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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:At the Lord's Supper a focussed faith is a strengthened faith
Text:LD 28 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lord's Supper
 
Preached:2010
Added:2015-01-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2014 Book of Praise

Hymn 29

Psalm 78:1,6,9

Psalm 107:1-4

Hymn 1

Hymn 84

Scripture reading:  John 6:25-59

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 28

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

Today we’re beginning to consider what the Bible teaches about the Lord’s Supper.  As we do that, it’s important to remember that this is one of the two sacraments.  A sacrament by definition is a holy visible, sign and seal, instituted by God, something that he uses to more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel.  God is at work in the sacraments, he is the primary subject, you could say.  This is most obvious in baptism.  In baptism, we are entirely passive – baptism is something that we have done to us.  There’s no action on our part, it’s entirely of God.  That testifies to the nature of the gospel and how God sovereignly draws us to himself. 

When we come to the Lord’s Supper, we have to remember that this is also a place where God is the primary subject.  In the Lord’s Supper, God is declaring and sealing to us the promise of the gospel.  He is the one who feeds us and nourishes us.  However, unlike baptism, in the Lord’s Supper we are and have to be actively involved.  Go back to the image of a baby for a moment.  A baby receives baptism without any action of his own – just like when he gets a bath.  However, when it comes time for that baby to be fed, the baby has to open his mouth.  The baby has to swallow.  As the child grows older, he has to chew and eventually, he has to take the food for himself, lift the fork or spoon, and place the food in his mouth.  Yes, mom or maybe dad provides and prepares the meal, but the child still has to take an active role in eating the food.  The same is true for the Lord’s Supper.  If we are to be strengthened by this sacramental meal, we need to take the food, we need to eat and drink the food.  The way we do all that is through faith.  So, I proclaim to you God’s Word with this theme:

At the Lord’s Supper a focussed faith is a strengthened faith     

We’ll consider faith and:

  1. What it sees in the elements of bread and wine
  2. What it observes in the offering of these elements
  3. What it appropriates in the possession of these elements

Whenever we consider the Lord’s Supper, it’s good that we let our thoughts go directly to the concrete celebration that takes place in this church every two months.  Thinking about the Lord’s Supper in the abstract or thinking about it in purely theoretical terms tends to get us away from the whole purpose and character of a sacrament.  It’s better for us to think back to the last time we had the Lord’s Supper, or better yet to look ahead to the next time we’re going to celebrate it.  We have to make this as concrete as we possibly can. 

That’s exactly what the Catechism does as well.  It speaks as if the one answering the questions is sitting in church at a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  It speaks of seeing with my eyes and receiving from the hand and tasting with my mouth and so on.  This is all real world, concrete stuff – not abstract or theoretical at all. 

The Catechism is simply following what Paul does in 1 Corinthians.  In chapter 10 for instance, he speaks vividly about the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks, about the bread which we break.  All present tense as if he’s there with the Corinthians at that moment celebrating the sacrament with them.  So as we consider the Lord’s Supper today, imagine yourself at a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Think ahead to the next one. 

We’re sitting in the pews.  The form is read.  Eventually we get to the point where the minister comes down from the pulpit to the table.  The bread and wine have been uncovered.  At that moment, we can visibly see the elements of bread and wine, even if they are at somewhat of a distance.  The bread and wine are there at the front of the church, you can see them clearly.

The question is:  what do we do with that?  What do we see in those elements?  Do we see them just as being pieces of bread and cups of wine?  Or is there something more?

The bread and the wine are signs and seals of Christ’s body and blood.  As we look at them in faith, we see in them Christ’s body and blood.  It’s not that they become his body and blood, but they point us to the spiritual reality of Christ’s body and blood.  They are signs, but they are also seals.  The sight of the bread assures us that Christ’s body is real – that there was a real, physical human body hanging on that cross some 2000 years ago.  As sure as that bread at the front of the church is real, so real is Christ’s human body that was once offered on the cross for me.  The sight of the wine assures that Christ’s blood is real – that there was real, human blood that poured out from Christ while he hung on the cross for me.  It was real physical blood with white blood cells, red blood cells, plasma, platelets and its own blood type and so on.  As surely as the wine in the cups is real and physical, so real is Christ’s human blood that was poured out for the forgiveness of my sins.

As we take part in the Lord’s Supper, this is what faith sees in the elements of bread and wine.  Loved ones, faith looks to Christ crucified for the forgiveness of all sins, past, present and future.  You know how real your sins are, you have to live with them every day, but at the Lord’s Supper we’re taught about the reality of our redemption through these physical signs and seals, through bread and wine.  The gospel is no fairy-tale.  Peter says in 2 Peter 1:16, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”  The gospel is no cleverly invented story!  It’s reality!  Similarly, at the Lord’s Supper, we are directed to Christ and the real reality of his redemption – God is assuring us that it’s all real, it’s all true, it all matters – that assurance bolsters and strengthens our faith.

As the Lord’s Supper continues, the elements come to us, first the bread, and then the wine comes.  The elements are offered to us and we take them.  It’s such a simple act, and I wonder how often we actually think about the significance of it.  There is actually a lot of significance in just having the elements passed to you. 

When the elements come around, the eye of faith sees the body and blood of Jesus Christ which was offered for the complete forgiveness of all our sins.  The Catechism says, “...so surely was his body offered for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross.”  The cup is no mirage, no optical illusion, no digital special effects.  They are the real thing and the action that’s taking place there is real too – no smoke and mirrors: when the bread and wine are offered, they are really offered.  It’s the same with what Christ has done.  He has really given us his flesh and blood.  As he tells us in John 6, he is the bread which has come down from heaven.  Just like the manna in the wilderness was offered for the people of Israel, so Christ was offered for us.  The people of Israel didn’t have to pay for the manna – God simply provided it for them.  Similarly, the food Christ gives is free.  No one has to pay an admission fee for the Lord’s Supper, no one has to or even can pay an admission fee to the kingdom of heaven or to the marriage feast of the Lamb.  The price has been paid by the Son of God, paid with his precious blood! 

Think about that the next time the elements come around.  Rejoice in the fact that you don’t have to pay anything to take what is offered.  And so it certainly is with your salvation in Christ.  Paul said it clearly in Romans 6:23,  “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And Isaiah prophesied about it in chapter 55, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”  Those are beautiful, wonderful gospel words, aren’t they?  Like the offering of the elements at the Lord’s Supper, they remind us that salvation is 100% grace.

Once the trays and the cups come your way, you take those elements in your hand.  When the bread comes, you take a piece, it becomes yours.  When the cups come, that portion of wine becomes yours.  You’d be upset if someone came along and tried to take those elements away from you.  Still, this receiving and possessing is something that is easy to do mechanically and mindlessly.  Someone once said, “To celebrate the Lord’s Supper without being attentive, only with the eye, the hand, and the mouth of the body, is to celebrate it as a Roman Catholic, who thinks that it is enough if he but receive the external signs.”  It’s not enough just to go through the motions.  In fact, going through the motions is destructive when it comes to the Lord’s Supper.  Instead, for our faith to be strengthened, we need to be attentive, to have a focussed faith, and that has to be true for each and every one of us personally.  Notice the way the Catechism draws that out when it uses the first person singular, “I, me, and my.”  This is the confession of each believer for himself or herself.

The bread comes and you take it, it is now yours.  In the same way, by faith, you constantly take hold of Christ and he is yours.  The wine comes and you take it, it’s now yours.  In the same way, you constantly take hold of Christ and he is yours.  Along these same lines, think of what Paul says in Philippians 3.  He says that he had it all together as a Pharisee.  As far as legalistic righteousness was concerned, he was the expert not only in principle, but also in practice.  But he threw it all away so that he could “gain Christ and be found in him,” having a righteousness that is through faith.  Through faith, we gain Christ.  Through faith, he is our Saviour and Lord.  At the Lord’s Supper, as we take the bread and the wine and make them ours, we’re reminded of this – that it is through faith that Christ is ours and we are his, we are united to him, and we are justified through him.

And our union with Christ is signified and sealed even more deeply when the next action takes place at the Lord’s Supper.  Because we not only take those elements in our hands, we also place them in our mouths and we swallow them and they go down and enter into our bodies.  Beloved, here again we must think about Christ and our union with him.  Think about what Christ says in John 6.  He says that to have eternal life we must eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Obviously, he’s not speaking about cannibalism because the law of God didn’t allow the drinking of blood, and certainly not the drinking of human blood.  He is speaking of flesh and blood in a spiritual way, he is speaking of taking hold of Christ and what will happen to his flesh and blood in his sufferings and on the cross, taking hold of all that with faith.  And then in verse 56 he says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”  Here he’s speaking about our spiritual union with him through faith.  The Lord’s Supper points us to this spiritual union.  As surely as the bread and wine enter into our bodies and become one with us, so also Christ has become one with us, and we with him.  Faith sees this in the eating and drinking and when faith sees this, it is assured and strengthened.

That’s all in the background of question and answer 76 of the Catechism.  Eating Christ’s crucified body is a matter not of physical eating, but of faith.  Drinking Christ’s shed blood is not a matter of physical drinking, but of faith.  The eating and drinking means to accept with a believing heart that Christ suffered and died for me.  Each time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated we hear and see the gospel announced to us again:  Christ’s body was broken for the complete forgiveness of all my sins.  Through Christ, my sins are removed as far as the east is from the west, thrown into the depths of the sea.  Through Christ I am right with God right now.  Through Christ I am adopted into God’s family and an heir to eternal life. 

The eating and drinking also means to see our union with Christ grow through the working of the Holy Spirit.  Union with Christ takes place through faith and the Holy Spirit.  If the Lord’s Supper is designed for the strengthening and growth of our faith, then it will also result in more and more being united to Christ’s body.  Growth in faith means growth in union with Christ – which also in turn means growth in holiness and our life before God’s face. 

Brothers and sisters, this afternoon his Word and Spirit are reminding us of the basics when it comes to having the Lord’s Supper function in the way it was designed to.  The Lord’s Supper does not create faith, but it does strengthen faith.  The implication is that believers have to come to the sacrament with faith in the first place.  If we come to the sacrament focussed on Christ and his perfect sacrifice, if we come looking to be fed and nourished by him, he promises not to disappoint.  He promises that the cup of blessing will be a participation in his blood and the bread which is broken will be a participation in his body.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Our gracious Father in heaven,

Thank you for the sacrifice of Christ our Saviour once offered on the cross.  We confess that it is the only ground for our salvation.  We praise you for the gospel and it’s great promises.  We also thank you that not only do you give us the gift of faith through your Word and Spirit, but that you also strengthen faith with the sacraments.  We thank you for the Lord’s Supper and we pray that each time we celebrate it, you would help us to do so with our faith fixed on Jesus our Saviour.  We pray that you would establish, strengthen and preserve us in our faith through this sacrament and through the gospel to which it points. 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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