John 6:53-54 Is More Than The Eucharist

feeding5000After feeding the 5,000 with loaves and fishes Jesus delivered one of His most pointed and powerful sermons on “the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). It is in this sermon that Jesus stated: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54). Could there be a statement more important than this? It separates those who have eternal life from those who do not; it divides the saved from the lost.  Unfortunately, many have limited the application of our Lord’s discourse in John chapter six to the celebration of the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper). There is so much more involved! Let’s take a closer look at John 6:53.

NOT A LITERAL EATING AND DRINKING

Some of the argumentative religious leaders (“the Jews”) thought Jesus was suggesting Christian cannabilism (verse 52). They came away with the wrong idea. He did not offer His literal flesh to those who heard Him that day. What Jesus was talking about was much more profound; it had a deeper meaning.

There is a parallel passage to John 6:54 (“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”) in John 6:40: “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Both verses speak of gaining eternal life; both focus on Jesus raising us up at the last day. One verse speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood; the other of looking to the Son and believing in Him.  These phrases are parallel because the subject is the same. “Eating” Christ’s flesh and “drinking” His blood is accomplished by “looking to the Son” and “believing in HIm.” It is a spiritual “eating” to which Jesus refers.

NOT A LITERAL FLESH AND BLOOD

i_am_the_bread_of_life1Earlier in this very same discourse, Jesus said: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).  In contrast with literal food which brings no lasting satisfaction, one who eats of the Bread of life will never go hungry again; he will never be thirsty again (John 6:35). Spiritually, one who eats of his Bread “will not die,” but will “live forever” (John 6:50, 58). Jesus is the “living Bread” (John 6:51). He is not speaking of literal bread. His words will make the difference in where we spend eternity. His words are “spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).  The disciples of Jesus must allow Him to come into their hearts by listening to His teachings, receiving His words and obeying His commands. In the words of Simon Peter, “Lord … you have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Everyone is invited to this spiritual banquet. Everyone is invited to let Jesus come into his heart, to receive Him and His words, to commit his life to doing His will.  This is the food we must eat, the commitment we must make, if we would receive eternal life. No mediocre, half-hearted relationship with Jesus will do!

NO TRANSUBSTANTIATION

The Roman Catholic doctrine of “transubstantiation” took many centuries to develop.  According to Wikipedia, “The earliest known use of the term “transubstantiation” to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ was by Hildebert de LavardinArchbishop of Tours (died 1133), in about 1079. (Sermones xciii; PL CLXXI, 776).”

Regardless of the controversial development of the man-made doctrine of transubstantiation, we need to recognize that in John 6:53-54 Jesus is not discussing the subject of Communion. The “eating,” the “bread” and “blood” in this passage are spiritual, not physical.

Early Christians did not believe something magical or mystical happened to the bread and wine of Communion when it was blessed in prayer. They bought into no superstition that if one spilled the wine, drops of the blood of Christ hit the floor. (Church leaders in the 14th century were so concerned about this possibility that they enacted a decree which forbade common people from taking the Communion wine.) They created no ecclesiastical rules for how to mash or chew the bread as if they were actually eating His real flesh.  To the early Christians the Lord’s Supper was a memorial feast, symbolizing the crucified body and blood of the One who died for their sins.

Just as we understand that when Jesus said: “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7), or “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11) or “I am the vine” (John 15:5) He did not mean that He was literally a gate or a shepherd or a vine, but that each of these represented the spiritual role of Christ in our salvation, so when He said: “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26) He meant that this feast represents His body and blood.  We are absolutely without Biblical justification for thinking the bread and wine literally change its substance into the physical flesh and blood of Christ.

As we partake of the Lord’s Supper each and every Sunday our minds need to go back to the cross where the Lamb of God shed His blood for our salvation. We need to remember His agony, His words of sweet forgiveness, His atonement to make sinners right with God. Each time we partake of Communion, we “proclaim the Lord’s death” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Lord’s Supper symbolizes the most important day in human history. We partake “in memory” of Him who loved us so much (1 Corinthians 11:24), but the bread and wine remain bread and wine.

THE CONTEXT: ITS ALL ABOUT PRIORITIES

HomeWhat then, is the primary lesson to be learned from John chapter six? Surely it is that our Lord expects us to be committed to Him without reservation and with no strings attached.  The only religion that matters is one in which Jesus comes first. His words bring life which is life indeed. His words make the difference where each of us spends eternity. His words endure to eternal life. As a physical body depends on proper nourishment for health and survival, so our spiritual selves depend on taking Christ into our hearts for life which is life indeed. Nothing short of whole hearted surrender to Him will do. He deserves to determine our leisure, our family priorities, our goals, our ambitions. In the words of the poet: “Higher than the highest mountain, deeper than the deepest sea, Lord at last Thy love has conquered, “None of self and all of Thee!”

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A SHOCKING THING HAS HAPPENED (AGAIN)

When something takes us by surprise we describe our reaction as being “shocked.” Our whole body is affected when we are “shocked”: our eyes open wider, our jaw drops, our muscles tighten. Things that shock us are etched on our brains and remembered for a long time. Some of life’s most important lessons come as a result of being “shocked” by things that happen around us. Such was the case with Jeremiah, the seventh century prophet whose very famous book with timeless lessons occupies a major portion of the Old Testament.  Listen to his words:

“A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way” (Jeremiah 5:20-21).

LYING PROPHETS

Jeremiah as depicted by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel ceiling

Prophets were supposed to speak for God. They claimed to do so. They said their messages were inspired –– that they came from the very mouth of the Lord. People ought to be able to trust the prophets to tell them the truth; they should be able to look to the prophets to guide them. But if the prophets misstated the facts, if they taught things that God did not tell them to say, if they had their own agenda and for reasons of power and money cared more about protecting their positions than they cared about teaching the word of God accurately, they would mislead the people. That was what had happened.  Jeremiah said the prophets of his day “prophesy lies.” Deceptive religious leaders should still shock us. We cannot afford to be naive about such matters. The more we learn from Scripture the more disturbing it is to realize that not everyone who claims to represent God is telling the truth. Is it any wonder that the apostle John warned us: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Do yourself a favor and compare every spiritual message you hear with what you read in the word of God.  Unfortunately, there are false prophets today with agendas of their own.

PRESUMPTUOUS PRIESTS

Ancient priests were regarded as holy mediators of worship and teachers of the law. They were more numerous than prophets, more visible, more easily recognized by priestly garments, more in touch with the common people. While not everyone could say: “I know a prophet,” everyone knew the local priests. The priests stood between the people and their God; offered the worship, the incense and prayers on behalf of the people. They had an awesome responsibility! People had high regard for their priests and naturally entrusted their souls to their spiritual guidance. It would be alarming to discover that those who were supposed to be faithful to the Lord, to lead worship the way the Lord wanted it to be led, to teach the commandments of God without adding or taking away from them, were abandoning their sacred duty. Even now it is shocking to see those regarded as holy men of God ignoring the plain teachings of scripture, opting instead to “rule by their own authority.”  When sincere seekers for truth approach such leaders with questions concerning right and wrong, sin and holiness, they are sometimes met with ridicule or rebuke for even raising the questions!  Is it possible that some leaders don’t want their words or practices to be questioned?  It ought to shock us that anyone who stands between the people and God would do anything other than faithfully declare “this is what God says in His holy word,” then back that up with a “book, chapter and verse” of Scripture.

MISGUIDED PEOPLE

Jeremiah was absolutely baffled that the people would choose to be led by lying prophets and presumptuous priests. He was shocked to see that the “people loved to have it this way.”  The people loved freedom from God’s restrictions. They loved to worship in their own way, to believe what made them feel good. Why would people want a religion that was based on deception? Did they not understand that only by staying close to the Lord, walking in His paths and being obedient to His directions could they prepare for what was coming?

THE ULTIMATE QUESTION

Jeremiah asked: “But what will you do in the end?”  To ask such a question implies that each hearer, each follower, each individual person is responsible for the destiny of his own soul. It’s a question each of us needs to ask ourselves.  When we stand before the Lord for the final judgment we will stand on our own two feet. In the words of the apostle Paul, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). How do you stand with God today? How will you stand before God at the judgment? Where will you spend eternity?

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YOUR BIBLE COST MORE THAN YOU THINK

The first  known translation of any portion of the Bible was the book of Psalms written by hand in the eighth century by Aldhelm, an English Bishop. It was written in “Old English,” hardly recognized as anything you or I would read or understand today. In the fourteenth century John Wycliffe’s hand-written copies of the entire Bible were translated from Latin (which only the highy educated could understand) into English (the language of the people), causing such an uproar among religious authorities that 44 years after Wycliffe’s death, the Pope ordered that his bones be dug up, burned and scattered in the river! “The Church” preferred that the people not be allowed to read the Bible for themselves, that the people remain ignorant of the word of God, and that Church authorities tell the people what they wanted them to know about the Scripture.

It remained for William Tyndale (1494-1536) to make the New Testament widely available in the language we can understand.  Tyndale is often referred to as the “father of the English Bible.”  Only three copies of the first printing (1526), are known to have survived till the present time.  Tyndale paid a dear price for translating the Bible into English. Immediately the translation met with stiff opposition, especially from powerful religious clerics such as Catholic Bishop Tunstall, who confiscated copies and burned them publicly. Within a short period of time Tyndale was arrested, put in prison, tried and found guilty of heresy. On October 6, 1536 he was tied to a stake, strangled and burned.  His final words were: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” If Tyndale had not defied the religious heirarchy of his day you and I might not have a copy of the Bible today.

Other brave and courageous souls picked up the pen to make the English Bible available to the common person.  Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) endured banishment, misery and suffering to print the Bible in English. His efforts were followed by those of John Rogers (1505-1555) who published the “Matthews Bible”.  Hated by Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary”), Roger’s work was rewarded by violence and murder. Under her reign, Mary was  responsible for almost 300 people being put to death because they read or owned a copy of Matthew’s Bible.  John Rogers himself was arrested and led to execution.  The story of his tragic death is recorded by John Foxe, (Acts and Monuments (1563), Vol. 6, 611):

“Freed from the bonds of prison and its horrors, John Rogers was led to the stake. The bails of sticks soon to be set ablaze promised him the rewards of his faith. He had been delivered long ago from the fear of death. Confident of the promises of the Master he had served for many years, he was soon to meet his Savior. With a mocking in his voice, the sheriff bawled, ‘Will you recant of your abominable doctrine?’

“That which I have preached I will seal with my blood,” the worn, feeble voice replied.

“Then  you are a heretic,” shouted one of his captors.

“That shall be known at the day of judgment,” Rogers confidently spoke by now in a voice no more than whisper.’

“Well I will never pray for you,” the sheriff threatened.

“But I will pray for you,” came the same confident reply. They continued their path toward the hideous goal with Rogers quietly singing the Psalms. They were soon met by his wife and eleven children. Rogers showed no sorrow but cheerfully and steadfastly walked to the stake where he was burned to death in the presence of his family and a great number of onlookers giving praises and thanks.”

The Great Bible  (1566)    Contemporary binding and brass chain. From David Tarbet’s collection of rare English Bibles

 

 

In 1539 Miles Coverdale produced a large edition of the Holy Bible, known as “The Great Bible” because of its size (16 1/2 x 11 inches).  Copies were chained to lecterns in Saint Paul’s Cathedral so people who knew how to read could read them, and those who did not know how to read could hear others read the word of God to them.  A people deprived of the freedom to read the Bible rejoiced at what they heard. Sometimes they asked questions about what they were hearing.  On one occasion,  a young man by the name of John Porter began to read the Bible to the people who surrounded him. John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, Vol. 5, 451 tells what happened:

(John Porter) “was known for his pious character and clear, loud reading voice. As (he) reverently opened the beautiful Bible and began to read a group of worshipers gathered to hear this angelic voice. The activity was soon noted by Bishop Bonner and his chaplains who began to fear the disgruntled crowds at the other end of the church who were complaining about these ‘Godspellers.’

The bishop called for Porter and rebuked him sternly, accusing him of expositions upon the text and creating a disturbance. Even though Porter denied he was saying anything contrary to the text, Bonner sent him bound in leg irons and handcuffs to prison. Porter’s cousin, serving as his advocate, urged the jailer to release him from the chains. The cruel treatment, he argued, was normally reserved for more serious crimes. After the cousin extended friendship and money to Porter’s captors, the jailers unfettered him, took him from the less serious criminals, and put him in the prison with the felons and murderers. Porter took the opportunity to share with the prisoners what he knew from the Scriptures. Some either prisoners or guards, complained about his preaching. He was taken to a lower dungeon, shackled in bolts and irons where, after six to eight days, he was found dead.

Commenting on the life of this man who treasured the Bible and dared to share it with others, Donald L. Brake (A Visual History of the English Bible, page 138) said: “How many prisoners’ souls were saved by this godly man we will never know, but his faithfulness is an encouragement to all who love the Bible. John Porter dared to stand up for his Lord and paid the ultimate price.”

Today we can purchase a copy of the Old and New Testaments for only a few dollars. Sometimes used copies can be found at the local thrift store for a dollar or less. We should remember that the Bible has not always been so readily available. The Scriptures did not come to English speaking people without great sacrifice which included confiscation of property, persecution, imprisonment and martyrdom.  If the price paid for you and me to have a copy of God’s word was so great, should we not value this marvelous Book, read it reverently and commit ourselves to obey its teachings? Like John Porter, should we not share what we have learned with those  who hunger and thirst for righteousness?

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THE SPIRIT HELPS US

Some mistakenly believe God should spare His people from broken relationships, serious illnesses, financial setbacks, having to pay for breaking the law or facing the consequences of poor choices and sinful decisions. The truth is Christians are not exempt from any of these.  However, the Scriptures assure us that we do not have to face life’s trials alone.  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26).  What a blessing! Often we are weak and ill-prepared for the struggles we must face. Life takes us by surprise. We need help to survive. We need divine help to discover the pathway to peace and inner joy. God provides the help we need, giving us strength to overcome through the work of His Spirit. God is determined that not only will we not lose, but we will win!

How does the Spirit help us?

The Spirit helps us through the written word (the Bible). In the parallel passage to Ephesians 5:18 (“be filled with the Spirit“), the apostle writes in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Reading and taking in the word of God fills us with the Spirit of God. Through the written word the psalmist found strength in his weaknesses. “Strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28). Reading the word of God every day will fortify us for things we face. Each of us needs to make some time available in our stressful days to read a portion of the word of God.  Through the years I have personally found great strength from reading the book of Psalms as well as books of the New Testament like Luke, Philippians and 1st and 2nd Peter. I usually read with a pen in hand, underlining the words and phrases that mean the most to me.

The Spirit also works in a personal way in the Christian’s life. He is not limited to the written word, but works along with the written word to accomplish His purposes. The epistle of Hebrews, for example, describes two things that have impacted Christians:  we have “shared in the Holy Spirit, (and we) have tasted the goodness of the word of God” (Hebrews 6:4-5). The two are not synonymous, but work together. In a similar way, Paul instructs Timothy to “guard the good deposit” (that is, the word of God which had been entrusted to him), “with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Timothy 1:14). Just as a security officer guards the entrance to a building and protects the people inside, so the Spirit empowered Timothy to guard the word of God. God’s Spirit works in, through and with the written word.

The Holy Spirit helps Christians develop godly character — He produces the “fruit of the Spirit” which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5;22-23). Tragically, some think God is guiding them to teach and practice things that are at variance with the clear and certain teachings of the Bible. But God’s Spirit never strengthens His people to do wrong, to pursue a sinful  life or to teach and believe things that contradict His written word, the Scriptures. We should not expect the Holy Spirit to “nudge” or “move” us to do things that God does not approve or to neglect to do what God has commanded us to do. He always works in concert with His written word; He fortifies us to do the right things, not the wrong things. Being “led by the Spirit” is not an excuse for failing to obey God’s will!  The Bible says God gives His Spirit to all who “obey Him” (Acts 5:32).

Those who are trying to live according the teaching of Scripture are assured that the Holy Spirit helps them in their weaknesses.  They are “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner being” (Ephesians 3:16). They are being built into a holy temple “to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit”(Ephesians 2:21-22).  Everyone who repents and is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins receives “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  By the Spirit’s power they are able to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:12).  When they pray, even though they may not know what to say and how to express their deepest needs, they have the promise that the Spirit “helps us in our weakness,” and “interceeds for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26). God knows and understands these groans of the Spirit for “the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:27).  The ancient psalmist looked forward to the spiritual power of God’s Spirit. After committing adultery and being weighed down by the guilt of his conduct, David prayed: “Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:11-12). If David needed the joy, peace and sustaining power of a heart cleansed from sin,  do we not also need the same today?

Those who are the children of God have this promise:  “Your Father in Heaven will give His Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13). Those who are not yet the spiritual children of God need to do what the Lord has said they must do to become children of God.  “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). Have you done what the Bible says all must do to become a “son of God” and to receive this precious gift the Holy Spirit? Make the commitment to obey God’s will.  God will give you the power of His Spirit to face today’s struggles.  It’s the road to guaranteed success!

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EPHESIANS TEACHES GOD’S CHURCH IS IMPORTANT

This very day NBC News announced that the latest polls indicate that 20% of America’s citizens no longer claim attachment to any religion of any kind. There’s never been a more important time to remind ourselves of the book of Ephesians than now!   The apostle announces:  “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”         (Ephesians 3:21).

God is not the God of confusion and chaos.  He is the Great Geneticist who brings order to the DNA structure of the human body. He is the great Architect who created beauty out of chaos when He “created the heavens and earth.” The apostle Paul says that God plan is to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together” in His Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:10). He deals with the division and discrimination men have created between themselves and produces unity in its place. He removes the barriers of sin that separate mankind from Himself, making peace between man and God through blood shed on the cross.  The instrument God has chosen to accomplish this unity is His divine church. Sixteen times the “church” (the “body” of Christ) is referred to in Ephesians, and the lessons are vitally important today for each of us.

FAMILIES ARE UNITED IN THE CHURCH

Through the example of Jesus who loved His church and died for it, husbands and wives can learn the meaning of true Christian marriage. In Ephesians chapter five Paul uses two words to describe the wife’s role in marriage:  submit and respect, and two words to describe the husband’s role in marriage: headship and love.

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her …. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies…. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’.… Each of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

(Ephesians 5:22-33)

Family relationships are often disrupted by a lack of understanding of God’s appointed roles for husbands and wives. When husbands fail to lead as heads of their households and wives fail to be submissive to their husbands there will be disorder in the home.  When husbands fail to love their wives in the same way Jesus loved His church and wives fail to respect their husbands there will be disorder in the home. Things in marriage go smoother when men and women take their God-given roles and prayerfully seek to be the husbands and wives God wants them to be. There is no more beautiful relationship in marriage than the one exemplified by Christ in the way He loved and cared for His church and the humble submission and respect the church has for the One who gave His life for it.

GODLY LIVING IS ENCOURAGED IN THE CHURCH

Ephesians has much to say about the connection between the church of Christ and living a godly Christian life. Those who are in the “body of Christ” are commanded to “live a children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). Consider the instructions to carefully guard one’s speech:

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor …. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving”

(Ephesians 4:25, 29; 5:4).

Let us take seriously the scripture’s encouragement to control our sexual appetites:  “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3).

Think about the challenge to have purity of heart: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

When we become Christians things need to change in our lives.  “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28).

SALVATION IS IN THE CHURCH

Ephesians tells us: “Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior” (Ephesians 5:23).  It is in the “one body” (the church) that we are reconciled to God (Ephesians 2:16). Those who are in the church are “members together of one body (one church), and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:6).  One of the great truths taught in the book of Acts is that the Lord adds those who are saved to His church  (Acts 2:46). To be saved, Peter said we must “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). When 3,000 people on the Day of Pentecost obeyed these two commands, God added them to His church.  The Lord’s church is composed of those who have been added to it by the Lord, those who are saved. Only the lost are excluded from membership in this divine institution.

Does this mean the church saves us?  No!  The church is not our savior. Jesus is our Savior.  But Jesus is the Savior of His church.  On the final day of judgment when our destiny is determined for all eternity, it will be important that we have been part of His “body,” the “church. ” Our eternal salvation depends upon it.

The church of the Bible is an undenominational church because there were no denominations when Christianity first started. The Lord did not add people to any denomination in the days of the New Testament. He does not do so today either. He adds the saved to His one divine church. How blessed we are to have the opportunity to be undenominational Christians today, members of the church for which Jesus gave His life!

SPIRITUAL MATURITY COMES IN THE CHURCH

The Lord wants every Christian to grow spiritually, to arrive at a full knowledge of His truth and to be united as mature men and women. His plan to accomplish this includes the church.

He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists,  and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming”

(Ephesians 4:11-14).

If we want to be firm in our faith, if we want to be complete in our knowledge, if we want to be prepared for every spiritual battle, we need to be faithful in attending the worship and learning opportunities offered by the church. God puts teachers in His church because He knows we need guidance in understanding His word. When Philip asked the Ethiopian treasure: “Do you understand what you are reading?” he replied: “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” (Acts 8:30-31). This is God plan, and God has our best interest in mind. God’s plan is always the best plan.

CLEANING FROM SIN IS IN THE CHURCH

Ephesians declares: “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Our New Testaments were originally written in Greek, and the Greek word for “cleansing” in this passage is in the aorist tense. It means cleaning that occurred at a specific point in time. There is a specific time when all believers are “cleansed” from past sins.  Note carefully the two words which indicate the means by which God has cleansed us from our sins:  water and word.

Cleansing takes place with water, the water of baptism. Not that there is any power in the water itself to wash away our sins, but baptism is the time and place where the blood of Jesus washes our sins away as the water of baptism washes over our bodies.  In baptism our sins are “washed away” (Acts 22:16).  The Bible says “baptism saves us” (1 Peter 3:21).

Cleansing from our sins involves the word of God.  Paul says “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” The Barclay translation of Ephesians 5:26 reads: “It was His purpose to cleanse and consecrate it by the washing of baptism and the preaching of the word.”  Baptism is for those old enough to hear the word of God, to understand its teachings and to respond with a willing heart to its commands. Baptism without hearing and learning the word is meaningless. We see a fine example of how hearing the word of God and water baptism come together in the conversion of the Jailer in Acts chapter sixteen.  After Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and all who were in his household, he was baptized immediately.  Rejoicing in cleansing from his past sins,  he brought Paul and Silas into his house and set a meal before them. (Acts 16:31-34).

God’s church matters! Our fellow Americans need to realize how important God’s church is so they can have peace and harmony in the family, spiritual cleansing, spiritual growth and salvation and a relationship with God which lasts for all eternity.

                                                                  Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (1984)

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WEAKLY WEEKLY COMMUNION

Two words which sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings are referred to as homonyms. An example would be the words “weakly” and “weekly.”  They sound alike, but the word “weekly” means “done, happening, appearing, etc., once a week,  or every week.” The word “weakly,” on the other hand, means “weak or feeble in constitution; not robust; sickly”  (Dictionary.reference.com).

When we speak of “Communion,” the “Lord’s Supper,” or “Breaking of Bread”, we are referring to one and the same thing. Inasmuch as Jesus “gave thanks” (Greek: eucharisteo) when He instituted this feast (Matthew 26:26, 1 Corinthians 11:24) a common term for the Breaking of Bread (historically speaking) was the “Eucharist.”

WHAT IS ‘WEEKLY’ COMMUNION?

There really is no question about it, early (undenominational) Christians observed Communion every week — every Sunday. This is the testimony of both Scripture and history. Biblical scholars from all modern denominations agree that this was the practice of the ancient church. The Bible says they “devoted themselves” to the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), which in itself suggests that Communion was observed with some frequency and regularity. In Acts 20:7 we read: “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” The first day of the week (Sunday) was the day Jesus arose from the dead (Mark 16:9). It was the resurrection of Christ that gave identity and uniqueness to the Christian religion. Christians knew then, as they know now, that their Savior is alive. No wonder they met for worship every first day of the week!   In the words of Ray Van Neste, associate professor of Biblical Studies and director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University,  “Paul, on his way to Jerusalem has stopped at Troas. Here “on the first day of the week” he meets with the local church, and Luke directly states that the purpose of their gathering was “to break bread,” i.e. to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This passage need not mean the Lord’s Supper was the only purpose of their gathering, but it certainly is one prominent purpose and the one emphasized here. These early Christians met weekly to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.”

As a matter of fact, the early church coined two new words: the “Lord’s Supper” (1Corinthians 11:20) and the “Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). Neither of these words were in the Old Testament; neither occurred prior to the beginning of Christ’s church. Both came from the same root Greek word because they were connected. The Lord’s Supper was observed on the Lord’s Day, and the Lord’s Day was set aside for the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  In the words of Everett Ferguson, Professor of Church History Emeritus at Abilene Christian University, “It is perhaps significant that the adjective “Lord’s” occurs only twice in the New Testament –– in reference to the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20) and to the Lord’s day (Revelation 1:10).  Both are peculiarly the Lord’s, and both belong together, united to each other by the resurrection. The day, as the day of the resurrection, is the day for taking the supper. The supper, in remembrance of the event of salvation, gives significance to the day.” (The Church of Christ, A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today.) Every week had a Lord’s Day and every week the Christians  met for the Lord’s Supper.

Church historians and the so-called “Church Fathers” are unanimous on this point. One such writing  (90–150 AD) states:  “Come together each Lord’s day of the Lord, break bread, and give thanks” (Didache 14:1).  Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) wrote:  “And on the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits … Then we all rise together and pray, and … when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought … and there is a distribution to each” (Apology, I, 67:6)

Those who have Communion less often or more often do so without any authority from scripture and without precedent in the history of the early church. Surely it is right for us to follow the example of those disciples who came together on each first day of the week to break bread.

WHAT IS ‘WEAKLY’ COMMUNION?

The apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth that they had lost the proper focus of the Lord’s Supper.  What Christ had intended to be a reverent remembrance of Him had deteriorated into a common meal. Having lost the purpose of Communion, some were becoming drunk on the wine while others were leaving the service hungry because they expected to get more food than was available. It was a sad situation.  So perverted had Communion become that the Apostle wrote: “it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat” (1 Corinthians 11:20). Whatever the disciples at Corinth were celebrating, they had distorted the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper. What was left was a feeble attempt to worship. Their minds were not where they needed to be, the fellowship had been disrupted,  and the celebrating of Christ’s death had been lost. That which was intended to bring men and women to the cross and to unite them as one body would no longer achieve its purpose. It was a poor excuse for what should have been the sacred remembrance of Christ crucified. In short, Communion had become weak and feeble, and “weakly” worship can never produce robust spirituality.

How is it with us? When we take the Lord’s Supper, do we do so with the reverence and focus it deserves? Or, are our minds on worldly things? Are we thinking of the Lord who died for us 2,000 years ago, or are we thinking about what we are going to do as soon as church is over? Are we whispering with the person who sits next to us or are we praying to the Lord above us?  Are we texting with our cell phones or examining our personal unworthiness to participate in such a solemn feast? Are we thinking about how the Lord’s Supper unites us with fellow believers around the world or are we wishing for things to end so we can “go our separate ways?”  The answer to these questions will determine if our Communion is the real thing or just a weak imitation.

Owen Olbricht, in his book The Lord’s Supper, suggests the following things Christians can do as they eat the bread and drink the cup:

• Remembering Jesus and His death

• Meditating on what Jesus means to us

• Giving thanks to Him and to God for Him

• Honoring Him as the Messiah, the Son of God

• Spiritually sharing His body and blood

• Renewing our resolve to live according to His word

• Fellowshipping with Christians as a unified body

• Proclaiming His life, death and resurrection until He returns

• Declaring an acceptance and recognition of the new covenant

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he assured them there will be consequences for abusing the Lord’s Supper.  He said: “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30).  Whether he refers to physical sickness and death or spiritual sickness and death, the lesson remains the same:  God will not bless those who practice weakly communion.

On the next Lord’s Day (Sunday) let each sincere disciple meet with fellow believers to observe Communion as the biblical pattern encourages us to do.  Moreover, may each of us partake of the Lord’s Supper in a “worthy manner” –– reflecting on the death of Jesus for our sins, and praying in our hearts for the Lord to forgive our sins, unite His church and make us spiritually stronger … stronger in this new week than we have been in the past week.

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OUR HERITAGE

The ancient prophet Isaiah called upon the Israelites to remember their heritage, to not forget where they came from and to whom they belonged. Their national identity deserved to be affirmed even though they were now in exile and away from home.  Listen to the words of the Lord:  “Listen to Me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry  from which you were hewn” (Isaiah 51:1).

Israel’s heritage was worth remembering.  Abraham, their “father” and Sarah their “mother” began the Jewish nation.  God called Abraham even when he was alone and without children and promised him that his descendants would be a numerous as the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5).  The prophet Isaiah said God called Abraham when he was one and made him many (Isaiah 51:2).  The Lord had taken care of His nation in the good times and the bad. He had preserved them through days of oppression and exile. Could there be any doubt that He would continue to take care of them now? The Lord would surely comfort His people.  The future was bright. The rock and quarry from which Israel had come had always been sustained by divine providence. What the people needed to depend upon was the providence of God that had proven itself to the nation time and again. If Israel would do this, they would be encouraged, they would be fortified to face the future.

Christians, too,  need to recall the blessings of God in their lives. Never have we been forsaken by the Lord never have we been abandoned, never have we been neglected. Let us count our blessings. We are a privileged people! We have a long history with the Almighty God. In times of discomfort and distress, let us remember the rock from which we were cut and the quarry from which we were hewn. Let us depend upon the grace of God to protect us and strengthen us even in the midst of disappointment and pain.  What god has ever taken care of his people like the Lord has taken care of us?

The problems we experience and the trials we go through are not as consequential as the direction we face and the One to whom we look to give us strength. Faith is still the victory that overcomes the world! God will not desert or neglect us in the time of need. No matter what we endure we still belong to Him. We are His people. He has aided us in the past; He  will take care of us today as well. The rock-quarry from which we have come is full of promise, full of providence and full of peace. Because this is true we are most encouraged.

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