The Transactional Importance of the Lord’s Table

Sermon preached by Pastor Jermin on June 7th,2015 at:
Mount Calvary United Methodist Church &  St Marks Manhattan United Methodist Church, who are at the time of this post, in the process of merging.

Good Morning Family. I am so grateful to be here with you again. God is indeed merciful. Thank you (Pastor’s name) for the invite and the opportunity.

Intro and Example

It is important, when studying any passage of scripture, to seek to know what the original writer meant, what the context of the passage was, the history and the

to greater understanding, and minimizes the misuse of a passage.

It has been said quite that ‘Text without context, is pretext’. Not having context, and authorial intent can be deadly. Literally. History has shown us that.

This has been particularly meaningful, as I have been for the past 14 months, teaching through The Revelation.  Line by line, verse by verse, we have worked our way through it.  In fact, we are going to be finishing Chapter 13 in our gathering later this afternoon…

One of the things that we have learned, to a person, is that our understanding of this letter, which was framed in the rubric of Dispensational American Evangelicalism, is almost completely wrong. It has been sobering, to say the least.

Why you may ask, has it been wrong? Well, because we are taught John’s words, interpreted outside of John’s time and context.

A quick example: Chapters 2 and 3 are individual letters to 7 churches in Asia Minor. Each of them had issues that plague many churches today. That alone is a great reason to read them.

In Chapter 3, which contains the Letter to the church at Laodicea, we find two oft-misquoted passages, occurring in verses, 15, 16, & 20:  Verses 15 & 16 say: 15  I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.

I have heard that passages taught many times that Jesus was telling us to decisive, to be hot or cold towards him, and that indecisiveness would cause you to be, (and I am quoting King James here) ‘Spewed out’.  When I was younger, I used to wonder just how far God could ‘spew’?

Was it one of those deals where, if he spit you out, 1000 years later, you’d still be hurtling through the galaxy  at Warp 8, doomed to travel from here to the other side of forever…?

What used to bother me, and I never seemed to get a sufficient answer was, why would God want anyone to be cold towards Him? It made no sense, and I understand today that it made no sense because I had no context.

The statement is most like a reference that the church at Laodicea would have easily understand as an ironic chastisement, specific to their time and place. You see Hieropolis, with its invigorating , medicinal hot springs was a few miles to the north, and Colossae, with its refreshing cold springs was just south.

Laodicea, right in the middle, had neither… In fact, some scholars believe that the water in Laodicea was literally tepid, lukewarm… neither hot nor cold.  As such, it was neither invigorating nor refreshing.

Think about that for a moment: A CHURCH, representatives of the Most High GOD, Bearers of HIS SPIRIT and HIS WORD. SALT AND LIGHT in the world, and Jesus calls them Useless…

It is a terrifying thought, both individually and corporately.

How would we, could we understand that today, without knowing the context.  Doesn’t that make a lot more sense now?

And it is this loving albeit harsh admonition that leads to the Grace-filled offer of verse 20, which we all know…

Revelation 3:20 – Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

How have you heard that used? In my experience, it was usually in an altar call situation, imploring unsaved people to come to Jesus. Presenting the knocking, waiting, patient, Jesus… Things of that sort…

But now that we know the subject, object and context of the letter it is clear to see that this is not a general offer or invitation of communion, or salvation. It is specific to the church, the people of God, those with whom there already exists a covenant, an oath: Born of Love, sealed in precious, redeeming BLOOD. It is to US that this offer of communion is made…

Gathered to Celebrate

We have gathered today to celebrate one of the most important events, not only in Christendom, but in the history of the world. The Lord’s Table, The Eucharist, Communion…

In fact the word Eucharist itself is based on the Greek word meaning to celebrate.

The Lord’s table then, is a celebration.  A celebration of what?

A celebration of transaction, transition and transformation…

What do I mean?

Listen to the Luke 22 passage again. Starting from verse 14: Reading from the HCSB

 14 When the hour came, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

17  Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

20  In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.

He says to them that for Him, it would be the Last Until… Yet for them, by telling them to repeat this process in remembrance of Him, for them this was a First.

It was Last for Him, first for them, transition for both of them…

You see, He knew what they didn’t know or understand, even though He had said it numerous times… The son of man must be given over, and be killed… He knew what was coming, and that things would never be the same. The table became symbolic then, not only of what had passed, but of what was to come.

As such, it could be argued (and is argued by some) that the Last Supper, was in fact the First Communion and the Last Passover. We’ll get to that in a minute.

From our vantage point we know now what those who first heard it would understand later:

The Communion was preparation for a transaction that would take place a few hours later on the cross.  The Lord’s Table was symbolic of The Process of transition for Jesus, and the Promise of transformation  for the disciples (and for us).

The First Passover

The first Passover itself was a transaction that was both transitional and transformational.

Think about it. The Book of Exodus records that Israel had been in Egypt in bondage for over 400 years. They had been oppressed and enslaved, and God delivered them by the leadership of Moses through a series of plagues.

The final plague was the death of the firstborn. The angel of death came and killed the firstborn in every family, the firstborn of man and animal unless you had sacrificed a lamb and splattered the blood on the doorposts and the side beams. If there was blood shed, then the angel of death passed that house by.

To be delivered then, requires the shedding of blood. In particular, the blood of a spotless lamb…

In short, there is a principle which is: To be delivered from judgment requires death.

But by Jesus’ time judging by the behaviors recorded in scripture, Passover was for many a mere formality. It was a thing that the people did on a ritual basis that commemorated a long done event, too far removed from the people’s understanding to have any real meaning.

Sadly, it is the same now. The Lord’s table is, for many, merely a ritual exercise, a ritual devoid of meaning. We do not fully grasp that the elements are symbols of Great Love, great cost, great weight, great promise and great value. Let us never forget that.

Jesus Elevates the Passover

So what do we know about The Last Supper? It was a Passover dinner. But what else do we know?

Luke and Paul both speak of Bread being broken, and ‘The Cup’ being drunk. Can we get some more context on this? I believe so… What does current scholarship have to say?

“Near the beginning of a traditional Passover Seder, a piece of matzah is broken in half. The larger of the two pieces is hidden away in linen cloth until the end of the meal. When it is brought back from concealment it is shared by everyone at the table as their final morsel. This broken and hidden piece of matzah is called the afikoman.

None of it is explained in the Haggadah for Passover. Nor is it mentioned in Scripture. The term afikoman appears first in the Mishnah (the earliest collection of rabbinic legal rulings, codified around 200 CE/AD) Although afikoman is written in Hebrew letters, it is actually a Greek word…

Jewish historians disagree why a Greek term entered the Passover liturgical tradition or what it means.

In 1925 an Austrian scholar named Robert Eisler argued that at the time of Jesus,  the afikoman was originally part of an established messianic ritual observed during the Passover. He said the whole piece of matzah held up at the beginning of the meal represented all Israel, while the broken-off portion stood for the longed-for Messiah. When the hidden afikoman emerged from concealment at the end of the Seder, it symbolized the coming of the Messiah in the midst of his people.”

Could it be that it is THIS piece of Bread that Jesus gave to His disciples declaring that this was His Body?

As for ‘The Cup’. What cup is this?

“The Mishnah states that there are 4 cups of wine drunk during the Passover feast. Each time the cup is filled, it has a different name. Opinions vary as to what certain cups actually symbolize. Most agree that the first cup is the Kiddush, which means sanctification. With this cup, the Passover seder begins.

The second cup is called the cup of plagues. The third cup is referred to as either the cup of redemption or the cup of blessing. The fourth cup is often called hallel which means praise, though some traditions call it the cup of acceptance while still others use it as the cup of Elijah.

The New Testament names one of the cups—the cup taken after supper, which is traditionally the third cup. Jesus calls this cup “the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). The Apostle Paul calls it, “the cup of blessing which we bless,” as well as “the cup of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 10:16,21).

Both Jesus and Paul draw on something from Jewish tradition to provide insights not previously understood. By calling the cup “the new covenant in my blood,” Jesus makes a direct reference to the promise of Jeremiah 31. God had declared that He would make a new covenant because the previous covenant had become “broken” (Jeremiah 31:32). To violate a covenant agreement with God would surely incur His wrath and judgment—a terrible cup! But instead, God promised a new covenant of grace and salvation.” – source jews for jesus

Think about how this must have sounded to those at the Table…

It is apparent then, that Jesus was fundamentally and eternally elevating the nature and purpose of this meal. By elevating the Passover, Jesus makes it clear that it is the blood of the lamb that seals one’s destiny, and not by anyone’s planning, skill or merit, neither by tradition or remembrance, but by grace. What is the principle again? To be delivered from judgment requires death.

The Communion table then, is a reminder that to be a Christian is:

  • Transactional (there was a cost, the shedding of innocent blood), That it is
  • Transitional (that as John said, we have been given power to become the children of God. Contrary to popular preaching today, everyone is NOT God’s child, and John 1 is clear about that. If you have to become something, then you are not that thing until you become it) and it is
  • Transformational (John later describes the fact that though we have become the children of God , it does not yet appear what we shall be. Shall is future, it is not now. For those of you who are Christians, take a moment to look back over your life… Can you see that you have changed? Right, you are in the midst of a transformation, a process that will continue until He calls you home.

Hymns

The Revelation has several hymns in it, and I’d like to quickly share a passage where a couple of them can be found. Chapter Five starting at verse 8, again from the HCSB – 8  When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth.

11  Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels around the throne, and also of the living creatures and of the elders. Their number was countless thousands, plus thousands of thousands. They said with a loud voice: The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing! 13  I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them say: Blessing and honor and glory and dominion to the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever! The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

THE LAMB (The spotless, sinless, sacrificed One) is the Only One worthy to open the scrolls of judgment (the events contained in the scrolls mark transition points) , His Blood redeemed a people for God, (to redeem something is a transaction) and these people, by having become God’s people have undergone a transformation.

When the people of God drink the cup and eat the bread, we understand , just as the earliest followers though culturally Jewish, understood,  that by interaction with the Messiah we are transformed, individually and corporately into something different.

Only for the believer

This is why Communion is not for everyone. It is only for those who believe.

Consider the Apostle Paul’s words again: from 1 Corinthians 11:26-29  

Verse 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

The Apostle is saying what? That this event, this supper, this communion, is a proclamation, a statement.

A statement of what? The truth of Jesus’ claims, His Death, His Resurrection, His substitutionary atonement, and much more. It is a proclamation of the reality of your Faith.   He continues, in verse 27:

27  Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. 28  So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup.

In what way? In a self examining, humble way. In a way that is aware of yourself, your relationship with God, and your place in the community of believers.

Think back to the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee… What did Jesus say? He said that the Pharisee who came boldly to pray, trusting in his own righteousness… ‘I thank you that I am not like other men, etc.’ went away just as he approached; unchanged, unjustified, far away from God.

But the tax collector, despised among the people, the man who stood afar off, clearly aware of his own sin and unrighteousness, and begging for mercy, went away justified. It is the same here.  And here is the Apostle’s warning…

29  For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Growing up around the way, we used to say, ‘Check yourself, before you Wreck yourself.’

Examine Yourself

So today family, as we prepare to partake of this table; this symbol of transaction, take a moment to examine yourself.

As we come to celebrate this transformational event, especially on this day, that is symbolic  of transition and for transformation, for this Pastor, for this church, for each of us individually, and as a corporate body;  Take the time to examine yourself, honestly, truthfully.

Take time to contemplate, to consider, to look back, to look forward. Take a hard look at you, right now. Consider what you see…

Take time as we sing the Hymn ‘Be Thou My Vision’,  to ask God by His Spirit to show you what you need to see, what needs to change, what needs to be transformed in you, and ask Him for the strength and courage to allow Him to do what He wills be done.

And let us then endeavor to do this not only once a month, but every day, as we are those who bear His name in the world.

To God Be the Glory. Amen.

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