St. Peter Lutheran Church
1 Corinthians 11:23-32
April 13, 2017
“The Blood of the Covenant”
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. 5 He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
(Gradual/ Tract for Maundy Thursday: Psalm 111:4-5)
“Karl, wilt thou have Angela, here present, to be thy wedded wife? Wilt thou love, honor, and cherish her, and keep with her this bond of wedlock holy and unbroken till death you do part? If so, declare it before God and these witnesses by saying, I will.”
Angela, wilt thou have Karl, here present, to be thy wedded husband? Wilt thou love, honor, cherish, and obey him, and keep with him this bond of wedlock holy and unbroken till death you do part? If so, declare it before God and these witnesses by saying, I will.
I Karl, in the presence of God and this assembly, take thee, Angela, to be my wedded wife, and plight thee my troth in every duty, not to part from thee, till death us do part.
I Angela, in the presence of God and this assembly, take thee, Karl, to be my wedded husband, and plight thee my troth in every duty, not to part from thee, till death us do part.
Those words are not the exact words that we said when we were married. They are from the old version of the hymnal. You may have said them when you were married.
What do we call those words? Vows. They are oaths taken before God by which we enter into marriage, into a relationship with this other person. We ask God to witness our solemn promises, whether we keep them or not. On other occasions we make different kinds of vows.
The people of old had a term for this kind of promise before God and the new relationship established by that promise. They called it “a covenant.” (How covenants were entered: witnesses, solemn pledges before God (maybe with a visible or written monument to the pledge). An animal’s blood would be shed to seal the covenant, often. And there was often a meal between the two parties, signifying fellowship, peace. The two would become like brothers, bound by blood.
People entered covenants out of need for assurance. People cannot be trusted simply to keep their word. We know that too well. In fact, people cannot even be trusted, many times, to keep the pledges they make before God. Marriage vows are broken. So are the vows we make at Baptism and confirmation. Pastors take vows before God when they are ordained. None of these vows can be lived up to perfectly by any sinful human being. Yet often people disregard them entirely; and then these institutions of God are no longer held in high regard.
In the Bible, however, the true God does a remarkable thing—He enters into covenant. He makes a covenant with Noah after the flood; He covenants with Abraham, promising that He will be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants, and that He will bring blessing—that is, salvation—to the whole earth through one of Abraham’s seed, or offspring.
He also enters into a covenant with the children of Israel. He causes Pharaoh to let them go that they may worship the Lord by slaying the firstborn of every household in Egypt, but passing over the houses of the Israelites. He brings them through the Red Sea, utterly destroying their enemies, and brings them to a divine service at Mt. Sinai, where He appears in fire on top of the mountain and speaks the ten commandments to them. Then Moses told them the rest of God’s commandments—the terms of His covenant. The people agreed to obey God as His covenant people. Then, it tells us in Exodus 24, Moses slaughtered and offered oxen as offerings to God. He took the blood in bowls, threw half of it against the altar. Then he read the book of the covenant to the people, and once again they said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient (Ex. 24:7). And Moses took the remaining half of the blood and threw it on the people—about a million of them—and said, “Behold, the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex. 24: 8)
Then, the book of Exodus tells us, that Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons went up on Mt. Sinai, where God was, along with 70 elders of Israel, the leaders of the people. And they saw the God of Israel. There was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And He did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank (Ex. 24:10-11).
Do you see how this works?
God takes the people out of slavery with great power. He proposes to enter a relationship with them where He will be their God, and they will obey Him and keep His commandments. Then blood is shed and first splashed on the altar, which signifies that God is in. Then, when the people agree to the covenant, the blood is splashed on them. They are in.
The blood means God and the people of Israel are bound together. They are one blood. But if one party breaks the covenant, the blood signifies that they should die like the oxen whose blood was shed.
Think of how amazing it is that God would enter this kind of relationship with His creatures! To make Himself a party in an agreement like this, as though it were possible for Him to lie and be punished for breaking His covenant!
Inside of this covenant there is peace between God and sinful human beings. The leaders of Israel see God and eat and drink in His presence, like you eat at the table of a relative or a friend.
However, this peace didn’t last long, because what Israel vowed to do, it did not do. When Moses went up on the mountain for 40 days to speak with God and then return and tell the people of Israel what God said, the Israelites became anxious and lost patience. Since the prophet of God didn’t return, they decided they needed new gods to lead them to a land where they could settle down.
That was the problem with the Old Covenant made at Sinai. There was really nothing wrong with the covenant. There was something wrong with the people of Israel. At the heart of the covenant God made was the ten commandments, and at the heart of the ten commandments is the first commandment: You shall have no other gods. The people of Israel couldn’t even keep this covenanant in an external way for a month. As soon as they became afraid, or desired other things, they started setting up festivals to other gods. They did not “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
Israel wasn’t unique. All the pagan nations of the earth—our ancestors—worshipped false gods.
What they did in a formal way, we do in our hearts. We are anxious and afraid of other people and what they will say and do more than we fear God; we desire other things, we love other things more than we love God. And we trust what we can see, what we can feel, not the Lord and His Word.
Because Israel was like this, God promised a “new covenant.”
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 1 Cor. 11: 25
God is faithful to His covenant, even when Israel is unfaithful. He goes beyond the covenant in faithfulness.
Remember how Moses threw half of the blood on the altar and half on the people, and how it meant that whoever broke the covenant would die? That is the way it works with God’s Law. “The soul that sins shall die”—Ez. 18. But God is never unfaithful—we are.
Yet Jesus here makes a new covenant. Lutherans prefer to use the term testament. That is because the greek word used here usually refers to a “last will and testament”. But also because a testament simply gives—it does not ask the person it gives to do something in return.
Jesus says, This cup is the New Testament in My Blood. My blood. Not your blood. In the covenant between Israel and YHWH, all the transgressions were on the part of unfaithful Israel. They were the ones who should have had their blood shed.
Yet Jesus says His blood—God’s blood—was being shed. Yes, because God was taking on the transgressions of His covenant committed by His people. So that they might be in His presence and eat and drink eternally, and the Lord would be at peace with them and be their God.
That is what follows tonight. When we see the altar stripped bare and naked and the chancel become desolate, we see a picture of what should happen to us sinners. Instead, it happened to Jesus for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. That is why He is stripped, beaten, mocked, nailed to the cross, forsaken by God. To “forgive your iniquity”, so that your “sin will be remembered no more.”
That is why it is a New Testament. It is not like the old, which we broke and could not keep in the flesh. It is new. The requirements of this testament are all met by Jesus. You simply receive it.
But how do I receive it? How do I know it applies to me? How do I know God forgives me? He declares it to you in preaching; He throws the blood of the covenant on You, making You one blood with Him. He douses you in it in Baptism.
But how do I know it still applies to me, when I have sinned and turned away from Jesus after I was baptized? He absolves you at the altar tonight, by name.
Then He gives you this bread to eat, and this cup to drink; His body, which is for you, given to agony, pain, and death on the cross.
His blood, the blood of the New Testament, that seals this new relationship with God. Jesus doesn’t say, This cup symbolizes the New Testament in my blood; He says, This cup is the new Testament in my blood.
It is the blood that brings about this new relationship with God where He forgives our sins and remembers our iniquity no more. No more! Never! He never remembers it. He remembers instead the suffering of His Son for you, who bore your guilt.
He writes His law on your heart from within instead of banging it on you from without, so that you keep it willingly. He makes you know Him. The Israelites ran away from Him at Sinai, but through the blood of Jesus’ testament you know Him and want to know Him.
As often as we eat and drink this body and blood of Jesus, we proclaim His death for us.
It is a serious thing to receive it unworthily—results in death and condemnation.
What is worthiness? Not to do…since we are not capable of doing what merits communion with God. To receive. That is, to eat and drink, believing Christ’s Words: “My body, given for you. My blood shed for you.” This is what Jesus left us in the night He was betrayed– a remembrance of His own death for the ungodly. The very blood of the testament, that makes peace with God for us, given with the wine to drink.
Reformation: not a partial sacrifice to God. Not our act of remembering—how piously we receive it. It is Jesus’ testament, His pledge before dying. It is the assurance that His sufferings are for us, and they avail before God to bring us peace with Him; He “remembers our sins no more.”
Instead: “He remembers His covenant forever”—the forgiveness of sins won by the suffering of His Son.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
Wednesday after Laetare
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Catechism: “Who receives this sacrament worthily?”
March 18, 2015
“When they had bound Jesus, they led Him from Caiaphas to the hall of judgment and gave Him over to Pontius Pilate, the governor. It was early. They themselves did not go into the judgment hall, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”
See how the Jews took such care to be clean when they ate the holy meal of the passover? This was because the Law commanded that all the Jews not have any yeast in their homes during the time of the Passover, which is also called the feast of unleavened bread. So they didn’t want to go into the dwelling of a Gentile, for fear that there might be some yeast there which would make them unclean. It seems, too, that Jews avoided contact with Gentiles in general, maybe because they thought that the Gentiles’ contact with idols and other unlawful practices would make them unclean. The Jews were very concerned about being pure, because if they were ritually unclean, the Law said they were not allowed to go near to God in the temple or around other holy people or near holy things like the Passover meal.
Now if the Jews had a reason to be concerned about being pure when the Passover lamb they ate was only symbolic of Christ, how much more should we be concerned about being clean before receiving the sacrament of the altar? That is, we should be prepared to receive the Sacrament worthily. Because we are not just approaching symbols when we approach the Lord’s Supper. We are coming to receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the holiest of all holy things. We are coming near to receive the body of Jesus, about whom God said, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased!” How terrible it would be to draw near and receive the body and blood of the Son in whom God is well-pleased only to defile and misuse it! St. Paul warns us against this in 1st Corinthians chapter 11: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” That means blaspheming against the body and blood of the Lord, desecrating it. He goes on, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” What is Paul saying? When we come to the sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood unworthily, not recognizing it as the body and blood of Christ, we receive judgment from God instead of blessing. Paul says that many of the Corinthians had gotten sick or weak because they were eating and drinking without recognizing that it was Jesus’ body and blood. Some had even died.
This is part of the reason why our church practices “closed communion,” which means that those who have not been instructed and confessed the faith together with us are not allowed to receive Christ’s body and blood together with us. The first reason for this is because it would be wrong and harmful for us to give people the body and blood who may not be ready to receive it worthily. Those who eat Christ’s body unworthily, not recognizing the body of Jesus, receive judgment from God. They could become sick or die. And we would be helping them to profane the body and blood of Jesus if we knowingly gave them the holy gifts.
So it’s necessary that we know how to receive the Lord’s body and blood reverently and worthily. This is no child’s play. A hymn says: Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in His hand, Christ our God to earth descending, Comes our homage to demand.
So how do we receive Christ’s body and blood worthily? How do we approach the holy gifts in cleanness? The Catechism says: “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” Some people might think that to prepare for the Sacrament of the Altar we should fast or do other things to get ourselves into a devout and reverent frame of mind, where we recognize our sins and are sorry for them and intend to live a new life. Luther doesn’t say such efforts are worthless. Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. It’s good to discipline our flesh to make it pay attention to the holy things we are about to receive. In the Roman Catholic church you are supposed to not eat or drink anything for an hour before receiving holy communion. In the Greek orthodox church you are also supposed to refrain from eating or drinking or chewing gum also for a period of time after receiving holy communion. Are these worthless practices? No, they can be, certainly, fine outward training in that they restrain our flesh and force it to pay attention to the gifts Christ is giving. In the same way we used to have the practice of “dressing up” to go to church in order to show reverence for God’s Word and Sacraments. We kneel to receive the body and blood of Christ. That also is fine outward training. In the old days (but not that long ago) you had to announce your intention to go to holy communion to the pastor on the weekend before. Such practices were intended to make us stop and reflect on what we are doing when we go to communion. In the same way it is a good practice to pray before receiving the Lord’s Supper and ask for a heart that will receive the body of Christ worthily. It’s good to examine yourself and make confession of your sins to God and ask for His help to live a holy life, and receive absolution before going to Holy Communion. Prayer and absolution are not bodily preparation, exactly, but like bodily preparation such as fasting they are also not what makes you worthy to receive Jesus’ body and blood.
Preparing to receive the Lord’s Supper and to be in a devout frame of mind when receiving it is a good thing. But these efforts are not the thing that makes us truly worthy to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ. The Catechism goes on: “but that person is truly worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words, ‘For you,’ require all hearts to believe.” What makes us worthy and clean to receive the body and blood of Christ? Believing His words with which He instituted the Sacrament: “This is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Why is that what makes us clean and prepared to receive the Sacrament? Because we cannot make ourselves clean to enter the presence of God and His holiness. No matter how sorry we are for our sins, no matter how many tears we shed, no matter how long we fast, how much money we give to the church or to the poor, no matter how seriously we intend and commit to changing our lives, we can’t make ourselves clean and worthy to come near to Christ and receive His salvation. What makes us worthy is that Jesus wants to give His life for us, freely. We get to come because He has decided to give His body and blood for our salvation. He invites us to come receive these most holy things.
What makes you clean and worthy to receive Jesus’ body and blood? Only believing that He gave them into death for you. That means you believe that when Jesus was on trial before Pilate, and the chief priests and elders were bringing charge after charge against Him, Jesus was silent and gave no reply because He wanted to be put to death for you, for your sins in particular. When Jesus allowed Himself to be handed over by Pilate and the whole cohort of soldiers surrounded Him to lash Him with whips, Jesus suffered that agony to make atonement for your sins. When He was clothed with a scarlet robe over His bloody back and crowned with a crown of thorns, and the soldiers knelt before Him to mock His claim to be a king, Jesus wanted to endure that for you so that you would not endure eternal mockery for trying to be like God. When Jesus was led humiliated before the crowd, you believe that He endured it for you so that you would not be led before all creation in shame on judgment day. When the crowds chanted for Jesus to be crucified and for Barabbas to be released, it was for you, so that you might not be cast away into eternal torment on the day of judgment.
This is what believing in the words “for you” means. It means that when the innocent son of God was hit in the face and spit on, when He bled from His flogging and His blood stained the ground, when He was condemned and put to shame as an evildoer, it was for you, out of love, that He was doing it. Your many and great sins which make you unclean in His sight, for those sins the only Son of God made payment with the suffering and death of His body and the shedding of His blood. All that is contained in those little words, “for you.”
Now if we reflect on this we see that this is very difficult for us to believe. Why would God give so much to save me from the very sins by which I have offended Him? Why would Jesus allow Himself to be rejected and beaten and mocked, not only by men but by God, for Peter who denied Him out of shame and fear at His approaching death? Why would Jesus shed His blood to atone for the sin of the crowds who were chanting for it, for His brutal death, for His body to be broken on the cross?
It’s Jesus own words that give us the confidence to believe this. They not only invite and encourage but also command us to believe that Jesus has done all this to deliver us from our sins and God’s punishment. He says, “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It is Jesus’ body and blood. It is His life to do with as He wills and as the Father wills. And His will and the Father’s will is to give His body and blood to ransom you from your sin.
So even though our own sinfulness would make us want to hide and not draw near to the Lord’s table, His words invite, encourage, console, and summon us to receive His body and blood precisely because we are such sinners that have such need. He invites and summons us in the assurance that He has made us worthy by His Words that say, “This is given and shed for you.” As our hymn today said:
Christ says: “Come all you that labor,
And receive my grace and favor;
Those who fell no pain or ill
Need no physician’s help or skill.
“For what purpose was My dying
If not for your justifying?
And what use this precious food
If you yourself were pure and good?”
It is just because we are not pure and good, because we are so in need of forgiveness and help, that Jesus summons us to receive this powerful, cleansing medicine. He wants us to come and receive the help of His bitter suffering and death. He wanted to give Himself for us and He wants us to come and receive His crucified body and shed blood that we might be healed. That is what His Words say, and believing these words, we are worthy to receive these most holy gifts, because we are the poor miserable ones to whom He says “This is for you.”
Amen. Soli Deo Gloria
Wednesday after Oculi
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Catechism: “How can eating and drinking do such great things?”
March 11, 2015
The Passion History for today recounts Jesus’ trial before the high priest. Jesus’ trial is not a fair one. The priests and elders have already decided what they want the outcome of the trial to be. They want Jesus condemned to death. So they bring in false witnesses to testify against Him. But they don’t realize that in their efforts to kill Jesus they are bringing about the fulfillment of the very word and teaching that so offended them.
Jesus preached the forgiveness of sins. He proclaimed forgiveness of sins to the sinners the leaders of the Jews had written off—the lowest of the low, the tax collectors and prostitutes. By handing Jesus over to death the leaders were causing Jesus’ word to come true. By His death and the shedding of His blood on the cross Jesus would bring about forgiveness and justification for the lowest of the low, the chief of sinners. Even for Peter who denied Him and Judas who betrayed Him. By His death Jesus would earn forgiveness for the whole human race. The forgiveness He preached would be sealed by His blood.
Forgiveness of sins was the substance of Jesus’ preaching. He didn’t come to earth to proclaim a new set of laws, rules, or regulations for people to fulfill. He came to proclaim that God was freely forgiving sins. It was not an incidental part of His preaching but the very heart and center of it.
Forgiveness of sins is at the heart of Jesus’ preaching and it is the reason why we can’t allow the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper to be lost or denied. Jesus instituted His supper so that we might have the forgiveness of sins. When people deny that the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood, they take away a means through which Jesus grants the forgiveness of sins to poor, miserable sinners.
That’s what is at stake in today’s question from the catechism: “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” The question is a perfectly rational one from a certain perspective. We have said that when a person eats and drinks the bread and wine of the Sacrament with faith in the words of Jesus, that person receives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. But skeptics ask, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? How can an earthly, bodily function like eating and drinking give the spiritual and eternal blessing of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life?” Deniers of the Sacrament criticize us, saying that we are claiming that we earn forgiveness and eternal life by an earthly work—eating and drinking.
But of course, as the catechism answers, we don’t say that. “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’”
In other words it is not the physical eating and drinking that does the forgiveness of sins. It is the words of Jesus Chris that attach the forgiveness of sins to the bread and wine of the Sacrament. For His words declare the bread to be not merely bread, but His body, given for us, and the wine to be His blood, shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. It’s not the bodily eating and drinking that works the forgiveness of sins. The bodily eating and drinking done in faith in Jesus’ words receives what Jesus promises in the Sacrament. It’s Jesus words that make the bread and wine His body and blood and attach to them the forgiveness of sins. Our faith, worked by the Holy Spirit, simply receives Jesus’ promise. We eat and drink with our mouths what is given, but our souls at the same time receive and eat the words of Jesus that say, “This is for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Our mouths eat the body and blood of Jesus and at the same time our souls receive life from His words: “This body and blood is for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Jesus won forgiveness for us by His death on the cross. That’s where forgiveness of sins was accomplished. But Jesus’ cross is not where we go to receive the forgiveness of sins. We can’t go back and touch the cross where Jesus died. Even if we could that wouldn’t give us the forgiveness of sins. What gives us the forgiveness of sins is the proclamation that Jesus died for us and our sins are forgiven. We receive the forgiveness of sins when we believe that Word of God.
That word of God is exactly the Word that He proclaims to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. He says, “This is my body, which is given for you; this is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” By His word He takes what was given and shed for us on the cross and puts it into the bread and wine and distributes it to us.
If you could go back to the cross where Jesus died and thrust Your hand into His pierced side or let His warm blood drip on you, this would not give you the forgiveness of sins. But when Jesus proclaims His death for the forgiveness of your sins, that does give the forgiveness of sins. And when Jesus puts His very body and blood into your mouth, saying, “Take, eat; take, drink”—that gives the forgiveness of sins. We have the Lord’s own words declaring it in the institution of the Supper.
So when someone asks you, “How can bread and wine save you?” or “How can you believe you’re saved just because you ate and drank some bread and wine,” you answer: it’s not eating and drinking that saves me, but Jesus’ word. His words declare that this bread and cup are not ordinary bread and wine, but His body and blood. His words declare that they were given and shed for me for the forgiveness of my sins. So I know I am saved not because of my work of eating and drinking, but because of His Word that tells me this is His body and blood for my forgiveness.
The Sacrament gives us great joy and confidence that our sins are forgiven. For we receive in it not mere reminders of Christ’s body and blood given and shed long ago, but the very body and blood of Jesus, together with His Word promising that when we eat and drink them we receive the forgiveness of sins.
For Your consoling supper, Lord,
Be praised throughout all ages!
Preserve it, for in ev’ry place
The world against it rages.
Grant that this sacrament may be
A blessed comfort unto me
When living and when dying. (LSB 622 st. 8)
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Catechism: “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?”
March 4, 2015
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed fervently on the night He had instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. He told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death,” and He asked them to stay awake and watch and pray with Him. As He prayed, His sweat poured on the ground mixed with blood and He was in agony. What was Jesus so afraid of? He prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” What was the cup Jesus’ Father had given Him to drink?
It was the cup of God’s wrath and judgment against all the sins of the world. The Father in heaven did not merely forget about all the sins of the world—Adam’s sin, yours and mine. He forgave it. But the forgiveness of our sins came at a cost. If we are not to be punished for our sins, someone else must pay the penalty for us. And that is what Jesus had begun to do. That was the cup He had begun to drink—the cup of God’s just judgment against all the sins of the world. It was the cup you and I had earned the right to drink. But Jesus received this cup and drank from it all the sufferings that followed—from His anguish in Gethsemane to His betrayal by Judas, from His false condemnation by the priests to His being handed over to Pilate, from His mockery, flogging, and crown of thorns to His crucifixion and death.
But Jesus has not given us this cup to drink, the cup of God’s judgment. He has given us a different cup. “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Last week we talked about what we receive in the bread and cup of the Lord; we receive from Him not simply bread and wine but the true body of Christ which was crucified and His true blood which was shed on the cross. This week we deal with the second question of the catechism on the sacrament of the altar: “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?”
What benefit, what blessing, do we get from eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood? Jesus tells us in the same words with which He instituted the sacrament: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The benefit of eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood is that we receive the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus is saying that in all that happened in His passion He was giving Himself utterly for us, handing Himself over for us, to earn for us the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins was neither easy nor cheap. It cost the body and blood of the innocent and righteous One. He gave Himself over when He agonized in Gethsemane. He gave Himself utterly, knowing His body would be bruised and torn and spit on and that his blood would be poured out for us. He knew all that was coming for Him. He knew that Judas the betrayer would soon come with his false kiss and that He would be led bound before the chief priests and elders. He knew that they would sentence Him to death. He knew that while He was being accused Peter would deny Him. He knew that the priests would hand Him over to the Roman governor Pilate. Pilate would have Him flogged with whips by His soldiers and then they would mock Him, putting a purple robe over His bloody shoulders and pressing down a wreath of thorns onto His head. Bloodied and put to shame He would be led out in front of the people and they would scream, “Crucify! Crucify!” Then Pilate would give Him over to their will. He would stumble with the weight of the cross on His lacerated back out to the hill of Calvary. Then they would stretch out His hands and feet on the timber and drive nails through them into the wood. They would lift Him up to hang naked, to bleed and to thirst between two highwaymen until He breathed His last and His heart was pierced with a spear.
All this Jesus knew when He said, “Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you.” And the benefit of this eating of Christ’s body and drinking His blood is that we receive what He was earning by His suffering—the forgiveness of sins. He had no sin of His own for which to make atonement. By His suffering He was paying the debt of our sins.
So when we eat Jesus’ body and drink His blood we receive forgiveness of sins. It’s not that we don’t have forgiveness of sins apart from the Lord’s Supper. We have forgiveness through Jesus’ body and blood constantly by faith in Him. We spiritually eat His body and drink His blood by faith at all times. But in the Sacrament He gives us His body and blood as a pledge that we can see and taste that we have the forgiveness of our sins.
Forgiveness of sins means that our sins are remitted. They are no longer reckoned to us. They are taken away. Instead of sin we have righteousness and purity before God. Instead of His wrath we have His good pleasure and friendship. This is what Jesus’ suffering and death brought about for us. This is what the shedding of His blood got for us—not further anger, but God’s satisfaction. Our sins—all of them—were paid for before God. This is what Christ pledges to us when He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. It is a pledge of God’s favor, a pledge of peace with God.
“Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Along with forgiveness of sins comes life and salvation. Jesus gives us life with His body and blood. Where sins are forgiven, there is no more death. In our sins, we are captives to death. We are sentenced to death by God. But in giving His body into pain and death and His blood to be spilled, Jesus removed the sentence of death from us. For us death is no longer the beginning of eternal death but the end of death and the entry into eternal life.
Life is given us in the sacrament; not only the pledge that we will have everlasting life when we die, but life itself is given to us now. The eternal life that Jesus died to give us is ours now. Baptized into Him our old Adam was crucified with Him and a new man—Christ in us—was born. That new man lives before God in righteousness and purity forever and begins to live now in this world doing the works of the Father, which are works of love according to the ten commandments. The body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament gives us the forgiveness of sins and at the same time strengthens the new life of Christ in us so that we become stronger in faith and more active in love.
Yes, Jesus gives us life in body as well as in soul in His body and blood. For where the soul is helped, the body is helped also. We should never look at the Sacrament as a poison from which we should run away, says Luther in the Large Catechism, but as a precious remedy that heals us in both soul and body. That’s why it is silly to worry about germs in receiving the Lord’s Supper. Jesus isn’t giving out disease and death in His body and blood, but rather the remedy for death and all its symptoms. He is giving us eternal life.
Finally, the benefit of eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood is salvation. The body and blood of Jesus saves us from the devil’s kingdom and from eternal death. Every evil that could harm us is stripped of its power by Jesus’ body and blood. The devil only has power to harm and condemn through sin. But through Jesus’ body and blood sin is taken out of the way. When we eat Jesus’ body and drink His blood we eat and drink not mere bread and wine but salvation from our sins and from Satan’s power to hurt us. No harm can come to us. Jesus pledges and gives this to us in His body and blood. The only pain that will come to us is that which the Lord who suffered for us deems profitable for our salvation. Those pains that drive us to repentance and to Jesus do not harm us but work for our good, because they strip away the old Adam that was crucified with Jesus in Baptism and help us to put on the new man, the glorious image of Christ that we will wear forever in heaven.
Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us as a free gift in the Sacrament of the Altar as we eat Jesus’ true body and drink His true blood. All of this is for you, Jesus says—my body and my blood, all I am and all I have. How could God have decided to show us such mercy?
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Catechism: “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? Where is this written?”
February 25, 2015
The Passion of our Lord begins around the time of the Passover. This was the feast that God had instituted at the time He delivered His people Israel from slavery in Egypt. It was the final plague on the Egyptians—God would sweep through the land of Egypt and kill every firstborn male throughout the land, both of man and animal. After this devastating judgment, Pharaoh would let the people of Israel go.
But the firstborn of the Israelites would be spared. In their houses they were to take a year old lamb without defect, slaughter it, and smear its blood on the doorposts of their houses. Then they were to roast the lamb and eat it all—head, legs, and inner parts, with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Whatever was leftover of the lamb had to be burned by the morning. And when the Lord saw the blood on the doorposts of the house, He would pass over and not slay anyone inside, because of the blood of the lamb.
And God commanded that the Israelites eat this lamb every year at the same time to remember what God had done for them, how He slew the firstborn of all the Egyptians, but the sons of the Israelites He spared because of the lamb whose blood marked their doors.
This was the time of year that was approaching when Jesus entered Jerusalem before His Passion. He had told His disciples that His death was approaching. Now Judas makes a deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus. Jesus knows what is going to happen to Him, and at this time He commands Peter and John to go prepare for them to eat the Passover.
That meant they had to go purchase the lamb and take it to the temple to be slaughtered, and then roast it over the fire to make it ready for the evening meal. So they did. And as Jesus sat down to eat the Passover with His disciples, He told them, “I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you that I shall not eat of it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” This means—the Passover meal is coming to its end. What it foreshadowed all these years the Jews have been eating it is coming. The shadow is going away and the reality is coming. The Passover lamb whose blood was shed and smeared on the door so that the angel of death would pass by, the Passover lamb that was completely consumed by the Israelites, and what was left was burned in the fire—this lamb was only a symbol and picture of the true lamb of God, Jesus. He would shed His blood not to save us from physical slavery to Pharaoh but to redeem the whole world from spiritual slavery to sin and the devil. His blood would be smeared on the posts of the cross, on which He stretched out His arms to embrace the world in His death. He would give His flesh to be eaten by faith so that His people might live.
This was already a solemn night. On it they remembered how they were saved by the judgment of God that struck all around them but passed over them. It was made even more solemn by Jesus’ repeated warnings that He would be handed over and killed on this visit to Jerusalem. On this already somber night, Jesus instituted a new sacrament in place of the old yearly remembrance of the Passover. He instituted His last will and testament.
And what is His last will and testament? It’s vitally important that we know the right answer to this question. Surely Jesus didn’t die and leave us something that is of no consequence.
But that’s just how many people look at it—as if Jesus’ last will and testament was of little consequence. Whether or not a church teaches correctly about Jesus’ testament is considered unimportant compared to other things, like how inspiring the pastor is, how much we like the music, whether they have a good youth group, whether the people seem to be “on fire for the Lord.”
But it matters immensely. It was of such importance to the Lord Jesus that He instituted the sacrament of the altar as His final will before He died.
And it matters to you what Jesus’ testament is and that you know why you believe it to be what it is. Because there are many churches and Christians who change Jesus’ testament into something else than He instituted. What Jesus instituted on the night of His betrayal cannot be an unnecessary thing for your salvation. Rather it is of the highest importance.
Also understanding what the Sacrament of the Altar is and seeing the firm Scriptural ground we have for our belief about it will strengthen your faith and increase your hunger for this priceless gift.
So we consider today
What the Lord’s Supper is.
Who instituted it.
And how it is received.
The most concise answer to the question of what the Sacrament of the Altar is is given to us in Luther’s answer from the small catechism: What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.
There you have it in plain language: the Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of Jesus under the bread and wine.
And how do we know this? We have Jesus own words on the matter in the three Gospels and the Epistle mentioned earlier, where Jesus says plainly, “This is My Body,” “This is My Blood of the New Testament.”
We should consider who it is who instituted this Sacrament.
It wasn’t a mere human being, a prophet or some other great man who instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. It was Jesus, who is true God and Man. That means that it is by divine authority that we celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar. And since it was God who instituted it, it is necessary that we stick to His ideas about what the Lord’s Supper is and what He wants done with it. And we have no other way to know what the Lord’s purpose for His Supper is than to listen and stick with the Words by which He instituted the Sacrament.
Secondly, because the man who instituted the Sacrament of the Altar is God, we can rest assured that He knows what words He wants to use and how to speak clearly. The divine Son of God in infinite wisdom chose the words by which He instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, and the words He chose were “This is my Body, This is my Blood.”
Third, it was on the night of His betrayal that Jesus spoke these words. It was a solemn night—a night of great religious significance already, a night on which the cloud of death was hanging over the heads of Jesus and His disciples. And Jesus spoke these words as His last will and testament. If ever there was a time to speak clearly and without figures of speech, this was it, because Jesus wanted His disciples to know clearly what He was giving them and what He wanted them to do with it before He died.
So it is not a mere man who instituted the Lord’s Supper, but God Himself. That speaks to its importance and necessity. The Lord Jesus did not institute music, youth groups, or religious zeal on the night of His impending death. He instituted His Supper. When people look at these other things as more important than the Sacrament of the Altar they ignore and treat lightly the last will and testament of the Son of God.
So what is it that the Lord says is given in the Sacrament of the Altar? First of all, bread and wine. He took bread, it says in the text. He took the cup, it says, which was a cup of wine. And so in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper we are not free to substitute other elements for bread and wine. It’s not our supper that we may change as seems good to us. It’s the supper of the Lord Christ which He instituted on the night when He was about to die.
And just as we can’t change the elements which Jesus prescribed to be used in His supper, we are also not free to deny or change the heavenly gift which He says He bestows in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus does not say, “Take, eat, this is a picture of my body.” He says, “This is my body.” He doesn’t say, “This is a representation of my blood, which is shed for you.” He says “This IS my blood, which is shed for you.”
Imagine a cardboard representation of the sun that you might have in a set on a stage or in a play. The cardboard picture might remind you of the sun, but in reality it is as different from the sun as cardboard is from a star in the heavens. A picture of the sun doesn’t make anything grow. It doesn’t give any heat. It’s a dead thing. But the sun makes crops grow, separates day from night, makes your skin get tanned or burned. It is a living and real thing.
In just the same way churches and preachers who tell us that the Lord’s Supper is only a symbol of the body and blood of Christ substitute a lifeless imitation for what is real and life giving. Because Jesus’ body and blood really and truly give life and the forgiveness of sins.
In Exodus chapter 24 Moses reads the words of the Lord to the people of Israel, who say, “All the words the Lord has spoken we will do.” Then Moses took the blood of sacrifices and threw half of it against the altar and threw the other half on the people, saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with these words.” In doing that it showed that both God and the people were bound together by blood in the Old Covenant.
Jesus used the same language in instituting the Sacrament of the Altar: “This is my blood of the covenant,” or of the New Testament. He did this for a reason. Just as the blood of the old covenant had bound God and the people together under the covenant of the law, so the blood of Jesus which is applied to us in the Sacrament of the Altar assures us that we are bound with God in the New Testament; we are sealed into the new testament of the forgiveness of sins. Because Jesus took His blood into the heavenly sanctuary to atone for our sins before God. And in the Lord’s Supper He gives us that same blood to drink to assure us that we are included in this atonement.
And in the Passover, the blood of the lamb was smeared on the doorposts and the lamb was eaten inside, and the angel of death passed over the house. So we have Jesus’ body and blood applied to us personally in the Lord’s Supper to certify that the judgment of God will pass over us.
How is this Sacrament to be received? Jesus makes this clear in His words of institution also. He says, “Take eat, take drink.” He doesn’t tell us to spiritually eat His body and drink His blood, which we do by faith always. He tells us to eat the bread that is His body with our mouths and to drink the cup of His blood. Nor does He tell us to sacrifice His body again and again, or carry it around in procession, or lock it up in a box and worship it, as they do in the Roman Catholic church. It is really and truly His body and blood, and it is to be eaten and drunk in faith for the forgiveness of sins.
Now there are many Christians who argue this and say that the Lord’s Supper is symbolic, a mere remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross for us. They think this because it doesn’t fit with human reason to say that Jesus is giving us His body and blood with the bread and wine. They also say this because they don’t understand that Christian faith clings to God’s Word and not to the inner experiences of the heart. We need the Sacrament of the Altar as well as Baptism and the preached Word because our faith cannot live on itself. It lives by the Word of God that comes to us from outside; it holds to the word of God that says we are forgiven and not the inner experience of feeling forgiven.
If you tell a person of this doctrine that you know that you are saved because you receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, they will worry that you are not really saved because your faith rests on Jesus’ word instead of an experience you had of being converted or a prayer in which you asked Jesus to be your Savior.
They will say, “Jesus didn’t really mean that communion is His body and blood. He was using figurative language.” The only reason they say this is because they are following fallen human reason instead of the Word of the Lord.
First of all, Jesus had no need to institute another symbolic meal. They were already celebrating a symbolic meal at the Passover. The lamb they ate was symbolic of Jesus whose death gives life to the world. Jesus didn’t need to institute another symbolic meal. He was giving the reality, not a picture.
Secondly, these words of Jesus are the words of His last will and testament. He is instituting a testament the way that Moses did when He threw the blood on the people. No one makes a testament or a covenant using symbolic language. When you are making a will you write very clearly what you want given to whom. When you are writing a contract you don’t use metaphors. You write and speak clearly so there is no misunderstanding. Jesus was not telling a parable when He instituted the Lord’s Supper.
Finally, when Paul repeats the words of institution to the church at Corinth, he adds the warning that whoever eats the bread of the Lord’s Supper without discerning the body of Christ is guilty of profaning the body of the Lord and eats and drinks judgment on himself. In fact, he writes, this is the reason why some of you are sick and weak, and others have died. Paul doesn’t say the Corinthians are guilty of misusing a symbol of Christ’s body and blood. They have misused the body and blood itself because they have not recognized it for what it is. In the Old Testament people get sick or die in the presence of the Lord when they approach the Ark of the Covenant without authorization or when they mishandle the things that are the Lord’s. The fact that the Corinthians got sick or died because of misuse of the Lord’s Supper indicates that this was something holy–not mere bread but the very body of Christ.
This gives us great comfort. It is not a reminder of the body and blood of Jesus that were given and shed for us that we receive when we approach this altar rail. We receive the very body and holy blood of Jesus Himself. That gives us great, firm, and glorious assurance that our sins are truly forgiven before God and that we have eternal life, no matter what we may be suffering in this world. May God increase our faith in the words of this Sacrament, so that we highly esteem this gift and take from it great assurance that our sins are forgiven.
Soli Deo Gloria
Oh my God, even though I am without doubt a poor sinner, nevertheless I am no sinner. I am a sinner in myself and outside of Christ, but in my Lord Christ and outside of myself I am no sinner. For He has paid for all my sins with His blood, as I firmly believe. I also have been baptized and received in it the true mark of Your salvation. I have been absolved of all my sins through God’s Word and declared free of sin, loosed and unbound. I have also been fed the true body and given to drink the true blood of my Lord Jesus Christ, as certain signs of grace. I have received forgiveness of sins, which my dear Lord Jesus Christ merited, won, and received for me through His precious blood. For this I thank Him in eternity. Amen.
Martin Luther 1483-1546
Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz
Johannes Eichorn 1511-1564
Lord Jesus Christ, to you be laud, honor, and thanks forever, here and in eternity, that you have so graciously quickened me, a poor, miserable sinner, with Your true body and blood. I pray You from the bottom of my heart that You would now be and remain powerful within me, and regard and receive me, Your poor little worm, with gracious eyes. Never again allow me to fall out of Your hands of grace. From henceforth so rule, lead, and guide me by Your Holy Spirit from in my calling and my whole life that I might not think, carry out, speak, or work anything against You, but instead at all times might look up to You, Your Word, and Your holy will. Even in the cross that you lay upon me grant me to be patient and willing and not murmur against You, nor against my neighbor, but instead let it remain as hard upon me as You make it and as it pleases You, while I await the gracious redemption and the eternal joy which you will give to all believers who trust in You and build upon You. Help, Lord Jesus, that my faith be strong and firm within me, and preserve me in the true doctrine and confession of faith, in humility, patience, and hope, until my final breath, that I may laud and thank You here and in eternity, You who are, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, true, almighty, eternal God, from eternity to eternity. Amen, Lord Jesus! Amen.
Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz