Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 15 January 2014

For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

Best and Worst of Times

 

[Last Sunday, I shared how – in the design of God – we are the message. First, Jesus – the eternal Son of God – became flesh – a human being – to be the visible demonstration of God’s glory and the likeness of the Father in heaven (John 1:14) but – now – we are the message because we demonstrate the character of God – his goodness and love – in real community:

 

John 13:34-35: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

 

John 17:20-23: My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

 

This Sunday, I continue demonstrating how the unity of love is indispensable to our witness and the preaching of God’s love.]

 

There are two places in the Bible which deal longer with the meal of Holy Communion: 1) the story of its introduction by Jesus on the night before his death, and 2) a segment of instruction in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. In both instances, the meal is holy and powerful and an absolute blessing but – at the same time – in both instances – divisions among the church – a lack of compassion and grace among those sharing at Jesus’ table – damaged the experience and worse. The positive truth is that God – by the body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of Holy Communion – makes us one: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

But the flipside of this truth is that any violation of God’s holy design on Christian unity must end in tears. You cannot sin – (you cannot come apart) – and be blessed – not when the sin of separation occurs at the most intimate moment of feasting on God’s goodness. You cannot have your own sins forgiven (receiving the precious meal from Jesus’ hands) but then withhold affection from others at the very moment when God also forgives them (maybe less grievous sins than yours) and lavishes affection on you both – his guests around the table.

We begin by having a closer look at the church in Corinth. Divisions there upset the apostle Paul so much that he made a blunt assessment and then followed it up with a severe warning:

 

Slide 1

 

Assessment – 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 [JB Philips]: I, my brothers, was unable to talk to you as spiritual men: I had to talk to you as unspiritual, as yet babies in the Christian life, And my practice had been to feed you, as it were, with “milk” and not with “meat”. You were unable to digest “meat” in those days, and I don’t believe you can do it now. For you are still unspiritual; all the time that there is jealousy and squabbling among you you show that you are—you are living just like men of the world. While one of you says, “I am with Paul [original: one of Paul’s converts]” and another says, “I am with Apollos [original: one of Apollos’]”, are you not plainly unspiritual?

 

Slide 2

 

Warning – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17: Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?  God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you [together] are that temple.

 

And Paul’s warning was not merely a threat but had already come to fulfilment:

 

Slide 3

 

1 Corinthians 11:17-34: Your worship services do you more harm than good. I am certainly not going to praise you for this. I am told that you can’t get along with each other when you worship, and I am sure that some of what I have heard is true. You are bound to argue with each other, but it is easy to see which of you have God’s approval.

When you meet together, you don’t really celebrate the Lord’s Supper. You even start eating before everyone gets to the meeting, and some of you go hungry, while others get drunk. Don’t you have homes where you can eat and drink? Do you hate God’s church? Do you want to embarrass people who don’t have anything? What can I say to you? I certainly cannot praise you.

I have already told you what the Lord Jesus did on the night he was betrayed. And it came from the Lord himself. He took some bread in his hands. Then after he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this and remember me.” After the meal, Jesus took a cup of wine in his hands and said, “This is my blood, and with it God makes his new agreement with you. Drink this and remember me.”

The Lord meant that when you eat this bread and drink from this cup, you tell about his death until he comes.

But if you eat the bread and drink the wine in a way that isn’t worthy of the Lord, you sin against his body and blood. That’s why you must examine the way you eat and drink. If you fail to understand that you are the body of the Lord, you will condemn yourselves by the way you eat and drink. That’s why many of you are sick and weak and why a lot of others have died. If we carefully judge ourselves, we won’t be punished. But when the Lord judges and punishes us, he does it to keep us from being condemned with the rest of the world.

My dear friends, you should wait until everyone gets there before you start eating. If you really are hungry, you can eat at home. Then you won’t condemn yourselves when you meet together.

After I arrive, I will instruct you about the other matters.

 

[Jesus gave himself – his body and blood on the cross – in love and complete sacrifice for the forgiveness of everyone (all Christians and future Christians); therefore we must consume the meal in a worthy manner which honours Jesus (respect what we eat and drink) and shows the same spirit of love and sacrifice for one another. As we have heard before, the one body of our Lord in the one loaf of Holy Communion makes the guests of the meal – all Christians – one – the body of Jesus (which is a concept that Paul will take up later in his letter – 1 Corinthians 12:12: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ”). Importantly, the meal of Holy Communion celebrates a new agreement – a new covenant – between God and his people – not God and the individual.]

 

At its most extreme, death – numerous cases of sickness and death – were the result of divisions in the church. This could not be any more radical! The church in Corinth had people in hospital and in the morgue because they were divided! Why? Why – according to this segment in the Bible – is disunity among Christians such a dangerous sin – especially around Holy Communion?

 

Exit Slide 3

 

I repeat what I have said before. At the heart of Holy Communion is love and forgiveness – the fullest expression of grace which comes to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross – we are invited to eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood in the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins – (as we feast on Jesus) God confirms the covenant of grace with us – (forgiving all of us) he makes us one because everyone is accepted and included – and no person can receive so much from God and disrespect his nature at the same time. No person can receive forgiveness (from God) for himself and then withhold the same from another person. You cannot invite God to wash you clean but then resist his nature in your own dealings with others. You can either have God in your life or not. This is a general principle:

 

Matthew 6:9-15: You should pray like this: Our Father in heaven … Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others … If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. [Cf. Matthew 18:21-35; Mark 11:25-26.]

 

The closer you get to God, the more these general principles get activated and bear immediate results. It is like the general principle of the sun causing sun burn on unprotected skin. On a cloudy day, the principle still works but it takes longer for the skin to be affected. However, on a sunny day – mid-summer, at noon, on the beach – the sun burns the skin in no time – turning pale tourists into lobsters with blisters all over their body. The same happens at Holy Communion. There, the presence of God shines brightly with the utmost love; therefore burns immediately any person that brings divisions. [See also John Bevere: The Fear of the Lord, Lake Mary: Charisma House 1997, p90-94]

There is another problem associated with divisions in general and the same at Holy Communion. Divisions undermine the message. Paul told the Corinthians: “The Lord meant that when you eat this bread and drink from this cup, you tell about his death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Divided people cannot do this. They can eat and drink but not say anything meaningful about Jesus’ death because their stubborn hearts – their sniping against one another – mocks the message of Jesus’ sacrifice and love. For the world to believe in Jesus, we have to be the message – bear witness to the truth and power of forgiveness in community.

Sometimes we may be divided because we prefer one pastor or network of pastors over another but this also undermines the message and draws people’s affections away from Jesus toward the person or persons that we choose to follow. [The Bible calls this idolatry.] Certain gifts and charisma in certain people may draw us to make unfavourable comparisons with others but this is often at the expense of keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and trusting his leadership over all.

 

1 Corinthians 1:12-13: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?

 

1 Corinthians 3:5-9: What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

 

So much about the Corinthians. The meal of Holy Communion was powerful for them but divisions damaged the experience – resulting in sickness and death rather than a positive proclamation of Jesus.

We go now to the story of Jesus’ first introduction of the holy meal (which is the other place in the Bible dealing longer with Holy Communion) and we will add to the insights which we have gained from the Corinthians. There is much that applies to us.

To begin with, the circumstances could not have been better. Jesus and the disciples had been riding a wave of success with mass meetings, powerful preaching, miracles and healings:

 

Slide 4

 

Luke 12:1: Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak …

 

The disciples had enjoyed their own share of the work:

 

Slide 5

 

Luke 10:17: The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

 

Healing work had become so normal for the disciples that they were surprised when they had no breakthrough: “Why couldn’t we drive it out” (Mark 9:28)? Yet, Jesus assured them that, with more praying, they would not fail: “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:20).

Everything was looking good and the climax came at the gates of Jerusalem when people hailed Jesus as the long-awaited king of God’s people (Luke 19:38) and, far from rejecting the adoration, Jesus encouraged the singing of his praises, saying that if people kept quiet, the very stones of Jerusalem would cry out in triumph over his coming (Luke 19:40).

Just imagine that you would enjoy such a season in God. Wouldn’t it be wonderful? Then, Jesus ordered preparations for the meal which would become Holy Communion and, when the disciples had gathered around the table, he made all their dreams come true. This was the best of times in God. He said:

 

Slide 6

 

Luke 22:15: … I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.

 

The disciples did not hear the reference about suffering. All they knew was that Jesus was eager to have this meal because it represented another breakthrough. Its meaning and fulfilment in the Kingdom of God was very close.

Jesus made it solemn. If you want, theanointingwas heavy:

 

Luke 22:19-20:  He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.”

 

Then, Jesus talked about betrayal but the disciples’ thoughts soon returned to their own greatness – it became the topic of their discussion – and they had reasons to be concerned about their own greatness because Jesus had called them for the express purpose of training them up as his leaders – they would be his apostles – and – now at this holy meal – Jesus confirmed their aspirations and – (which is not unusual for God) – exceeded them:

 

Luke 22:28-30: You have stayed with me in my time of trial. And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

 

Jesus promised the disciples thrones and leadership over all the tribes of God’s people. In the last book of the Bible, we find this confirmed. These twelve disciples – their names – would be inscribed – they are inscribed – on the foundation stones of the eternal city in heaven: “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14).

As far as promises from God go, this is the jackpot. At the first celebration of Holy Communion, everything was happening – breakthrough, favour and destiny.

What would come next? I wonder what comes next when God pours out blessings on his people – even on us – the disciples here at Living Grace. More often than not, it is confusion that comes next.

In the experience of Jesus’ first disciples and all other disciples since (throughout church history), the best of times around the table with Jesus was followed by the worst of times afterwards. Everything hit the fan. Within hours, one of them, Judas, betrayed Jesus for money (with a kiss) and all the others deserted him.

How could this be possible? Is this the face of breakthrough, favour and destiny? Yes – I am afraid that this is normal and later, following our Bible investigation, I will give you a few quotes from a seasoned church consultant who confirms the Bible with his own experience.

Judas had already harboured misgivings about Jesus but when the purposes of God moved ahead and his presence – holiness – intensified around the table of Holy Communion, these misgivings were challenged because holiness will always challenge sin and it is the same today. Receiving Jesus’ body and blood in the bread and wine, Judas would either surrender his misgivings or he would harden in his opposition because there is no sitting on the fence when God is in the place. Is this your experience? You may not even know why but you don’t want to be here because something of God is challenging something in you.

 

Luke 22:20-21: … This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.

 

With the other disciples it was different – (they had no misgivings against Jesus) – but they also carried sin which again became a problem in the atmosphere of holiness around the table. After the meal, Jesus said to Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat” (Luke 22:31) which means that Satan demanded to test the disciples. Why did he think that he had a right? He particularly tested the claims which had come from the disciples’ own lips. Before God, they all had said that they were great leaders – if not the greatest – and now Satan – knowing these claims to be false – proceeding from their proud and sinful hearts – demanded to challenge these lies because how could they remain unchallenged when they were voiced at Holy Communion? The closer you are to God, the swifter any false claims will be pounced on by Satan, our accuser, because he knows that holiness and sin do not mix.

For instance, Peter – another disciple confident of his greatness – declared: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). [Initial success made him confident and ignorant about the real import of suffering.] Then, Satan tested precisely this assumption and, faced with sharing Jesus’ fate on the cross, Peter denied Jesus three times. [Therefore, be careful about the claims you make.]

Things were not out of control because Jesus prophesied to Peter what would happen: “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:34). Jesus was not panicking about Satan and provided encouragement: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). However, without a doubt, the best of times around the table with Jesus was followed by the worst of times afterwards.

Satan demanded to sift all of the disciples as wheat but – ultimately – as bad as it looked and as painful as it felt – Satan was only an instrument in the hands of God. Jesus had promised the disciples that they would be sitting on thrones leading the twelve tribes of God’s people but they could not step into their destiny from their current location:

 

Luke 22:24-27: A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

 

As long as the disciples had pride and ambition in their hearts – as long as they wanted to be the greatest – heading up all the others – they were not ready for the kind of leadership which Jesus demonstrated himself and required for his leaders that would be sitting on thrones in his kingdom. Therefore – immediately after the meal – Satan was doing God a favour.  (This is what God does with Satan who will never learn.) The times of testing humbled everyone. The disciples learned that, without Jesus, they were nothing.

We may wish that there was another way but God always takes time to process his disciples – humbles them to build the kind of character which can handle the greater things that are coming. The disciples may have expected the immediate continuation of mass meetings and miracles but God focused on them instead. At the height of the most positive momentum, God hit a pause button and made their character the agenda before greater ministry would follow.

I read you words from Graham Cooke, a church consultant with a strong prophetic gift. This is what he writes after decades of working with churches:

 

Graham Cooke and Gary Goodell: Permission Granted. To Do Church Differently in the 21st Century, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2006, p173: When the Lord seeks to move us into a new realm. He looks for us to have an increase of vision, anointing, and power. Along with that, there needs to come an increase of commitment and character.

 

P177: We may be happy to boldly go where no church has gone before in our lifetime. Expectation searches out the horizon and seeks to get to the high point of anointing and power as quickly as possible.

However, with God, at this stage the quality of the launching pad is more important than the actual rockets … In expectation, we are thinking horizon, but God is thinking about foundation. When revelation comes, we want to get there as quickly as possible … However, there is a contradiction … that declares to us, “You cannot get there (horizon) from here.”

 

P178-179: Contradiction is the journey from revelation to manifestation – the process of transition. Joseph received a prophetic dream that he would one day have authority above his father and brothers (see Genesis 37). The dream concerned them all bowing down before him. This prophecy was fulfilled eventually in Genesis 47, but not before the opposite had occurred. After relating the dreams to his family, instead of them looking up to him, Joseph found himself in a pit looking up at them.

He was sold as a slave and sent in chains to a distant country. His life had gone in the opposite direction to what he perhaps was expecting. Plainly, the Lord was not going to fulfill the prophecy over some empty-headed young man who did not have the sense to keep his mouth shut around some very irate brethren! After the calling comes the training. Once we have received serious prophetic input into our lives, we then need particular development before the word can be moved to a place of fulfillment.

David found a similar set of circumstances at work in his own life. He was anointed to be king by the prophet Samuel (see 1 Samuel 16), but nothing said or done at that time disclosed to David that he would be discredited and have to live in caves in the wilderness before the prophet’s words came true.

Israel received a strong prophetic word from Moses (see Exodus 6:6-8) that contained seven “I will” declarations from the Lord regarding their future and their destiny. The words, however, never mentioned their journey into the wilderness or their subsequent testing by God as part of the means of fulfillment.

This is the major part of the transitional and prophetic process. Before our destiny can be fulfilled, we must conform to all the character requirements that are a priority if we are to represent the God of Heaven …

After the prophecy, we are often immediately starstruck with our destiny; however, the Lord is looking at something different! He is looking at our character and gauging the work and development we will need in order to develop us to that place of high calling. This development will include a testing of our humility; our servant heart; our reliability under pressure; our truthfulness and purity; our leadership or ministry ability; our capacity to endure stress in warfare; our ability to learn from our mistakes; and above all, our conformity to his love, grace, mercy, and kindness. All these will come under intense scrutiny in the most difficult and trying circumstances. It is almost as though, while we are still stargazing after the prophetic word, the Lord trips us up, throws us into a dark room, and beats the living daylights out of us! At least, that is what it feels like.

Our lives run in the opposite direction for a time as God begins to work with our character. It is here that most people let go of their vision and call …

 

P181: The next thing that will happen at some point is that all hell will break loose from inside the church … We will find levels of immaturity that we did not believe could exist among senior Christians in our midst. We will find childishness, petulance, flesh, strife, envy, and hunger for position, as the pride and ambition of people begin to surface …

 

P182: We can get into the place where God wants us to be only when we actually go via the cross … The enemy will be active all around the church, but we need to know that God is going to use him to get rid of the flesh. The blessing of God may continue to fall because the Lord will not leave us comfortless …

 

P183: This is not the time to dwell on projects begin new initiatives, or commit ourselves to new ventures of faith … God is dealing with something that should not be there. Depending on where the church is in this process, we do not know how many people will leave the work during this time of testing …

Most churches going through transition will suffer a contraction in their resources. Finances, personnel, key people in ministry, and leadership may flow out of the church initially …

 

P183: God will reduce us to that which is precious …

 

P184: We are encountering nothing new; we are dealing with nothing that has not been the experience of countless churches. Out of this period of suffering will come the approval of God to take us into his plan and purpose …

 

P185: It is always incredibly difficult to see other churches being blessed while we are under trial and testing. People would rather believe that there is a problem in the leadership; there is sin in the camp; that we have the wrong vision; or that we are out of the will of God. They want to write “Ichabod” (no glory) over the door of the church and withdraw to a more blessed place. They do not understand the purposes of God. The same process will come to every church in some way as God cleanses the temple of the church.

 

P199: Out of every ten churches that have entered transition, approximately half have not made it. The flesh was too strong … They could not endure the contraction.

In the violence of the confrontation and transformation process, they could not stay on the cross. It hurt too much … We do not enter and endure contraction and then pass through transformation. If they followed after each other, none of us would make it. They are a combined work of God. The devil is loose, but Jesus is present! The flesh is dying, but the new nature is rising. We are losing our friends in the natural but growing in friendship with God in the Spirit. We are shedding our old wineskin and forming a new one.

 

P200: … The first thing we have to do is humble ourselves before God. If we humble ourselves, he will exalt us in due time …

 

These are sobering words but I am feeling encouraged. I wish that I had read this book some time back because – for me – finally the penny dropped. So many times, over the past four years especially, I would say: “I don’t understand what is going on. God so obviously moves here – amazing testimonies every week, healings, miracles, converts, Jesus Tent, demons being confronted and even outrageous blessings on our finances. Love is in the place and a calling but – at the same time – despite everything – despite ticking all of the boxes (at least according to the National Church Life Survey) – also contraction – a steady decline of attendance over the last few years.” I did not understand what was going on but now I do or think that I do.

After some of the best times, we – (the community) – were on the agenda of God, not the ministry. God was processing us and he did. Gossip, ambition, pride – we had our own bag of issues but then, last year, suddenly there was a shift – a new commitment to community (BBQs, fun nights, casserole ministry, building new rooms for children’s ministry, etc). I did not initiate this shift (I did not know how to make it happen) but it happened and – even last Sunday – Letoya said: “I love our church. It took me five years but now I really love our church.” Letoya has been in this church from the beginning but she also experienced this shift. We have become different – processed for what God has promised. A few months back, another long-term member – a young dad – said: “We finally feel that we belong to this place.” His words came years after growing spiritually at Living Grace. God did something here over the last few years and it had to do with community. Do you agree? Have we matured in the way we handle disagreements? I think that there is a commitment in us not to go back to the past and the same things that we have said on the grapevine.

For Jesus, the community of leaders around the table was the issue for him. They were competing for greatness but they were trusting in themselves and their ambition was divisive, not reflecting Jesus’ own heart of service and sacrifice, and this was going to change in a time of testing.

Many times – most times – we are carbon-copies of the disciples – (hopefully not Judas) – and think more highly of ourselves than we should. We make claims of greatness – [and sometimes I could shake some of the prophetic voices inflating immature people with notions of grandeur, saying: “You are an apostle” when the person in question has never been responsible for “anyone” (any fellowship) ever. God may want him to become an apostle in the future but right now he is a rebellious presence in the church.] – which our character – in its present form – cannot back up. Like Peter, we may say: “Jesus, I follow you no matter what the costbut – on the same day – we walk away from the action when discipleship becomes inconvenient or painful.

But what about Jesus? His character needed no refinement but he suffered the most after the meal of Holy Communion. Coming into Jerusalem, he was the centre of an amazing movement which – through preaching and healing and demonstrations of power – announced the kingdom of God but – then – after the climax of the holy meal – while the disciples experienced the testing of their character – he suffered the most. Why? His suffering was on a higher level because it was not for his own benefit but for the benefit of others and – already around the table of Holy Communion – he asked us to do the same:

 

Slide 7

 

Luke 22:24-27: A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

 

Jesus served the others around the table of Holy Communion with his own body and blood in the bread and wine. He served them with his blood that would be poured out for them on the cross and he served them with his broken body which would be lashed without mercy. Jesus served the disciples with the sacrifice of everything that he had and it was acceptable to God and became the foundation of a covenant of forgiveness.

Jesus alone died for the forgiveness of all sin – he alone is the Saviour of the world – but – somehow – the same principle of sacrifice – suffering in service to others – releases power also today – in modern moves of God. Lots of people enjoy the mass meetings and mass healings (when they come) but when the best of times are followed by the worst of times, many are confused. Yet, I hope that today we have gained some understanding. The worst of times are not contradicting the best of times. It is just that the secret misgivings of Judas needed to come out in the open, the other disciples needed character formation to take them further and, last but not least, Jesus (and those that come to a greater maturity in him) served – (endured and persevered in the worst of times and hang in there providing encouragement to a church in transition) – by making the ultimate sacrifice of love which could not be denied:

 

John 12:24-26: I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.

 

Revelation 6:9-11: When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

 

And quickly, what was the outcome of Jesus’ sacrifice – his serving at the holy meal? [Can you venture a guess? It’s coming back to the heart of Holy Communion.] When the season of testing had passed, the disciples were one. Jesus had served them with his body and blood. He had prayed for them (Luke 22:32). He rose from the dead with power and poured out the Holy Spirit on them so that:

 

Acts 2:42-47: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

[Cf. Acts 4:32: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

 

Acts 5:12-14: The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.

 

I give a summary of the main points:

 

Slide 8

 

1.      Two places in the Bible deal longer with Holy Communion: a) the story of the meal’s introduction and b) a segment of instruction in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

2.      In both instances, the meal is holy and a blessing but marred by divisions.

3.      Since all partake of Jesus in the meal, they are one.

 

Slide 9

 

4.      However, in Corinth, they refused; therefore their divisions at Holy Communion caused sickness and death.

5.      The closer you get to God, the quicker come the judgements.

6.      Divided people cannot communicate love, the message of Holy Communion.

 

Slide 10

 

7.      When Jesus first instituted the holy meal, the best of times was followed by the worst of times.

8.      The holiness of the meal confronted Judas’ secret misgivings and forced a decision.

9.      For the other disciples, the holiness of the meal was the wrong environment to make false claims of greatness because Satan demanded to test their claims.

 

Slide 11

 

10.  However, God used the times of testing for character formation.

11.  With the right character, they would inherit what Jesus promised – leadership that exceeded their wildest dreams.

 

Slide 12

 

12.  When the worst of times followed the best of times, Jesus suffered the most knowing that his ultimate sacrifice of love could not be denied.

13.  Jesus alone died for the salvation of all people but we serve like him and, with our suffering and sacrifice, pay a price to push through to the next level.

14.  The outcome of Jesus’ sacrifice and our own comes back to the essence of what is given in Holy Communion – Jesus’ broken body and blood in the bread and wine – which works love and forgiveness to enjoy peace with God and unity among believers.

 

As people of Living Grace – why not be one now? Divisions caused sickness and worse in Corinth, brought on testing times for the disciples after the first Holy Communion and required Jesus to pay the ultimate price of suffering on the cross. Why not be one now and commit to the character which steps into everything that God has promised us? Amen.