Monday, April 2, 2012

The Inward Side of the Communion Table

Preached at Northwest Christian Church                                                                             David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, April 1, 2012

1 Corinthians 11:17-24, “Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.  For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.  Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.”

Someone has said that the examined life is the only life worth living.  Now, I’m not exactly sure where the person who came up with that statement is coming from, but as a Christian, as someone who claims to wear the name of the King of kings and Lord of lords, as someone who would dare to take part in a weekly celebration of His sinless life, His bruised and battered body, the broken, unleavened bread, and of His shed blood, the full and final atoning sacrifice for my sins, the fruit of the vine, as a Christian, someone who claims to wear that name and who dares to partake of this weekly supper, I must – no ifs, ands, or buts here – I must live an examined, a fully examined life.  For two weeks now we have been getting ready to rejoice in the events we look forward to commemorating this weekend on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  And the way in which we are preparing ourselves this year revolves around our look at what we do - what and how and why we celebrate every Lord’s Day at this Table.

So far, with this Table as our reference point, in light of what this Table means, considering whose Table and Supper this is, we have looked first of all at this sacred celebration through the lens of history.  We have looked back at how from eternity past, God, in His infinite mind, God, by way of His mouth and mouth pieces, the prophets of old, and God, through the moving of His hands, has prepared for us, spread for us, a Table wherein we can praise Him for what He’s done for us in Jesus Christ.  Yes, we’ve looked back at this Table and what we are to do at this Table through the lens of HISTORY.  Then, last week, we took our divinely-inspired ‘lens’, the Word of God, and aimed it HEAVENWARD.  And, in looking that direction, we learned or re-learned that at this Table - we recognize - must recognize that the Source of our salvation is not ourselves, who we are, what we’ve done, what bench we sit on in this sanctuary, but who He is!  At this Table, looking at it through the lens of Heaven, we see the Source of our Salvation, God the Father, and the seal of our salvation, God, the Holy Spirit, God’s ‘engagement ring’ placed around our hearts so as to say, ‘Wedding Day’s coming!’  I’m going to come for My Bride!  And then, perhaps best of all, through the lens, the perspective of heaven, we see the Sacrifice of our salvation, the One who laid down His life to make His own, Jesus Christ our Lord!  That’s the second side of the Communion Table.  The upward look, the perspective of HEAVEN.

Now, however, we come to what is likely the most sobering side of the Table, the least enjoyable vantage point we are called to take when we step to this Table and our time with Jesus there each Lord’s Day.  I’m talking about the inward look, the heart-ward perspective, the lens of self-examination.  Consider again my opening statement:  The examined life is the only life worth living!  Now, look again at what Paul had to say about this.  Set in the center of what he teaches us regarding this sacred meal is this astonishingly sober passage:

1 Corinthians 11:27, Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

What does Paul mean by what he’s saying to us here?  What’s his point?  Well, before we answer that, allow me to run just two or three other passages of Scripture by you that have very much the same message for us.  

Psalm 14, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?  Or, who shall stand in His holy place?”  Answer: “He that has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to any idol nor sworn deceitfully.  He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”  

1 Corinthians 3:16-17, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If anyone defiles that temple God will destroy him.  For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”  

1 Corinthians 6:18-20, “Flee sexual immorality.  All other sins that a man commits are outside his body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins again his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God, and that you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s!”

So what are we suggesting?  That the examined life is the only life worth living.  Now hear James chapter one:

James 1:21-25, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”

Back to 1 Corinthians 11 and to this third view from the Lord’s Table - the inward look - the examination of our hearts.  Why would Paul say these things?  What’s his point that we need to know and act upon?

First off, let’s answer with this simple observation: the Lord’s Supper, those who claim to wear the name of Christ, those who dare to partake of the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, believe me, if we’re not careful, we can make this time of  the worship service into a lot of things, a time to listen to some quiet music, a time to look around and see what someone else is doing or wearing, a time to check our text messages, a time to let your mind wonder and your mouth water about what you’re going to eat when you get home.  We can make this sacred time into a lot of things, we can, and perhaps we do.  But, listen.  If we make it into anything other than what Jesus meant for it to be, a proclamation of Jesus’ death until He comes again, a celebration in remembrance of Him and His love for us, we are putting ourselves into real, serious spiritual jeopardy!  The Corinthians of Paul’s day were turning into a time of gluttony and drunkenness for the ‘haves’ and a time of depravation and rejection on the part of the ‘have nots’.  Instead of drawing fellow Christians closer to each other and to Jesus, the way the Corinthians celebrated this Supper actually was serving to split Christ’s church! 

As those who claim to be Christians and who dare to take part in this sacred Meal, what are we making of it?  And, is God pleased with what we are making of it?  “Let a man examine himself, and so, in this self-examined spiritually-prepared clean hands, pure heart, sort of way, let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup…” 

What’s Paul point?  Self-examination.  To look into this ‘mirror’ – God’s Word - and quickly forget what kind of person I am, before my utterly holy God - such a thing opens the door for me to reduce this Meal into nothing more than 5 minutes of silence in the service!  But, sincere, self-examination - what does it do?  But to look into this ‘mirror’ and continue therein, as a doer of what it says, opens wide the door for me to draw near into the Holy of holies, to the throne of grace, to the foot of the cross, to the empty tomb, to our Savior, Jesus Christ! 

Why does Paul soberly and rather sternly call us to self-examination before we participate in the Lord’s Supper?  Verses 29, 30 and 31 – My friends, do we realize what we’re dealing with here?  What we’re taking part in here?  What we may be opening ourselves up to here?  Anybody ever had a mother or dad exhort you, instruct you along these lines, “David, you’d better be careful, now, looks to me like you’re playing with fire!” 

Beloved, the reason for the very sober tone of this text is obvious, isn’t it?  Nadab and Abihu, priestly sons of Aaron, died playing with the holy fire of God’s altar (Leviticus 10:1-7).  Ananias and Sapphira conspired to lie to God, to cheat the church, thinking that would help them get ahead financially, over they fell – dead – struck down by God for daring to play around with Him (Acts 5:1-11).  Paul warns us to examine ourselves because to fail to do so, to fail to rightly discern what we are doing here, and, then to take part in an unworthy manner, is to eat and drink God’s judgment to oneself, to open the door, not for God’s blessing and righteousness from the God of salvation, but to swing it wide open for dreadful things like sickness, weakness, even death!  Wow! 

Let a man examine himself.  The examined life, searched out fully and sincerely by this heavenly Search Light - it is the only life worth living, it is!  How do I know that?  Anybody ever had a ‘guilty’ sentence hanging over his head?  I have.  Who robbed the cookie jar?  Who ran the stop sign?  Who broke his promise to be faithful till death?  Who claimed to know something or be something that he isn’t or doesn’t?  Who?  We might as well all raise our hands, right?  We’ve all been guilty, perhaps still are guilty of some crime, wrong doing or sin. 

Look one more time at our text, especially verse 27.  Imagine.  Is it hard to imagine being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ?  In a similar, very sober vein, the writer of the Book of Hebrews has this to say:

Hebrews 10:26-31, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Imagine.  I can hardly bear the thought, can you?  Imagine failing to properly and sincerely examine myself, and do whatever I need to do, to ascend to the hill of the Lord, to stand in His holy place, with clean hands and a pure heart.  Imagine failing to do that and then being guilty of trampling the Son of God under foot, guilty of counting the blood of the new covenant, His sacrifice of love, as if it were a common thing, guilty of insulting the Spirit of Grace!?  Can you imagine that?  Paul’s words of warning here are not to be taken lightly!  The cost is too high!  The consequences are way too painful!  We must examine ourselves!  We must!  But how?  How? 

To find out how to examine yourself properly, and therefore, to discover how to prepare properly for this Supper, I urge you to study two passages.  Psalm 26, a text that expresses a deep, abiding commitment to truth and sincerity before God.  And, Psalm 139, a prayer to guide you as you examine yourself before God. 

Psalm 26:1-7, “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity. I have also trusted in the Lord; I shall not slip. Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my mind and my heart.  For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth.  I have not sat with idolatrous mortals, nor will I go in with hypocrites.  I have hated the assembly of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.  I will wash my hands in innocence; so I will go about Your altar, O Lord, that I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of  all Your wondrous works.”

Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The examined life (including the self-examined celebration of the Lord’s Supper) - indeed it is the only life worth living!  Let’s pray.

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