************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 35 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 4, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 35
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
"The Lord's Supper"
When our son David was a baby he hated peas. When he was a boy he hated peas. When he was a teenager he hated peas. Now he kind of tolerates them. I love peas so I thought he should love peas too. So I would make him eat them. He would gag, he would pull faces. I told him he couldn't leave the table until he finished his peas. I told him peas were good for him. Nothing worked.
Article 35 of the Belgic Confession also speaks of food; however, the food it speaks of is spiritual food. As with David and his peas, we can't make people like this food and we can't make people take this food. And, like peas, you don't get any benefit unless you take this food. The spiritual food the Belgic Confession speaks of is the Lord's Supper.
The difference between the Lord's Supper and the Roman Catholic mass was one of the hottest issues at the time of the Protestant Reformation. To keep things in perspective, remember that Guido de Brès was hanged for his faith; he was condemned to death for administering the Lord's Supper rather than the mass. Further, remember that he was not the only one killed for his faith. The sixteenth century was a time of cruel persecution, especially in the southern Netherlands, and many were put to death. This makes the Belgic Confession's statement about the Lord's Supper much more real and pressing. The truths expressed in Article 35 are truths for which many gave their lives.
Article 35 begins the same way as most of the articles: "We believe and confess ..." What is said about the Lord's Supper is not optional, take it or leave it. It is part of what we believe and confess to each other, the world, and all false churches and religions. As we look at Article 35 we will consider three points: the institution, the effect, and the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
I The Institution of the Lord's Supper
A First, the institution of the Lord's Supper. "We believe and confess that our Savior Jesus Christ has ordained and instituted the sacrament of the Holy Supper." It is called "Holy Supper" because He who ordained it is holy. And, because it isn't meant for anyone and everyone. It is from the Holy One for the holy ones, the saints. It is for those who are born again. It is for those who are part of the family of God. It is for those who are part of the church.
B The Lord's Supper has been ordained and instituted to nourish and sustain the church. Here we see the big difference with baptism. Baptism is a sign and seal of joining the church. The Holy Supper feeds and nourishes those who already are part of the church. The new life that God creates needs to be fed on a regular basis; this is accomplished through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper, then, maintains the life of grace and faith. Therefore, it really cannot be missed just as you cannot miss daily food and drink in normal life.
In some Reformed circles the idea has crept in that a church shows how serious it takes the Lord's Supper when only a few people are allowed to partake. Against this wrong notion we must battle, however, as it completely undermines what the Lord teaches about the Lord's Supper. In these churches the Lord's Supper is only for the strong of faith rather than seen as God's means to strengthen weak faith. We have to reject any form of this idea. Remember what was said in the first article about the sacraments? Namely, "our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us." The Supper is for the crude and the weak, not the polished and strong. Of course, all of us are crude and weak and need the Supper to strengthen and encourage. It is for "our poor, desolate souls."
C The Confession reminds us in a wonderful way that those who are born again have a twofold life: a physical, temporal life due to birth from parents and a spiritual life due to spiritual birth from God. The physical birth comes through childbirth. The spiritual birth comes by the preaching and hearing of the Word. Those who hear and believe are duty bound to join an existing church so their new life can be fed.
God uses ordinary, natural food -- such as earthly, material bread -- to support the physical and earthly life. To sustain heavenly life, however, God uses another form of bread, a bread much greater than the manna in the wilderness which fed only the earthly body. The food God uses to sustain spiritual life is nothing less than Jesus Christ Himself. He is the living bread that came from heaven. To the unbelieving Jews who wanted a sign, Jesus said, "I am the bread of life" (Jn 6:35). To the apostles, Jesus said, "This is my body, which is for you." It is Jesus who feeds, nourishes, and sustains the spiritual life of believers. However, eating this bread is a spiritual matter. It means we must receive Christ by faith, we must trust and embrace Him. This can only be done in a spiritual way through the Holy Spirit.
D As I said, it is Jesus Himself who feeds us. In the Lord's Supper, the Lord instituted earthly and visible signs to show this. These signs -- bread and wine, or bread and juice -- point to Christ. If we eat and drink these signs in faith, then our hearts are fed by Christ. As the article goes on to say:
just as truly as we take
and hold the sacraments in our hands
and eat and drink it in our mouths,
by which our life is then sustained,
so truly we receive into our souls,
for our spiritual life,
the true body and true blood of Christ,
our only Savior.
We receive these by faith,
which is the hand and mouth of our souls.
E In our Bible reading we are reminded that Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper on the night in which He was betrayed. In other words, at the time when His suffering was about to climax in death, the Lord Jesus provided for us His people. What amazing love and grace. That He provided this, and the time at which He did so, tells the members of the church to partake. In is not right to say "no" to this ordinance of the Lord. He says, "Do this in remembrance of me." Let it be clear to all who have confessed the name of the Lord Jesus: this means we are ordered to use this sacrament regularly.
II The Effect of the Lord's Supper
A Our second point is the effect of the Lord's Supper. Listen to what Article 35 says:
Now it is certain
that Jesus Christ did not prescribe
his sacraments for us in vain,
since he works in us all he represents
by these holy signs,
although the manner in which he does it
goes beyond our understanding
and is uncomprehensible to us,
just as the operation of God's Spirit
is hidden and incomprehensible.
Thanks to medical science we can explain how the body uses physical food. Our bodies digest the food we eat by mixing it with acids and enzymes in the stomach. When the stomach digests food, the sugars and starches in the food break down into glucose. The stomach and small intestines absorb the glucose and then release it into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, glucose can be used immediately for energy or stored in our bodies, to be used later.
But we don't know, we can't know, we will never understand how the Lord's Supper works in the believer's heart. We can't know because how the Lord's Supper works is secret and mysterious. This work is as hidden and incomprehensible as the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is the work of the Holy Spirit; He is the one at work in the Lord's Supper just as He is at work in the ministry of the Word and in the new birth.
B The article continues with a statement that sounds Roman Catholic:
Yet we do not go wrong when we sayThe Church of Rome maintains that the bread and wine/juice really do become the body and blood of the Lord, while retaining the outward properties of bread and wine. Aren't we saying the same thing in the Confession of Faith? Not at all! The article is clear that this happens spiritually because Christ is physically in heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father. So, the manner in which we partake of Christ "is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith." The Lord's Supper is a "spiritual table" and feast in which we by faith enjoy Christ and all the blessings of His "suffering and death."
that what is eaten is Christ's own natural body
and what is drunk is his own blood.
C Notice how we are described? We are called "poor, desolate souls." We are in need of constant comfort. Because we are sinners. Because we live in a world that turns ever further from God and His Word. I watched the presidential debate Tuesday night. I slept poorly as I thought of what would happen with a Biden presidency: abortion on demand, support for Planned Parenthood, further attacks on marriage and the family, attempts to control the church, open borders, failed businesses, liberal nominations for the Supreme Court, defunding the police, continued riots, and so on. Us poor, desolate sinners need comfort in this broken world.
The Lord Jesus uses the Lord's Supper to comfort and enliven us. So we come to the Table. We come with our sinful and broken lives -- our failures, unsuccessful intentions, stubborn ways, pig-headed efforts -- and admit, "Lord, I can't do anything right. I can't even believe. I can't even come to the Lord's Table on my own, but I must come. For with you alone there is hope and I trust in Your promises." Then we become nothing and He becomes everything. When we come to the Lord's Table this way we are blessed: nourished, strengthened, comforted.
D But not all receive the Lord's Supper the same way. The ungodly receive the sacrament, but they do not receive Christ. They partake as did Judas and Simon the Sorcerer who received the elements but did not receive Christ and His benefits. In the Lord's Supper, Christ and His benefits are received only by believers. All those who receive the gift of the Lord's Supper with a believing heart receive Christ and all His fullness.
III The Celebration of the Lord's Supper
A Our third point deals with the celebration of the Lord's Supper. It is to be celebrated in the midst of God's church. As Article 35 affirms,
Finally, with humility and reverenceWhere or when do we celebrate the Lord's Supper? "In the gathering of God's people." That is, in a worship service. It is not to be observed in private or apart from the preaching of the Word. For this reason, Reformed churches have always rejected private administrations of the sacraments. Some of the churches interpret this to mean we can't visit the sick and shut-ins with the Lord's Supper. Our elders disagree because then we deny the means of grace to those in this situation. We permit the Lord's Supper in such situations if the Word can be spoken and a representative of the consistory is present. As we deal with COVID-19 we permit the sick and shut-ins to celebrate with us as they hear the Word via LiveStream.
we receive the holy sacrament
in the gathering of God's people,
as we engage together, with thanksgiving,
in a holy remembrance
of the death of Christ our Savior,
and as we thus confess
our faith and Christian religion.
B Why this emphasis by the Confession on the gathering of God's people? Because the worship service is a holy event. By the way, this means you prepare for it Saturday night by getting to bed on time. This means as you drive to worship on Sunday morning, you tell your children, "We are going to worship and the Lord is going to speak to us and tell us of His love." This means when the Lord's Supper is administered, we talk to our children about what this means.
We need God to nourish our spiritual life. James says, "You do not have, because you do not ask God" (James 4:2). Is this true with some of us here that there is so little asking? We come to worship, sit in the assembly of God's people, hear the preaching of the Word, but pay so little attention. We leave and never give another thought to what we have heard, never reread the Bible passage, and seldom study the Word of God. How often do husbands and wives talk to each other about taking the Lord's Supper and growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ? How many pray the week before that they will be richly blessed by the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacrament? "You do not have, because you do not ask God."
What a difference when we honor this ordinance of God in the assembly of His people! What a difference when we regard worship and sacrament as holy. What a difference when we attend with "humility and reverence." What a difference when we make a point to remember the death of Christ.
C Article 35 ends with a mention of proper preparation for this holy sacrament:
Therefore no one should come to this tableThe last phrase about judgment is often misapplied by those who do not attend the Lord's Supper. They fear that if they come with less than perfect faith, they will be damned. That is not at all what Paul says to the church at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul addresses several terrible abuses of the Lord's Supper in the Corinthian church. Paul warns there is judgment for such abuse.
without examining himself carefully,
lest "by eating this bread
and drinking this cup
he eat and drink to his own judgment."
We tend to think of "judgment" as a negative word; in fact, it is neutral. Judgment can mean good news or bad news, acquittal or condemnation. Spiritually, if there is sin and no repentance, then judgment is negative. But if there is repentance, then the judgment is forgiveness because of Christ.
Similarly, in the Lord's Supper "judgment" is neutral. If we know our sin and repent and believe, judgment means we come to the Table with joy. If we don't repent and believe, judgment means we refrain from taking the Lord's Supper.
In the last paragraph, the article rejects desecrations of the sacraments, muddled ideas, and damnable inventions. It is important we keep the Lord's Supper pure. It is crucial we observe and use it in prayerful dependence upon our gracious God.
When we do, and let me end with this, when we use the Lord's Supper properly it moves us "to a fervent love of God and our neighbors."
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