BLOOD OATH

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Jesus is taking the meaning of the Passover covenant and saying that it is fulfilled in his own life and death. We are saved and delivered from bondage to sin by His death, not the death of a lamb. We have fellowship and a good relationship with God through Him. By our own failings, the covenant was broken, but He made up for that in His own blood. Just as the people of Israel were saved from death and delivered from slavery by the first Passover, so we are saved from eternal death and delivered from slavery to sin by Jesus Christ. Their entry point into relationship with God was the Passover; so our entry point into relationship with God is the “second Passover” – the crucifixion.

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Download Matthew Part 92

Matthew #92. Matthew 26:20-30

26As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.” 27Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. 28For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29But I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom with you.” 30After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matt 26:26-30, HCSB)

Our text for this week is Matthew’s remembrance of how Jesus celebrated the Passover with the disciples the night before he was crucified. I want to focus on the meaning of what Jesus said and did at that meal. In order to do so, I think it is important for us to understand the cultural and historical background of the Passover.

Let’s start with the history. Sometime around 1800 BC, the family of the patriarch Jacob moved from Palestine to Egypt to escape a great famine. Jacob’s family was well received by the Egyptians, because one of his sons (Joseph) had risen to become the highest official in Egypt apart from the king. Jacob’s family (there were about 70 of them when they came to Egypt) maintained a distinct ethnic and religious identity in Egypt. This was most probably because they were committed to the worship of the one true God, and so avoided the ways of the Egyptians, who worshipped a pantheon of false gods and idols. Over the years, the family of Jacob became a numerous race and they were known as Hebrews. Sometimes they were also called the Israelites, or the “children of Israel” because Jacob had been known as “Israel” during his lifetime.

During the next four hundred years, the Egyptian attitude of tolerance for the Israelites turned to fear. They began to oppress them and made them into a slave-race in order to build great monuments in Egypt. The Israelites cried out to God, and God called Moses, whom he used to deliver the people of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt.

The deliverance, however, was something of a process. Pharaoh (all Egyptian kings were called Pharaoh) would not willingly release such a vast resource of cheap labor, and so he repeatedly refused the request of Moses for freedom for the Israelites. Each time Pharaoh refused, God struck the Egyptians with a plague. This happened ten times.

What is not well known about the ten plagues is that each plague struck at a specific “god” that the Egyptians worshipped. For instance, the plague of darkness made a mockery of Ra, the Egyptian “sun-god.” The fact that the God of Israel could make darkness come over Egypt at His whim, showed that Ra had no power, and was in fact, a false god. Likewise, the plague of frogs struck at the god and goddess of fertility (Hapi and Heqt respectively) who were symbolized in Egyptian worship by frogs. Each plague struck similarly at the false religion of the Egyptians, showing the powerlessness of their so-called gods.

After God thoroughly judged the false gods and false religion of the Egyptians, Pharaoh still refused to let the Israelites leave. It was this stubborn refusal that brought about the tragedy and triumph that was the Passover. The Passover was, in fact, the tenth plague. This plague brought about the death of every firstborn male in Egypt. In order to protect the Israelites from the death of their own firstborn males, God gave the people special instructions through Moses.

The people were told to kill a young lamb, which was to be the substitute for the death of the first son. The lamb in question was supposed to be an animal without disease or blemish, one that ordinarily would not have been eaten. The blood of the lamb was daubed on the top, and each side, of the doorposts (interestingly, though they didn’t know it, the Israelites were tracing the sign of the cross in the air as they painted the blood). The blood of the lamb was the seal on their households that protected them from death. Death “passed over” the houses that were protected by the blood of the lamb. After slaughtering the lamb, they roasted it and ate it. Along with the lamb they had vegetables, and a flat bread that was baked without yeast. The reason the bread was without yeast was that God told them to be ready to leave in a hurry – they didn’t have time to wait for bread to rise.

That very night, God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh, in sorrow at the death of his firstborn son, called Moses in the middle of the night and told him to take the Israelites and get out. Not only that, but the Egyptians showered their wealth on the Israelites as they left, hoping to appease the wrath that had killed their firstborn sons. And so they left as free men and women.  Not only that, but they entered freedom with great riches at their disposal.

Later, God told the Israelites to remember the Passover each year with a special meal commemorating their deliverance. To this day, Jews celebrate the Passover with that in mind.

It is helpful also to understand the cultural background of animal sacrifice, because some of the words of Jesus make use of this. In the very ancient middle east, during the time of the first Passover, when two people, or two entities (like, for instance, two nations) made a solemn agreement, they usually sealed the agreement through the sacrifice of one or more animals. The idea behind it was something like this: “This agreement is so important to me, that it requires the shedding of blood. In fact, if the agreement is broken, more blood will be shed – either mine or yours.” So the killing of animals solemnized and formalized ancient agreements. We might call these sorts of agreements “covenants.”

If the two parties to the agreement were equals, the expectation was that whoever broke the agreement would deserve to shed his own blood to “pay” for the broken agreement. The death of the animals symbolized this. If the covenant was between a greater and lesser party (say, a king, and a nobleman who owed him allegiance), then the lesser party would be expected to shed his own blood if the covenant was broken – no matter which party broke it. Again, this was symbolized by the killing of the animals to formalize the covenant.

There was often another piece involved as well. In addition to the shedding of blood as a declaration of the seriousness of the agreement, usually the two parties would then eat together. Most often, what they ate was the animal (or animals) that had been killed as part of the covenant. This eating together indicated that the two parties now had fellowship with one another. There was now a positive relationship present. The meal was a celebration of that good relationship. So solemn agreements – covenants – were formalized by the killing and eating of animals.

With this understanding, now we can see this: the Passover was the formalizing of God’s covenant with his people. God was saying to his people: “I will stand by this covenant that I am making with you. If necessary, blood will be shed in order to satisfy this agreement.” So the people killed the lambs, and celebrated the agreement with the Passover meal. In addition, as I have already mentioned, the death of the lamb protected the people of Israel, and delivered them from slavery in Egypt. I also want to point out, that this covenant-agreement between God and his people came before the laws which were given at Mount Sinai (the 10 Commandments etc.). God made a similar covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15), and the Passover was, in a sense, a reiteration of that covenant; only this time it was made with all of God’s people as a whole. My point is, this covenant was established before the people had done anything to please God or follow his laws. It is a covenant of God’s promise to save and deliver his people; a covenant of Grace. It was the entry point into their relationship with God.

Each time the people of Israel celebrated the Passover, it was, in a sense, a renewal of the covenant that God had made with them. The shedding of the blood of the lamb reminded them of the seriousness of the agreement. The eating was a celebration of their fellowship with God, and with each other.

Now we have a better basis on which to evaluate the words of Jesus. There are two moments within the Passover meal when bread is formally broken and shared by all those present. The first is towards the beginning. Part of the broken bread is taken and hidden away, and is afterwards called the “afikomen,” or “bread of life.” Later, that piece is taken out and shared among all of those present. It is probably this piece – the bread of life – about which Jesus said: “Take and eat it; this is my body.” What Jesus is doing is putting himself into the middle of God’s covenant with his people. He is saying: “This meal, this covenant-agreement, is about me.”

His next action makes it even more clear. He takes the cup, and says: “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Jesus is clearly saying that the original Passover-covenant between God and his people is established not by the sacrifice of lambs, but by his own sacrificial death. He is taking the meaning of the Passover covenant and saying that it is fulfilled in his own life and death. We are saved and delivered from bondage to sin by His death, not the death of a lamb. We have fellowship and a good relationship with God through Him. By our own failings, the covenant was broken, but He made up for that in His own blood. Just as the people of Israel were saved from death and delivered from slavery by the first Passover, so we are saved from eternal death, and delivered from slavery to sin, by Jesus Christ. Their entry point into relationship with God was the Passover; so our entry point into relationship with God is the “second Passover” – the crucifixion.

Just as the first Israelites celebrated their fellowship with God by eating the Passover lamb, so, in Communion (also called “The Lord’s Supper” or “the Eucharist”), we celebrate our fellowship with God that is made possible by the death of Jesus.

Just as the Passover was a renewal and reminder for the Israelites of God’s covenant with his people, so our own celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a renewal, reminder and acceptance of God’s covenant with us through the blood of Jesus Christ.

This is the meaning of Communion. This is why Paul says:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1Cor 11:26, ESV2011)

Now, one more thing. Some people get caught up in arguments about what, exactly, happens, when we take the bread and wine. The Roman Catholic view is that the bread and the wine essentially turn into the physical presence of Jesus (i.e. the bread and wine turn into the body and blood). After all, Jesus said “This is my body…this is my blood.” In our Matthew text for today (and also the parallel text in Mark), he does not add “do this in remembrance of me.” The Reformed view (most Baptists, Evangelical Free etc.) is that the bread and the wine simply remind us of the presence of Jesus: all it is, is a remembrance. The Lutheran view (which I subscribe to) is that the bread and the wine are somehow used as a means to bring us the presence of Jesus.

A helpful way of understanding this is to picture a radio. When you turn it on, what happens? In the Catholic view, when you turn it on, the radio becomes music. In the reformed view, when you turn it on, the radio reminds us of music. In the Lutheran view, when you turn it on, the radio becomes the vehicle which brings us music.  Thus, in the Lord’s Supper, we don’t believe that the bread and the wine actually change into flesh and blood. Neither do we believe that it is only a symbol – a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice. Instead, we believe that through eating the bread and drinking the wine in faith, Jesus comes to us. The bread and the wine are vehicles of God’s gracious presence. He uses them to come to us in a special, tangible way. We don’t pretend to know how, but he has promised his presence with the bread and the wine. All we need to do is to receive it in faith. And so, though we don’t explain it perfectly, we believe that when you get the bread and the wine, you are getting Jesus too. You are renewing the covenant which he made with you, a covenant established by his death and resurrection. You are celebrating the fellowship you have with God, and with one another.

An additional thought. Jesus taught his disciples to do this. After his resurrection, they did that, and taught the next generation to do the same. That generation carried it on to the next, and so on. What this means is that in every celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we could trace it back, hand to hand, person to person, generation to generation, to the very supper that Jesus had with Peter, James, John, Matthew and the others. There is a real-life historical connection to Jesus every time we take Communion. It connects us to all of Christianity throughout the ages, and to the physical life on earth of Jesus Christ himself.

What a gift! This is one reason the early Christian church made Communion (“the breaking of the bread”) central to their life and worship (Acts 2:42). Perhaps we should do the same.

FOUR CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EARLY CHURCH

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Fellowship (love in action) does not always come easily to the church, and perhaps it did not come easily even for the very first group of believers. Even so, this was something they persisted in and stuck with, in spite of difficulty at times.

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Experiencing Life Together #3

FOUR THINGS TO WHICH THE EARLY CHURCH WAS DEVOTED. Acts 2:42

As we come together to experience the Power, Presence and Purpose of Jesus, it may be useful to consider any Biblical patterns that exist for the Church. Biblically speaking, a lot of freedom is given to believers in how they structure local congregations. However there is a pretty clear Biblical pattern for the values that ought to drive local churches, and the practical results that those values ought to show. Perhaps one of the most useful and descriptive passages in discovering God’s pattern for the church is found in acts Chapter 2:42-47. This is a descriptive passage, not a prescriptive one; even so, we can learn from the example presented here and it seems wise to consider carefully the characteristics of that first growing Christian congregation.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he 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 favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

In this passage, we find four things that the early church was devoted to and three things that resulted from such devotion. We will examine each of the seven characteristics one by one . This week, we will consider the four things the church was devoted to. Next week, we will focus especially on one of those four things — prayer. And after that, we will consider the three things their resulted from their devotion.

First, I want to mention this word, “devoted.” The idea behind the Greek term, is a that a group of people are together earnest, persevering, diligent and devoted to something. In other words, they didn’t just “say a prayer.” They were earnest and diligent about praying; they persisted and persevered in their prayers, even when they did not receive immediate answers. They didn’t just “listen to a sermon.” They diligently persevered in learning what Jesus said and did, and what it meant. They persisted in applying it to their lives, even when at first it didn’t feel like it made anything better.

I think this idea is very important. What we really believe as Christians is that spiritual reality is more real and important than what we call “physical” reality. I don’t mean the physical isn’t real, or that it doesn’t matter; but Christians believe the spiritual is the more powerful of the two. That means we persist in our devotion to these things, even when the physical reality is whispering to us that we are stupid and silly to do so. We persist in them because they make a difference in spiritual reality Eventually, that difference will also affect the physical realm, but even if it does not do so during our lifetimes, we trust in what we don’t see. That is what faith is: “the reality of what is hoped for; the certainty of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

1. They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. The early church was founded on the testimony of the apostles. They listened as Peter, James and John and others repeated to them the teachings of Jesus. They heard these great leaders expounding upon those teachings and explaining the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostles also taught the early church the meaning of the Old Testament and how Jesus fulfilled its promises and prophecies. Unfortunately, today we no longer have the apostles. But we do still have their teachings — they are found in the New Testament. The New Testament is in fact the written form of the teaching of the apostles. It is not much of a leap to say that when we see that the first characteristic of the early church was that they were devoted to the apostles teaching, the parallel characteristic for the present-day church should be that we are devoted to the Bible. How can we do this practically in our church, and specifically in the house-church?

a. We ought to commit to the authority of the scriptures. The church was founded on the teaching of the Bible, and so also should our lives be founded on the teachings of the Bible. The Bible is the final authority in all things for all believers. Practically speaking, the house-church should have an understanding that scripture is the basis for everything we do and say in our group. This doesn’t mean we never talk about football scores, but it does mean that as we encourage one another and share with one another, we do so with a sense that we are all together under the authority of scripture.

b. We study scripture. To some of you, “study” may sound like a dirty word. It doesn’t have to be that way however. Try setting aside a special time each week (like Sunday nights) to study the Bible. As a starting point, read the scripture passage that goes with that week’s sermon notes, think about it, and then read the sermon notes over. The “Word” time during the house-church meeting is supposed to be mainly for application, rather than study. If you come to house-church and you haven’t read the sermon notes or the passage, you will probably not get much out of the word time, and the other people in the house-church will miss out on the insight and thoughts you might have had for them, if you had taken just a bit of time to read. I don’t think reading them on the way to house-church gives God’s Word the respect such a remarkable book deserves.

c. Apply the scripture to your life. After you have studied scripture, you should ask “what does it mean to me? How should I live differently or what comfort should I take from this?” Although God’s word is supposed to inform our thinking, the great value of it is that it not only transforms our minds, but our very lives as well. God’s word illuminates our path – what we are to do, how we are to live.

2. The second characteristic of the early church is that they were devoted to fellowship. The Greek word used in Acts 2:42 for “fellowship” is Koinonia. A helpful way to translate this word might be “community.” Now it is obvious from the context that the word does not mean “town” or “locality” so we might clarify things by saying it means Christian community. In other words, these first Christians devoted themselves to each other. In fact, this was their way of living out in a practically what Jesus said in John 13:24-25:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Fellowship is just Christian love in action. It is the “nuts and bolts” of people in the body of Christ (the church) loving each other. In this context, It is helpful to remember that when they devoted themselves to the fellowship, the word “devoted” implies that this was something they worked on and stuck with, “in spite of resistance or struggle.” Fellowship (love in action) does not always come easily to the church, and perhaps it did not come easily even for the very first group of believers. Even so, this was something they persisted in and stuck with, in spite of difficulty at times.

3. The third characteristic of the early church is that they were devoted to the “breaking of bread.” This phrase (“the breaking of the bread”) refers to the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians to describe Holy Communion, and the language parallels that of the gospels as well. It took some years before it was called anything but “the breaking of the bread.” How can this be made a practical characteristic of house-church life? First, I believe it meant that the message of human sin and God’s sacrifice to forgive that sin, was central to their lives. The Lord’s Supper tells this basic message of Christianity every time it is celebrated. Second, I believe their devotion to the Lord’s Supper was evidence of an ongoing hunger and thirst for more of God in their lives. The central meaning of the Lord’s Supper is the Presence of Jesus. So in house-church, we can be intentional about the core Christian message of man’s sin and God’s loving forgiveness, and we can be intentional about nurturing a hunger for Jesus.

4. The fourth thing that the early church was devoted to is prayer. Prayer, both together and alone, was central to their experience of church. Because prayer is so important to the life of any house-church, we will devote a week entirely to that subject (next week).

As you consider this passage of scripture, allow yourself to dream. What would your house-church look like if you were devoted to the Bible, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer? Does this vision excite you at all? How would your life be different if you are a part of such a dynamic group? And, how will you be a part of making this happen?

What is Communion? 1 Corinthians #18. 1 Cor 11:17-31

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Three weeks ago Paul’s comments about food sacrificed to idols taught us some things about what we call The Lord’s Supper, or Communion. We learned that to take the bread and wine in faith is to enter into community with Jesus, to fellowship with him in a special way. It is also a special kind of communion or fellowship with other believers who take the bread and wine with us.

1 Corinthians 11:17-33 is also about the Lord’s Supper. As we get into this today, you might be tempted to think “Pastor Tom has some kind of bee in his bonnet about Communion. He’s really pushing this right now.” But that’s not accurate. If were up to me, I would not preach about Communion again so soon. However, this is one of the reasons I think it is important to preach through books of the Bible, passage by passage. When we go through the bible this way, I am not the one setting the agenda. I’m not thinking of some topic we ought to cover. In the same way, I am not following some theological group’s preaching plan for the “church year.” Instead, the Holy Spirit sets the agenda through the text of the Bible each week. And so, once more on the menu this week is some teaching about Communion. In obedience to the Holy Spirit, we’ll look at it, and see what He has to say about it this time.

In order to fully understand this passage, I want to remind you of the historical context. All Christians for the first 300 years after Jesus met in small groups in homes. Sometimes they had the use of a public meeting place also, like a rented room, or a synagogue. In the case of the Corinthians, the Christians had been violently expelled from the synagogue, and it is virtually certain that they met in the homes of church members. In those days, houses were not usually very large, and few, if any of the Corinthians were noble and wealthy (see 1:26). People would come to the houses to eat, celebrate communion, and then talk about the bible and pray. Communion was celebrated as part of the meal, as it was in the last Passover that Jesus held with his disciples.

In Corinth, the few wealthiest people would be there first, because they would have the most flexibility in their time. The poorer laborers almost certainly had to work until dark, and so came later. It was even harder for the slaves, who obviously would have had difficulty gaining the liberty to go to a church meeting. Those who were financially better off were likely the ones who provided the bulk of the food. They had an opportunity to show wonderful Christian love by providing a meal that their poorer fellow-Christians couldn’t normally afford. But what actually happened was that they started eating right away, and by the time the poorer folks and the slaves arrived, there was precious little left. Paul notes that some of the early-comers were even drunk by the time the latest arrived!

We already learned from 1 Corinthians 10:14-31 that communion is special connection with Jesus and with each other. It is one way in which God touches us with his grace. This way of conducting their meal did not reflect the communion that they had with each other, nor the full depth of the connection they had with Jesus through the Lord’s Supper. In a sense, they had begun to treat communion as if it were some little ceremony tacked on to the end of the meal, almost like a fortune cookie.

In verses 23-26, Paul reminds them of the words of Jesus. These are the words I say every time we celebrate communion. If you have celebrated the Christian Passover with us, you understand the context and meaning of these words better than 90% of Christians living today. It is conjecture, but it is a very good guess that it was a special piece of bread, the afikomen – the “bread of life” which Jesus broke and over which he spoke these words. After all, in John 6:35 Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Through communion, Jesus is inviting us to feast our spirits on his life and presence.

Continue reading “What is Communion? 1 Corinthians #18. 1 Cor 11:17-31”

Communion: Remembrance, Or More


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Paul finally returns to the question that began his rambling: is it OK to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols? In actually answering this question, he provides us with some interesting and important teaching on another subject also: the significance of the Lord’s Supper.

Theologians call it the Eucharist. Some regular people call it the Lord’s Supper. Others call it communion. Honestly, I like the term Communion, and I’ll share why in just a moment.

Paul compares idol worship to true Christian worship. He says:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16)

I think it is quite obvious that Paul is referring to the Lord’s Supper. The word “participation” here is also translated “sharing.” The Greek word is koinonia. It is often translated “fellowship,” but especially it is the main word for “community” or “communion.” What Paul means is that to eat the bread and to drink the wine is to enter into community with Jesus. When you are in community, it means that you have relationship with those in the community. It means that you interact, you communicate. People in community are committed to each other at some level. So as we participate in communion, we are connected with Jesus in some way. There is some kind of commitment implied between us and the Lord. There is some kind of communication that takes place between Him and us.

There is also community among the people who take communion together:

Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (1 Cor 10:17)

Paul further explains by mentioning the temple sacrifices practiced by the people of Israel. In every sacrifice except the burnt offering, the worshipers would bring an animal to be killed. Part of the animal would be burned on the altar, symbolically giving it to God. Part of it would be given to the priests and temple workers to eat. The rest of it would be eaten by those who came to worship. In other words, eating the sacrificed animal was an act of faith, an act of worship and an act of community. You wouldn’t even be there to eat if you didn’t have faith. You wouldn’t be there if you didn’t belong somehow to the group that was offering the sacrifice. Eating and drinking connected you to God and to those with whom you ate. In the same way, says Paul, eating and drinking communion is an act of faith, an act of worship and an act of Christian community. It connects us with the Lord, and it connects us with each other.

Now,There are three widely held differing views about Communion. The first one, held generally by Roman Catholics, is called “transubstantiation.” They believe that when the priest/pastor speaks the words spoken by Jesus, the bread and the wine miraculously turn into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus said “this is my body, this is my blood.” Thus, the significance of communion in this view is that you are physically imbibing Jesus.

Another view is held by many Baptists, Methodists and others. They would say that communion is all about remembrance. After all, Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me.” So they would say that significance of communion is that it reminds of Jesus and his sacrifice for us. 500 years ago, during the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic church was saying that communion (which they called and still call “mass”) was actually a ceremony wherein Jesus sacrificed himself for us again. In other words, every mass was a new sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood. Partly in reaction to this, many reformers rejected any idea of anything “mystical” about communion. To avoid the clearly unbiblical idea of re-sacrificing Jesus, they maintained that there was nothing at all to communion except a remembrance.

A third perspective has traditionally been held by Lutherans. They would say, “yes, it is a remembrance.” They would also say when Jesus says “this is my body, this is my blood” he is saying that when we do this, he is offering us his presence in some way. They reject the idea of a “re-sacrifice” but they point to verses like these in 1 Corinthians and say “there is something more here than only remembering.” There is, in fact, communion with Jesus and with other believers.

The reason I share this is because you may have had questions about communion. Sometimes, people are concerned about what happens to the bread crumbs or the extra wine. Are we throwing pieces of Jesus on the floor, or dumping him down the sink? That concern, of course, comes out of the Roman Catholic view that the bread and wine physically turn into Jesus. I don’t think so. I think communion bread crumbs are like any other bread crumbs.

Some of you may have heard of, or experienced “close communion.” Churches who practice close communion do not allow just anyone to receive communion. You must be a member of the church or denomination. The idea behind this makes sense. If communion is indeed a participation in community with Jesus and other believers, you should be a part of the community. If you don’t trust Jesus, it doesn’t seem appropriate to participate in communion. And if you don’t trust Him, you aren’t truly part of the community of those who do.

Even so, I think “close communion” goes a little too far. That is why I usually say something like “if you trust Jesus, you are welcome to receive the Lord’s Supper.” Who am I to determine if you really trust Jesus or not? Only you and the Lord really know if you trust Him. So I leave it up to every individual to decide if it’s appropriate for him or her to participate in communion. But it is something I think we should all take seriously. There should be no pressure to take part in communion if you aren’t sure you believe.

I want to point out that Paul’s words here indicate that when we participate in communion, there is something that happens here beyond the daily connection that believers already have with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Paul is writing to people who believe, and that means they have the Holy Spirit. It is clear from 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 that the Corinthians have also been filled with the Holy Spirit. Even so, he indicates that in communion, there is some connection with the Lord that is different from our day to day Christian faith of walking with Jesus through the power of the Spirit.

I think the Roman Catholic idea that we are taking in the physical flesh and blood of Jesus is more than the Bible actually says. But I also think the idea of some of the reformers, that it is only a remembrance, is less than what the Bible says. Paul is speaking here of some kind of connection that takes place through the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine. This connection is not carefully defined, but it is clearly indicated. What is all amounts to, is that through communion, we can be connected to Jesus, and to each other, in a special way. The traditional Lutheran way of saying this is that it is a “means of grace.” It is a special way in which God’s grace can touch us. Lutherans (and others) tend to forget, however, that it is also a special way in which we are also connected with each other – with fellow believers.

So, going forward, as we participate in communion I want to encourage you to receive it in the understanding and in the faith that through the eating and drinking, God wants to connect with you in a special way. I often think of it as a tangible touch from the Lord. As my body touches the bread and the wine, so God’s grace just as truly touches me. At the same time, I also encourage you to bear in mind that as we take it together, we are connected to each other in God’s family. We are in community together.

It is from this understanding of Communion that Paul concludes his thoughts about eating food sacrificed to idols. Remember, there are three contexts in which the Corinthians might encounter meat sacrificed to idols: in the meat market, at a dinner party, or at the temple sacrifice ceremony itself.

Paul says not to worry about whatever they buy in the meat market. God is the only God, and everything is his, so enjoy the good cheap meat. When it comes to eating at someone else’s house, Paul’s attitude is similar. Go head, enjoy. However, he says even then to be careful of the conscience of of the people you are eating with. If there is another Christian present who might be compromised in faith if you eat it, then don’t eat it. Paul makes it clear that there is nothing wrong with it, but that we should be concerned about the conscience of others.

But the third context is different. The temple sacrifice is a little like communion. It is a participation in worship. It is a joining with others in their religion. And, says Paul, it is a participation in demons. This is just a side note, but Paul clearly says here that there are demonic powers behind some of the pagan worship. Elsewhere in the New Testament (particularly in the book of Acts) we have seen that demons have some limited power to enact “miracles.” So even though there is no other God, pagan worship is not harmless.

Paul finally ends this section with a terrific summary:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.