Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"AT THE TABLE OF THE LORD, GOD DIRECTS OUR ATTENTION AWAY FROM THIS BROKEN LIFE AND ONTO OUR ASCENDED SAVIOUR ."
78. Q. Are then the bread and wine
changed into the real body and blood of
A. No. Just as the water of baptism is not changed into the blood of Christ and is not the washing away of sins itself but is simply God's sign and pledge, so also the bread in the Lord's supper does not become the body of Christ itself, although it is called Christ's body in keeping with the nature and usage of sacraments.
 Eph. 5:26; Tit. 3:5.  Matt. 26:26-29.  I Cor. 10:16, 17; 11:26-28.  Gen. 17:10, 11; Ex. 12:11, 13; I Cor. 10:3, 4; I Pet. 3:21.
79. Q. Why then does Christ call the
bread His body and the cup His blood, or
the new covenant in His blood, and why
does Paul speak of a participation in
the body and blood of Christ?
A. Christ speaks in this way for a good reason: He wants to teach us by His supper that as bread and wine sustain us in this temporal life, so His crucified body and shed blood are true food and drink for our souls to eternal life. But, even more important, He wants to assure us by this visible sign and pledge, first, that through the working of the Holy Spirit we share in His true body and blood as surely as we receive with our mouth these holy signs in remembrance of Him, and, second, that all His suffering and obedience are as certainly ours as if we personally had suffered and paid for our sins.
 John 6:51, 55.  I Cor. 10:16, 17; 11:26.  Rom. 6:5-11.
Q. What difference is there between the
Lord's supper and the papal mass?
A. The Lord's supper testifies to us, first, that we have complete forgiveness of all our sins through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself accomplished on the cross once for all; and, second, that through the Holy Spirit we are grafted into Christ, who with His true body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, and this is where He wants to be worshipped. But the mass teaches, first, that the living and the dead do not have forgiveness of sins through the suffering of Christ unless He is still offered for them daily by the priests; and, second, that Christ is bodily present in the form of bread and wine, and there is to be worshipped. Therefore the mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.
 Matt. 26:28; John 19:30; Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 25, 26; 10:10-18.  I Cor. 6:17; 10:16, 17.  Joh. 20:17; Acts 7:55, 56; Heb. 1:3; 8:1.  John 4:21-24; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:1; I Thess. 1:10.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ!
There was very little of pomp and ceremony at the Supper of the Lord today. There was even less to eat and drink. In fact, we spent more time at the table watching and reading Scripture and singing than in actually eating, chewing, swallowing. Truly, it wasnít much of a mealÖ.
Shortly we go home again, and tomorrow back to our work. Home and work: both at home and at work weíre confronted with so much sin, so much brokenness, so much vanity, so many disappointments. Sure, we look forward to the holiday season, and we intend to enjoy those holidays too, but the fact of the matter is that we know today already that even in the holidays weíll face more of brokenness, of sin, of the vanity of life. Before we return to the brokenness of this life, we may this afternoon reflect on the Supper we ate today. For thatís the purpose of this Supper; the Lord would strengthen us so that we can handle the disappointments and challenges of this vale of tears.
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
AT THE TABLE OF THE LORD, GOD DIRECTS OUR ATTENTION AWAY FROM THIS BROKEN LIFE AND ONTO OUR ASCENDED SAVIOUR.
We Stare at our Brokenness
The Lord in His Word is very clear that the human heart is deceitful to the very depths of its being. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is that God forgives sinners without it costing sinners so much as a single sigh. But that doesnít go down well with us. Human nature wants to contribute something to salvation. Weíre sure: God does not truly forgive unless we go to church faithfully or read the Bible regularly or spend enough time in prayer. These little actions: they are our little contribution to obtaining - or maintaining- Godís favour.
This bent of the human heart to look at self received mature expression in the course of Church History in the Roman Catholic Church. This church developed and taught a doctrine of salvation by grace in Jesus Christ plus your own contribution. So: one was not saved by Godís grace alone; one had to perform particular works. Reformers as Martin Luther and John Calvin understand that this heresy lay at the heart of the Roman Catholic celebration of the Mass. That in turn is why the churches of the Reformation went out of their way to criticise the Roman Catholic mass, and to make clear to the people of the day why the mass was an "accursed idolatry". Even till today, this Roman Catholic mass remains as a symbol of how eager the human heart is to making some contribution to our salvation.
The mass is characterised by magic. The magic I speak of goes under the official term Ďtransubstantiationí. This is the notion that the bread in the hand of the celebrating priest becomes the actual and real body of Jesus Christ, and the wine becomes Christís real blood. It happens through a process of words spoken by the priest. For centuries on end, whenever the officiating priest held up the bread and uttered a string of Latin words, the bread in his hand became (it was said) the actual and real body of Christ. That is also why the priest alone ate the bread, lest a crumb of the Lordís body fall to the groundÖ, and then a mouse eat itÖ.
We chuckle at that teaching, but there was, brothers and sisters, a reason why the bread had to become the real body of Christ and the wine His blood. The reason is that this teaching focuses the human mind on self. Listen. When the priest broke that bread, he was breaking not actual bread; he was breaking instead the actual body of Christ. And when the priest poured the wine, he was pouring not real wine but the actual blood of Christ. Thatís to say that the priest was offering Christ again as a payment to God for the sins of those in church at the time. Certainly, the Lordís body was broken and His blood was shed on the cross; no self-respecting Roman Catholic would deny that. But, official Roman Catholic doctrine teaches, that sacrifice on the cross 2000 years ago is by itself not sufficient; Christ needs to be offered again for the benefits obtained on the cross to become your own.
How, then, does one become righteous before God? According to Roman Catholic teaching, God will declare a person innocent of sin on the grounds of Christís sacrifice on the cross plus the work of the priest at the mass. Without that mass, Christís work on Calvary helps you nothing; people need to do something Ė offer Christ again. To gain Godís approval more is needed than Christ alone; to gain Godís approval you need to make some contribution.
Now, it is fact that this is contrary to what the Lord has taught in His Word. Think, for example, of the passage we read from Heb 9. The apostle writes in vs 12 like this:
"Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption."
Note the past tense, the references to work completely done. In fact, itís because Jesus "obtained eternal redemption" that He entered the Most Holy Place Ėthatís heaven- "once for all." Done is done. The same point is drawn out in vs 25:
"not [writes the apostle] that [Jesus] should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another - He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself."
The decisive sacrifice, says that apostle, was made on Calvary. That sacrifice happened once, now 2000 years ago, and as a result Jesus has "put away sin" and so God was pleased to receive Jesus into His own holy presence. Need Christ be offered today still? The Bible is clear: absolutely not. The Saviourís work on the cross so long ago is sufficient to pay for the sins of all who call on His name. LD 30:
"We have complete forgiveness of all our sins through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself accomplished on the cross once for all."
So, brothers and sisters, there is no need at all for any sinner to think in terms of ourselves making a contribution to God in order to obtain His approval. Heb 9 is clear as a bell: Christís work is both finished and absolutely sufficient. That is why we could confess in LD 23 that God "imputes to [us] the perfect satisfaction, righteous and holiness of Christ." That is also why in turn we confessed in LD 24 that we donít have to do good works to win Godís approval; we have that approval. Thatís what we repeat at the very end of LD 29: "all [Christís] suffering and obedience are as certainly ours as if we personally had suffered and paid for our sins." His work 2000 years ago spells out that our sins today are gone, gone forever and our contribution to that is zero!
But itís not only so that the Roman Catholic teaching does injustice to our Saviourís work on Calvary. That teaching also draws our attention to self. For the self needs to do something to impress God. And given the amount of brokenness there is in this life, given the sins I commit (and I commit so many I donít even see as sin), I must Ėby this thinking- attend mass time and time again, day after day, hour after hourÖ. For always I need to look at myself; did I do enough, must I do more, should I try this, that, something elseÖ. That whole system compels the sinner to keep his eye on his sins, on the brokenness of this lifeÖ Yes, how poorÖ.
And please, congregation, do not think that in a Reformed Church the thinking behind the papal mass would never arise. I said it before: such is the sinfulness of the human heart that itís in us to want to do something to gain Godís favour. My sins: was I humble enough for God to forgive them? Ö.
That is why it is so imperative today that we understand well what we actually saw and ate at the table today. Thatís our second point:
God in mercy pulls our gaze to heaven
What God did today? Sovereign God set broken sinners at His table. Before He set us at His table today He knew how sinful we were, knew what sins weíd committed this past week Ė be it sins of action or of words or of thoughts. He knew too, before He drew us to His table, whether we were sufficiently humble, whether we longed for the table much or not, knew how well weíre going to fare this coming week in the battle against sin. And God passed all of those considerations by! He did not ask of us sacrifice Christ again, nor did He ask us to pray for half an hour before we came to church, or put an extra amount in the collection bag to show our need for forgivenessÖ. He asked from us nothing that might be understood as making ourselves worthy to attend His table. Rather, He sovereignly took us from our homes, brought us to church, set us at His table, and then freely gave us that piece of bread, and that taste of wine.
What that was? Q & A 78: that bread was and remained real bread, and that wine was and remained real wine; it did not change into the body and blood of Christ. Yet it was more than bread and wine; that bread and wine we ate and drank today prompted us to remember Christ. Thatís to say: it reminded us of His work 2000 years ago. But the Lordís purpose is not simply that our thoughts go back to what Jesus did for our benefit so long ago, for the very same Christ who died so long ago arose from the dead and labours today still. This Jesus is today in heaven, and at the right hand of God He intercedes for us. Thatís to say: in heaven today Jesus reminds the Father of what He did so long ago for our benefit. Jesus in heaven does not today impress on the Father how good weíve been or how hard weíve tried or how often weíve come to church or how humble we were at the Lordís table. No, in heaven today Jesus reminds the Father time and again of the work He did for our benefit on the cross of Calvary. As we eat that broken bread and drink the cup at the Lordís table, this is where He would direct our attention; the focus has to be not on our sins or on our efforts or on our achievements but on Him in heaven. In the words of the Lordís Supper Form:
"we must not cling with our hearts to the outward symbols of bread and wine, but lift our hearts on high in heaven, where Christ, our advocate, is, at the right hand of His heavenly Father."
There is where our focus must be. And to get our focus away from ourselves, to get our focus onto Christ in heaven, the Lord gave us today the bread and the drink.
Here I draw your attention to Q & A 79. Christ calls the bread His body and the cup His blood - why?- because "He wants to teach us by His supper that as bread and wine sustain us in this temporal life, so His crucified body and shed blood are true food and drink for our souls to eternal life." The point here is that (in the words of the Belgic Confession, Article 35) that believers have "a twofold life. One is physical and temporal, which they received in their first birth and it is common to all men. The other is spiritual and heavenly, which is given [to believers] in their second birthÖ." We all know that "for the support of the physical and earthly life God has ordained earthly and material bread." Thatís why we eat sandwiches for lunch (or maybe tea); bread sustains, re-energises our bodies. But, "for the support of the spiritual and heavenly life, which believers have, [God] has sent them a living bread which came down from heaven, namely, Jesus Christ." This living bread must be eaten, and thatís what we did at the table of the Lord. We ate a small piece of bread and a quick taste of wine, and yet we understand that we ate and drank much more than simply that. For in the bread and the wine was our Saviour, and itís Him we need to eat. In Jesusí words:
"I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world" (vs 51).
How one eats Christ? Weíre not cannibals; we donít eat actual flesh. Besides, Christ is in heaven and we canít pull Him down to eat Him. But He comes to us in the bread and wine, and commands us to eat so that our spiritual beings may be nourished through Him, the only heavenly bread. With the mouth of the body we eat the bread of motherís table and so nourish our bodies, and with the mouth of the soul we eat the bread of the Lordís table and so nourish our souls. Using that mouth of the soul is an exercise of faith; I believe that when I eat the bread at the Lordís table and drink from His cup I in effect receive the gospel of Jesus Christ for the strengthening of my spiritual life, my soul. The very Christ who is today in heaven, pleading with the Father for my benefit, reaches down to me on earth to assure me that my sins are truly forgiven, reaches down to assure me that I have part in the gospel of redemption. By that bread and drink, He would impress upon me that the sins of which I know Iím guilty, the sins of which Iím repentant, are washed away without cost to me. Freely I get the bread and drink at His table; I donít have to pay for it. Freely I get the Christ symbolised by the bread and drink; I donít have to pay for Him and His saving work Ė be it the work He did for me on the cross so long ago or the work He does for me in heaven today.
Shall I, then, focus on the sins of my life? Shall I stare myself blind at what I need to do to obtain Godís favour? Shall I come to God with the sacrifice of His Son, whom Iíve offered to Him again and again? Shall I send Him a thousand prayers? Or ten thousand sighs of how sorry I am and how much I regret what I did? The Lord, brothers and sisters, would have us tear our focus off ourselves, off our sins, off our sorrow for sin, off our efforts to win His approval, off our achievements, and the Lord would have us focus our attention solely and only on the Christ in heaven. Once for all He sacrificed Himself on the cross of Calvary, and there obtained complete salvation. Today He intercedes with the Father for the salvation of those for whom He died. And those for whom He died He today places at the table of the Lord in order to nourish and refresh their hungry and thirsty souls.
Thatís what you saw today, beloved: your Saviour hard at work. In His workshop He set you at His table in order to impress upon you that His body was broken 2000 years ago and His blood was shed in order to pay for your sins. Today He laboured to get your focus off yourself and onto Him, laboured in order to impress upon you the absolute need to lift your eyes off your own brokenness and the brokenness of this life, and lift your eyes instead onto the salvation He has obtained for you and is today applying to you in the courts of heaven.
We leave church, return to the challenges of our homes, our work, our holidays. We take our sinful selves with us, take with us our memories of sins committed, take with us selves that are sure to sin tomorrow. But now we know: there is no place for despair, no place for staring blindly at the brokenness we see in ourselves, no place for staring blindly at our repeated failures to impress God. Christ has set us at His table, and nourished us with heavenly food and drink. So there is room only for praise to such a God of boundless mercy, room only for deep gratitude for His deliverance.
And the sins that continue to sit on my conscience? Iím assured Ėfor at His table Christ said so- that theyíre gone, all gone Ė at no cost to me. Amen.