We’re entering into our third week of our study on liturgy, or how we structure our time of corporate worship together. If you happened to have missed the past few weeks, we have been taking a hard look at how we spend this hour together in light of the Word of God, allowing to be the foundation of all we do and hope to accomplish. We began with the singing of God’s Word through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Last week, we looked at the public reading of God’s Word within the worship service.
This morning we are discussing how we see God’s Word displayed through the worship service. As you let that theme sink in this morning, I’d like to invite you to join me in Psalm 119 and fashion it into a prayer for our time together today:
| 17 Deal generously with Your servant|
so that I might live;
then I will keep Your word.
18 Open my eyes so that I may contemplate
wonderful things from Your instruction.
May that genuinely be our prayer this morning – to have our eyes opened to see God’s glory, beauty and excellence. You can see many things when you come to the Word without God’s opening the eyes of your heart. You can see words and grammatical constructions. You can see logical connections. You can see historical facts and human emotions. None of that requires that God open your eyes in a special, spiritual way.
But what you cannot see is the spiritual beauty of God and His Son and their work in the world. You cannot see that God is infinitely desirable above all things. A blind person cannot see the sun, although he can know many facts about the sun and pass a test in astronomy with a score higher than a person who can see the sun. Knowing about and knowing by sight are not the same. Knowing that honey is sweet and tasting honey are note the same.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul gives us a description of what it looks like to walk in this world apart from God’s special, saving revelation:
|17 Therefore, I say this and testify in the Lord: You should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their thoughts. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts. |
Throughout these two verses, Paul mentions five terrible traits of the human condition that require divine intervention if we are to see spiritual reality. He says that the gentiles (or the ordinary world of men apart from grace) live in “the futility of their thoughts. They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts.” If we read through that list backwards, we can say that there is in all of us, apart from the grace of God, a hardness of the heart that leads to ignorance that leads to alienation from God that leads to darkness that leads to futility of knowledge and life.
If there is any hope of our seeing wonderful things in the Word of God, we will have to have a divine, supernatural capacity given to us by God that we do not have by nature. And therefore, we must pray for it – “Open my eyes.”
In thinking again of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we should by now understand the value of God’s Word in that it allows us to be changed into the likeness of Jesus by seeing the beauty and word and excellence of God and His Son and their words and ways.
|18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit. |
2 Corinthians 3:18
Coming more into the likeness of Jesus should be apparent. We should be transformed in our actions, in our thoughts, in our heart, and in our spirit. But going back to our question, how do we see God’s Word at work within the worship service? Scripture points to two powerful, visual representations of God’s Word at work in the life of the believer: baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or Communion.
While we claim that both ordinances are symbols and are not necessary for salvation, they are nonetheless a significant part of Baptist practice and worship. Baptism in particular symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that has made possible our salvation. Baptism also symbolizes that a person through faith in Christ has passed from death to life and that this person has identified with Christ’s death and resurrection.
|3 Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. 5 For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. |
We’ll speak more and partake the Lord’s Supper shortly but, again, while we believe that both ordinances are symbolic, it doesn’t mean that we believe that they are inconsequential. Both are of great significance, especially within the context of the worship service.
They are important because of their divine origin. They are not human creations but have been given to us by God to help us in declaring and sharing the gospel while motivating us to live the Christian life.
|26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. |
1 Corinthians 11:26
|16 The cup of blessing that we give thanks for, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for all of us share that one bread. 18 Look at the people of Israel. Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in what is offered on the altar? 19 What am I saying then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I do say that what they sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to participate with demons! 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot share in the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? 23 “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. |
1 Corinthians 10:16-23
|29 For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. |
1 Corinthians 11:29
So, the act of baptism affords opportunity for a person who is being baptized to testify publicly that he or she has trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior and experienced forgiveness of sin. The person doing the baptizing can utilize the experience to explain the nature of salvation and meaning of baptism.
When we consider the Lord’s Supper, it’s important to note that it provides us with an opportunity for both evangelism and Christian growth. It movingly emphasizes the love of God that led Jesus to give himself as a sacrifice for sin. For believers, it affords a time for special communion with the Lord, expressing thanks for His sacrifice that enables us to be forgiven of sin.
|41 Therefore the Jews started complaining about Him because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can He now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Stop complaining among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to Me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except the One who is from God. He has seen the Father. 47 “I assure you: Anyone who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that anyone may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” 52 At that, the Jews argued among themselves, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves.54 Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day, 55 because My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink. 56 The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood lives in Me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the manna your fathers ate—and they died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” |
To partake of Christ requires us to believe that Jesus offered Himself for us, and this is true not only in the Christian life in general, but also when we come to the Lord’s Table. If our hunger and thirst would be satisfied, we must believe in our Redeemer.
Partaking in Christ’s body and of His blood in the Lord’s Supper involve more than just trusting in Jesus. The Holy Spirit grants us faith, and we exercise that faith, but in this moment the Spirit unites us “more and more to Christ’s blessed body.” Receiving the Lord’s Supper in faith is a means by which our union with Christ is strengthened. The Lord’s Supper is not the instrument of justification – that comes by faith alone. But once we are united to Jesus, the Lord’s Supper is an instrument through which our union with God’s Son becomes stronger and more vital.
Our passage here in the sixth chapter of John proves this declaration. Within it, Jesus uses some striking language. Obviously, Jesus is not advocating some sort of cannibalism. But at the same time, we should not empty His words of their force. He is communicating this vital truth: we need the entire Christ as much as, even more than, we need to eat. In other words, our life is impossible without Him. Moreover, in calling attention to His flesh and blood, Jesus makes it clear that we need Him in His humanity as well as His deity. Communing with our Savior at His table is a special way for us to direct our adoration and love toward Him in His humanity, which was crushed for our sake. At His table, by His Spirit, we meet Him in the flesh. We are lifted to the heavens so that we may commune with the whole Savior, the One who sits at the Father’s right hand and intercedes for us. There we meet with Him and remember anew that He has bought us with His own blood.