Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"THE NATURE OF THE TABLE
DETERMINES WHO MAY ATTEND
80. 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.
81. Q. Who are to come to the table of the Lord?
A. Those who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins and yet trust that these are forgiven them 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 amend their life. But hypocrites and those who do not repent eat and drink judgment upon themselves.
 I Cor. 10:19-22; 11:26-32.
82. Q. Are those also to be admitted to the Lord's supper who by their
confession and life show that they are unbelieving and ungodly?
A. No, for then the covenant of God would be profaned and His wrath kindled against the whole congregation. Therefore, according to the command of Christ and His apostles, the Christian church is duty-bound to exclude such persons by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, until they amend their lives.
 Ps. 50:16; Is. 1:11-17; I Cor. 11:17-34.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
We listened last week to the word of God about the Lordís Supper as the church has summarized it in Lordís Day 28. We ought therefore to give consideration today to what the church confesses in Lordís Day 29. However, we look forward to celebrating the Supper of our Lord next Sunday. Lordís Day 30 asks attention for who ought to attend that table Ė and itís rather back-to-front for me in the preaching to open Scripture with you on this question immediately after the Lordís Supper has been celebrated. So today I deal with Lordís Day 30, and next week, after we have been to the table, I will, the Lord willing, come back to Lordís Day 29.
Who should go to the table of the Lord? To answer that question we need to have very clear in our minds first of all what the table of the Lord is all about. Thatís the material of Question & Answer 80. Then we need to be clear on what criteria those attending the table need to satisfy. Thatís Question & Answer 81. The final Question & Answer draws our attention to those of the congregation who show in their confession and life that they are in fact unbelieving and ungodly, and what implications that has for attendance at the table of the Lord.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
THE NATURE OF THE TABLE DETERMINES WHO MAY ATTEND.
1. The nature of the table.
Weíre so very familiar with the table of the Lord. With Lordís Day 28 last week, we repeated after God what His instruction about Lordís Supper is. We learned from God that the table with its elements sought to direct our attention to the events of Calvary 2000 years ago. That is: this is a table of remembrance, a table where we remember what Christ did for us. So the table lifts our eyes off of our own brokenness and the brokenness of those around us, and teaches us to lift our eyes to Christ; with Him is forgiveness, He through His work gives purpose, sense to our lives.
This focus on Calvary has been in dispute in the course of church history. At the time of the Great Reformation 450 years ago, the Roman Catholic Church insisted that the focus of the Lordís Supper was not Calvary but instead the activity of the priest in the front of the church. Their point was this: yes, they said, itís important that Christ died on the cross of Calvary so many years ago to pay for our sins, but that labor on Jesusí part does not help us unless the priest still sacrifices Christ today. How the priest does that? At the Lordís Supper, said the RCC, the bread changes into the real body of Christ and the wine into His real blood. Then the officiating priest takes that bread-become-Jesusí-flesh and sacrifices it anew Ėhow?- by breaking it in the Eucharist celebration. That breaking constitutes sacrificing Christ anew, and that renewed sacrificing obtains the forgiveness of our sins.
Luther and Calvin and so many other leaders of the Reformation had insisted that this was not the Scriptural truth of the matter. So, when Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus wrote the Heidelberg Catechism in 1561 they put into their Catechism the material of Lordís Days 28 and 29, confessing in these Lordís Days that the table of the Lord directs our attention to the work of Christ on Calvary.
Well now, two years after the Catechism was completed (1561) the RCC held a sort of synod in the city of Trent. This Council of Trent (as it was called) compiled Romeís criticism of the Reformation into a series of statements. This criticism came in the form of curses, anathemas. That is: the Council declared cursed whoever believed that Christís work on the cross of Calvary was our complete salvation, declared cursed whoever believed that Christ died once for all on the cross and was not to be sacrificed by the priests today. So they also declared cursed those who embraced the teaching of Scripture about Lordís Supper as summarized in Lordís Days 28 & 29 of the Catechism.
The RCC declares persons cursed. We need to bear in mind that the people who joined the Reformation had sensitive feelings about the RCC. To us today, the RCC is foreign, remote; few of us were raised in the RCC or have close family members in the RCC. But that was not the case in the days of the Council of Trent! Most of those who joined the Reformation had been born, baptized, raised in the RCC, and many still had loved family members in that Church. To hear this church voice an anathema over one self and oneís beliefs: that had clout! Thatís why in turn the leaders of the Reformation sought to encourage their people with a clear summary statement of the teachings of Scripture on the point and a critique of the RC position. So two years after the Catechism was written they added a new Question & Answer to the Catechism; that new Question & Answer is the first one of Lordís Day 30, about the difference between the Lordís Supper and the papal mass. With this Question & Answer the leaders set before the church membership in clear and unambiguous terms what the essence of the Lordís Supper actually was. Said they: "the Lordís Supper testifies to us Ö 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."
Notice, brothers and sisters, the emphasis on Calvary. Notice also the categorical language here. The people of the pew are taught first that we have "complete forgiveness." Then theyíre told that we have this forgiveness "through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ." Then they add that this one sacrifice on the cross was offered "once for all". In other words: the Supper of our Lord directs us only and alone to Calvary, and assures us that Jesusí one-time work on the cross is all we need for the forgiveness of all our sins. So we donít need the labors of the priest to obtain forgiveness, and Christ does not have to be sacrificed for us again and again. The big moment of history is not what happens at each mass; the big moment is what happened on Calvary! Here is reassurance for the people: look always and only to Christ on the cross for your salvation!
The question arises whether we need a Question & Answer in our Catechism today that takes the RC doctrine of the mass apart so completely. True, you and I today are not confronted so directly with RC teaching as the brethren of Europe were 450 years ago. But the truth is drawn into sharp focus specifically through confrontation with error. And itís the glorious truth Ėcomplete redemption through Christís sacrifice on Calvary alone- itís that glorious truth we need to see clearly Ė and consideration of the wrongs of Rome (theyíre still around us today) help us to do that.
We come to our second point. Since the Supper of the Lord directs our attention to Calvary alone for our complete salvation, who may attend the Lordís Supper? Thatís our second point:
2. Who may attend?
We have our ideas on the point. Members of the church may attend, we say, provided they have professed the faith and are repentant of their sins.
Indeed, thatís correct. But to give the matter further depth, I want to draw your attention to the passage we read from Mt 9. Iím interested particularly in vs 10: "as Jesus sat at the table in the house Ö, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples." Question: would tax collectors and sinners be welcome at Jesusí table today? How would we respond if tax collectors and sinners would come forward next Sunday to sit at the Lordís table?
To be honest, brothers and sisters, we sympathize with the reaction of the Pharisees in vs 11. They objected. To the disciples they said, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?!" For to the minds of these Pharisees, tax collectors and sinners were certainly not as good in the service of the Lord as the Pharisees (cf Luke 18:9ff) and therefore not fitting table companions.
Observe, then, the reply of the Lord to the charge of the Pharisees. Vs 12: "those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." For why was it, Jesus asks, that these tax collectors and sinners gather around Jesus? Itís because they know that they are sick. More, itís because they accept that Jesus is the only doctor who can heal them. Thatís more than could be said of the Pharisees. Hence Jesusí instruction to them in vs 13: "Go and learn what this means: ĎI desire mercy and not sacrifice.í For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."
You see, congregation: the tax collectors and sinners of Jesusí day were more tuned in to spiritual reality than the pious Pharisees. Those tax collectors and sinners recognized that they had a need, were sick, needed a physician, and therein they were correct. The Pharisees were not tuned in to that reality. Those Pharisees took for granted that God was pleased with them, they had no needs with God because they did the right thing before God day by day Ė they fasted often, gave tithes, kept the law, etc, and so God was surely happy with them, and so they ought to be permitted to sit freely at table with a man of God. Jesus compliments the attitude of the tax collectors, and criticizes the mindset of the Pharisees; He didnít come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. And see: these tax collectors and sinners are tuned in to that reality, they know they have a need, and so they come to the Lord for healing.
Who may sit at table with the Lord? Would tax collectors and sinners be welcome? Jesusí answer, beloved, is yes! And bear in mind that by nature we all are tax collectors and sinners, that is, unworthy of Godís grace, not measuring up to Godís standards, deserving of His judgment. Yet is every tax collector or sinner welcome at Jesusí table? No, not at all. Only those are welcome who recognize that they are sick and that Jesus is the only doctor able to heal them. Then it matters not whether one is a tax collector or a Pharisee; both are welcome as soon as they recognize that they are sick (to stay with the language of Mt 9) and recognize that Jesus alone can heal them.
What does Jesus mean in our passage with the term Ďsickí? Jesusí words in vs 12, of course, constitute a parable, and the explanation is found in the last part of vs 13. Those who donít need a physician are those who are righteous in themselves, those who think they can justify themselves before God. These are your spiritually arrogant people, those who do all the right things and assume that by doing those things rightly they win points with God. The sick, meanwhile, are the sinners, those who know they have nothing with which to impress God, who know that they daily provoke Godís anger and so have desperate need of Godís mercy. In the words of our Catechism: the sick are "those who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins." These are they who recognize that great "weakness" remains in them, so great that they havenít a hope of a chance to impress God. They are "sick", and so they come to Jesusí hospital to seek His healing. Where that hospital is? Thatís Calvary, for on the cross He took on Himself the wrath of God all sinners deserve, more, on the cross He satisfied that wrath, paid for sin. The sick come to Jesusí hospital for healing, and thatís to say that they come to Calvary in the conviction that there they can receive the forgiveness and the mercy they so desperately need.
But Calvary: today there is nothing to be found on Calvary; the hill no longer has a cross, let alone the Savior hanging on the cross. Where one must go to see Calvary today? Thatís in the sacrament of holy Supper, at table with the Lord Jesus Christ! The Lordís Supper: there the Great Physician Jesus Christ is at work, healing the sick. For at the table the Lord assures the sick 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." Who are welcome at this hospital? In the words of Mt 9: those who are sick. Or in the words of our Lordís Day: those who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins.
Now another question arises, beloved. We say in Lordís Day 30 that those may come "who are truly displeased with themselves." What do you think: how displeased do you have to be with yourself before you qualify to attend? Or in the language of Mt 9: how sick must you be?
Itís a question that sits on our minds. For we think that actually we canít go to the table because we are not sufficiently displeased with ourselvesÖ. We think: we should be totally displeased, completely detest ourselves because of our sins. But we donítÖ, and so we shouldnít goÖ, our sins obviously donít bother us enough.
Now, it is a fact, beloved, that the standard God holds before us is perfection. That means also that we ought to be perfectly aware of our sins, and perfectly sorry for them too. Yet the Catechism in our Lordís Day, brothers and sisters, does not say that we need to perfectly displeased before we can go to the Lordís hospital. Thatís because the Catechism takes into account what the apostle Paul has argued in Romans 7 and the church confesses in Lordís Day 44: even the holiest have only a small beginning of the obedience God requires. That is: though God demands perfection from us (and so we keep striving to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect), He at the same time remembers that we are flesh, are but dust; we shall not achieve the goal that He sets for us. If only those could come to the table who were perfectly displeased with themselves on account of sin, nobody could ever come to the table! For in this life nobody is ever perfectly displeased with the self on account of sin; we donít even know so many of our sins! The Catechism is so Scripturally sound, and so pastorally sensitive, when it speaks about being "truly displeased." Itís not the healthy, those who have achieved perfection in their sense of displeasure at their sins, who may come, but itís the sick, those whoís displeasure at their sins is so flawed, so broken, but true nevertheless. "Truly displeased": the point is not how perfect, how deep, is your displeasure; the point is rather: is there displeasure. And you know whether your sense of displeasure is dinkum or show.
The same argument holds in relation to whether we believe Jesus is the only physician able to heal us. Or, in the words of our Lordís Day, whether we trust that our sins are forgiven us. We keep saying: our trust, our faith, has to be of a certain caliber before we can attend the table. True, the norm we need to shoot for is indeed perfect trust, perfect faith. But, as with anything else, we shall not achieve that standard in this life! Nor need that alarm us since our Savior achieved it for us. God knows we are but dust, flesh, weak, sick, and so He welcomes to His table not those with perfect faith but those who have faith Ė though it remains weak.
The point, brothers and sisters? This: we are not set the threshold to the table higher than God has set it. The threshold the Lord has set is this: 1. We need to know that we are sick, and 2. We need to know that only Jesus Christ can heal us. While we pursue a perfect awareness of how sick we are, and while we pursue a perfect trust in Christ Jesus as the only Physician, we accept that Jesus does not welcome only those with perfect displeasure at their sins or only those with perfect faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus welcomes those who are aware that they are sick, and aware that Christ is the only Doctor.
So: the fact that you have been in church every Sunday since last Lordís Supper does not entitle you to attend the Lordís Supper next week. The fact that you have a good family does not entitle you to attend either. Nor does the fact that you have helped your brother in his need or read your Bible faithfully or never swear. While all those things are exactly what the Lord wants, they are not the standards Christ has set for those who may attend His Supper.
By the same token: the fact that you have deceived the tax man in the past does not automatically mean that you may not attend the Lordís table next Sunday. The fact that you have missed church without legitimate reason does not mean either that you may not attend. Nor does the fact that you visited ungodly sites on the web. While all those things are distinctly sin against God and provoke His judgment, they are not the standards Christ has set for who may attend His Supper.
Rather, the standard Christ sets catches us all where it hurts the most, whether we be seen as upright in the eyes of men or sinners in the eyes of men. The standard Christ sets is: do you recognize that you are a sinner? Do you recognize that you have a problem with God, that your sins are a barrier, and you can do nothing about it yourself? In the words of Mt 9: that you are sick? Or in the words of our Lordís Day: that you are "truly displeased" with yourself because of your sins. Thatís point 1. And point 2 is: do you recognize that only Jesus Christ can deliver you from the just judgment of God you deserve, and He in fact has delivered through His sacrifice on Calvary all those who believe in Him? In the words of Mt 9: that Jesus Christ is the only Doctor able to heal you? Or in the words of our Lordís Day: that you trust that your sins are forgiven you and your remaining weaknesses covered by the suffering and death of Christ. Those are the standards.
I say here nothing new. Turn with me please to the Form for the Celebration of the Lordís Supper. We hope to read the whole Form together next Sunday, but for now, in relation with Lordís Day 30, I want to read with you the top of page 595 (re true self-examination). READ.
You notice, brothers and sisters, how the Lordís Supper Form has picked up Jesusí instruction in a passage as Mt 9. Who may come? Not the self-righteous. Nor those who love their sins. Nor those who donít look to Jesusí work on Calvary alone for redemption and forgiveness. In the words of Question & Answer 82: such persons are "unbelieving and ungodly", and so may not attend the table of the Lord.
Does the Lord welcome you to His table next Sunday? Here, my brothers and sisters, is where you need to engage in serious self-examination. Are you, like the sinners and tax collectors of Mt 9, aware that you are sick? In the words of our Lordís Day: truly displeased with yourself because of your sins? Or do you feel more for the mindset of the Pharisees, feel rather righteous and smug about yourself, certainly that youíre better-before-God than the pervert in the next pew? Are you, like the sinners and tax collectors of Mt 9, aware that Jesus alone can heal Ė and has obtained healing through His work on the cross? In the words of our Lordís Day: trust that your sins are forgiven through Jesusí blood and your remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ?
Know this: Christ welcomes with open arms those who know themselves sick, those who seek redemption in His blood. The souls of such He nourishes at His table with the bread of life prepared for His people on Calvary, and encourages in further struggle against sin. But hypocrites and those who through confession and conduct show that they donít really think they are sick and need Christ are simply not welcome. They are called instead to repentance. And then they are welcome! Amen.