Saturday, November 25, 2017

Promises to Remember

Print Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:23-34
Devotional Reading: Colossians 1:9-20

Memories can be so beautiful. I remember every Sunday, after church, gathering at my great grandmother’s home for the family meal. The children sat at one table and grown-ups at another. I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could move to the next table. By the time I reached the age to sit at the grown-ups’ table, there were memories of relatives no longer sitting at the table. But I shall always remember the loving fellowship. I shall also note that each of our meals was set apart from the Lord’s Supper.

Our family would rush back to church on Sunday evenings for Baptist Training Union (BTU). We might miss some Sundays, but we never missed first Sunday because we had to partake the Lord’s Supper. It was part of our training that everything we do was to be done for the glory of God. However, over time, the practice of taking the Lord’s Supper on first Sunday evenings ceased. I guess the thought was that more people attend during church service on Sunday morning, and there is a greater need for us to reach out to the many with the Lord’s Supper. I can’t judge why a person does not avail his or herself to take the Lord’s Supper. But I do agree with the current policy that we should make it as readily available as possible and to as many persons as possible (1 Corin 11:25), having it during church service on first Sunday morning and every first Wednesday at the noon Bible study and the evening Bible study. The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is not for that fellowship meal we had. The purpose is solely for the glory of God.

We are in Unit III “An Everlasting Covenant” of the three units of the quarter. This is the fourth lesson of a four lesson study. We began the quarter by studying the tale of two priests, both named Phinehas and both heirs of Aaron, the first high priest and brother of Moses. That is where the similarities ended. God rewarded one priest named Phinehas who respected Him with exceeding zeal and fervor. Alternatively, He issued Judgments to priests Eli, Phinehas and Hopni who disrespected His Holiness and took for granted their priesthood. God is a Jealous God and demands respect and unwavering commitment. This was during the Mosaic Law, the old covenant.

We then shifted gears to study the establishment of the unconditional, unilateral new covenant that was written on the hearts of God’s people. The new covenant was sealed by God’s pure grace through the blood of Christ who bought all sinners forgiveness and the opportunity to eternal life.

Last week we examined the difference between the old and new covenant, in part, by comparing the terrifying Mt. Sinai (where the Mosaic Law was given) with the spiritual heavenly Mt. Zion (the New Jerusalem and the gospel church). The old covenant was made obsolete by the new covenant. Yet Christians must remember that God is the same today as He was yesterday and He will be the same tomorrow. Christians serve the same God who visited Mount Sinai. Our God is a consuming fire. (Deut 4:24; Heb 12:29 NKJV). The covenant changed, not God.

In our final lesson, today, we are focusing on one of the signs of the new covenant – the Lord’s Supper. The other sign is water baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the focus of Article 14 of our Baptist Articles of Faith.

This lesson is presented to us as the Apostle Paul expresses his displeasure of the conduct of the Corinthians after the institution of the Lord’s Supper. At 1 Corin 10:31 the Apostle stated, Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (NKJV) There are two great rules to guide us in all our Christian lives. The first is the glory of God seen in this verse, and the second is the welfare of our fellow men. These two rules remind me of the two commandments given by Jesus Himself in Matt 22:37b and 39b, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (NKJV) Christians are often faced with decisions as to whether a certain decision would be right or wrong. A good rule to apply would be to ask yourself whether the Lord would be magnified. Is there glory for God? For Christ is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Col 1:18 NKJV)

God judges how we observe the Lord’s Supper. The Apostle outlined the conduct of the Corinthians at 1 Corin 11:17-22 for which he found displeasure. He said, I do not praise you…(vs 17 NKJV). There were divisions and cliques within the fellowship making it more difficult for the spiritually discerned to be heard. Further, Paul had to be pleased they remembered to continue to take the Lord’s Supper. However, they were taking it immediately after they had completed their love feast or social gathering. The love feast was a common meal to be shared in a spirit of love and fellowship. The party spirit carried over into the Lord’s Supper. They did not wait for everyone to be present to share in the meal and the Lord’s Supper. Each one would take their own food in a picnic basket and not share. Some left the feast hungry because the food was not shared. Also, some of the members of the society felt they had to have another drink until they were in a state of drunkenness. The love feasts and celebration of the Lord’s Supper occurred on a weekly basis with the Corinthians, but not all were able to participate. Paul asked at vs 22, Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? (NKJV) The conduct of the Corinthians did not magnify the Lord. Neither did it show a love for their neighbors as they had been commanded.

Given that background of the conduct of the Corinthians in their observance of partaking the Lord’s Supper, we shall now begin to review the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the proper attitude in its observance. Beginning at 1 Cor 11:23-24 Paul was given a special revelation by the Lord. He writes, For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” NKJV) The Lord’s Supper occurred on the same night Jesus was betrayed by Judas (Matt 26:23-25). It was a night to be remembered because it was it was His last night on earth before His death. Jesus took the single loaf of bread and gave thanks to God. The bread was typical to His body. Bread can be broken. The body of Jesus was abused for us. Jesus thanked God for a human body which would be broken to be able to take on the sins of the world. It is very important that we continue to take the bread and eat it to memorialize what Christ did for each of us.

Jesus continues to identify what He wants believers to remember regarding His sacrifice at verse 25, In the same manner He also took the cup after supper saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me”. (NKJV) The cup is put for what is in it. Never does the Scripture call what is in the cup wine. We know it to be the sign of the Lord’s blood. These outward signs are Christ’s body and blood, His body broken, His blood shed, together with all the benefits which flow from His death and sacrifice. It is the new covenant made by God (Jer 31:31) and ratified by the blood of Christ. When we drink the cup of the Lord’s Supper, we should remember that Christ’s death makes our forgiveness possible. The foundation of the new covenant goes back to the cross and to the future of His coming again in the New Jerusalem.

When the Lord instituted this memorial, His body had not yet been given and His blood had not been shed on the cross. It was symbolic for what He was to do. Yet the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is that the symbolic bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ, with only the appearance of bread and wine remaining.1 This is called transubstantiation. The teaching of the Lutheran faith is that the symbolic bread and wine coexists with the body and blood of Christ. This is called consubstantiation. When we take Communion, we are only to see the bread and wine as a symbol of the body and blood of Christ as we remember our deliverance from sin.

Jesus did not specify how often we should observe the Lord’s Supper. In their attempt to observe the Lord’s Supper, the Corinthians would partake it weekly at the end of the meal during the love feast that was criticized by Paul for other reasons. There are many churches, mine included, which observes the Lord’s Supper on the First Sunday. And there are still others that observe it quarterly. The Apostle Paul writes at 1 Corin 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. (NKJV) Jesus instructed believers to partake Communion as often as, meaning whenever you want. The frequency of taking Communion is not as important as that we continue. The quality of taking the Lord’s Supper is of major concern. We are joining in an act to give glory to the Lord. It reminds us of what He did for us and how we are linked to Him in that sacrificial act of forgiveness. We have been given the opportunity to accept eternal life in the New Jerusalem with access to God and Jesus at His right side. These are things we are to remember and proclaim until He returns again.

There is a danger of receiving unworthily the Communion, prostituting its institution with love feasts, causing divisions among the congregants, allowing factions to creep in, and keeping up a covenant of sin and death while attempting to renew and confirm the new covenant with God. Paul is now moving from the corporate aspect of the Lord’s Supper to some implications for the individual participants and the church that hosts it. The Apostle writes at 1 Corin 11:27-29, Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (NKJV)

Do not provoke God by taking Communion unworthily. We are all unworthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper. In fact, we are unworthy of any of the Lord’s mercy or kindness to us. But that is not the subject here. The Apostle is not speaking of our own personal unworthiness. Because we are cleansed by the blood of Christ, we can approach God in all the worthiness of His own beloved Son. The Corinthians profaned the institution of the Lord’s Supper and have basically crucified their Savior over again. Instead of being cleansed by His blood, they were guilty of His blood.

I always knew If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NKJV) However, I never considered myself having profaned the Lord’s Supper because I failed to offer an apology, had been selfish, or failed to make a restitution, for example. I thought about the family that was bringing a lawsuit among other members of the family and wondered how they were coming to the Communion table worthily. We must judge ourselves sincerely in order that we do not come to the Communion table unworthily. I, for one, do not wish to be guilty of His blood.

So what if I took Communion unworthily and failed to examine myself? I would be guilty and God may chasten me for my behavior. Paul writes at 1 Corin 11:30-32, For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. (NKJV) Today God’s discipline takes many forms when we know we have done something we deeply regret to cause a problem in our relationship with Him. A careless and irreverent receiving of the Lord’s Supper may bring temporary punishments. Yet the connection seems to imply that even those who were given temporary chastening are in a state of favor with God. They are chastened of the Lord in order that they would not be condemned with the world. Failure to self-judge sincerely before taking Communion can cause physical illness and death. If we exercise this self-judgment, there would be no need for God’s chastisement. God is lovingly dealing with us and preparing us for a life in eternity not a life on earth or hell. For this reason we must be chastised to draw closer to Him. We must be corrected by Him when we fall short of taking the Lord’s Supper. It is better that we judge ourselves than we have God judge whether we came to the Communion table worthily. God does not want us to be condemned to a world of sin.

The Apostle finishes the chapter by giving the Corinthians two simple directives to help solve their problems with the Lord’s Supper. As indicated at 1 Corin 11:33-34 he writes, Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come. (NKJV) In case anyone thought Paul’s message was too cruel, he is yet calling them brethren as he lets them know the teaching was a necessary one from their brother. They are called to care for one another as the second commandment requires. Don’t eat as soon as you arrive, but exercise restraint until others have arrived. Wait to eat with the others as everyone can’t get to the gathering at the same time. If this is a problem with someone because he is hungry or he must eat because he has an illness such as diabetes, eat something at home before you come to the service with the brethren to partake of the Lord’s Supper. And the other minor matters that were mentioned to Paul in the letter to him from the Corinthians, he will address personally when he comes later. The Lord’s Supper was of utmost concern and had to be immediately addressed.


Deborah C. Davis

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Go-Between

Print Passage: Hebrews 12:14-15, 18-29
Devotional Reading: Psalm 66

In a previous job position my employer was retained by a family torn apart. The mother had passed and left a dilemma as she did not leave a will. Among her assets was a church she had founded and pastored. Her children and family held various positions in the church, such as Assistant Pastor, Treasurer/Trustee, Church Secretary, etc. The heirs felt they should receive financial blessings from the church she had founded. But the children and family was divided, and there was no peace in the congregation. They insisted on suing each other, and as I observed their dilemma, I kept praying because I knew God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Cor 14:33 NKJV) There was no way I could fix their problem. And actually the courts could not fix their problem because there would still be deep wounds to heal. Only God through His Son, our Mediator and Go-between, could completely fix and heal their problem. I could only pray on their behalf to God in the Name of Jesus.

We are in Unit III “An Everlasting Covenant” of the three units of the quarter. This is the third lesson of a four lesson study. Last week we studied the establishment of the unconditional, unilateral covenant that was written on the hearts of God’s people, sealed by God’s pure grace through the blood of Christ, our Mediator, to grant us His forgiveness and the opportunity to eternal life. Today we shall further examine the difference between the old and new covenant and the fact the old covenant was made obsolete by the new covenant.

When we first step into chapter 12 of Hebrews we are encouraged to run a lifelong race of faith, knowing we shall be witnessed by many successful runners of the past. Christians are to be inspired when they look unto Jesus, the Author, Finisher, and Perfecter of our faith, who endured the cross for our sins and sat down at the right hand of God to mediate as a go-between for us. There is a grave danger in remaining stationery in the race. We don’t want to fall out of the race because we are too close to the edge of where we are running. In other words, the race is a narrow path. Stay focused and recognize we shall sometimes receive some chastisement from God to keep us on the straight and narrow path for our own good. The chastisement is not punishment, but it is for our wisdom. The wisdom will teach us how to become partakers of His holiness. His is absolute holiness: ours is to put on His holiness part, becoming “holy as He is holy,” by sanctification. The chastisement is many times painful, but the result of the correction will be for those who pursue the peaceable fruit of righteousness to be brought near to Him in conformity and communion. As we go through the trials and tribulations of this Christian race, God will always be with us with our Mediator next to His right side.

The writer of Hebrews made it clear the Jewish believers were in need of urgent encouragement to remain in the race of the Christian faith under the new covenant versus returning to the Mosaic old covenant of the Levitical priesthood. He continues his words of encouragement in Hebrews 12:14-15 imploring the Christian believers, Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the LORD: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; (NKJV) There obviously has been a church split, people are saying things that are causing arguments and/or hurt feelings, and confusion has crept into the church.

The Hebrew writer knew that both the old and new covenants encourage peace and holiness. He urged everyone to pursue peace (shalom), harmony in relationships with everyone, and harmony with God first. I know I personally have attended some church meetings and cringed with the disrespect I have seen displayed by some of our Christian brothers and sisters. I was personally embarrassed to be in the room and could understand why some members have stated they will not attend church meetings because of the disrespect and unholy conduct displayed in some of the meetings. This causes a blot on the church of Christ, but I continue to go to the meetings because I believe we have an obligation. Most importantly I believe we pursue peace and holiness when we do as Jesus stated in Matt 22:37b and 39b, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (NKJV) If we could do that, we could rid ourselves of the confusion. We must not fall short of the grace of God by refusing His offer of salvation. Also, we must not allow seeds of confusion and evil to become planted in the church or to be unchecked and eventually kill the congregation.

Once the writer admonished the readers to pursue peace and holiness as encouraged by both the old and the new covenant, he set out to share the differences between the covenants. He first described the old covenant of the Jewish church in Hebrews 12:18-21, For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded. “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.” (NKJV)

Mt. Sinai was described as the terrifying, physical mountain that could be touched, but it was forbidden. Not only were the people required to consecrate themselves (Ex 19:10), but they were not allowed to touch or come near the base of the mountain. If either man or beast touched the mountain, they would be stoned or thrust through with a dart. Once the trumpet sounded they could come near this terrifying mountain (Ex 19:12-13). The people were afraid and could not bear the terror of Mt. Sinai as they witnessed thunder, lightning, a loud long trumpet sound, the mountain smoking, and even Moses drawing close to God out of the midst of the thick darkness (Ex 20:18-21). Even though he was their leader, Moses was in fear also (vs. 21). And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Ex 24:18b NKJV) He drew near to the holy God to receive the Ten Commandments, Levitical laws, and other instructions God had for the Israelites to receive.

The author of Hebrews wanted to present the clear contrast of the new covenant against the obsolete old covenant by presenting its mountain, Mt. Zion, which is synonymous with Jerusalem. He described this special place in Jewish history (Ps 48:1-3) as the new special place in Hebrews 12:22-24, But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (NKJV)

The gospel church represents the new covenant, the blessed mountain of Mt. Zion. Its blessings far exceeds the terrifying Mt. Sinai. Mt. Zion is a spiritual heavenly Jerusalem, versus a physical place, and of which the restored literal Jerusalem hereafter shall be the earthly representative to be succeeded by the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven (Rev 21:2-27). It is the city of the living God with a heavenly society. There is a full assembly of angels who are of the same family as the saints whose duties are to minister to the believers. There is the general assembly and the church of the Firstborn (the Messiah) which includes everyone’s name that is written in heaven even the former saints who saw and believed in the promise but never received it. It is here that God will judge everyone no matter what law they follow.

Mt. Zion is not a dark place which causes fear, but it is one that allows believers to have joy. The gospel church allows believers to have access to God through Jesus Christ. Without His atoning sacrifice, there would be no new covenant, and the Jewish Christians might as well return to the synagogue. Believers now have the opportunity to receive salvation and eternal life. The Hebrew writer then compared the shed blood of Abel at his brother Cain’s hands (Gen 4:11) to the shed blood of Jesus Christ. In the chapter on faith, the writer indicates at Heb 11:4, By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gift; and through it he being dead still speaks. (NKJV) Abel did not sacrifice his life; he gave an excellent animal sacrifice. Christ sacrificed His life. The comparison is between the shed blood of Abel vs the shed blood of Jesus and not the comparison of human sacrifices. However, animal sacrifices were necessary and continued to be given after the shed blood of Abel until Christ gave His life for the sins of mankind. Abel’s voice continuously speaking after his death does not have superiority over that of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. It is simply, unfortunately, the voice of one of the faithful martyred saints of God at the dawn of history. The shedding of Jesus’ blood is infinitely more valuable because He sacrificed His life once to bear the sins of many (Heb 9:28b NKJV).

There are Scriptural accounts which show perseverance in the Christian race as versus a reversion into Judaism (old covenant) is better. It is interesting to note that on the day Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, he found the Israelites had fell into disobedience and built a golden calf. On that day approximately 3,000 men were slain (Ex 32:28). In comparison, on the day the church was established in Mt. Zion, 3,000 souls were saved (Acts 2:41). The Mosaic Law was a law of spiritual death because nobody could keep it perfectly, but the law of Christ is a law of life because it provides for the forgiveness of our sins. For this reason the writer of Hebrews urged the readers not to refuse the inescapable God through unbelief. The author stated in Heb 12:25-26, See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, how much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. (NKJV)

There was no escape from the terrifying voice of God at Mount Sinai. Do not refuse the inescapable Jesus who speaks by His blood in a manner that is greater than Abel, and now He speaks in the heavens offering salvation. The author warned that if those who refused to hear the one who spoke on earth (Moses) and gave the Law did not escape God’s judgment, how could they expect to escape it if they refused to hear the very Son of God who speaks from heaven? In Christ, God has given His best and final revelation. To refuse Him is to perish. Escape is impossible. At Mount Sinai God’s voice caused an earthquake (Ex 19:18). But when God speaks in the future His voice will also produce a heaven quake (Haggai 2:6), shake the entire universe, destroying everything physical, and then remaking the heavens and the earth (2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 21:1). When God ends the sifting and shaking process only that which is real will remain, a system that cannot be shaken.

In this Thanksgiving season I always find it good to reflect on certain Bible passages. One of them happens to be one given by Jesus Christ to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos. It is Rev 21:1a, 3-4 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (NKJV) That always gives me hope in my Christian walk. I don’t have a feeling of terror, but a feeling of joy and thankfulness. The author felt we should appreciate our situation in thankfulness as he penned the conclusion of chapter 12 at verses 28-29. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (NKJV) Let us have thankfulness in Whom we have hope that we may serve well-pleasingly, with reverent caution and awe, since we are in receipt of a kingdom, the church, which cannot be shaken. Christians must remember that God is the same today as He was yesterday and He will be the same tomorrow. Christians serve the same God who visited Mount Sinai. The covenant changed, not God. God demands respect as the One True God. (See Deut 4:24) Never take God’s grace through His Son Jesus for weakness.

Deborah C. Davis