I remember hearing a story about a young pastor in the northern part of our country who was called to serve his first church as Senior Pastor. After several months there he noticed that every time he administered the Lord's Supper, there were people who were noticeably upset with him. Not willing to let the problem fester he approached one of the members he knew would be honest with him and asked him what was wrong. The older member proceeded to tell him that he and some of his friends were upset with him because he was not administering the Lord's Supper in the right manner. The problem was that the former pastor, who had been there for several decades, would usually go over to the side of the church and move his hands over it in a ceremonial fashion before administering the Lord's Supper. The young pastor had failed to do this and thus had not been faithful to administer the ordinance in the right way.
This was somewhat puzzling to the younger pastor so he called his retired predecessor to find out what he had done and why he had done it. Seems the weather was often cold in that part of the country and the pastor, not wanting to drop any of the plates or cups would go to the heat radiator before the Lord's Supper to make sure his hands were warmed up before the service. But because he had never told anyone why he was doing what he was doing, many of the people in the church had attached some spiritual significance to his warming his hands.
As is so often the case, when things are done in the church over and over and over again, and there is no ongoing explanation for why they are done, people often assign their own meanings to these activities and this leads to all manner of problems.
It is to that end that this morning we will address two of the most important things we do here at Applewood Baptist Church, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Those of you who have been attending our church or another evangelical church for any amount of time, may have a pretty good understanding of what these two things are and why we do them, but as we continue to make our way through our foundational doctrines, these two ordinances demand our attention.
As we shall see, these are two of the most important things Jesus has commanded us to do. They are not merely ceremonies we are to execute; they are holy ordinances, rich in spiritual significance and are directly tied to our walk with God, at the deepest level.
Article 7 of our confessional statement The Baptist Faith and Message, says
We find our scriptural mandate for these ordinances in Matthew 28:19, which we know as the great commission. Jesus tells us, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
And in Matthew 26:26-28 Jesus institutes the Lord's Supper. It says, "As 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.' Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, ‘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.'"
Additionally we find teachings about both of these ordinances throughout the rest of the New Testament revelation.
From the outset it is important to note why we call these ordinances and not sacraments. The word sacrament comes from the Latin word, "sacramentum," which described the oath of loyalty a Roman legionnaire would swear to his commanding officer, and in the sense that we observe baptism and the Lord's Supper in allegiance to our Master, Jesus, we could call these events sacraments. But over the years the word has taken on a different meaning. According to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, a sacrament is something which, by its very nature, is a means whereby the grace of God is conveyed. In other words, they teach that when one is baptized or takes communion, by that act itself their sins are forgiven.
As Baptists, we believe that grace comes by faith alone and is given as a free gift by God. God's grace is not ours to control, to give out or to deny to someone else. Thus we refer to Baptism and the Lord's Supper as ordinances. An ordinance is a command which our Lord has directed us to obey. It is symbolic in its nature and carries with it all of the blessings which normally accompany obedience.
As we consider these two ordinances this morning I want us to look first at what they are and how they are to be observed, and then I want us to reflect on what they have to say about our daily Christian walk.
Let's begin by taking a look at Baptism.
I. The ordinance of baptism
When I explain baptism to those who come to me and wish to be baptized, I like to explain it in three ways, each of them speak to a different aspect or element of this ordinance.
A. Personal step of obedience
If someone is truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, if in fact they have chosen to surrender control of their life to Him, then the natural thing which should follow is obedience. In the Great Commission, after commanding His disciples to baptize He directs them to teach the new disciples to observe or obey all that He has commanded. Baptism is the first step of obedience in a lifelong journey with Jesus Christ.
Many Christians fail to get off to a good start in their Christian walk because they have not been obedient to follow the Lord in this area of Baptism. Baptism is a step of obedience. The idea of it being a step of obedience is why we feel so strongly that people must be baptized if they are to become members of our church. We only want church members who are obedient followers of Jesus.
When we talk about baptism, as Baptists, we are talking about believer's baptism. Only believers, or disciples of Jesus, are called to obey Him. We hold that scripture teaches us only to baptize those people who have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Some denominations practice infant baptism, also known as pedo-baptism. But since babies have not come to a personal faith in Christ, baptism is not for them. Again, those churches which baptize babies teach either that by baptizing the baby they are washing away its original sins or that they are initiating the child into the community of faith, thus enabling it to get into heaven should it somehow die before making a decision for Christ on its own.
As Baptists we don't hold to infant baptism because we cannot find anywhere in scripture where it was practiced or prescribed. To the contrary we find that baptism is reserved for those who have made a conscious decision to allow Jesus Christ to be the Lord of their lives.
Furthermore, we don't believe baptism has anything to do with your salvation; it is merely a step of obedience for those who have already been saved.
There are some who believe what is called "baptismal regeneration," that is, they hold to a belief that the act of baptism somehow works hand in hand with our faith and is a necessary step to complete our salvation. But scripture teaches in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith, and that it is a gift of God, not of works, so no one can boast about having helped in their own salvation. Baptism does not save us; to the contrary, it is an act of obedience on the part of those who are already saved.
B. Perfect symbol of death, burial and resurrection
It symbolizes our death to our self, our burial or immersion in Christ, and our resurrection to walk in a new way of life. That's one of the reasons that baptism by immersion makes so much sense, it symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord.
Furthermore, the Greek word from which we get our word Baptize, the word, baptizo, literally means "to immerse." And being people of the book we believe this to be the proper method or mode of baptism.
Romans 6:4 says that, "We are buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life."
Now let's turn our attention to the Lord's Supper, or Communion for a moment.
II. The ordinance of the Lord's Supper
In many Christian circles these days, the Lord's Supper has lost some of its significance. I recall going to a church last year of a different denomination where it was their tradition to take the Lord's Supper each and every week. At the end of the service, right before the announcements, they passed out the cup and the bread simultaneously and within a couple of minutes it was over and done with. It seemed to have become just another tradition they went through every week, like shaking hands or having a donut in Sunday School. But that's not what it is intended to be.
But from a biblical point of view Lord's Supper has deep theological and spiritual meaning. In Luke 22:19 Jesus tells His disciples that they are to observe this ordinance in remembrance of Him. Thus the overarching truth is that it is a time to remember what Jesus did for us, as 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that whenever we take it we proclaim the death and return of our Lord.
By reading our Lord's word we are told of at least three things the Lord's Supper memorializes or calls to our remembrance.
A. The bread is symbolic of the broken body of our Lord
Like the Passover lamb, Jesus, the Lamb of God, laid down His life as a sacrifice for sin. His body was broken, His hands and His feet, His side and His brow were pierced for us. Each time we take the bread in the Lord's Supper we are reminded of the theological truth of substitutionary atonement, Jesus gave His life for us. He laid His life down on the cross to pay the price for our sins. He died in our place. His body was broken so our broken souls could be healed.
As Isaiah 53:5 says, "But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds."
B. The cup is symbolic of the blood of the covenant
You may remember back in Exodus 24 when Moses ratified the covenant God made with Israel, he took the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkled half of it on the alter and the other half he sprinkled on the people. It was with the blood of the sacrifice that the covenant was ratified or sealed between God and His people.
A covenant is the same thing as a Testament. The Old Testament, or old covenant, was one which was based on the blood of sheep and oxen whereby the High Priest would have to go to the temple once each year and make atonement for the sins of the people. But when Jesus died, He fulfilled the law and instituted a New Covenant, or New Testament, one which was ratified or established on the strength of His shed blood. This is why the Bible says in Hebrews 10 that it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin, but Jesus, it says, took away the first covenant and established the second, so that "by this we will have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all."
His blood, shed on the cross, was poured out for the forgiveness of sins. With His blood He became the sacrifice for our sins, a sacrifice which was acceptable to God. When we take the cup we are remembering His shed blood, we are reflecting on the sacrifice He made for us and are being reminded of the covenant between us and God, a covenant sealed with the blood of His only begotten Son. And being reminded of that covenant should have a sobering effect on our lives.
But there is a third thing which this calls us to remember, and that is that He is coming again to take us home. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 the scripture says, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." The Lord's Supper reminds us not only that Jesus died for us, but that He will come again for us some day. It calls us to live each day in light of that final day.
But both of these ordinances, Baptism and the Lord's Supper are much more than symbolic. Both of them call us to specific action, not only in terms of going through the actions of observing them, but to being the people these ordinances signify we are: They call us to concrete action. Each of these ordinances is like the tip of an iceberg, with the lion's share of significance lying just beneath the surface.
And that's the final thing I want you to consider this morning, to what kind of action these ordinances call us to.
III. Called to a different way of life
There are at least five things these ordinances call us to do.
The ordinance of Baptism calls us to reflect on whether or not we are truly disciples of Jesus Christ.
You see Baptism calls us to give an external testimony to the internal realty that we have come to faith in Jesus Christ and all that that entails. By going into the water we are testifying that Jesus has come to be Lord or Master of our lives. We are giving public witness to the reality that we have been changed. Things are not like they used to be. We are not merely joining a religious organization; we are not simply saying that we agree with the doctrines of a specific church or that we will lend our physical and financial support to a particular church. When we enter the baptismal waters we are publically stating that we have repented of our sins; we have turned from our old way of life and have begun to live a different way. We are testifying to the truth that God has changed our hearts, where there used to be the works of the flesh, now there is the sweet fruit of the Spirit. Where we used to be driven by the same things which drive the world;
In Galatians 5:19, scripture says, "Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, Idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealously, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and anything similar, about which I tell you in advance - as I told you before - that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."
Behind the act of baptism is the reality of a changed life. You can get baptized every week from now till Jesus comes back, but if you don't have a changed life you've just gone swimming. True believer's baptism is only valid if it gives testimony to an authentic change.
And if Baptism calls us to identify with the body of Christ, the Lord's Supper calls us to be in right fellowship as members of the body of Christ.
To remember what it is Jesus did for us and why it was necessary for Him to die for us.
First Peter 1:18-19 says, "For you that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things, like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish."
Each time we take the cup and the bread we are to remember whose we are and the price He paid to redeem or buy us back from the penalty of our sin. It should call us back to the cross.
The old Hymn writer put it this way, "I saw the cross of Jesus, when burdened with my sin; I sought the cross of Jesus, to give me peace within; I brought my soul to Jesus, He cleansed it in His blood; and in the cross of Jesus I found my peace with God."
The bread and the cup call us to remember. But not only are we to remember, we are to repent.
When we take the cup and bread and we remember all that Jesus has done for us and allow His Spirit to show us the things in our life which are inconsistent with our profession, we should repent. That is, we should stop doing what is displeasing to God and begin to do what is pleasing in His sight.
This was why God had judged some of the believers at Corinth. They were taking the cup and eating the bread in an unworthy manner. They were not judging themselves, therefore God was judging them.
First Corinthians 11:27-31 says, "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep."
The Lord's Supper calls us to repent of the attitudes of our hearts and the actions of our hands which are displeasing to God.
But there is a fourth thing these ordinances call us to.
This was the big problem at the church at Corinth. They had all the outward ceremonies, but their fellowship was lacking love. Instead of coming to take the bread and the cup and allowing God to use that time to remind them of the high price that had been paid for their souls, because of the envy, strife and division which existed amongst the members of that church, not only were they going through the motions without giving place to the true significance of the ordinance, they were even using it as another chance to goad one another. And for this reason, according to 1 Corinthians 11:30 God had pronounced judgment on them and some of them had died.
It's passages like this which shed light on how seriously we are to take God's word and how serious God is about our hearts being right with Him above all else.
One of the great problems in the lives of many Christians today is that they have somehow become so desensitized to the Holy Spirit of God that they can go through the motions of church, week after week, they can take the Lord's Supper time after time, and never come to terms with the truth that their relationship with God is always and ever connected to their relationship with one another. That's why we call it communion, it is a time when we examine and rectify our communion with God and with one another. That's why we must use the Lord's Supper as a time to reconcile with one another. That's why we are to take it regularly, because it seems we are always in need of getting right with one another.
After reflecting on the authenticity of our walk with God, and after remembering what it is Jesus has done for us, remembering whose we are and who we are in Jesus, and after having the opportunity to repent of our sins and reconcile with one another, each time we take the cup and eat of the bread we are called to recommit ourselves once again to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to allow His Spirit to have absolute, unreserved control of our lives.
What about you this morning, what is God saying to you about the condition of your heart? Has He spoken to you this morning about something in your life which you need to get right? Is there someone with whom you need to reconcile? Is today the day you need to recommit yourself to the Lordship of Jesus?