Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

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Feasting with God #11 – Worthy Partaking

Feasting with God #11

Worthy Partaking

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:27-29

27Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  28Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

God’s people have been blessed with a glorious gift.  The Lord’s Supper was instituted for our blessing, so that whenever we eat or drink of it, we receive the forgiveness of sins that Jesus’ very body and blood won on the cross.  Who would ever wish to ruin such a wonderful gift?

But in this text St. Paul gives us a warning: if anyone eats or drinks “in an unworthy manner” he is “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.”  The guilt here ought to be given its proper weight.  Rather than receiving forgiveness, those who eat and drink unworthily are sinning and racking up guilt.  This guilt is guilt against the body and blood of the Lord, which means that those who eat and drink unworthily are guilty of the same sins that the Pharisees and Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers were guilty of: of crucifying the Lord.

Consider those guilty of killing Jesus.  They looked at the cross and saw a man whom they had killed, and many thought he deserved it, while some knew that he didn’t but were happy nonetheless because his death meant something good for their positions.  Those who looked at the cross that way were guilty of killing God.  But consider those who follow Jesus.  We who believe who he is and what he has done for us look at the cross and see his selfless act which won our salvation, and so we are no longer guilty of any sins.

This is the same as those who eat in an unworthy manner.  No, that doesn’t mean those who eat or drink sloppily, or without shaving first or putting on their best Sunday clothes.  Those who eat unworthily are those who have not properly prepared to eat and to drink this holy meal, and those, as Paul says, who eat “without discerning the body.”  Those who do not believe that what they are receiving is the true body and blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, are the ones who eat unworthily.  Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, wrote, “He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins.’  But he that does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unfit; for the words ‘For you’ require altogether believing hearts” (SC VI, 10).  It is the eyes of faith that makes one worthy to receive this sacrament.

Be prepared, therefore, when you next receive the Lord’s Supper.  It is a blessed gift for you.  It is Christ’s own body, which was born from Mary and then was hanged on the cross.  It is Christ’s own blood, which bled from his hands, feet, and side.  And it comes to you with the forgiveness that his life, death, and resurrection accomplished.  Stand in wonder of this gracious gift, that you may always receive it worthily.

Jesus, Sun of Life, my Splendor,
Jesus, Thou my Friend most tender,
Jesus, Joy of my desiring,
Fount of life, my soul inspiring—
At Thy feet I cry, my Maker,
Let me be a fit partaker
Of this blessed food from heaven,
For our good, Thy glory, given.  Amen. (TLH 305:7)

 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #10 – Feeding the Five Thousand

Feasting with God #10

Feeding the Five Thousand

Matthew 14:16-21

16But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”  17They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”  18And he said, “Bring them here to me.”  19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing.  Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  20And they all ate and were satisfied.  And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.  21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Did you notice that, at the end of this passage?  We call this story “The Feeding of the Five Thousand,” but that’s not entirely accurate.  Five thousand was only the number of men there: there were women and children besides.  So this may very well have been “The Feeding of the Ten Thousand”!  But it doesn’t matter how many people were there.  It was an enormous number, and Jesus performed a great miracle.

A similar miracle he did at a separate time.  In Matthew’s Gospel we find “The Feeding of the Four Thousand” just a chapter later, and there as well he says, “Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children” (Matt. 15:38).  Twice, great crowds of thousands of people followed Jesus, and Jesus had compassion on their hunger, so he performed a great miracle to fill their stomachs.  So this miracle ought to teach us how Jesus is able to provide for our bodily needs.

But Jesus’ care for our needs does not stop with our physical hunger.  He fills our spiritual hunger as well.  Jesus had been teaching these people for days, and when he went off to be alone, they followed him (Matt. 14:13).  But rather than be annoyed, Jesus recognized their need and knew he could fill it.  So he continued to teach them, and to make them able to remain with him, learning from him, he provided for their stomachs.  Jesus is the provider for both body and soul!

Beginning with five loaves of bread and two fish, and ending with twelve baskets full of leftovers, Jesus proved how far his almighty power extended: He is God!  In fact, if he wished, he could have simply created the food out of thin air, made it miraculously appear in their laps, or even in their stomachs so that they were immediately filled and no longer hungry.  But the way he performed this miracle was purposeful.  He began with material the people could see, and the miracle expanded outward from that point.  This is the way God always deals with people: he humbles himself and stoops to our level, so that we can see him and his working.  This is what he did when Jesus became a human being, conceived in Mary’s womb, and then born in a stable.  This is what he does in baptism, using the water that is washed over us to wash out our very souls.  This is what he does in the Lord’s Supper, using simple bread and wine to bring to us his very body and blood with the forgiveness of sins.  And this is what he does in his Word, using language that we human beings can understand, remember, and believe, in order to teach us his truths.  So in this miracle of bread and fish, Jesus demonstrated his power, as well as his humility and care.

Lord, we thank you that you provide for our every need, both physical and spiritual.  We praise you that you decided to look upon us with compassion and to come to our aid.  Continue to come to us through these means that you have promised to use, so that we mere humans are able to see you, hear you, taste you, and feel you.  Daily, we ask, bring to us all your blessings to feed us on our daily bread, and to forgive us all the sins we commit each day.  We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #9 – Bread Alone

Feasting with God #9

Bread Alone

Matthew 4:2-4

2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  3And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  4But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

After Jesus was baptized, he went out into the desert with a very distinct—and very odd—purpose: “to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1).  He had just stepped into his public ministry, had just revealed himself to people as the promised Messiah, and his first public act was to seclude himself in the wilderness and to face temptation.

For forty days and forty night Jesus went without food.  Luke says, “And he ate nothing during those days” (4:2).  It seems impossible that someone could go so long without food and still survive, let alone walk and talk.  And yet Jesus was not only true man, but also true God, and his divine nature, with all the power of the Son of God, could have sustained him through this time.  But do not let that detract from the trial Jesus underwent.  The Gospel writers tell us that “he was hungry.”  And so it was from this angle that the devil made his first attack: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

It would not have been wrong for Jesus to make food for himself in the wilderness, but here the devil is asking for proof of his divinity.  To do what the devil said would first of all have been to obey Satan rather than God.  And, more than that, it would have demonstrated a lack of trust in God.  Jesus knew God’s plan: that he was to come into the wilderness and be tempted, even as all we human beings are tempted, and so earn the perfection that we could not.  Later that perfection would become ours when this perfect Jesus would die the punishment for all who were imperfect.  On the cross he took what we deserved for every time we listened to the devil and followed the desires of our sinful natures, and he provided for each of us the reward for never obeying the tempter’s voice.

Jesus suffered this bodily hunger as an illustration, to make clear the statement Moses made in Deuteronomy 8:3: “that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  Jesus, refusing to put his bodily needs over the spiritual needs of the whole human race, demonstrates for us that we, even amidst our temptations and our sufferings and hunger pains, we are safe and secure in the life we have because of the Word of God.  It is in that Word, in fact, that the reward Jesus won for us actually comes—when we hear and read and recite and believe the words of Scripture, Christ’s holiness comes into our hearts, and we are fed on that Word and nourished not merely for an earthly life, but for an eternal, heavenly life.

Lord Jesus, thank you for bearing up under temptation when we could not.  Thank you for providing perfection where we earned only damnation.  Thank you for blessing us with your Word and your works, through which we are saved and come to be sons of God.  Bear us up as we continue to face temptations and suffering, and never let your Word be taken from our presence.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #8 – The Wedding at Cana

Feasting with God #8

The Wedding at Cana

John 2:6-11

6Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim.  8And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”  So they took it.  9When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  11This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.  And his disciples believed in him.

Wedding receptions are meant to be joyful events.  The feasting and the drinking of wine are all intended to honor the estate of marriage, and specifically to commemorate the joy of the now-wedded couple as they enter into their new life together.  It would have been rather awkward, therefore, at this wedding in Cana, if the wine ran out at an inopportune time.  No, the bride and groom wouldn’t have been driven out of town for failing to supply adequate wine, but they definitely would have felt embarrassed, and been viewed in an embarrassing perspective by the guests.  When Mary initially came to Jesus, she had the comfort and well-being of the happy couple in mind.

And Jesus, too, had sympathy on them.  Really, this is the point of this miracle.  Throughout his ministry on earth Jesus had sympathy on those in need.  He felt what they felt, and he yearned to make them better.  This miracle, being “the first of his signs,” was where he began to show the public who he was, what power he had, and for what purpose he had come.  From here on out, Jesus’ sphere of influence really began to radiate outward into a wider and wider circle, but for now, his blessings came upon a simple family, a newly wedded couple.

John takes note first of all of the immense quantity of wine that was made: “six stone water jars… each holding twenty or thirty gallons each holding twenty or thirty gallons.”  Then, he also notes the remarkable quality of that wine created by Jesus: “You have kept the good wine until now.”  This was a very fine wedding gift granted by Jesus to the happy couple.  And it foreshadows the rest of what he would accomplish here on earth.  Jesus’ work was the salvation of mankind; in other words, Jesus came to transform the plain and grimy nature of man into the holy and glorious forms made in his image; he came to take what was base and unworthy of consideration and turn it into something noble.  This he did with the water used for ceremonial washing, turning it into wine, and this he did with our sinful human natures, turning them into his own righteousness.

It has been said that Jesus joins us in all our sorrows, all our joys, all our temptations (cf. Hebr. 4:15).  At this wedding he sought to join in the joy, and to enhance it.  He came into this world to increase our joy.  What joy can be greater than that of the knowledge of our salvation, won for us by the one who lived a perfection we could never reach and then died to take the punishment meant for us?  This miracle is called by St. John a “sign,” and what it signifies is both the divine power of Jesus as god, and the great delight he takes in lending a helping hand to his fellow man.

Dear Lord, you have suffered as we have suffered, and you have rejoiced as we have rejoiced.  But never let us lose sight of the great joy we have since you have won for us the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation from a wicked world.  Let us look on this your first miracle as a sign of your divine omnipotence and so find we can trust in you, and also as an indication of your great love for us, so that we can come with confidence to you in prayer for all our needs.  In your blessed name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Epiphany – After the Twelve Days of Christmas

January 6th is the festival of the Epiphany.  In our liturgical calendar, the next few Sundays are called “Sundays after Epiphany,” to observe this celebration.  While Christmas is a familiar holiday, however, not many recognize what Epiphany means.

The word “epiphany” comes from Greek, and means “manifestation.”  In this holiday, it is recognized how God manifested himself, or made himself present and visible to the world, in the person of Jesus Christ.  We can define the difference between Christmas and Epiphany by saying that Christmas celebrates Jesus as True Man, while Epiphany celebrates him as Very God.

In some parts of Christendom (specifically the Eastern Churches) Epiphany is regarded as the actual celebration of Christmas.  There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the most compelling is that while Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth, Epiphany celebrates his revelation to the world and the beginning of his ministry and work.  Christmas is his birthday, while Epiphany is his coronation.  Epiphany, in fact, is closer in relevance to the average human population than Christmas is – Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds are really the only ones directly affected by Christmas.  Epiphany meant that God had come to fulfill his promised work of salvation.

There are several little epiphanies celebrated during this season.  Historically, the first “epiphany” is the coming of the Magi or the wise men to worship Jesus.  They were the first from the broader world to see this God-Man, and actually to bow down before him, recognizing his glory and power.  Other epiphanies include when Jesus was presented at the temple and Simeon sang his famous song of thanks to God for sending salvation, when Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and the Father declared him publicly his Son and endorsed his mission, when Jesus performed his first miracle and demonstrated his divine power to the wedding guests at Cana, and when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain before his disciples so that they could see his divine glory.

All of these epiphanies and more are designed to bring proof to the world that Jesus is God made Man, that he is the promised Messiah and the Christ, and that he is the Savior of the world.  After seeing what this season and this holiday is about, can you fail to recognize its blessed significance?

At Redeemer this season, we celebrate on January 11th the Baptism of Jesus, on January 18th and 25th the calling of disciples by God, on February 1st and 8th the miracles of Jesus, and on February 15th the Transfiguration.

Feasting with God #7 – What Comes Out of the Mouth

Feasting with God #7

What Comes Out of the Mouth

(Fountain for ceremonial hand washing before entering a synagogue)

Matthew 15:17-20

17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  20These are what defile a person.  But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.

One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year is to lose weight, or to eat healthier.  Many people are very concerned about what they eat, because they know how different nutrients affect their bodies.  In Jesus’ day, there was another idea about the food one takes into his body, and the way he eats that food.  The Pharisees and Jewish leaders had very strict regulations about how a person was to take his meals in order to live the holiest life he could, to cleanse himself of sins, to purify himself.  But Jesus told them and his disciples that what goes into a person’s body makes no difference spiritually.  It is what comes out that defiles.

Since Adam and Eve fell into sin, all humanity is corrupt through and through.  Because of sin’s beginning, we cannot help but sin.  We are full of sin.  This is what Jesus means when he says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”  We wash our hands before we eat to avoid ingesting harmful bacteria and materials.  But what really needs washing is our hearts, our very souls.  The most deadly bacteria lives in our veins.  This sin that has become a part of our very existence will not only cause us to die and leave this earth, but it causes us to die eternally, forever separated from our heavenly Father.  This sin, which festers in our hearts, manifests itself in actions, words, and thoughts that are harmful to ourselves and others, and omission of actions, words, and thoughts which would be helpful to ourselves and others.  Because our hearts are so filthy with sin, everything we do becomes sin.

It is easy enough to wash our hands.  We have water and soap: simple things to find and use.  But how can we wash our hearts?  The answer, again, is water, but water and the Word.  Through baptism, which takes the Word of God and applies it to the water, our hearts are washed clean of sin’s impurities, and we are given forgiveness, new life, and the salvation that Jesus Christ won for us on the cross.  Jesus’ heart was never corrupted by sin, and he never committed an evil act.  Yet he suffered the punishment for the sins all of us committed – he suffered hell’s torment.  When we are baptized, we receive faith in him which is what takes ahold of what he won: perfection.  Yes, while we live on this earth we still commit “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander,” and other sins.  But because of our faith in Jesus and what he has done, because our hearts are washed clean, we face no punishment, but rather reward.

Dear Lord Jesus, continue to come to us through your Word as you came to us in our baptisms.  Let our hearts each day be made pure toward you, prepared to leave behind our sins and go forward in the doing of good works in your name.  Let us rely not on ourselves or on our own abilities which are themselves corrupted by sin, but let us rely instead on you and your Word of promise.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #6 – Laid in a Manger

Feasting with God #6

Laid in a Manger

Luke 2:1-7

1In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  3And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

Nativity scenes are common around this time of year.  Made of wood, ceramic, felt, or other materials, we place them on our mantles, on our coffee tables, or under our trees.  Sometimes we have people dressed as the various characters in the Nativity – three wise men bearing gifts, a few shepherds with staffs and stuffed sheep, perhaps an angel or two, and Mary and Joseph with a baby doll in a manger.  It is indeed a picture that says “Christmas” even better than a fat Santa Claus in a red suit.  But do we really understand the significance of this baby that was born and placed in a manger for his crib?

A manger is a feeding trough.  It would have been a soft bed for the Christ-child because of all the hay that rested inside it, but that hay was there for the stabled animals to eat.  Parents nowadays will usually go on a shopping spree to find just the right crib for their newborn – one that’s safe, soft, and built to last.  Mary and Joseph couldn’t find any good bed for this child.  Perhaps Joseph, as the carpenter that he was, had been working on a crib for Mary’s soon-to-be-born son, but that would not have been part of their packing for this trip to Bethlehem.  So they had to settle with what they had, and what they had was the feeding trough of barn animals.

More than anything this demonstrates the humility of God becoming man: not only did the Almighty lower himself so much to become a full human being, but he became one who was willing to sleep in the lowliest of places.  But this would only be a foreshadowing of the deep humility of his that was to come.  Jesus Christ was to live a complete human life, and in that time be hated by men, betrayed, arrested, tortured, and executed like a slave or a criminal.  He was to do all of this purely out of love for us, so that we could be saved by believing in him.

That humility could be seen beginning here, where he slept in a manger.  But there’s another way to look at that manger.  It was humble, yes, but it was also the greatest gift available for Mary and Joseph – and indeed for the animals in that stable – to give to their God made flesh.  What gifts are we really able to give to God, who already has everything?  He has given us salvation, and what do we give in response?  Only things as insignificant as a barn-animal’s feeding trough.  But because these gifts are given out of love, and out of thankfulness to that God who gave us everything, our gifts are in his eyes as glorious as feasts.

Dear Father in heaven, on this Christmas Day we remember and celebrate the birth of your Son who humbled himself to become a man, to live and to die for us.  Lead us to see what a great gift we have been given, and lead us to thank and praise you for it.  In that thankfulness, enable us to have truly giving hearts, hearts that give to one another, and especially give to you.  In your Son’s name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #5 – Bread from Heaven

Feasting with God #5

Bread from Heaven

Exodus 16:11-15

11And the Lord said to Moses, 12“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel.  Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”  13In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp.  14And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.  15When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.  And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

“What is it?” asked the Israelites – in Hebrew this question would have sounded like, “Manna?”  Hence, from that time forward, Israel referred to this miraculous bread from heaven as “manna” (Ex. 16:31).  Its name is quite telling.  “What is it?”  It is unknown, incomprehensible, incredible, miraculous.  What else can we call it but “what-is-it”?

Of course, we do not currently receive this miraculous bread provided by God.  Nevertheless, we do receive our daily bread from him.  How easy isn’t it to fall into the same pattern that the Israelites did?  Their God had miraculously rescued them after inflicting Egypt with ten plagues, divided the waters of the Red Sea so that they could pass by on dry land, and led them in the form of a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.  But now Israel began to grumble: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt!” (Ex. 16:3).  How often don’t we see the occasional pangs of hunger rather than the countless blessings we receive?  Do we know better than God?  We so often do exactly what Israel did, and instead of thank God for his blessings, we complain to him about what we don’t have.

But nevertheless God is merciful.  Even as Israel complained, God “heard the grumbling of the people of Israel,” and provided for them.  He does the same for us.  Even as we grumble and complain about the injustice of God for not giving us what we want, he continues to give us what we need to live.  And more than this, he has given us already the very thing we needed for our spiritual survival.  As the manna was sent down from heaven into the wilderness, so into the wilderness of this world where “there is none who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:3) the true Bread of Life came down from heaven to feed our souls.  As the Israelites could daily go out and gather the food they needed to live out of God’s providence, so in his Son God gave us the one who said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).  We hunger in our bellies, but God fills us with even greater things than earthly bread, filling even our souls.

So we can continue to call upon God, and beg him to provide for us.  The Israelites complained out of the wickedness of their hearts, and yet God provided for them.  How much more won’t God provide for us when we cry out to him in faith, knowing that he can and will give us what we need?

O Lord, as we come to you often complaining and burdened by the wearisome things of this world, do not turn away from us in anger, but hear our complaints and provide for us, as you have done, and as we know you will continue to do.  Provide indeed our daily bread which we need to live in this life, but even more so, provide our spiritual nourishment, which you give us through faith in your Son, the true Manna from Heaven.  Through his name we pray in confidence.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #4 – Prepare a Feast for the Coming King

Feasting with God #4

Prepare a Feast for the Coming King

Luke 22:15-18

15And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  16For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  17And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  18For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

Last week we read about the institution of the Lord’s Supper, in which we are given the forgiveness of sins.  In Luke’s Gospel today we see another portion of that institution, when Jesus speaks with his disciples in what must have been a very sad tone.  He knows that this is the last time he will eat the Passover with his friends, and the last time he will drink wine with them, “until the kingdom of God comes.”

The day before Jesus died, he and his disciples were celebrating the Jewish festival of the Passover, which was a remembrance of the time in Egypt when God sent the angel of death to kill all the firstborn in that country, but those who spread the blood of a lamb according to God’s command on the doorposts were spared, and the angel “passed over” their houses (Ex. 12:1-51).  Now it would become connected to the fulfillment of the Passover, when the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, would cause eternal death to pass over all who believe in him.

But there is yet more.  This meal was to be a sort of good-bye party for Jesus.  His disciples were all gathered around, and although they refused to acknowledge it, they had heard Jesus tell them over and over that he was going to die very soon.  As with all good-bye parties, the loved ones gathered around are saddened at the separation to come, but look longingly and hopefully towards that time when they can be reunited.

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “From now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  He was telling his disciples what to look for, what to wait for – to wait for his return.  And the Church has waited and waited for two thousand years.

We still wait.  We do not wait with despair, but we wait because we hope, and because we know that Christ will do as he promised: he will return.  The anxiousness is almost too much to bear, so that we hope for him to come now, immediately, post-haste so that we can see him and be in joy and glory with him!  But we must be patient, for he will come in his appointed time.  In this patience, we prepare.

Rather than sit idly throughout these ages, we have things to do.  Jesus asked his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).  We have the task of telling others about him.  We have the task of worshiping together, of reading his Word, so that we can be strengthened and ready when he comes.  But we have also been given a gift to help us prepare.  This is the gift of that same Supper.  We eat this feast in the Church together as a preparation for the coming of the King.  As we partake of it now, we eat with the saints who have already gone before us into heaven, and we remember Jesus’ words that he will come again.  Eating this Supper, we look back at what Jesus has done to save us, but we also look ever forward at when he will come back.  It strengthens us and feeds us on our journey through life until we reach heaven, and when Christ comes, we all will have another, wondrous feast, a feast of glory, a feast fit for a king.

O Jesus, come in glory now, fulfill our expectation.  We hold our faith which you endow, through joy or tribulation.  We eat this very feast you gave, with your own blood that us did save, and praise you for salvation.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #3 – Forgiveness in the Meal

Feasting with God #3

“Forgiveness in the Meal”

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Matthew 26:26-28

26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

For almost two whole millennia people have been partaking of the blessed meal known variously as the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of the Altar.  This sacrament Martin Luther described as “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself, for us Christians to eat and drink” (Luther’s Small Catechism).  Yes, we eat bread and wine in this meal, but also, through a miraculous means that we cannot understand, also the body and blood of Christ.  We Lutherans are accustomed to saying that the body that we eat is the very body born of Mary, and that the blood that we drink is the very blood shed on the cross.

The Church has been mocked for its entire existence on account of this meal.  The Romans used to persecute those in the Church for being cannibals, for they heard that Christians would eat a baby in their secret worship meetings.  But despite the ridicule of centuries, Christians still eat the body of Christ and drink his blood.  Why?

Jesus’ own words give us the answer: “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Forgiveness itself is given to us in this meal!  The blood of Christ, which justifies us – “we have been justified by his blood” (Rom. 5:9) – this very same blood is now given to us where we can see it, feel it, smell it, and taste it.  It is fed to us so that it becomes a part of us, nourishing our souls even as worldly food nourishes our bodies.

And notice as well that we did not take this blood.  Blood is taken by murderers and executioners, such as when Cain murdered Abel, and Abel’s blood was “crying to [God] from the ground” (Gen. 4:10).  Blood taken unjustly highlights the sin.  How many murder weapons haven’t been found with the blood still on them?  To be “caught red-handed” is to be found with the blood of your victim still on your hands.  But the blood of Jesus is different.  We already had blood on our hands.  Our sins stained us from the moment we were conceived, and like layers of grime only grew thicker and thicker as we continued through life.  We by nature are red-handed murderers, sinners and rebels to God.  Our very inmost thoughts are only selfishness and evil against him.

Jesus Christ’s blood became the universal solvent, cleaning that grime of sin away more quickly than the fastest-acting soap.  That blood and that body are given to us as a gift in this Supper of our Lord.  What a gift!  And certainly it is worth all the ridicule of the world.

Lord Jesus Christ, as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, let us remember your death and the shedding of that blood, by which you freely gave us the forgiveness of every one of our sins.  Help us to see that we daily sin much, and much need the forgiveness you give, so that we can learn better to put our full trust in you and in your promises.  As you promise to give us forgiveness in this holy meal, let us come to it with joy.  Continue to give to us your promised forgiveness.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.