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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Who Are to Come to the Table of the Lord?
Text:LD 30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lord's Supper
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-04-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 26:1,2                                                                                    

Hy 4:1,2,3  [after Apostles’ Creed]                                              

Reading – 1 Peter 5:5-11; 1 John 1:5 - 2:17

Ps 51:1,4,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 30

Ps 25:2,3,4

Hy 74:1,4

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


Beloved in Christ, when you last celebrated the Holy Supper, did you hesitate? The elders came along, and indicated that you could go. When your turn came, you too, made your way to the table. Did you think much about that?

Not that you forgot the Lord’s Supper—right? You might have prepared yourself a bit the night before, or the week before. And when we read the Form for the Celebration of Lord’s Supper, you followed along. But going into it, you probably never had any doubt that you’d participate. It was a given: you were going. Actually, only if you didn’t go to the Lord’s Supper, you would have had to explain why.

That’s how it goes in this church. Those who are communicant members will almost always celebrate, unless they’re under discipline. Yet it’s not the same in every church. For there are some churches that seem to answer Question 81 of the Catechism in a different way than we do. What’s the loaded question we find there? “Who are to come to the table of the Lord?”

Having explained the meaning of the Lord’s Supper in the previous couple lessons, the Catechism moves on to those who should participate in this Supper. And here’s where the answers differ. Maybe you’ve heard of churches in the Reformed tradition where almost no one comes forward. There's no need for seven tables, or even two or three. Usually one will do—and at that table, only a handful of members will partake. Why so few? Because, they say, those who go must be absolutely sure of their faith. So sure, that they can point to a certain well-defined moment, when they came to saving faith in Christ. Those who celebrate must have proven themselves through many years of faithful Christian living. So only a few make the grade. Everyone else just watches.

Is that right, that we make it really hard to go to the table? Or should it be really easy? Let’s think about this in Q&A 81. There’s no expectation that those who come to the Lord’s table will be “super-Christians,” those with impeccable credentials and a flawless life. But neither is permission granted to just “whomever” wants to take part. No, with an open Bible we try to answer this important question:

Who are to come to the table of the Lord? Those with:

  1. a humble spirit
  2. a steady trust
  3. an earnest desire

 

1) those with a humble spirit: The Christian life has little room for pride. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” goes the well-known text in Proverbs 3. In his first letter the apostle Peter quotes this proverb, and then he drives that home with the exhortation: “All of you… be clothed with humility” (5:5).

Now when the Bible talks about “clothing yourself” like this, it means much more than putting on an article of clothing, like donning a Sunday skirt or some swimming shorts for the beach. According to the Bible’s teaching, you are what you wear! For instance, when the Scripture says that our God is “clothed in righteousness,” that means He IS righteous, through and through. Or when the Psalms say that an evildoer is “clothed with deceitfulness,” that means that he IS a liar. So what do you have on?

When God calls us in 1 Peter 5 to “clothe ourselves with humility,” He’s saying that it is humility that has to define us, or characterize us. It’s not just something that we put on for appearances, in the hopes people might notice. Rather, humility must be for us one of the essential attitudes of our life. And why humility? Because it’s appropriate! It’s like how we dress for the weather. When it’s blazing hot, short-sleeves. When it’s cold, we put on a sweater and long pants. Christians too, must “clothe themselves” appropriately, according to conditions, the climate of our life.

So what are our conditions? The Bible tells us: we’re sinful, through and through, day in and day out. Without God, we are sinners, dead and cold. For that reason all of us must be known by an attitude of lowliness. For Christians, such clothing will never go out of style! Yet dressing this way is difficult because of our pride. Let’s understand pride rightly. It isn’t just walking around with your nose in the air, or talking about how much money you make, or how many friends you have. Not many people I know actually do that. According to the Scriptures, pride is something far more subtle—yet deadly.

It’s when you refuse to live in complete dependence on the Lord God. When you’re proud, you’re doing it alone—you’re doing it without God. You believe in the Lord, but let’s be honest: most of your choices are going to be made by what feels right to you. Someone who is proud gives little thought to the LORD as he seeks his own goals. If other people get trampled on the way, or if God’s law gets trampled for the sake of my happiness, so be it. At bottom, isn’t that the attitude that we all have to fight against? Sinful egoism and self-centeredness.

Instead, God calls us to be lowly, with a humility that acknowledges we’re nothing without him. That it’s only in Christ that we can live and move. That’s how we ought to begin every day—with that confession in our hearts, “I’m just a sinner, saved by God’s grace.” If we can say that, it’s almost certain we’ll also treat others in a humble spirit.

If the Christian’s whole life is marked by humility, then our visit to the Lord’s Supper should be marked by this as well. For what do we bring to the table? Nothing! And what do we receive at the table? Everything! The Lord’s Supper is a feast that none of us should be invited to, yet we are. We’re welcomed with open arms. Fed with the food that never spoils, but sustains to eternal life. What guest of the Lord Jesus Christ would dare to be proud?

Asks the Catechism, “Who are to come to the table of the Lord?” And the answer: “Those who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins” (Q&A 81). Read carefully what it says. Not just displeased with our sin—but with ourselves.

That’s important, because sometimes we build a comfortable distance between us and our sin. Sure, we can be frustrated with a particular sin that persists in our life. We talk about this stubborn jealousy, or this persistent anger, or this almost-uncontrollable lust. It’s sin, and we don’t like it. Yet the Bible says that it’s not enough to be displeased with sin alone, or to be angry with my failings. We have to be displeased with who we are, apart from Christ. When we pray: “Lord, from my very depths, I know that I don’t deserve anything from you. Because all that I’ve done, and all I am, you’d be right in condemning me!”

We shouldn’t be soft or easy on ourselves, because that won’t help one bit. John writes, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). No, we have to see that our sins put us under God’s curse. And we have to see that our sin is no one’s fault but our own.

Today this isn’t a popular teaching. We’re told to build our self-esteem, and promote ourselves. Today’s great fear is that we become obscure, that no one pays us attention, or “likes” what we post. But listen to the words of Paul in Romans 7, when he thought about his sinfulness: “What a wretched man I am!” He didn’t want attention, he didn’t want likes and followers—he wants mercy! That gets echoed in the Lord’s Supper Form, “Let everyone consider his sins and accursedness, so that he, detesting himself, may humble himself before God.” The gate into God’s presence is narrow, and the gate is also very low. The gospel of Christ calls us to get on our knees in order to receive it.

You understand then, that humility isn’t just knowing the fact that we’re sinners. Humility is knowing how we are sinners! It means that we don’t generalize or speak vaguely about our transgressions. Rather, we ask ourselves honestly: “What are my weaknesses? What sins are there that I’ve never really confessed? In what specific ways can I do better in my life as God's child?”

Everyone knows it’s easy to say, “I should pray to God more. And I need to be nicer to other people.” But instead of offering clichés, we should think carefully about it. Can you easily become angry, or impatient with the people living in your household? Do you struggle to respect and obey your parents, your teachers, your boss? What about using bad language, and giving in to sexual temptation? How are you handling the temptations of today’s technology, where there’s so much filth that you have free access to? We need to have a humble awareness of these things, to know how we do fall short of God’s commands.

Still, isn’t there an irony here? While God wants us to confess our sin, acknowledging our failures can make God feel far away. After some brutal self-examination, I might come to the conclusion that God could never have mercy on a person like me. That’s why some will think their sins are simply too many and too horrid for God to forgive. That’s why some Christians hardly dare come to the table. “Who am I to partake of Christ?”

But go back to what Peter says. After urging us to put on the clothing of humility, he speaks of what will result: “Humble yourselves… that [God] may exalt you in due time” (5:6). God has promised to lift us up. God has promised to show mercy. That’s the whole message of the Lord’s table! By faith, we are “in Christ.” When He looks at us in Jesus, God the righteous Judge will freely pardon.

So we shouldn’t really ask, “Should I go to the Lord’s Supper or not? Am I worthy to partake or not?” These are the wrong questions. Rather, you should ask: “Do I acknowledge that I have nothing in myself? Do I admit that I am nothing without Christ? Do I see myself a great sinner, in need of a great Saviour?” If that’s where you are, you’re in a good place. For it’s Jesus who commands us to come to Him, so He can grant rest to our weary souls.

 

2) those with a steady trust: I’m sure that we all have our concerns. Sitting here in church, we’re thinking about the tough meeting at work later this week, or the doctor’s appointment on Thursday, or even bills that are past due. And we don’t say that any of these things are unimportant. Yet we need a reminder of what’s most important. Which is that we be right with God—that our fellowship with him is in the right place. No matter who they are or where they are, a person’s greatest trouble is the sin that clings so closely.

So how good that we may always combine our confession of sin to God with a confession of trust in God! As John writes in his letter, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We look to the forgiving God. We look to him, because of the one who speaks to the Father in our defense: our “Advocate… Jesus Christ, the Righteous” (1 John 2:1).

And it’s this trust in God that has to live in our hearts. We read it in the Catechism, and in the Lord’s Supper Form too, “Let everyone search his heart whether he believes the sure promise of God that all his sins are forgiven him for the sake of Jesus Christ.” Those humble souls who come to the table need to have a steady confidence in God. From the depths, we need to firmly believe that the LORD will save us, forgive us, restore us.

Yet here’s where that sticky problem arises. For if there’s anything that’s hard to see, or hard to explain or describe, it’s faith. Who can see faith, or put his finger on it? How do you know that you actually have this gift? How do you know whether you really trust that God has forgiven your sins? And should you even go to the table if you’re not 100% sure He has?

For this reason, some will say that you must know that definite moment when first came to faith. Maybe it was on a dark and stormy night, or in the solitude of a quiet place, or deep in a time of terrible crisis—but you had an electrifying experience. You suddenly know with every fibre of your being that there’s a God in heaven, and a Saviour for sinners. At that moment, you were shaken in your very core, and changed. Now you believe! If you can point to such a moment, they say, then you definitely do have faith. You know it for a fact: “I do trust in God, and in Jesus as Saviour!” This is also how it’s often portrayed in Christian novels, when there’s a sudden “shining light” kind of moment.

But it’s not always like that, is it? Neither are we told to expect it. If we haven’t had such a thrilling or memorable experience of faith, we don’t have to feel like we’re missing something. By its nature, faith is probably more like a fire than an explosion. An explosion is dramatic, but a fire is comparatively boring: it just burns steadily. Through the work of the Spirit, that’s what faith is like, smoldering within. It’s a fire that can be kindled small when we’re young, or a bit older. And once it’s kindled, it’s a fire that needs constant fuel: the fuel of Scripture, of prayer, of worship. When it has that, faith keeps going.

For when you read the Scriptures, the Spirit will confirm that Word. You’ll read a passage, and by faith you’ll able to say, “This is for me. What I read here—what I hear in this sermon—this is my struggle, and it’s my hope, and it’s my life. Whatever happens, this Saviour is mine. I know it—I know it’s true!”

And Scripture says that if you have a true faith this faith will also work! Says John, “We know that we know him, if we keep his commands” (1 John 2:3). That’s where another proof will be. The proof of faith is not in a long-past moment or an old experience, but it’s today, when you love God, and you want to keep his commands. Somewhere along the line, God worked this good desire in you, and He still does. That simple desire is evidence that life is there. It’s the Holy Spirit’s work.

So it’s not a bad thing to ask: How is your faith? How is your trust in God? It is stable? Is it drifting? Is it being well-fueled by the Word of God? Do you trust that Christ’s sacrifice was for you, personally, and all your sins? Do you detest yourself, but do you also believe that you’re now richly loved by God?

When we ask hard questions like that, we might also need to give hard answers. Because maybe faith could be a lot better. Not “a lot better” in the sense that everyone will say, that there’s always room for improvement. But maybe our faith could be “a lot better” because we’ve been putting out the Spirit’s fire through the choices we make—your faith cannot thrive underneath heaps of unconfessed sin! Or maybe for months and years now we’ve been starving our faith of the fuel it needs—our faith cannot live without the oxygen of the Scriptures. Or maybe we’ve been trusting in something other than God—faith in God has to be exclusive, or it will not endure.

No, we acknowledge that “we do not have perfect faith.” We acknowledge that “daily we have to contend with our weakness.” We’ve got lots to learn as God’s children. But that’s in fact who the Holy Supper is for. It’s for the lowly, who want to be lifted up. It is for the tired, who want to be strengthened in spirit. It’s those who “trust that [their sins] are forgiven them and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ.” God’s grace is for the thankful, who earnestly desire to serve the Lord their Saviour.

 

3) those with an earnest desire: Think about what happens at the Lord’s Supper. Hungry sinners are fed, thirsty sinners are given drink. But do we ever think about what happens after the meal? Sure, all the bread and wine gets cleaned up, and the tables get put away. But what happens to you after the meal? Do you go to the Lord’s Supper, and carry on in a new spirit? Do you celebrate, and then do you keep celebrating—living your days in the joy of faith?

Maybe we could look at Holy Supper like a rest-stop along the freeway: one of those places you can go, and fuel up your car and fuel up your stomach so you can keep traveling. You never stay at the rest-stop for too long—the rest-stop’s not the destination—but you hit the road again, renewed and reenergized.

It’s like that at the Supper. After we’ve shared in the bread and wine, Christ wants us to hit the road. Go, and put your faith to work! Go, and fight hard against those sins you confessed. Go, and now give attention to those weaknesses that still remain!

See again Answer 81: Everyone who goes to the table must go with the desire to “strengthen our faith and amend our life.” There’s two parts to that. First, we want to draw ever closer to God in faith. We know that nothing’s more important than trusting in the Lord, so we try to strengthen that trust.

And second, we want to amend our life. To amend something is to improve it, fix it, make changes for the better. That’s the longing that has to fill us, that daily we want to turn from our sin, and turn to God. Before we go to the Supper, the Form for Celebration says, “Let everyone examine his conscience whether [it’s] his sincere desire to show true thankfulness to God with his entire life.” Before the celebration—and after it—is that your genuine desire? To show thankfulness with your entire life? Is there anything that you need to amend?

That’s also why the Lord’s table is not open to all. It’s not open to those who love the world, or the things in the world. It’s not open if you’re still giving into all the cravings of the flesh, where it’s not even a fight for you anymore. The Lord’s table is not open for you if you say that believe, and then you live in whatever way they please. It’s not a meal for you if you don’t really care about having communion with Christ and his church.

Instead, the Lord’s Supper is for those who earnestly pray: “Lord, give me courage to say no to sin in the coming week. Lord, help me to love my brother. Lord, teach me how to serve you better with all my time, with all my gifts, with all that I have! Show me how to start fixing what’s broken, and to make strong what’s weak!” “Earnestly” we ought to desire it, and diligently seek it. Because then God will also show us how.

Who can come to the table of the Lord? Broaden that question a bit, so it applies to every day: Who can have fellowship with the Almighty and holy God through his Son? We can.

We can, when we’re truly displeased with ourselves because of our sins—when we know our sins and we’ve confessed them to God.

We can have communion with the living God, our Father, when we trust that our sins are fully forgiven in Christ, and that even our remaining weaknesses are covered by his suffering and death.

We can have fellowship with Almighty God through Christ, when we earnestly desire to strengthen our faith and to amend our lives.

And so before you go to Lord’s Supper next time, you should hesitate. You should! That is, don’t go without thinking. Don’t go without reflection or prayer. But hesitate, so you can meditate on these things. It’s actually dangerous if you don’t. But it’s a great blessing if you do.

Do it tomorrow too. Before you start your day, or perhaps as you finish it, meditate on your fellowship with God. Think about who you are, in yourself. Think about who you’ve become, in Christ. And think about where God wants you to go, and what He wants you to do.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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