Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Catechism #37

Q. What is the second sacrament?
A. The second sacrament is the Lord’s Supper, in which believers symbolically partake in the body and blood of Jesus.

As we saw last week, a sacrament is an outward sign that represents an inward expression. The first of the two sacraments is baptism, and the second is the Lord’s Supper.

Also known as Communion and the Last Supper, the Lord’s Supper refers to the final meal Jesus ate with His disciples on the night of His arrest. During the meal Jesus used two elements to paint a picture His followers would never forget. He told them as often as they ate the bread and drank the fruit of the vine, they were to remember His body and blood.

What we need to remember about this meal is that it was not a random menu; those men in the Upper Room, as well as Jews everywhere, were eating the traditional Passover meal, which was a celebration of the day God led their ancestors out of Egyptian bondage, and spared their firstborn sons by passing over every house that applied the blood of a substitute lamb to the door.

The bread that Jesus broke, symbolizing His body, was called the Afikomen; at the beginning of the meal the leader (in this case, Jesus) would take three pieces of matzo, then select the middle piece, and hide it away wrapped in white linen. At the end of the meal the middle piece would be found, broken, and eaten. This matzo represented Jesus in every way—He is the middle person of the Trinity; the matzo has both stripes and holes all through it, just as Jesus was pierced and whipped (by His stripes we are healed!); as the matzo was hidden and wrapped in white, then later revealed, so Jesus was buried, wrapped in white, and later resurrected.

For so long the matzo had represented the Passover lamb, one without spot or defect. The matzo was baked without leaven, which is a fermenting agent representing decay. In essence, the matzo was pure. Jesus told His disciples to no longer eat the matzo while thinking about the Passover lamb, but thinking about Him, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Similarly, the cup that Jesus drank (the third of the four Passover cups) was known as the Cup of Redemption. That cup also represented the shed blood of the Passover lamb, which allowed all who trusted God’s promise to be saved. The Passover leader would remind his family of that lamb, but Jesus said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood (Matthew 26:27-28).” As often as we observe the Lord’s Supper, we do it remembering Jesus.

This sacrament does not save us; it is just an outward sign of an inward expression.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thoughts on 9/11

We live in the greatest country the world has ever seen, and that is largely because from Day 1 men and women have been willing to lay down their lives in sacrifice for the good of the people around them.

In 1607 a group of Puritans arrived in Virginia seeking a place where they could worship God and be free from liberal influences. These people had previously been persecuted by the state-run church in England, then Holland when their children began to emulate the secular Dutch culture. Leaving everything behind, they came to America looking for a place of religious refuge. Many died during that first winter, but rather than return to England, they stayed because they knew it would ultimately be better for their children.

On April 19, 1775, shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, and the American Revolutionary War was under way. Once again, many brave men were willing to die so that others could live in freedom. On July 4th of the next year, the Declaration of Independence was signed, guaranteeing that freedom for all Americans.

That same spirit of bravery would be summoned over and over again in America’s history, and brave men and women would go around the globe to offer freedom to those who sought it. Americans fought off Nazis in Germany, Communists in Korea and Vietnam, and Terrorists in the Middle East.

Brave Americans stormed Normandy on D Day, battled back the Viet Cong, and collapsed the Soviet Union; they didn’t flinch when Castro’s Cuba threatened with missiles, or when Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party invaded Kuwait.

The bravery and sacrifice of American men and women has been displayed most recently on 9/11, when undrafted citizens enlisted to track down and kill Osama bin Laden. That sacrifice was seen at Ground Zero when firefighters and rescue workers ran into burning buildings at their own peril because they knew there more people inside. Each time they entered those Twin Towers they knew they might not come out.; finally, the World Trade Center buildings collapsed with many civilian and emergency workers still inside. 411 brave Americans made the ultimate sacrifice that day—340 firefighters, 23 NYPD officers, 37 Port Authority officers, 2 paramedics, and a chaplain.

The brave Americans aboard United Airlines Flight 93 also made a sacrifice. When their plane was hijacked, unarmed passengers used ink pens and coffee pots to take down box cutter-wielding terrorists, then crashed their own plane in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania so that it could not be used as a missile to the White House.

That was the first 9/11. The second 9/11 happened two years ago in Benghazi when terrorists stormed a U.S. Consulate, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The damage would have been worse, but brave Americans violated a stand down order and went to the consulate, saving several lives.

America is the greatest country in the history of the world because of the sacrifice of brave men and women who are willing to give all for other people. Brave people who live out “service before self,” who understand the concept of a greater of good, who live life with something bigger in mind.

The Bible says that no one has greater love than the one willing to lay down his life for someone else. Those words were spoken by Jesus Christ.

By far, the greatest sacrifice that was ever made was not on a battlefield or a crime scene; it was on a hill called Calvary. The sacrifice was not made by a soldier or paramedic, but by the very Son of God.

Jesus told His disciples that His love for them was what compelled Him to make that sacrifice. The Bible teaches that we are all sinners, separated from a holy God. The only way any human could ever have a relationship with God would be if one who never sinned took their place. Only Jesus could do that.

His death on the cross served as the perfect ransom; God allows our sins to be forgiven because He punished our sin by punishing Jesus. All who trust in that sacrifice and repent to God can be forgiven.

Many soldiers made sacrifices for their countrymen, especially the ones who served in the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of Iraq. When they returned home they discovered that the media was against them. College students staged riots on campuses, Hollywood actors supported the enemy, protestors camped outside the White House, and aspiring politicians seized the opportunity to decry the same war many of them voted for. I can’t imagine what those soldiers must feel returning home to a country that seems opposed to their sacrifice.

Freedom is only as good as what we do with it. We can choose to hate the heroes and live as if we are under a dictatorship. We have the freedom to make that choice. It’s a foolish choice, but many choose it.

In the same way, Jesus sacrificed His life to die the most gruesome death in human history, and He is the most mocked figure on TV and comic strips. The freedom He offers is only as good as what we do with it. Will we accept it, and live for Him, or reject it, and live apart from Him?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Catechism #36

Q. What is the first sacrament?
A. The first sacrament is baptism, the way we identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

A sacrament is an outward sign that represents an inward expression. The Church recognizes two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism, then, is a symbol. It is not something done in order to be saved, but something done because we have been saved. Baptism was modeled by Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17), mandated by Paul (Romans 6:3-4), and was the mission of the early church (Matthew 28:19).

Peter referred to baptism as an antitype, meaning it is the completion of an earlier idea. Jesus’ burial and resurrection (the type) is what allows us to be saved, and baptism (the antitype) is a picture of what Jesus did. When the one being baptized goes under water and emerges again, he is identifying with Jesus being buried and rising again.

“There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
I Peter 3:21

Baptism doesn’t wash away the filth of the flesh—only Jesus’ blood can do that. Baptism doesn’t save us; we are saved by what baptism represents.

Paul taught in Romans 6:3-4 that we are “buried with Him through baptism” and that we are “raised to walk in newness of life.” Baptism is a symbol of our new faith in Jesus, and we publicly identify with Him when we are baptized. It is also a statement that we are dying to our old way of life and rising to a new one.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Yes, I Eat Shellfish

(Me eating shellfish)

Yes, I do eat shellfish. Thank you for asking.

And to answer your next few questions, I also wear mixed fabric, I do not have a beard, and I thoroughly enjoy bacon.

I’m making these answers public because they keep coming up, usually as anonymous comments on my blog. It is the classic atheist defense. Thinking they know the Bible because some liberal professor or friend has pointed out a passage in Leviticus, they use these commands to justify their atheism, or more likely, their desire to not have to follow the rules of a Lord.

If a blog mentions homosexuality, I can set my watch by the response: So you pick and choose which verses you believe? Do you eat shellfish?

True, the Old Covenant laws forbid the eating of shellfish, along with anything with a cloven hoof, thus scrapping pig from the menu. Clothing was not to be made from mixed fabrics, men could not shave the corners of their beard, and on and on.

But that doesn’t matter to me for two reasons. First, even if I am wrong for not keeping the Old Covenant laws, that doesn’t let you off the hook for not keeping them. It’s the “two wrongs don’t make a right” argument. You could point out that I am a hypocrite, but my hypocrisy doesn’t automatically make you innocent.

But more importantly, I am not under the Old Covenant. That law was replaced by the New Covenant, and even if it wasn’t, it was given to Jews and I’m a Gentile.

Hebrews 9:15 and 12:24 say that Jesus Christ became the mediator of a New Covenant; His death on the cross systematically ended the Old Covenant, and His words, “It is finished” let everyone know it. At the moment Jesus died (3:00 PM) the priest was in the temple preparing the offering in accordance with the Old Covenant when the temple veil was ripped in two from top to bottom. That veil was 60 feet high and four inches thick; God was saying, “I’m done with this old system.”

Part of the Old Covenant was moral and part was ceremonial. Nine of the Ten Commandments, which were Old Covenant, were reiterated or expounded on by Jesus (the Sabbath was the only one not reinforced). Parts of the law—like what to eat, how to dress, and how to shave—were ceremonial. They were for the outward appearance so that the Gentile world would see a difference in the Jews.

Jesus replaced the ceremonial law with this simple command: “Let your light shine before men so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).” Instead of dressing the part, the New Covenant is about living the part.

So yes, I can eat shellfish and bacon. Those commands are not part of the New Covenant.