************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 35 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on May 9, 2010

Belgic Confession Article 35
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
"The Lord's Supper"

What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say "Ford"? Probably you think "car". Let's try some other word associations:
-McDonald's (hamburgers)
-School (homework)
-Dell (computers)
-Google (internet)
-Windows 7 (Microsoft)
-bicycles (helmet)
-Verizon (cell phone)
-San Francisco 49ers (football)
-Canada (hockey, maple leaf, pastor)

Let's try a word association that fits this morning's subject. What's the first word that comes to mind when I say "Lord's Supper"? Probably you think "death" as in the death of Christ upon the cross. When we look at Belgic Confession Article 35 it becomes obvious that "death" is not the only or even the first word that Guido de Bres thinks of when he hears the phrase "Lord's Supper". Rather, the first thing that Guido de Bres thinks of is: nourishment, food and drink, refreshment for the soul.

I Food for our Souls
A Look at the language the Belgic Confession uses for the Lord's Supper; it calls it a "banquet" and a "spiritual table." In other words, the focus is on nourishment – that Jesus nourishes and sustains our souls.

Why does the Belgic Confession use this language? In doing so, the Confession simply follows the imagery of Scripture which calls the Lord's Supper: the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:20), the table of the Lord (1 Cor 10:21), and communion (1 Cor 10:16).

B In the first paragraph, the Confession of Faith reminds us that the Lord's Supper has been ordained by Christ to nourish and sustain those
who are already born again and ingrafted into his family: his church.
In other words, it is only meant for those who have already been baptized – for don't forget that it is baptism which makes one a member of the church. The Old Testament had a similar rule with the Passover – only those who were circumcised could eat the Passover meal.

Furthermore, the Lord's Supper is for those "who are already born again." We see here that the Lord's Supper doesn't create faith. The Lord's Supper is only meant for those who already have faith.

C What does the Lord's Supper do for born-again believers who have been baptized into the church? It nourishes and sustains them.

Every member of the church has two lives: a physical, temporal life and a spiritual, heavenly life. The first life comes from one's earthly father and mother. The second life comes from one's heavenly Father.

Out of His gracious love and concern God provides food to nourish both kinds of life. For our physical, temporal life God provides us with earthly, material bread – the stuff that is made of wheat and water and yeast and sugar, the stuff that we are praying for tonight in our National Day of Prayer service. For our spiritual and heavenly life God
has sent a living bread
that came down from heaven:
namely Jesus Christ,
who nourishes and maintains
the spiritual life of believers ...
This spiritual and heavenly bread is represented to us by the bread and wine/juice of the Lord's Supper.

D The earthly, material bread made of wheat is taken by the hands and eaten by the mouth. But the living bread from heaven is received only by faith "which is the hand and mouth of our souls." It is faith, and only faith, which lets us feed on Jesus, the living bread, so that our souls are nourished and fed with the body and blood of the Lord. Without faith our souls would not be nourished and our heavenly life would starve to death.

We are fed by faith, not by our hands and mouths. For this reason, the minister in the early church said to the congregation, "Lift up your hearts," and the people responded, "We lift them up to the Lord!" It is only when we, by faith, lift up our hearts to the Lord that we feed upon Christ's body and blood.

When we come to the Lord's Table in faith, then, Christ nourishes, strengthens, comforts, relieves and renews our soul. The Lord's Supper is food for our souls.

This makes me ask, "What do unbelievers eat when they partake of the Lord's Supper?" Lutherans believe that all participants, including unbelievers, partake of Christ. In contrast, we believe that Christ is received by faith only by the elect of God. As the Belgic Confession puts it
Though the sacraments and thing signified are joined together, not all receive both of them. The wicked person certainly takes the sacrament, to his condemnation, but does not receive the truth of the sacrament, just as Judas and Simon the Sorcerer both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it. He is communicated only to believers.
In other words, unbelievers who participate in the Lord's Supper eat and drink judgment or condemnation to themselves.

II Memorial of His Death
A Earlier I said that when we think of the Lord's Supper we usually think of Christ's suffering and death upon the cross. We have good Biblical grounds for associating the Lord's Supper with Christ's death. In our Scripture reading the Apostle Paul says,
(1Cor 11:26) For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
For this reason the Belgic Confession of Faith calls the Lord's Supper "a holy remembrance of the death of Christ our Savior."

The Lord's Supper is a memorial, a reminder, that our Lord Jesus was sent by the Father into the world, that He took upon Himself our flesh and blood, and that He bore the wrath of God on the cross for us. In celebrating the Lord's Supper, then, we confess that Jesus came to earth to bring us to heaven, that He was condemned to die that we might be pardoned, that He endured the suffering and death of the cross that we might live through Him, and that He was once forsaken by God that we might forever be accepted by Him.

B But we are wrong if we see the Lord's Supper only as a memorial and proclamation of Christ's death. We are limiting the meaning and purpose and benefits of the Lord's Supper. This was the approach of the Reformer Zwingli and the Anabaptists. They failed to see the Lord's Supper as a means of grace that, by faith, feeds and nourishes us with the crucified body and shed blood of Jesus. They failed to see the Lord's Supper as life-giving nourishment for our souls that unites us with Christ and all His precious benefits.

Yes, the Lord's Supper is a constant memorial and visible proclamation of Christ's death. But it is more than that. It, by faith, is also food for the soul.

III The Presence of Christ in the Supper
A Underlying or behind this discussion of the Lord's Supper lies the question of how Christ is present in the Lord's Supper. What exactly did Jesus mean when He said about the bread, "This is my body, which is for you" (1 Cor 11:24)?

There are four different answers.

The first answer is that of the Roman Catholics. They say that the actual body and blood of our Lord is present in the Lord's Supper. This is accomplished by the miracle of transubstantiation. In this miracle the bread and wine are changed into the actual body and blood of the Lord while their appearance, texture, taste, and color remains unchanged. The Roman Catholic Church takes the words of Christ, "This is my body," and understands them to mean, "This becomes my body." Notice, it is not a case of Jesus being joined to the bread and wine; rather, He is the bread and wine. Which means that day after day in the ceremony of the Mass Jesus repeats His sacrifice upon Calvary. This ends up denying that Jesus died once for all time and for all men. This further denies that Jesus rose from the grave never to die again and to live for all time. Finally, this denies that Christ's Good Friday sacrifice upon the cross is sufficient to save us and cleanse us.

B The second view is that of Zwingli and most Anabaptists. Their position is that Christ is not present in the Lord's Supper at all. For Zwingli and the Anabaptists, as I already said, the Lord's Supper is simply and only a memorial to Christ's suffering and death.

C The third view is that of the Lutherans. Their position is known as consubstantiation. They maintain that Christ is physically present in, with, and under the bread and wine though the elements are not changed in any way. Under this view, Christ's human nature is NOT just in heaven; somehow, in someway, Christ's blood is physically united with the wine and His body physically united with the bread.

D The fourth view of how Christ is present in the Lord's Supper underlies the discussion of Article 35 of the Belgic Confession of Faith.

This Reformed view of how Christ is present in the Lord's Supper says that Christ is not physically present in the Lord's Supper because in the flesh "Jesus Christ remains always seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven."

Roman Catholics and Lutherans attach too much significance to the physical or earthly elements of bread and wine. So John Calvin was always urging his Roman Catholic and Lutheran friends to look away from the elements and to heaven. For that is where Christ's body and blood are. Christ is not physically present in the Lord's Supper.

Christ's body and blood may be in heaven, yet we do not go wrong when we say
that what is eaten is Christ's own natural body
and what is drunk is his own blood
However, it is by the Spirit and through faith that there is an actual and real presence of the Savior in the Supper.

How does this work? None of the Reformers were really able to say. They believed heartily that Christ is present in the Lord's Supper but they could not explain it. Says the Belgic Confession of Faith:
... the manner in which he does it
goes beyond our understanding
and is incomprehensible to us,
just as the operation of God's Spirit
is hidden and incomprehensible.
It is a mystery which one day may be revealed to us.

We know that to eat and drink from Christ Himself involves both the Spirit and faith. It is here that the glorious ministry of the Holy Spirit comes into full view. It is by the Spirit that our souls are nourished and fed with the crucified body and shed blood of the Lord. It is by the Spirit that we receive the body and blood of the Lord.

Back to our word associations. What do you think of when you participate this morning in the "Lord's Supper"? The Word of God tells us we are to think of death, Christ's death. But we also are to think of nourishment, food and drink, refreshment for the soul. So, this morning we remember Christ's death. But, more than that, we also nourish our souls.
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