Why use leavened bread in the Supper?

April 2, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Communion, Lord's Day, Meditations, Postmillennialism
Luke 13:20–21 (NKJV)
20 And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
For several weeks, we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Last week we touched upon our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly; this week let us consider our practice of using leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper. Why use yeast? Why leavened bread?
Given that the Lord’s Supper has parallels with the old covenant rite of Passover, some have argued that Christians should use unleavened bread in the Supper. Passover was the last day in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, given to celebrate the exodus from Egypt. Since the Lord’s Supper was inaugurated during that feast, some have argued that we should use unleavened bread in our celebration. What should we think of this?
Let us say, first, that there is nothing wrong with a church deciding to use unleavened bread in its celebration of the Supper. “The kingdom of God is not in eating and drinking but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). Further, Paul exhorts us in Corinthians, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8). Unleavened bread can be used to convey such an exhortation and there is nothing wrong in its use.
That said, throughout Scripture both leavened and unleavened bread were used in sacred rites. While unleavened bread was used at Passover, leavened bread was used for the peace offerings (Lev 7:13) as well as for the celebration of Pentecost (Lev 23:16-17). Given that the Lord’s Supper is the new covenant feast that centers all these rites in Christ’s death and resurrection, it is important to recall why unleavened bread was used at Passover to determine if that rationale applies to the Lord’s Supper.

According to Exodus 12, unleavened bread highlighted the “haste” with which our fathers were to leave Egypt. God wanted them to leave quickly and so they didn’t have time for the yeast to rise. This sense of haste was confirmed by their dress – they were to eat the meal prepared to travel. “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waste, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste” (Ex 12:11).
So does the Lord’s Supper commemorate this same sense of “haste”? I don’t think so. The only haste seen at the Last Supper is that of Judas who is told, “What you have to do, do quickly!” That is hardly the type of haste we want to imitate! So what does the bread of the Lord’s Supper commemorate? It commemorates the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and the commencement of His kingdom. At the Supper Jesus took bread and broke it; He then shared it among his disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is My body.” The bread points not to haste but to Christ.
And this brings us back to the parable I read earlier. And again [Jesus] said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” Jesus uses leaven to illustrate the pervasive influence of His kingdom, His rule. His kingdom shall operate in the world like leaven, slowly, organically permeating the world until the entire earth is leavened. And it is this characteristic of Christ’s rule that we are attempting to emphasize by using leavened bread: Jesus’ kingdom is like leaven. Slowly, organically the reality symbolized by this bread will become realized throughout the world. Jesus will spread His rule throughout the nations of the earth.

The use of leavened bread, therefore, summons us to be like leaven, to be instruments of God’s work in our families, communities, and workplaces. We are so to live and labor that the entire loaf becomes leavened. Reminded that God has called us to be leaven; to live so that through our witness Christ’s rule on earth is established; let us confess that we often fail to live in this leavening fashion. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why does worship include a pronouncement of forgiveness?

March 12, 2017 in Bible - NT - John, Bible - NT - Mark, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Confession, Liturgy, Meditations

John 20:21–23 (NKJV)
21 So Jesus said to [the disciples] again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
For several weeks we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Today we consider the absolution. In just a moment, following our confession of sin, I will announce the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. Why do we do this?
You may recall that one of the great controversies that surrounded Jesus’ ministry was the forgiveness of sins. Some men brought a paralytic to Jesus and let him down through the roof into the house where Jesus was teaching. Jesus looked at the man and declared, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Immediately, the Pharisees began questioning among themselves, “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
The Pharisees’ question was entirely reasonable. While each of us can forgive those who sin against us, we dare not presume to forgive their sins against God – only God can do such a thing. So the dilemma of our human condition is this: we all have sinned against God, so how can we know whether God has forgiven us? Who speaks for God on earth? In the old covenant, God provided this assurance of forgiveness through the sacrificial system and the priesthood. He appointed the Aaronic priests to speak on His behalf:
‘And it shall be, when [someone] is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lordfor his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. (Lev 5:5-6)
The priest shall make atonement for him – the priest shall announce to him, “Believe God’s promise in His word! He has provided a substitute to bear the guilt of your sin. You are forgiven.”

The reason controversy surrounded Jesus’ forgiveness of the paralytic is this: Jesus was not an Aaronic priest, nor was He at the temple where a sacrifice was being offered. So how dare He presume to speak for God? “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus knew their doubts; He knew their questions. So He asked, “Which is easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Arise, take up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (he said to the paralytic), “’Arise, take up your mat and walk.’ And immediately the man arose, took up his mat, and walked.”
According to Jesus, the healing of the paralytic established an important point: the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus was announcing the end of the temple and the sacrificial system, that the Judaic Age was over. The priests no longer speak for God; Jesus does. And in this Messianic Age, the forgiveness of sins is declared in His Name, based on His once-for-all sacrifice. Jesus speaks for God.
After Jesus had been crucified and then risen from the dead, He then spoke to the Twelve. “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you…”  Jesus commissioned the Twelve to speak for God in the world and to declare the forgiveness of sins in His Name. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In other words, the sacrificial system has forever come to an end. Now the forgiveness of sins is preached to all nations based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone.
So every Lord’s Day, following our confession, I have the privilege of reminding you, assuring you, that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, there really is forgiveness with God. Acknowledge your sin and turn from it, seeking God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
My word does not grant forgiveness; only the sacrifice of Jesus can do that. My word simply reminds you of God’s promise and summons you to believe His word: all those who trust in the once-for all sacrifice of Jesus shall be forgiven and cleansed. Your calling is to hear that promise, even as the paralytic heard the words of our Lord, and to believe Him. “My son, your sins are forgiven.”
So reminded this morning of the gift of forgiveness that God offers through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, let us confess our sins in His Name, trusting that God will indeed forgive all those who come to Him in faith. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Raising Hands in Worship?

February 13, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Bible - OT - Nehemiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Meditations, Worship
1 Timothy 2:8 (NKJV)
8 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;
In the last few weeks we have explored various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship – singing the psalms, publicly reading Scripture, reciting the creeds, kneeling for confession, etc. Every church has such traditions and it is important that we regularly evaluate them to make sure that they reflect, not undermine, biblical principles.
Today I want us to consider the practice of raising hands in worship. I raise my hands to assure the congregation of forgiveness and to pronounce the blessing of the Lord; we all raise our hands to sing at the end of the service. Why do such things? Why raise hands at all?
The answer to this question is supplied by the Apostle Paul in our text today: Paul wants us to raise hands. Paul writes to Timothy, I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands… (1 Tim 2:8). If Paul wants holy hands to be lifted up in prayer, then we need to come up with ways to obey him.
So what are the circumstances in which Scripture records the raising of hands by the people of God? First, God’s leaders often raise their hands to bless the people of God. In Leviticus 9:22, Aaron “lifted his hand toward the people [and] blessed them….” Aaron’s action was later imitated by the priests as they blessed Israel. Most significantly, Luke records that after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, Jesus “led the [disciples] out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them” (24:50). The lifting of hands in blessing communicates visibly to God’s people the reality of the blessing that is being pronounced. In our service of worship, this action corresponds to the assurance of forgiveness following confession and to the benediction at the end of service.
Second, God’s people often raise hands to worship or bless God. The psalmist declares, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name” (Ps 63:3-4). In Nehemiah 8:6 we are told that “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands.” So as we prepare to leave the sanctuary each week, having renewed covenant with God, the entire congregation lifts up holy hands to praise the Lord. Indeed, at certain times of the year, we summon one another to raise hands as we sing in Psalm 134:2, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the Lord.”
Finally, God’s people, especially the men, often raise hands to lift their prayers into God’s presence. David prays in Psalm 28:2, “Hear the voice of my supplications When I cry to You, When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.”Similarly, the psalmist prays in 141:2, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” One of the most memorable stories associated with the raising of hands and prayer is Israel’s battle against the Amalekites. So long as Moses’ hands were lifted in prayer the Israelites had success; but whenever his hands wavered, Israel began to be defeated. So Aaron and Hur got on either side of Moses and held up his hands until Israel achieved a complete victory (Ex 17:8-16).
It would appear, therefore, that lifting hands in worship is pleasing to God. However, while it is a good and lawful action, it is possible to do it wrongly; we can perform a faithful action unfaithfully. For example, our elders would argue that raising hands haphazardly in corporate worship rather than decently and in good order is problematic. And Paul, in our text today, wants men to lift up holyhands without wrath and doubting… He wants us to raise our hands in a particular way. So what does this mean? Consider that by lifting our hands to God we declare two things: first, we declare that our hands are clean, that they are holy, free from wrath; second, we declare that we trust Him, without doubting. “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…” (Ps 24:3-4a). If we lift up hands that are covered with filth, then this is not pleasing to God; likewise, if we lift up our hands but our hearts are far from the Lord, then this is not pleasing to God. We are to lift up holy hands without wrath or doubting.

So reminded of why we lift hands in worship, let us confess that our hands are often not holy but polluted with guilt and in need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. And as we are able let us kneel as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the 

Thou Shalt not Bear False Witness

March 30, 2014 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Bible - OT - Zechariah, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Politics, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:16 (NKJV)
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Martin Luther writes in his Large Catechism, “Besides our own body, our wife or husband, and our temporal property, we have one more treasure which is indispensible to us, namely, our honor and good name, for it is intolerable to live among men in public disgrace and contempt. Therefore God will not have our neighbor deprived of his reputation, honor, and character any more than of his money and possessions…”
Even as we treasure our own reputation, we are to treasure the reputation of our neighbor and beware tarnishing his good name. So what does this mean? First, it means that in courts of law, we are obliged to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A faithful witness, Solomon declares, does not lie, but a false witness will utter lies. We are not to be influenced by another’s money, power, influence, gender, race, poverty, or position to speak anything other than the truth when summoned to do so by a lawful authority. God declares in Lev 19:15 – You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. God reiterated this need for truth in the halls of justice through the prophet Zechariah:
These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate, says the Lord.
When summoned to bear witness in a court of law or when summoned to sit on a jury judging our peers, our obligation in the sight of God is to tell the truth and to judge in light of the truth.
Second, not only are we forbidden to bear false witness in courts of law, we are forbidden to use our tongue to destroy the reputation of our neighbor. Leviticus 19:16 declares, You shll not go about as a talebearer among your people… God hates the one who slanders and gossips and back-bites. He delights in the truth, delights in the one who is willing to speak truth with his lips. So Paul commands us in Ephesians 4:25, Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.
Even as God is a God of truth so we are to men and women of the truth. Truthfulness is to characterize our interaction – with God and with others. So what of you? Is your life truthful? Or do you hide behind lies? Lie about others? Gossip? Slander? Malign?

Reminded of our calling to be men and women of the truth, let us confess to God that our courts and our culture have abandoned truth and embraced lies; and let us confess also that we ourselves often twist and distort the truth to serve our own ends. Let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord.

Sexuality and “Is” vs. “Ought”

June 23, 2013 in Bible - OT - Leviticus, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Homosexuality, Law and Gospel, Mosaic Law, Politics, Sexuality

Leviticus 18:3 (NKJV)
3 According to the doings [the sexual practices] of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.
One of the key distinctions that philosphers make in the realm of ethics is between “is” and “ought.” Merely because something “is” the case does not mean that it “ought” to be the case. ‘Is” is merely descriptive not prescriptive; it describes the way things are but not necessarily the way things ought to be.
In recent debates over the matter of sexuality there has been a decided failure to maintain this basic distinction – a distinction which is eminently biblical. We see it reflected in our text today – the Egyptians and Canaanites behaved in certain ways sexually; had sociologists written about their society, they would have describedthe practices of incest, homosexuality, bestiality, ritual prostitution, etc. All these things were the case. But simply because they were the case doesn’t mean that those practices were right or proper, that they ought to have been. Scripture declares on nearly every page that that which we observe about us in the history of humanity is not necessarily that which oughtto be. Jealousy, immorality, theft, murder, covetousness, pride, deceit, self-righteousness, slander – all these things are the case but ought not to be the case – for God created us to be different.
So notice how the argumentation goes – homosexuals find individuals of the same gender attractive; many testify that they experienced this attraction unwillingly, it was simply there. Notice that thus far we’re dealing with what is the case, with description. But suddenly the ground shifts and the homosexual advocate begins to defend something quite different – he begins to reason from is to ought, from description to prescription.Because homosexual attraction is the case, therefore we ought to consider it acceptable behavior.
But this is folly. We do not determine what ought to be the case from what is the case. For example, we take it as a given in Western culture that cannibalism is perverse and unnatural. Thanks to generations of biblical wisdom and common grace, we find the smell of burning human flesh repulsive. What may come as a surprise, however, is that in cannibalistic cultures the shape of the brain changes over time so that the smell of human flesh is actually perceivedas pleasant. That which is naturally repulsive comes to be perceived as pleasant. Do we conclude from this that cannibalism is morally acceptable? Absolutely not! Their cultural perversion distorts their very physicality.
The sobering reality of our corruption is this: just as we can become accustomed to the roaring of a train outside our window if we’ve lived beside it long enough, so we can become accustomed to perverse behavior and our sensory faculties can adjust to make such behavior seem acceptable.
So how can we escape? Only by the grace of God and the Word of God. God must give us a new longing to understand what ought to be, a desire to study His Word so that we can learn what ought to be, and then the willingness to change what isso that it conforms to what ought to be. And praise God that by His grace our God-given repulsion to that which is unnatural can return.
So what of us? What of you? What things are the case in your life that you have merely come to accept as normal – not because they ought to be the case, but merely because they are the case? Are there outbursts of anger and wrath? Undercurrents of bitterness and resentment? Displays of disrespect or disobedience? Beware becoming alienated from that which oughtto be the case by the ever-presence of what isthe case.
Reminded of the depth of our sinfulness and the way we excuse what we do wrong, let us kneel and confess our sin to God.