Today was the National Day of Prayer. Our local pastors gathered at McEuen Park for our annual lunch time prayer gathering. I was asked to pray on behalf of our service men and women. This was my prayer:
Psalm 105:4 – Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore!
Almighty and Everlasting God, unless You guard the city, the watchman stays awake in vain; so we come seeking Your guidance, Your protection, and Your blessing on our service men and women.
Guide them, O Lord. Give them wisdom to know the right and honorable thing to do in any and every circumstance. To the commanders: grant that they would submit the might of our armed forces to the principles of right and justice which You have revealed in Your eternal law; that we might never, as a people, permit the ends to justify the means and that we would declare war and wage war justly. To all our service men and women: grant that they would be brave, courageous, and conscientious amid conflict; that they would be a credit to this nation and to the principles for which we stand.
Protect them, O Lord. Some men trust in chariots, some trust in the horse, but we will depend upon the Name of Christ our Lord. Protect them from the hand of the enemy; protect their marriages from the stresses of military life; protect their children from the absence of a parent; and protect their minds and hearts from the terrors of war.
Bless them, O Lord. Bless their plans and their strategies. Grant our generals wisdom and insight. Grant our service men and women satisfaction in their labor, joy in their service, and excellence in their calling. Grant that they might never have cause to be ashamed of serving this nation – that we would reflect the honor and courage to which we call them.
Finally, we ask Your forgiveness for increasingly placing our women in combat roles and even considering drafting them for military service. Forgive us, and grant us men willing to sacrifice their own lives and reputations to protect the women and children of our society. All this we ask in the Name of Christ our Lord,
26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
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 wine in the Lord’s Supper. Why wine?
This is not merely an academic question. As your pastor, I know that many of you are tempted by alcohol; a number who have a history of alcohol abuse in your families or in your own life. Our use of wine in communion is for some of you a personal challenge.
Further, we are part of a broader evangelical subculture which has a history of opposing alcohol. While Lutherans and Roman Catholics were almost uniformly critical of the prohibitionist movement in America, many of our evangelical forefathers jumped on the wagon. “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t chew; and don’t go with girls that do!”
So given these personal and historical factors, why do our elders persist in using wine? One of the questions that we evangelicals are known for asking is, “What would Jesus do?” In the matter of wine, the way to answer that question is to ask first, “What did Jesus do?” And the NT answers that question clearly: Jesus made wine, Jesus drank wine, and Jesus used wine to commemorate God’s salvation.
First, Jesus made wine. The first miracle that Jesus performed was turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. And, as the question that the master of the feast asks the groom makes plain, this wasn’t grape juice. “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” (Jn 2:10) Jesus made excellent wine.
Second, Jesus drank wine. Jesus contrasts His ministry with that of John the Baptist in this way, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Mt 11:18-19). Jesus came drinking – and many accused Him of being a winebibber, a drunkard. Such an accusation would hardly stick were Jesus known as a teetotaler. Jesus drank wine.
Finally, Jesus used wine to commemorate God’s salvation. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He used the fruit of the vine as a symbol of His shed blood. Refrigeration was not common in the ancient world. When the Bible references “the fruit of the vine”, therefore, it refers almost exclusively to wine. And if Jesus used wine to celebrate the Supper, why wouldn’t we?
So what did Jesus do? He made wine, drank wine, and used wine to commemorate God’s salvation. And here’s a very important point: Jesus did all this within a cultural context in which drunkenness was a common problem; He established this for His Church knowing that many of His disciples would be tempted by alcohol. So why did He do it? Why didn’t He just use water like the Mormons do?
Because in using wine within the context of the Supper, Jesus declared that wine is good in itself. The problem with humanity is not there in the cup; the problem is here in our heart. Drunkenness proceeds out of the heart (Mk 7:20-23). Communion puts the use of wine in a holy, a sacred context. By giving me wine for communion, Jesus is teaching me that it is possible for me to use and not abuse this gift to the glory of my Creator.
So what of you? Have you thanked God for the gift of wine? Further, have you been using that gift to His glory or have you been abusing it to your own shame? Reminded that God has given us wine to use to the honor of His Name and that we often deny or abuse His good gifts because our hearts are corrupt, let us confess our sin to the Lord. 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.
“There are only two things wrong with our schools: everything that our children don’t learn there and everything they do. The public schools, with their vast political and bureaucratic machinery, are beyond reform. That does not mean that persons of good will should not offer themselves up as missionaries of truth and goodness and beauty, to teach there, as in partibus furibundis. But we should be quite mad to send our children there. We send missionaries to cannibals. We do not serve the cannibals our boys and girls.”
Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, p. 54.
“The person who puts confidence in the flesh says, ‘Belonging to my tribe and observing my ritual make me secure in my relationship with God.’ In contrast to those who put such confidence in the flesh, the true people of God, the circumcision, put no confidence in national status and religious ceremony. Boasting in Christ Jesus excludes putting confidence in the flesh. Although national identities and sacred ceremonies are not viewed as bad in themselves, they are rejected as the foundation for one’s relationship with God or with fellow believers.”
G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, p. 222.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
In Philippians 1, Paul prays that we “may approve the things that are excellent” (1:9b). In order to do so, we must be able to identify these excellent things and, in our text, Paul catalogues some of them. He calls us to meditate on these things – to give them our attention, mull them over, and let them shape our attitude and actions.
So let us meditate on whatever things are noble. This word noble is “used in classical Greek in the sense of ‘venerable, inviting reverence, worthy of reverence.’ The word exhorts here to a due appreciation of such things as produce a noble seriousness.” (Wuest) Other translations endeavor to capture the meaning with the English word “honorable.”
P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, once remarked, “No man ever went broke underestimating the public taste.” His remark reflects a sober truth: our sinful nature lends itself to that which is base. Taking advantage of this sinful corruption, much of the entertainment industry has become horribly degenerate, appealing to our baser instincts.
Yet even though our sinful nature gravitates toward that which is base and corrupt, we still possess a longing for nobility, a longing for that which is honorable and upright. Because we have been created in the image of God, we still retain a sense of the divine and, at times, long for those things which reflect His glory, long for nobility. This longing is cleverly expressed in an old poem of unknown authorship:
I have three tame ducks in my back yard,
Who wallow in the mud, and try real hard
To get their share and even more
of the overflowing backyard store.
They’re fairly content with the task they’re at
Of eating and sleeping and getting fat.
But when the wild ducks fly by
In a streaming line across the sky,
They cast a wishful and quizzical eye
And flap their wings and attempt to fly.
I think my soul is a tame old duck
Wallowing around in the barnyard muck,
It’s fat and lazy with useless wings
But, once in awhile when the north wind sings
And the wild ducks hurtle overhead
It remembers something lost and almost dead,
And it casts a wistful eye
And flaps its wings and tries to fly.
It’s fairly content with the state that it’s in
But it isn’t the duck that it might have been!
Paul calls us, in our passage, to follow those wild ducks; to meditate on what we were created to be; to delight in that which is noble, honorable, and glorious. He calls us to delight in the boy who opens the door for his sister; to rejoice in the wife who honors her husband and shields his faults; to esteem the man who keeps himself free from pornography; to admire the businessman who pays his employees well; to honor the soldier who lays down his life for his friends; to worship the Lord Christ who sacrificed Himself for us all. “That’s what I want to be like,” we should say, “that’s who I want to be.”
So reminded of our call to meditate on whatever things are noble, let us confess that we often gravitate toward that which is base instead. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.