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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
 
Title:When Seeing Isn't Believing
Text:LD 29 Q & A 78-80 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lord's Supper
 
Preached:2002-11-03
Added:2008-08-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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


When Seeing Isn’t Believing!

Sermon by

Rev. S. Bajema

on LORD’S DAY’S 29-30a (Q & A 78-80)

of the Heidelberg Catechism

Scripture Readings: Hebrews 10:1-18

 

 

Congregation in our Lord Jesus Christ...

 

When we considered Lord’s Day 28, we saw clearly the spiritual meaning of the Lord’s Supper. There we were reminded that the value of this sacrament was not in what is physical. Rather, it’s what the physical represents that’s important. That’s why we speak of this as a sign and seal of the Word.

Throughout the history of the church, however, Christians have had a difficulty seeing this. And one of these ways many have misunderstood, and been seriously led astray, is in taking the physical to be the same as the spiritual.

Now, we can look back at the various examples of this, and wonder why. We can think to ourselves, and even say out loud such things as, “How silly that Roman Catholics believe that it’s the actual body of Christ they’re eating!” Or even, “Who do those Lutherans think they’re trying to kid by saying that once the bread and wine has entered into their bodies that it then becomes Christ’s body and blood?”

Answer 80 speaks very clearly against the error of the Roman church. And it has to. The official teaching of the church is quite wrong. But let’s also be warned! It’s just as easy to fall into the same trap.

Take, for example, the Israelites after they had been led out of Egypt. Within a short time of that miraculous act of deliverance, though, and we find those same Israelites dancing around a golden calf!

“How come?” we well wonder. “Why did they this after the amazing grace they had just experienced?”

Well, let’s try to understand the dancers. They had been sheltered in Egypt, even though it was under the slave driver’s whip. Yet they always saw their masters. They could readily identify with them.

Then Moses came and led them out of slavery, out of the house of bondage. They followed Moses, they saw the pillar of fire, or the cloud. But when Moses went up to the mountain, and stayed away a while, these people, who very much wanted to see a real and tangible evidence of God, became unsettled. Even Aaron must have felt that. After all, he was only too ready to make for the people a symbol of God which they could see and touch!

Isn’t it far easier to be a pagan! They can see their gods, they can feel them, they can touch them.

And, yet, our God is a Spirit. We have to be spiritual in our worship. And so God can seem so distant, so far way from us. The temptation’s always there for Christians to make God come closer.

 

Many of those tempted Christians, and especially those who think they’re Christians while not, in trying to make God physical, have re-interpreted the Lord’s Supper. They desire, and they make, something extra. That words “is” as found in Mark 14 the verses 22 and 24, they take very literally. Because those verses record the words Jesus spoke at His last supper with the disciples. It’s seen to be something beyond picturing a spiritual truth to us. Something even more than the assurance of faith we confessed was scriptures’ teaching in Lord’s Day 28.

You see, to them it actually becomes God. Our Lord Jesus saying “This is my body” takes on the meaning of His physical presence. Never mind that when He said He hadn’t yet offered Himself on the cross. Never mind that when Jesus said “I am the door” in John 10 verse 9, or “I am the true vine” in John 15 verse 1, He wasn’t referring to a literal door or vine, but rather that He represented a door or a vine. He meant it symbolically.

Naturally the Reformers were concerned that the Church had fallen into this error. Reformers such as those who wrote this Catechism. And so we note, firstly in connection with Lord’s Days 29 and 30a that this is... THE REFUTATION OF ERROR.

 

The refutation of error

This is what Question and Answers 78 and 80 focus on. Because what had been officially espoused and taught up until this point had been that the physical presence of Christ is in the sacrament. So the bread and wine are miraculously changed into the real body and blood of the Lord. To put it in its theological expression, they had been teaching the doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’.

There are many Protestants today who are under the impression that the Roman Catholic church no longer believes or teaches this. They think that the Second Vatican Council, and a return to the use of Scripture, had taken the church a different way. But Rome hasn’t changed!

Despite whatever gullible Protestants may say after yet another ecumenical meeting no doctrine has been changed. The Council of Trent’s decision from the 16th century still stands. That Council stated that the whole substance of the bread and the wine are changed into the whole substance of the body and blood of Christ. Oh, yes, they say, the outward appearances remain the same. But, they say, there’s definitely been an actual physical change. It’s Christ, they say, who’s in the bread, offering His body to the Father as a victim of sacrifice.

In their altars, from where they serve the mass, they have even got Jesus in a box! It’s the drawer in the altar that holds the wafers. Listen to these words from a Roman Catholic textbook, “The Blessed sacrament is kept in a safe called the tabernacle. This is always in a prominent place in the church... There is always a lamp burning near it to let the people know that Christ is there.”

 

The Catechism answers this position first by drawing a comparison with baptism in Answer 78. There we read, “Just as the water of baptism is not changed into Christ’s blood and does not itself wash away sins but is simply God’s sign and assurance, so too the bread of the Lord’s Supper is not changed into the actual body of Christ even though it is called the body of Christ in keeping with the nature and language of sacraments.”

If the Roman Catholic believes that at the Lord’s Supper the bread and wine actually becomes Christ’s body and blood, then he would have to say the same for baptism. The water in baptism then needs to be Christ’s actual blood. That would be the logical connection. This way it would have that literal value they seek. The water in baptism would have to be Christ’s blood.

But they don’t do that with baptism. And yet they do with the Lord’s Supper, or mass as they call the way they understand the sacrament. So, in a second part to THE REFUTING OF ERROR, the Catechism draws through the implications of the Roman teaching in Answer 80.

This is a strong statement. It shows us that such error has to be publicly opposed because it preaches a false gospel. The teaching of Rome then and now says that Christ did not die and once and for all time for your sin. In fact, unless you make regular use of the Mass you can’t be sure that you will be saved through your faith in Him!

No wonder it is called here “a condemnable idolatry”! It’s the golden calf all over again! And Scripture, as we read in Hebrews 10 verse 10, clearly shows how wrong this is. For there it says, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

It’s nothing new that the catechism is saying here. That’s why this didn’t need to be in the earlier editions. And, in one sense, why we don’t need it either.

But as an example of the church gone wrong this is the clearest application of what the Catechism teaches. This is a great sermon! Because here we can see where there is error regarding this sacrament.

 

Dear believer, can you see why the Reformers fought so fiercely against this? Martin Luther also. But, yet, like the apostle says in Galatians 6 verse 1, we have to watch ourselves or we also may be tempted. And Luther was. For while he said that the physical flesh and blood of Christ are not in the bread and wine, he did say that His physical flesh and blood comes with the bread and wine. An error which we call, theologically, ‘consubstantiation’.

Martin Luther tried to do justice to the Word of God, yet still retained an aspect of that physical presence. But Christ’s physical body is in heaven. That body remains one whole unity. It cannot be broken into millions of pieces and scattered over the communion tables of the ages!

God’s Word says that the body of the Lord, which we refer to at this sacrament, is a spiritual body. And so we have, for the second part... THE RESTATING OF TRUTH.

 

The restating of truth

Well, where does it come from in the Bible? First Corinthians chapter 10 the verses 3 and 4, in regards to the Old Testament people of God, says, “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”

The reference of Paul here is to a spiritual food and drink. But it’s a picture drawn from the physical act of striking a rock, and water flowing from it. And the food is drawn from the physical act of God providing them with food.

Not that the physical has any value! No, it’s the spiritual reflection that’s true.

And we must be careful ourselves to know the difference. The authors of the Catechism wanted to especially emphasise this point. That’s why they raise Question 79, which asks, “Why then does Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the new covenant in His blood?” If there is no physical eating of the body, nor drinking of the blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, then what do we receive when we eat the bread, and drink the wine? Is it simply a memorial, a remembering of what Christ did for us?

One well-know Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, early in his ministry very much emphasised this. Later on, though, he began to see that there was more than just this remembering.

Well, could it be then, as well as remembering, that the Lord’s Supper is an opportunity to profess our faith in what God has done for us in Christ? Yes, it is. But still it’s more! For both these things don’t leave us with anything. Yet we believe this sacrament to be a means of grace.

That’s why Answer 73, in regards to the sacrament of baptism, confesses that God through it, “wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that the washing away of our sins spiritually is as real as physical washing with water.”

Now, in the second part of Answer 79, we confess that Christ “wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge, that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths receive these holy signs in his remembrance, and that all of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and paid for our sins.”

Having seen that God isn’t physically present, we don’t straightaway say that this is only a remembering. God does give His grace through that, which he in Christ, instituted.

And in emphasising this assurance Answer 79 moves beyond Lord’s Day 28. For as we celebrate the truth of the Gospel, our faith is made safe. The Holy Spirit works through the humbleness of our spirits to join us even more to Christ’s glorious body!

So, as believers, to refuse to come to the Lord’s table without a valid reason is a denying of who you are. You have been united with Christ! As He died, you have died! And as He now lives in victory, so you must live in victory!

Friend, are you living out of that victory? Are you right now ruling over the power of sin and the devil? Then you’re blessed by him in the sacrament.

Oh, yes, there’s sin alright. There’s sin in ourselves, there’s sin in other believers. But how are you going to tackle that?

What about that sin in your fellow believer? Well, you must be honest with yourself and with your brother or sister in the Lord. You go and work it out with the Lord and him or her, face-to-face. Otherwise we deny the Body of which we’re a part. There has to be THE RESTATING OF TRUTH in THE REFUTING OF ERROR.

 

Congregation, the Lord’s Supper shows the heart of this. And that’s exactly because God’s heart is in this! The Gospel is pictured right here before us. Don’t you see the kind invitation it is? In the words of Isaiah chapter 1, the verses 18 and 19, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat from the best of the land.’”

And where - today - is the best in the land? It has to be in the house of the Lord - at the table of the Lord! Where else would you want to drink and eat?

Amen.

 

 

PRAYER:

Let’s pray...

O LORD our God...How gracious you truly are! Not only do we hear Your Word but we can have that Word confirmed in the sign and seal of Your sacrament.

And yet, Lord, how careful we need to be to keep clearly to the right understanding. It may be spiritually received by us, but not physically, for the Saviour is our Lord now bodily in heaven with You. But spiritual it certainly is - its grace draws us all the more to You, Your Son, through Your Spirit.

O wonderful, blessed trinity! Amen.

           

 

               

    

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.rcnz.org.nz

(c) Copyright 2002, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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