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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Focus of the Lord's Supper
Text:Hebrews 12:1-3; Q&A 66, 67, 81 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lord's Supper
 
Preached:2016
Added:2022-01-04
Updated:2022-01-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note for reading services: This sermon can be changed to a Preparatory sermon by changing the present tense verbs to future tense where appropriate.
 
Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face
Jesus, Lover of My Soul
O Sacred Head Now Wounded 
Ah, Dearest Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended?
“Man of Sorrows,” What a Name
There Is a Redeemer (Doxology)
 
The following catechism questions are used:
 
Q. 66 - What are sacraments?
 
Answer:  Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals.
They were instituted by God so that
  by our use of them
he might make us understand more clearly
  the promise of the gospel,
and seal that promise.1

And this is God’s gospel promise:
   he grants us forgiveness of sins and eternal life
   by grace because of Christ’s one sacrifice
   accomplished on the cross.2
1 Gen. 17:11; Deut. 30:6; Rom. 4:11
2 Matt. 26:27–28; Acts 2:38; Heb. 10:10
 
 
Q. 67 - Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?
 
Answer:  Yes indeed!
The Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel
   and confirms by the holy sacraments
that our entire salvation
   rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.1
1 Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 11:26; Gal. 3:27
 
 
Q. 81 - Who should come to the Lord’s table?
 
Answer: Those who are displeased with themselves
  because of their sins,
but who nevertheless trust
  that their sins are pardoned
and that their remaining weakness is covered
   by the suffering and death of Christ,
and who also desire more and more
  to strengthen their faith
  and to lead a better life.
 
Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however,
eat and drink judgment on themselves.1
1 1 Cor. 10:19–22; 11:26–32
 
 
 
 
 
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray
09/11/2016 (a.m.)
The Focus of the Lord’s Supper”
Hebrews 12:1-3; H.C. Q&A 66, 67, 81
 
In our church, we take the sacrament of the Lord's Supper five times per year. Five times per year the communion table is set before us, and each time we see the bread and the cup. But as the catechism teaches, we are to see more than the bread and the cup. As the answer to question 66 explains: “Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise.”
 
Consequently, as we look at the communion table before us – whether it is five times a year, once per month, or even every week – we see more than just the bread and the cup. As we take the Lord’s Supper, we fix our eyes on Jesus. The answer to question 66 points out: “...This is God's gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ's one sacrifice finished on the cross.”
 
Our text this morning, from Hebrews 12:2, is an example of what the catechism teaches. Our text says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,” and it goes on to describe four specific truths to focus on as we fix our eyes on Jesus:
 
First, it describes Jesus as being the author of our salvation. The newer version of the NIV translates the word as a pioneer – the pioneer of our salvation – and the ESV translates the word founder. The KJV translates the word as captain.
 
All of those translations are accurate in that they all point to the fact that Jesus is the one who originated our salvation. Without Jesus Christ there would be no plan of salvation. Before the beginning of time, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit made a plan of salvation. The plan hinged on Jesus Christ. Already before the beginning of time he offered himself as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8 NKJV)
 
Before the world was ever created, before the breath of life was breathed into Adam's nostrils, Christ was already the founder, the pioneer, the author, originator and captain of our salvation, having willingly offered himself to be the sacrificial lamb who would take away – propitiate – the sins of the world. For, “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Peter 1:20)
 
Secondly, Hebrews 12:2 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus as the perfecter of our faith. In this life we admit that our faith is weak. Our faith often wavers. Doubt can cast a long, dark shadow on the faith of even the strongest Christian. But when we look to Jesus Christ with saving faith, we see one who perfectly exhibited faith in his Father's will. Consider how often Jesus spoke about doing his Father’s will. And he did so knowing that his Father's will entailed the suffering and shame on the cross of Calvary. Yet he had faith that through the cross, the plan of redemption would be effective for everyone who by his grace and Spirit’s power places their faith in him alone.
 
As such, when we look to Jesus, our faith is increasingly strengthened. We realize with increasing joy and assurance that he has not only covered our sins with his precious blood; he has also imputed to us his perfect record of righteousness.
 
Third, whenever we look at the sacrament, we see a visible portrayal of what Hebrews 12:2 describes when it records how “for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
 
That phrase covers so much ground! It speaks about the joy that God has in the reconciliation of sinners to himself. But to bring about that reconciliation, to fulfill the gospel promise summarized by the catechism and Scripture – “to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone” – Jesus had to endure the cross.
    
The cross represents far more than a painful and humiliating way to die. The cross represents the curse of sin. Most of you are familiar with Galatians 3:10 which declares: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law.’”
 
We read the law week by week, and as we do, we are reminded that we are unable to do everything written in the book of God's law. And because of that we are under the curse of sin. We are law breakers. But thankfully, Galatians 3 goes on, in verse 13, to assure us that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”
 
Old Testament law, as given in Deuteronomy 21:23, specified that anyone who was hung on a tree was under a curse. To be hung on a tree was the punishment of someone who had broken the law in a terrible way. It was capital punishment using one of the most cruel, painful and humiliating means imaginable – crucifixion. The humiliation of the cross is described in that phrase in Hebrews 12:2 which tells us that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame.”
 
One of the many innumerable blessings that we receive by grace through faith in Jesus, is that we who believe in him will never be put to shame. But Jesus was put to shame; he bore the shame of our sins as well as the curse of our sins on the cross. Crucifixion was designed, not only to put to death the criminal, but to shame the criminal in the process.
 
Crucifixion and shame went hand in. There were always spectators who would watch the agony of the person being crucified. Those spectators would see the pain inflicted by the whole torturous process of crucifixion. Those crucified were usually crucified naked. We see Jesus portrayed in paintings as having a loincloth, but in reality, that loincloth may not have been there. Every aspect of shame imaginable is ingrained into crucifixion.
 
But because Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, he is able – and more than willing – to forgive you and to forgive me of everything that we have ever been ashamed about. There is no sin too vile to be blotted out by the precious blood of Jesus. There is no thought so perverted that it cannot be cleansed by the sanctifying work of Christ and his Holy Spirit. As Philip Edgecumbe Hughes notes in his commentary on Hebrews, “It is important to recognize that the shame of the cross...is something infinitely more intense than the pain of the cross. Others have suffered the pain of crucifixion, but he alone has endured the shame of human depravity in all its foulness and degradation.” (pg. 525)
 
As we look at the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper before us on the communion table, we are to see far more than the loaf and the cup. We are to see the joy of the Lord in redeeming those whom he loves – sinners like you and me – even though to do so he had to endure the cross, scorning its shame.
 
But Hebrews 12:2 does not only describe the humiliation of Jesus Christ, but also his exaltation! The verse concludes by saying, “(He) sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  It portrays Jesus as our victorious Lord, seated at the right hand of the Father.
 
And what a blessing that is! The resurrection and the ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of God the Father assures us that all his work done on our behalf is accepted by the Father. Furthermore, it is there at the right hand of God the Father that Jesus intercedes on our behalf. As Hebrews 7:25 puts it, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
 
No wonder the author of Hebrews tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus! No wonder God graciously gave us the sacraments. As the catechism teaches, “...both the word and the sacraments are intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation.” (Q. 67)
 
Who May Come to the Lord’s Supper
 
While question and answer 66 and 67 in the Heidelberg catechism describe what sacraments are, and their purpose, question and answer 81 teaches who is to come to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper:
 
The answer to question 81 points out that “hypocrites and those who are unrepentant eat and drink judgment to themselves.” That is part of the warning that we find in 1 Corinthians 11, “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.” (v. 28, 29)
 
But that doesn’t mean that sinners cannot come to the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is for sinners. As we read in the preparatory form, “We do not come to the supper as though we were righteous in ourselves, but rather to testify that we are sinners and that we look to Jesus Christ for our salvation.”
 
However, to properly take the elements of bread and the cup, we not only need to acknowledge that we are sinners, we must also be displeased with our sins. Question 81 of the catechism asks, “Who are to come to the Lord's table?” And the answer begins by saying, “Those who are displeased with themselves because of their sins.”
 
There are people who acknowledge that they are sinners, but they are not really displeased with their sin. In fact, the sinful nature, even within the life of the true believer, is so strong that it tempts us to make a provision for the flesh. The sinful nature within us tempts us to make a provision so that we sin even more than we already do. It incites us to cheapen and to make light the glory of God’s grace. That is part of the reason why Romans 13:14 warns us to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
 
Some people may be displeased by their sin, but not because it caused the death of Jesus and now impedes their fellowship with him while they are on earth. Instead, they are displeased with their sin because it brings the consequences of sin into their lives. Like Judas Iscariot, they acknowledge that they have done wrong, but they do not have the godly sorrow that 2 Corinthians 7:10 tells us we must have. 2 Corinthians 7:10 declares: “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
 
There are people who will acknowledge their sin and be sorry for it, usually because they were caught red-handed and now face the repercussions of what they have done. They may even acknowledge that worldly sorrow leads to eternal death, to eternal separation from the love of God in the reality of hell. But they are not displeased with their sin to the point of striving to turn from it.
 
The only proper way to be “displeased with yourself because of your sin” is to see that your sin caused Jesus Christ to suffer and die for you. When you and I realize – by the Holy Spirit’s conviction – that it is our sin that caused Jesus to go to the cross, then we will have a true godly sorrow that leads to repentance and to salvation.
 
Such a realization leads us to the displeasure with ourselves that the catechism speaks about. Displeasure with yourself because of your sin will cause you to echo, from your heart, the words of the apostle Paul. In Romans 7 he recounts how the law revealed his sin to him. He acknowledged that even the law which is pure, holy and good incited sinful thoughts within him. When he heard the commandment “Do not covet,” he began to look at what other people had with a covetous eye and a longing heart.
           
And when he saw the enormity of his sin, when he saw that it was woven through every cell of his being, he called out, in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
 
It is only when we come to that point, where we see how wretched we are apart from Christ, that we truly appreciate that he bore the curse and the shame for our sin as he endured the cross. Then by God's grace, through the gift of faith which is given to us by the Holy Spirit's regenerating power, we can exclaim with the apostle Paul in Romans 7:25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
   
What does he mean, when he says that he served God with his mind but in his flesh – his sinful nature – he served the law of sin?  He is referring to the same thing that the catechism refers to in its answer to question 81. It speaks about those who “trust that their sins are pardoned and that their continuing weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ.”
 
As we look to the Lord Jesus Christ, as he is revealed in his word and in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, we praise him not only for redeeming us for past sins but for promising to redeem us from our “continuing weakness.” Our continuing weakness springs from our sinful nature. Just as branches grow from a trunk of a tree, so sin grows out of our sinful nature, causing us to lament with David, “my sin is always before me” (Psa. 51:3). Like a man’s stumbled face, sin appears in our lives daily.
                
We realize that unfortunately, until the day of our physical death, we will sin. But those sins, with their guilt and shame, are covered by the blood of Christ, just as the sins of the past are covered by his precious blood when we truly believe in him alone for salvation.
 
And then also, as we fix our eyes on Jesus – as we focus upon him through his word and the sacrament – we must have a desire to strengthen our faith and live a better life. The catechism points out that those who come properly to the Lord’s Supper are also those who “desire more and more to strengthen their faith and to lead a better life.”
 
And that is also what the opening verses of Hebrews are telling us to do. We are to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily tangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (v. 1). We are to “consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.” (v. 3)
 
As we take the Lord’s Supper this morning (or next week for Preparatory service), are your thoughts, and my thoughts, truly fixed upon the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we look at the sacrament and see again that Jesus bore the curse and the shame of our sin for the joy that was set before him? Do we acknowledge that our sins are always before us, and do we have a true godly sorrow for them?
 
As we eat of the bread and drink of the cup, do we truly trust in Christ alone for salvation and not the sacrament itself, or any other religious device, or work of our life? And after we eat the bread and drink the cup – after the Lord's Supper and the fellowship meal downstairs, and after the afternoon service – will you and I leave this building endeavoring more and more to strengthen our faith and to live lives of profound gratitude for Christ’s redeeming work?  
 
If so, may you and I not merely observe the Lord’s Supper, but truly celebrate the Lord's goodness, grace and mercy to us, rejoicing anew at the wonderful truth that Jesus came to save us from our sins! Amen.
 
 
Sermon Outline:
 
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for
the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down
at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2
 
                          “The Focus of the Lord’s Supper”
                        Hebrews 12:1-3; H.C. Q&A 66, 67, 81
 
I.  Q & A 66-67 teach that the focus of the sacraments is Christ. As we
    take the Lord’s Supper, we fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) as:
     1) The author (founder, pioneer, captain) of our salvation
 
 
 
     2) The perfecter of our faith
 
 
 
     3) Our suffering Savior who for the joy set before Him endured the
         cross, scorning its shame”
 
 
 
     4) Our victorious Lord, seated at the right hand of the Father
 
 
   
II. To properly take the Lord’s Supper, Q&A 81 teaches we must:
     1) Be displeased with our sins (Romans 7:24)
 
 
 
     2) Trust that our sins are pardoned by faith in Christ alone (Rom. 7:25)
 
 
 
     3) Desire to strengthen our faith by focusing on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-3)
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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