Today continues a sermon series on the Christian Questions with their Answers. We read from page 329 in the hymnal, questions nine through thirteen. Please read the answers to the questions. …
Last time we heard how true faith does not hope in salvation from anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Faith does not look to its own worthiness or works.
We trust in Christ, but not in a generic way, without believing anything specific about Him. Our faith is rooted in exact events that took place and precise promises made in Scripture. True faith looks to Jesus on the cross and risen from the dead, for the forgiveness of all our sins.
We also heard last week that there is only one God, yet three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In light of this knowledge of the Triune God, we rightly ask if the Father died for us. We could also ask if the Spirit died.
This may seem like a silly question. Of course only the Son took on flesh, was born of the Virgin Mary, died and shed His blood on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Obviously the Father did not become flesh, as the Son did, and so could not die. He is God but not man, as is the Holy Spirit. But the Son is both God and Man.
Nowadays there are many strange teachings, as there also have been different heresies in the past. Heresies don’t die, they only wait to get recycled in a future generation. So it is good to keep the truth of the Gospel firm against false teachings that will eventually arise again. Especially in our day when many are watering down the teachings of Scripture or creatively coming up with their own prophecies and doctrine, we do well to keep ours pure and strong.
The core and center of the Christian Questions, to which every other question about the Sacrament points or draws itself from, is the Words of Institution. The heart of preparation for the Lord’s Supper comes in what the Lord’s Supper is, and therefore the things we need for which our dear Lord gave the Sacrament. In the Words of Institution, we essentially hear the answers to all the Christian Questions: What am I and what is my condition if I do not have Christ? With what and in what way am I saved?
In the Words of Institution, we hear that the bread that is blessed is His Body, and the wine is His Blood. Jesus gives it to sinners, although He does not intend it for just any sinners; only to those who are able to eat it and drink it for the forgiveness of sins. No sinner can make himself righteous by his own efforts. So God declares you righteous on account of the righteousness of Christ, delivered through His means of grace, received by faith.
These benefits are given to those who “discern the Body,” as Saint Paul says. Why should we have to discern the Body of Christ? Because the Words of Institution demand it. Christ our Lord tells us that His Body and Blood are here. If we disbelieve His words, yet we want to receive His Sacrament, well then what are we receiving?
People do this sort of thing all the time. They say they want Communion because then they get strength for daily life, or want to feel peace, or their spirits lifted, or they simply want to feel happy. These things are often true, and they can express secondary effects of the Supper. But the central thing that must be kept in focus should be the Body and Blood of Christ. If that is not at all in a person’s motivation to come to the Sacrament, then their understanding of it is flawed. Worse, if they actually deny the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament, then they are at risk of eating and drinking to their judgment, as Paul says.
Today we focus most on our own preparation. We should examine ourselves with an eye to the Words of Institution and the clear expression of our Lord that He gives His Body and Blood for us Christians to eat and drink. But if we do not want to trust what He says about His own Sacrament, yet barge in and seize what we want, then that is not faith. It is a thief’s spirit of taking, and thieves face consequences.
Here we have one of the important reasons for Closed Communions. Those who will refuse to acknowledge that the Body and Blood of Christ are eaten and drunk in the Sacrament are rejecting Christ’s own words. This is not a small matter, as if it were only a matter of style or opinion.
Christ graciously gives us a tremendous gift and then says, “Here is what it is, and here is why you should use it.” If we ignore what He tells us, then we use the Sacrament at our own risk, and deadly consequences will follow.
Is it any wonder that the Church makes sure that people believe the words of Christ before they are admitted to this Sacrament? We want people’s benefit, not their harm. But only a cold, callous heart would give out the Sacrament indiscriminately, as if it did not matter whether people were receiving it to their judgment. Worse, if a minister and congregation give out the Sacrament to any who want it, then they are denying the Words of Christ, either because they do not believe that the Body and Blood are there, or else because they act as if it does not matter whether His Body and Blood are there. Lord preserve us from such cold indifference.
If we believe the Words of Christ, we take great care in distributing the Sacrament, and we also take great care in receiving it. So we examine ourselves and prepare for it.
Sincere Christians who take the Supper seriously learn and believe what they receive in it from the words of Christ. He says His Body is there, so they believe and discern His Body. Likewise with His Blood. They believe His instructions for His Supper.
Not only the presence of the Body and Blood, but also the purpose as stated in the institution is important. He says, “for the forgiveness of sins”. So the Sacrament is given for those who want forgiveness. As I said before, there are also secondary benefits, more of which we will get into next week. But the primary purpose is the remission of all your sins.
“But pastor,” someone may say, “I am already forgiven!” Yes, you are, and anyone who is not already forgiven should not receive the Sacrament, since without faith it is impossible to receive the Sacrament to your benefit. But we should also remember that God does not give forgiveness only once. He wants to overflow with salvation and life for sinners.
It is not that we have sinned during the week and now we need more forgiveness. Instead, we rightly say that we have already received forgiveness of all sins, from conception to death. There is no additional remission needed, as if God were counting up the exact number of sins you have, and only a certain number at a time could be forgiven. No, He forgives everything, and then He forgives everything over again.
Why? Because God knows that we are weak. He knows that we are spiritually forgetful. Week by week we need God’s reminder. We need the strengthening the Spirit gives through the Gospel so that we remain in faith rather than fall away. We need the comfort of hearing the Absolution in its different forms, including the Absolution given with bread and wine into our mouths.
In this way, God overflows with grace for you. That is also what Christ says in the Words of Institution: “This is My Body, which is given for you. … This cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.” God is thinking about you and your needs when He gives you this precious gift.
There is a nice little quote attributed to Doctor Luther: “Every week I preach justification by faith to my people, because every week they forget it.” The problem with the quote is that Luther does not appear to have ever said it. It appears to have come from a misquotation of Luther by a man named Spurgeon who was paraphrasing Luther from memory. However, the quote is still true. We need the Gospel because we forget it.
Now, it is not that every week we get a sort of bizarre amnesia, as if you walk into the house of God saying, “Who is Christ? Am I forgiven? I can’t remember!” But we forget in our daily lives, in little moments when we question the love of God; when we doubt whether THIS sin can be forgiven; when we treat our neighbor in an unforgiving fashion; when we live comfortably with our little idols and forget to hunger and thirst for the grace of Christ. At such times, we need to be reminded, lest our little forgetfulnesses turn into coldness or despair. We need God’s reminders.
Praise to this Lord who so tenderly sees to the needs of weak sinners such as we are. In His Name and to His glory. Amen.
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