August 2, 2015
On June 26 a strong message was sent to the Church in America. On that day, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. The split decision of the court mirrors the deep divide in our society regarding same sex marriage and similar issues.
But, in my opinion, the court’s decision is just another indication that we are now living in a post-Christendom society. In other words, there was a day when Christendom enjoyed a majority status that included a great deal of authority. This is no longer the case.
Lord willing, over the next weeks I hope to bring a series of messages dealing with the question of how do Christians live in a culture that has turned against Christianity. In some ways the situation is like going into a dark room in your house only to painfully discover that all the furniture has been rearranged and you are tripping over and bumping into everything. And as we come to the Lord’s Table this morning I want to say that in light of our post-Christendom society, the Lord’s Supper is vitally important.
I. THE LORD’S SUPPER REMINDS US OF THE GOSPEL.
Some years ago at the beginning of a message I handed out a little assignment. We took about 10 minutes for everyone to write down their understanding of the gospel. On the whole I was encouraged to see that most of us have a handle on the basics of the gospel.
In the 1980s a long simmering debate surfaced in evangelical circles known as the Lordship salvation controversy. This discussion tried to answer the question of what it means to have salvation by grace alone through faith alone. The debate is more complex than what I can say here.
I was raised in a time when the gospel was defined as receiving Christ by faith as one’s personal Savior. So we would pray a prayer of salvation to receive Christ. But what happened is that many people would pray a sinner’s prayer and there seemed to be no transformation in their lives whatsoever. And so some preachers began to emphasize the importance of receiving Christ as Lord. Christ must be the Lord of one’s life.
In time some pointed out that when Jesus preached the gospel he called people to follow him, to become his disciples. The church was challenged to not just make converts, but to make disciples, as Jesus told us to do. This resonated with me because there were a number of times when I shared the gospel and a person would pray the sinner’s prayer, but never make any attempt to walk with Christ. So I started using phrases like, “embracing Christ by faith.” When a person comes to receive Christ it involves a total committing of a person’s trust and life into the person of Jesus and his teachings. Obviously at first most of us do not have a handle on what a total committing of our lives means, but we surrender as much as we know ourselves and we continue to surrender to Christ as we grow in him. In this understanding, salvation is not just a onetime event. Instead it is an ongoing journey beginning with repentance and conversion that blossoms into an ongoing transformation of our lives as we follow Jesus.
There was a time in our country when it seemed that most people had a basic understanding about sin and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So when the gospel was preached by evangelists like Billy Graham, many could understand and turn to Christ.
Today we live in a different world. Today, many people do not think they are sinners and therefore they see no need for a Savior. Many have the idea that if there is a God he would surely not condemn anyone to hell. In addition to this many are offended by the idea that salvation is only through faith in Christ. How arrogant to think that Christ is the only way.
It would not surprise me if we found that there are people in our church who do not think they are really sinners in need of a Savior. We would all admit to committing various sins, but we don’t think our sins are all that bad, certainly not bad enough to send us to hell. What is more, some may even think that sincere followers of other religions will also be saved apart from Christ.
It is my sense that our pluralistic society which no longer accepts moral truth, has had a detrimental influence on the church, and as a result we now have gospel-lite. The cross is not really necessary to be a Christian.
This is why the Lord’s Supper is vitally important. We cannot enter into the Lord’s Supper without coming face to face with the cross of Christ. And we cannot come face to face with the cross of Christ without recognizing the fact that we have all broken God’s good rules for living. Deeper than that, we have all broken the first commandment by failing to love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In fact we have rebelled against God, putting ourselves in the place of God. We are all idolaters.
At the Lord’s Table we come to understand it was our sin that put Christ on the cross. Notice what Paul writes in v.24. “And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In Lk.22:19-20, we read, “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Christ died for our sins.
No matter how you slice or dice it, the gospel is not good news apart from the bad news that each of us is in desperate need of Christ. This is not a call for us to be all negative and to have low self-esteem. No one is suggesting that we become morbidly introspective. But it is a call for each of us to acknowledge our sinful rebellion against God expressed in self-directed living.
Again, the gospel does not portray a God who is vindictive and who takes delight in punishing people. Rather the gospel tells us the good news that God loves each of us and graciously sent his Son, Jesus to pay the penalty for our rebellion against him. Who does that? We have all rejected God in our hearts, but God has sent deliverance through the death and resurrection of Christ. To reject Christ is to spurn the love, grace and mercy of God. Once a person rejects God what is the alternative, except life without God and that eventuates in hell.
If we are not careful our culture will cause us to think that we don’t really need Jesus. When we come to the Lord’s Table we are reminded of the great price that was paid for our salvation and we are thankful.
II. THE LORD’S SUPPER CALLS US TO LIVE LIFE WITH CHRIST.
In v.26 Paul writes that in the Lord’s Supper we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” In other words, we regularly observe the Lord’s Supper until he comes again to take us to be with him. By regularly observing the Lord’s Supper, we are able to recognize that being saved is receiving the life of Christ within us. When we eat the bread and drink the cup we are symbolically saying that we have received the life of Jesus to live out in our bodies until he comes.
There are a number of plants whose seeds remain dormant until just the right conditions occur. For example giant sequoia trees produce pinecones that contain up to 200 seeds. The cones do not release their seeds unless a fire comes and melts the cones that are glued shut by a strong resin. Until that happens, the seeds just sit there.
Now there are people who claim to be Christians, but you would never know it. It’s as if the life of Christ in them is dormant. These people might say that they have repented of their sin and embraced Christ by faith, but for some reason, the life of Christ in them seems to be inactive. Is that possible? I don’t think so. When Christ comes to dwell in a person, his life engages our life and we seek to live according to the character and virtues of Christ.
Just listen to a number of verses from Colossians. In Col.1:21-23 Paul writes, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard….” In Col.2:6-7 we read, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” In Col.3:1-4 Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
There are many verses in the New Testament which make it clear that those who call upon the name of the Lord to be saved, receive his life and live life in active relationship with Christ. The gospel is not just about having our sins forgiven. It is about receiving and living out the resurrection life of Christ in us.
Now you may be a nice, decent sort of person. That’s good, but most unbelievers are nice, decent persons. Being nice and decent is what is expected in our supposedly non-judgmental society. Followers of Jesus are nice, decent people, but it goes much deeper than that. The key to following Christ is dying to self. We die to self when we give Christ, his teachings, and ways of living first priority in our lives. We live for Christ. We live in and with Christ. What regular practices do you engage in that foster a Christ like life in you? The Lord’s Supper is one of those practices that continually calls us to this way of living.
So as we gather around the Lord’s Table, it is important to assess whether or not you have entered into the life of Christ by repenting of your sin and calling upon the name of the Lord to be saved. And it is important to assess whether or not you are actually living life with and in Christ. If you concluded that you are not saved or are not living life with Christ, then this is the time to turn to him. Jesus Christ is our only hope for abundant, eternal living. Amen.