not yet exist. When we come to the altar to commune, we’re giving public testimony to our Christian faith, as Paul says “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” If we believe that another church is teaching in error, on the doctrine of salvation, for example, we should not give the appearance of endorsing their belief by communing together with them.

Our disagreements over theology or the basic Christian teachings should first be resolved through God’s Word before we commune together. It’s not a judgment of other Christians’ faith, or denying that they also have salvation, when we don’t commune together. And it’s most certainly not that we won’t see those other Christians in heaven. Rather it is to recognize that we are not yet fully united in our confession of faith at present. Christians of goodwill and sincerity do disagree about things, and that doesn’t prohibit us from working together to accomplish social good, or from praying together and discussing our disagreements by studying the Bible. We can and should be engaged in these pursuits so that we can return to greater unity that is not just superficial. Then the unity that we express in that deep fellowship at the altar will be a true and meaningful unity—a unity in heart, mind, and spirit—a unity of confession of faith and practice.

So for those whose faith is unknown to us, we practice closed communion as a protection from giving them communion to their harm. If in fact they don’t believe or aren’t baptized, or may be living in sin unaware, or even don’t believe in Jesus’ words about what is offered here, they are not yet ready to receive the sacrament, and could be taking it to their judgment. That doesn’t mean that they are unwelcome, but simply that they first go through the same instruction and preparation for the sacrament that each of our church members go through. Also for those who may believe differently, when the time comes that they too profess the same faith that we do, and desire to receive those gifts Christ brings, they are ready to come to the altar.

It’s my prayer that each and every one of you may understand the Supper rightly, that by faith you believe what it is, and trust in Jesus’ words for the forgiveness of sins. It’s my prayer that you would all earnestly examine your own lives in the light of God’s Ten Commandments, and repent of your sins and strive to leave them behind with the aid of the Holy Spirit. For those who wish to have a guideline for examining themselves, you can find the “Christian Questions and their Answers” on page 329-330 in our church hymnal, or also in the Small Catechism. And also by knowing what we believe and joyfully making that confession of faith as you come to the altar, we can truly participate worthily. Here at the altar a great gift is given to us, and it requires discernment and right faith to receive it, but if our hearts are prepared by faith, we receive the great blessing and spiritual benefits that come with the forgiveness of sins. This is something we should crave and earnestly desire. In trial, sin, and struggle against temptation, we have a great and powerful help in the body and blood of Jesus. We’re not worthy because we’re “perfect” neither are we better than others, but worthiness comes by humble repentance and faith.

When we come to the table, we instead ought to have the attitude of Paul, who said: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15). We come to the altar as sinners—knowing that of all people we are most guilty and unworthy of God’s love. But the gracious and trustworthy truth is that Jesus came to save the likes of us. He came to bear our sin on the cross—to count Himself as the sinful one and pay the price for our punishment—although He Himself was without sin. Jesus did this because of His incredible love for us and desire to bring us out of the slavery of sin. He’s now made this new testament with us in His blood, and offers it to us here in the sacrament. So let us in unity of faith receive this sacrament to our spiritual and bodily good, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

IV. How to Receive This Sacrament Worthily
299. Why is it important to receive the Sacrament worthily?
It is very important because St. Paul clearly teaches: “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. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).
300. Is it necessary to fast before receiving the Sacrament?
Fasting can be good training for the will, but God does not command particular times, places, and forms for this. 1 Tim. 4:8; 1 Cor. 9:24-27
301. When do we receive the Sacrament worthily?
We receive it worthily when we have faith in Christ and His words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
302. When is a person unworthy and unprepared?
A person is unworthy and unprepared when he or she does not believe or doubts Christ’s words, since the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
303. How are we to examine ourselves before receiving the Sacrament?
We are to examine ourselves to see whether
A. We are sorry for our sins; Ps. 38:18; 2 Cor. 7:10-11
B. We believe in our Savior Jesus Christ and in His words in the Sacrament; Luke 22:19-20; 2 Cor. 13:5
C. We plan, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to change our sinful lives. Eph. 4:22-24.
As a preparation for the Sacrament, use “Christian Questions and their Answers.” (found on page 329-330 in the LSB hymnal)
304. May those who are weak in faith come to the Lord’s Table?
Yes, for Christ instituted the Sacrament for the very purpose of strengthening and increasing our faith. Mark 9:24; John 6:37
305. Who must not be given the Sacrament?
The Sacrament must not be given to the following:
A. Those who are openly ungodly and unrepentant, including those who take part in non-Christian religious worship. 1 Cor. 5:11, 13; 1 Cor. 10:20-21.
B. Those who are unforgiving, refusing to be reconciled. They show thereby that they do not really believe that God forgives them either. Matt. 6:15. Bible narrative The unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:21-35)
C. Those of a different confession of faith, since the Lord’s Supper is a testimony of the unity of faith. Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:17; 1 Cor. 11:26; Rom. 16:17
D. Those who are unable to examine themselves, such as infants, people who have not received proper instruction, or the unconscious. 1 Cor. 11:28.
Note: Pastors as stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1) have the greatest responsibility as to who should be admitted to the Sacrament. Some of the responsibility also rests with the congregation and the communicant.
306. What is confirmation?
Confirmation is a public rite of the church preceded by a period of instruction designed to help baptized Christians identify with the life and mission of the Christian community.
Note: Prior to admission to the Lord’s Supper, it is necessary to be instructed in the Christian faith (1 Cor. 11:28). The rite of Confirmation provides an opportunity for the individual Christian, relying on God’s promise given in Holy Baptism, to make a personal public confession of the faith and a lifelong pledge of fidelity to Christ. Matt. 10:32-33; Rev. 2:10

From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House. Used with permission. www.cph.org.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sermon on a Christian Response to Disasters. "Knowing God is Near"

The audio podcast of the sermon is available here: Knowing God is Near

The sermon text is Psalm 77 and Luke 13:1-5, and the sermon is about how we as Christians respond to disasters like the one that has just hit Japan with a devastating earthquake and tsunami. At times like this, people might wonder whether God is near, or if He hears our prayers. The Psalm affirms that God is near even when His footprints are unseen, and that the way that we know God is near is through the saving acts of God in history, most clearly seen in the cross of Jesus Christ. That outpouring of God's love on the cross moves our hearts to mercy and compassion for those who are suffering. May the Lord be with all of our brothers and sisters in Japan!! May the God of all peace grant you consolation in a time of great loss and sadness!

Sermon on Exodus 20:3 for Ash Wednesday, on the First Commandment

Podcast available here The First Commandment

Monday, March 07, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 26:28, for Transfiguration Sunday, "The Lord's Supper" 3

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today we pick up where we left off two weeks ago, in our series on the Lord’s Supper. This month begins our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, with the exception of March 27th, which will be a Children’s Sunday. The last sermon discussed the Biblical teaching of the “real presence”—that Jesus is truly present in His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, for us to eat and to drink. That teaching is foundational to the topic for today: the spiritual blessings and benefit of the Lord’s Supper.

The first and foremost blessing of the Lord’s Supper is described in Christ’s own words: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). The biggest blessing of the Lord’s Supper is the forgiveness of sins. But don’t we get that elsewhere, you ask? Don’t we have the forgiveness of sins in our Baptism, or by hearing and believing in the Word of Christ’s forgiveness that the pastor speaks when we confess our sins, or when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses (sins), as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us”? It is true, of course, that Jesus gives His forgiveness in more than one way. We sometimes talk about these different ways that God’s forgiveness is delivered to us as “the means of Grace.” The Word of God, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are “means of grace” in that they are the channels through which God pours out His benefits and blessings on us. The benefits and blessings He won for us on the cross.

Think about it this way, for example: how do I get the forgiveness that Jesus won for me on the cross? He died 2,000 years ago, in a foreign land—so how do I know that what He did there applies to me? Jesus’ death on the cross purchased the gift of our salvation, and His blood shed on the cross was the price of that gift. But how does the gift get to you? That’s where Christ’s Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper come in. Each are given and commanded by Christ for His church, to bring them His forgiveness. If Jesus’ death on the cross purchased the gift, then the Word of Christ, and Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are like the gift wrapped up in a box and delivered to you. What I mean, is that the Lord’s Supper, or Baptism, for example, contain the gift of Christ given for you. They aren’t something separate or apart from Christ’s cross—they aren’t an alternative gift from what Jesus gave on the cross—they are the delivery system for that gift.

Paul explains this about baptism in Romans 6:3-4, for example, when he says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”. Paul says it about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10:16, when he says “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?” So these “means of grace” bring Christ’s gifts forward to us through history, so that we become participants in the events of Jesus’ salvation, His life and death. And they do so by Christ’s own instruction and command, so we can be assured that these things are true.

But we should be careful to avoid the mistake of belittling the gift of forgiveness that is offered in the blood of Jesus, in the Lord’s Supper. Dr. Wieting, who I’ve quoted before, said that we should avoid the trap of making the forgiveness of sins the grand “of course” of the Christian life. That we just take it for granted and want to move on to “more important things.” Thinking, “I’ve heard it once, and believed it, so that’s enough.” We don’t consider its daily importance to our lives. Unfortunately, some Christians hold the mistaken belief that Christ’s forgiveness was only given to them in their conversion, and that their life afterwards is examined just by their good works. So Jesus gets you a clean slate to start with, and that should get you on the way to heaven, but it’s up to you to keep the slate clean after that. This sad misunderstanding, and the lack of regularly teaching the forgiveness of sins to people, has led some Christians to think that forgiveness is not for them too. But the wonderful good news is that forgiveness really is for Christians too! We daily need forgiveness, because we sin daily, whether it’s in our thoughts, words, or deeds. This is not at all to say that we should be complacent about sin, or knowing continue in them—rather we should daily repent and strive against our sins.

And so all the more do we need the constant return to repentance and forgiveness that the Lord’s Supper provides. God offers forgiveness in rich and varied ways, which combats our many and deep-rooted sins. And Christ is concerned not only with the external actions, as important as those are, but especially with the attitudes and motivations of the heart. To those Pharisees who so proudly held up their clean external record, Jesus exposed their unclean thoughts and the intentions of their hearts. He showed them that their outward obedience was not matched with the pure inner motivations that are necessary to keep God’s commandments. Sinful humans do not have those pure desires that the spirit of the law requires. But the Lord’s Supper, by bringing us forgiveness through Jesus’ own body and blood, begins to work that change within us. That forgiveness begins to transform our sinful heart to a heart that loves and seeks after God.

So forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper also brings other benefits, because with forgiveness there is also life and salvation. Forgiveness of our sins is what makes eternal life possible. And without Jesus’ death on the cross, without Him giving up His body and blood into death, there would be no forgiveness of sins. Together with the forgiveness of sins, there is the spiritual blessing of being united with Christ. God brings us into that closest communion and fellowship with Him. 2 Peter 1:4 is perhaps an often overlooked Bible passage. It says that God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” In God’s very great promises, He has made us “partakers of the divine nature.” It’s the same root word as koinonia which we saw in 1 Corinthians 10:16. It means that we are communicants or participants in the divine nature. We are in the closest fellowship with God!

But does everyone receive the forgiveness of sins, and spiritual blessing from the Supper, even if they don’t believe, or are not prepared to receive it rightly? The Scriptures clearly tell us that those who receive it wrongly do still receive Jesus body and blood, but that it is not for their blessing, but rather to their harm. Because this is a holy gift and there is a danger in wrongly using it, we do have to guard against its misuse. I will address more fully in next week’s sermon the question of who should receive the Supper, and who should not. But let it be enough to say for now, that just the outward action of taking the Lord’s Supper, without faith in your heart, does a person no good. Only a person who is repentant of their sins and has faith in these words: “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” receives the spiritual blessings and benefits of the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper is Christ coming among us while we are still in the sinful world. For this reason, one Christian prayer stated: “Thy Supper be my heaven on earth, until I enter heaven” (Wieting, 190). We call the Supper a “foretaste of the feast to come” because this Holy Communion with Christ is a foretaste of the heavenly wedding banquet that awaits Christ’s church. The Bible calls it the marriage supper of the Lamb. Jesus said to His disciples that He would not drink that cup with them again until He drank it anew with them in His Father’s kingdom (Matt. 26:29). So the Lord’s Supper is not an ordinary earthly meal, but Christ present among us makes it a foretaste of heaven as we are joined to Him. This fact calls for the church’s praise and celebration as we receive that gift. As one Lutheran wrote, “This coming of the Lord in the Real Presence makes the Lord’s Day a day of unspeakable joy, a day of praise and thanksgiving. It makes the Eucharist not only an anticipation of the blessed future, but also a participation in the eternal worship in heaven, which St. John saw in the great vision he had at Patmos” (Rev. 1:10; 4:1ff). He’s talking about the vision that John had that became the book of Revelation, and that it took place on the Lord’s Day—Sunday. He saw that the other side of earthly worship of the Triune God is the heavenly worship of saints and angels in heaven.

When we gather in worship, in God’s name, we are not just our 20, 40, or 60 worshippers gathered here, but rather we are joining all the saints in heaven who worship at the throne of God in heaven. In some Norwegian churches they had a clever way of reminding themselves of that truth. They constructed their altar rails, where they would receive communion, in a half circle in front of the altar. When they knelt to receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, they were reminded that the invisible other half of the circle represented the saints who have died and gone to heaven, yet still worship the God of the Living, as they are also with Him. This has brought many Christians great comfort, to know that in worship we are joined together with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven when we give praise to God. Our dearly loved Christian brothers and sisters are worshipping Christ with us from the side of heaven.

Further blessings of the Lord’s Supper include the union that we have with Christ, which strengthens us spiritually for our battle against sin, as I mentioned before. By being united with Christ, we participate in the great exchange of our guilt for His innocence, our weakness for His strength, our rebellion for His obedience. He takes away our sin and gives us His blessedness, so that “Your envy and coveting become His. His charity and compassion becomes yours. Your hate becomes His. His love becomes yours. Your worry becomes His. His perfect trust becomes yours” (Wieting, 194). And so on. Or, as Luther colorfully put what happens when you eat the Lord’s Supper,

To give a simple illustration of what takes place in this eating: it is as if a wolf devoured a sheep and the sheep were so powerful a food that it transformed the wolf and turned him into a sheep. So, when we eat Christ’s flesh physically and spiritually, the food is so powerful, that it transforms us into itself and out of fleshly, sinful mortal men makes spiritual, holy, living men. This we are already, though in a hidden manner in faith and hope; the fact is not yet [visible], but we shall experience it on the Last Day.” (Wieting, 194).

Another great blessing of the Lord’s Supper is the fellowship that it creates with those who are united in faith. Communion is not just a private meal between me and Jesus, where only myself and my own faith is considered. It’s not something that we should practice in isolation, which is why it is given to the gathered congregation. It’s not something that we can practice without consideration or regard for our neighbor, which is why are not to come to the altar with grudges or unforgiveness in our hearts (Matt. 5:23-24). We should give witness to our unity there, which is why we share in the passing of the peace before the Supper—to show that we are reconciled with one another. This recognizes that in the Lord’s Supper there is a vertical dimension, between us and God, but also a horizontal dimension, between us and those with us at the Table.

Another way of reflecting on how we are brought together as one body in the Lord’s Supper is that just as many grains are ground together to make a loaf of bread, and as many grapes are pressed together to make one common cup of wine, so as Christians we are “baked together into one loaf” or joined in one cup. The common cup of wine beautifully illustrates how we share together with one another our common sufferings and are refreshed together in Christ’s blood. As Galatians 6:2 says, Christians have this duty to one another that we bear each other’s burdens in Christ. So the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper should move us to concern and service for our fellow Christians, and to extend the same love to them that we desire. We are far short of describing all the blessings that the forgiveness of Christ brings to us in the Lord’s Supper, but at least from these main points you can see what a gift and treasure we have in Jesus’ body and blood. We will continue next week with talking about how we practice the Lord’s Supper, and how to prepare yourself for properly receiving it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.


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Questions and Answers about the Sacrament of the Altar

II. The Benefit of the Sacrament of the Altar
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?
These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

296. What is the benefit offered in the sacrament?
A. The chief blessing of the Sacrament is the forgiveness of sins which Christ’s body and blood have won for us on the cross. (The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace.) Matt. 26:28; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Col. 1:22; 1 John 1:7
B. Together with forgiveness, God gives all other blessings as well, that is, “life and salvation.” “We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also” (Large Catechism V 68). “We are talking about the presence of the living Christ, knowing that ‘death no longer has dominion over him’” (Rom. 6:8-9; Apology X 4); Rom. 8:31-32
C. In the Sacrament Christ gives victory over sin and hell and strength for the new life in Him. Rom. 8:10; 1 Pet. 2:24
D. As Christians partake of this sacrament together, they make a solemn public confession of Christ and of unity in the truth of His Gospel. 1 Cor. 10:17; 1 Cor. 11:26; Heb. 12:22-24

III. The Power of the Sacrament of the Altar.
How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sins.”

297. How can forgiveness, life, and salvation be obtained through bodily eating and drinking?
Not simply the eating and drinking, but the words of Christ together with His body and blood under the bread and wine are the way through which these blessings are given. “We do not claim this of bread and wine—since in itself bread is bread—but of that bread and wine which are Christ’s body and blood and with which the words are coupled. These and no other, we say, are the treasure through which forgiveness is obtained” (Large Catechism V 28). Christ’s words of promise have put these gifts into the Sacrament, and the believer receives them there through faith.

298. Does everyone who eats and drinks the Sacrament also receive forgiveness, life, and salvation?
Forgiveness, life, and salvation are truly offered to all who eat the Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament, but only through faith can we receive the blessings offered there. Luke 1:45; Luke 11:27-28. Note: To “keep” or “obey” God’s Word of promise is to believe or trust it. “For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17). 1 Cor. 10:3-5. Bible Narrative: There was a blessing in touching Jesus or being touched by Him, and faith received it. Matt. 9:20-22, 27-29.

From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House. Used with permission. www.cph.org.