2020 03 15 PM Faith Fed at Font and Table Genesis 17:9-14, Romans 4:11, John 14:16-21, by Rev. Andre Holtslag

(Take as read – Two sacraments are baptism and Lords’ Supper.  Sacrament means sacred thing; holy rite of the church.  Acknowledgement – Tim Chester’s book ‘Enjoying God’  has a chapter about the Sacraments. I have borrowed some of its ideas and explanations.)

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Tim Chester’s chapter begins with a story about Tyler, a six year old boy in his congregation, who described their church as Josh’s church.  And the reason he did this is because Josh is the caretaker of the church and he is always the first one there on Sunday to open the building and get everything arranged for the service.  So whenever six year old Tyler arrived at church, Josh was there unlocking doors and arranging chairs and saying ‘Hi’ to people.  So Tyler just assumed that the church belonged to Josh.  Well, as cute as this idea was, Tyler’s parents took this as a teaching moment and explained to Tyler that the church is actually Jesus’ church.  But Tyler’s response was, ‘If it is Jesus’ church, why does He never come?’ 

And that really is a six-year old child’s version of a reality we all have to wrestle with – we preach that the Christian life is about relationship with Jesus; theologically, we speak about the believer’s union with Christ; we also talk about finding our joy in Christ.  But the simple fact is: He is not physically here!  He is in heaven.  And without wanting to be frivolous in any way, just as it would be hard to really enjoy chocolate if you never got to see, touch, or taste it, how can we really enjoy someone if we cannot physically see or hear or touch them?

And what makes this a real question is the fact that Jesus said things like: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and “I will come to you,” and “I am in you,” and “I will manifest [or show myself] to you.”  But if He is in heaven, how can this be?  What did He mean?  Well, what we are going to see today is that the sacraments are a vital part of how Christ is truly in us and with us.  And people of God, I hope you are ready to learn more about God’s amazing grace to us, His children!    

So what we want to see today is How Christ is made Real to Us in the Sacraments.   And there are three S’s that will help us to understand this – the sign, the seal, and the Spirit.  And we will consider each of these S’s from a different passage of Scripture.

  1. So first of all, the Sign of sacraments.  Please turn to Genesis 17:9-14 (p. 12)
  1. So God had made a covenant with Abraham – I will be your God and the God of your descendants; I will bless all nations through you.  What an amazing covenant!  What an amazing promise!  And God then said to Abraham, You must be circumcised and every male in your household, and every 8 day old son born to you and every future generation.  And look again at verse 11 – “It shall be a sign to you.”  God wanted every male descendant of Abraham to have a very visible and physical sign of the covenant.  And the first thing to note about this sign is that signs are a common gift from God.  God gives many signs in Bible history.  Here are some of them:
    1. Genesis 9 – God said, I will never again destroy the earth with a flood.  And He gave a sign of this promise?  What was it, boys and girls?  A rainbow.  Saw one this week.
    1. Genesis 15 – Abram, I promise that I will give this land to your descendants.  But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”  So the Lord told Abram to take some animals and to cut them in half and lay them out.  And then “the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that [I will give this land to your descendants] ” … When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.” 
    1. There is another example of a sign in Joshua 4.  The people of Israel crossed the Jordan River on dry ground.  And the Lord said, Set up twelve stones in a pile.  “This may be a sign among you.  When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’   And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.”
    1. And I am sure you boys and girls know the sign in Judges 6 – Two, actually!  Gideon asked for two signs – Golden fleece.  Dew on fleece alone.  Dry on fleece only. 
    1. So signs are a common gift of God.  Again and again, God gave His people a visible, tangible sign as confirmation of who He was or what He had promised.
  • But as you think about these signs it becomes plain that they are a gracious gift from God.  Gracious means undeserved.  And these signs are undeserved because God’s word should be enough.  None of the people I just listed, or us, deserve a sign from God.God’s promise not to destroy the world with a flood, His promise to Abraham, the crossing of the Jordan, His promise to Gideon, all these should have been enough.  But God gave a sign.  And with Gideon’s fleece, Gideon actually said, “Please let me test just once more with the fleece.”  Gideon put God to the test!  A puny human saying that he doubted God’s word and wanted proof.  But still God did what Gideon asked, twice!  That is grace!You see, congregation, God knows that we are five sense human beings – hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, tasting.  What we hear is enhanced by what we see/touch/taste/smell!  Chocolate – tell you it tastes good!  But seeing it and tasting it helps!!!Helmet – tell you it protects!  But knocking it helps!A coupleBoyfriend and girlfriend – “I Love you.”  Should be enough.  Hold hands!  Marriage – vows.  Enough.  Ring!  See, touch.Husband and wife argue.  She was in the wrong.  He forgives her.  Should be enough, right.  What does she want/need?  To be held.  Kissed.    Signs are a gracious gift of God to enhance His word for our benefit. Our Belgic article – “We believe that our gracious God, mindful of our weakness and limitations [gave us the sacraments] … to represent better to our external senses both what He declares in His word and what He does inwardly in our hearts.”So, what are the gracious signs that God has given us in the sacraments?What is the sign in Baptism? – water.  What is it a sign of?  The blood of Jesus.  He wants us to know that “as water washes away the dirt of the body when poured on us … so the blood of Christ … washes and cleanses our soul from sin.”  Next Sunday, God willing, we will see the water on Na-young’s forehead.  She will feel it.  And we are given this gracious sign every time there is a baptism!  We hear the message of our sins being washed away by Jesus’ blood, regularly.  But the Lord says, I know that you are helped by what you can see and feel, so I want you to feel my grace pour over your head.  And what are the signs in the Lord’s Supper?  Bread and wine.  They are signs of?  The broken body and poured out blood of Jesus.  And we are given these gracious signs every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  We hear the message that by the body and blood of Jesus our sins are forgiven and our faith is nourished.  But the Lord says, I know that you are helped by what you can see and feel and smell and taste.  So, I want you to touch my body and taste my grace with your in your mouth and swallow it deep down inside you.  So the signs of the sacrament are God’s gracious gift to us as physical and weak human beings.
  1. But wait!  There’s more!  For not only is Christ made real to us in the sacraments by the signs, He is made real also in that the sacraments are a Seal, our second point.  And our text in relation to sacraments as seals is Romans 4:11 (p. 941 – read 1-12)
  1. Explain the passage –The big point of Romans – the gospel – we must be justified – just-as-if-I-never sinned.  Only God can do this; we can’t earn it; we must believe that God justifies us because of Christ.  Justification by faith alone.  Ch. 4, Paul illustrates this truth with Abraham.  You see, many Jews believed that Abraham earned God’s favour by becoming circumcised.  But in 4:1, Paul says, What?!  Abraham justified by his works?  No way!  And in vv5-9 he explains that Abraham was justified by faith.  And to make his point, in v3 he quotes Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  So God declared Abraham righteous because Abraham believed God’s promise.  And Paul’s question in v10 is: Was Abraham declared righteous before or after he was circumcised?  Answer?  Before!  And this is vital because it means Abraham is able to be the father of uncircumcised Gentile believers, like most or all of us, and circumcised Jewish believers.  Main point?  You don’t have to be circumcised to have Abraham as your father in faith!
  • Verse 11: “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.”  So the OT sacrament of circumcision was a sign and a seal, and baptism and the Lord’s Supper are a sign and a seal.But what does the word ‘seal’ mean?Well, back in the olden days, a king would pour wax on a scroll he had written and press his signet ring into the wax.  That would be the seal.  It meant: genuine/official/ ownership.  So think of the preached word as the scroll of salvation and the sacraments as the seal – we hear God’s promises of salvation and the sacraments make them:genuine – really and truly forgiven.official – just as we receive water and bread and wine from Christ’s officer, so we receive the thing signified.ownership – you are His and He is yours!  Another illustration of the sacraments as seal is like a key.  Boy and girls, at a certain age, your parents will give you a key to the front door.  It is not for you to frame and hang on the wall and admire – it is so that you can use it to unlock the house and go in and out.  The key represents access/privileges.  And in a similar way, the sacraments are a kind of key to Christ and His blessings.So with baptism you become a member of the household.  You used to live outside, but now you have been brought inside.  With Lord’s Supper, you can enjoy all of the blessings that belong to those inside the house – food and fellowship!   So, the sacraments as Seal mean you are receiving Christ and all His blessings.   In Acts 22:16 , Paul described his own baptism.  Ananias said to him, “And now why do you wait?  Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins.”  Sins really washed away!1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Hs Son cleanses us from all sin.”  Cleansed from sin!1 Corinthians 10:16-17, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”  We are nourished with and united to the body of Christ
  • Now, before we move on to our last point, I need to say something here about timing.  Our text says that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.”   So Abraham believed and was then given circumcision as a sign and seal of Christ and all His blessings.  But Abraham was also told to circumcise his household and his eight day old son, and his 8 day old son had no clue what was being done to him.  And the OT is clear that not every circumcised person was saved, to use modern day language.  It is clear then that circumcision, the sacrament, did not save the one circumcised.  It was not snip = saved.  What did save?  Belief.  Faith.  It is when a circumcised person believed that he received the things sealed in the circumcision.  Faith is the key, if you like, that unlocks everything sealed in the sacrament.  And it is the same today.  We baptize the children of believers because OT believers had to circumcise their sons.  But baptism does not save the one baptized.  It is not sprinkle = saved.  What saves today is faith.  And it is when a baptized person believes that they receive what was sealed in their baptism.  And if they do not believe, they do not receive Christ and all His blessings.  And it is similar with the Lord’s Supper, the key to receiving Christ and all His blessings is faith; it is only those who believe who receive what is sealed in the bread and wine.
    • So let me speak here to those of you who have been baptized but who have not yet trusted in Christ and publicly professed faith.  The water that was sprinkled on your head was God putting His hand out and offering you the key to the salvation house.  If you take the key, which means to believe in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, you will experience Christ and all of His blessings!  But if you do not take ‘the key,’ when you stand before Christ on Judgment Day, at the top of your condemnation list will be the underlined and highlighted words baptism rejecter.
  1. So the first S of How Christ is made real in the sacraments is Sign and the second S is Seal.  But thirdly and lastly, the most crucial part of understanding how Christ is made real in the sacraments is the Spirit.  And our text here is John 14:16-21 (p. 901).
  1. Six-year old Tyler’s question at the beginning of the sermon was: If it is Jesus’ church, why does He never come?  And behind the cuteness of his question is a real question: If Christ is in heaven and we are on earth, how are we to understand His promise here in John 14 to be with us and in us and to reveal Himself to us?  And this has obvious implications for the sacraments: How does the blood of Christ wash away our sins? and how are we nourished with the body and blood of Christ? and how are we united with Him in heaven?  So how do we experience Christ in the sacramentsHow is He made real to us in baptism and the Lord’s Supper? 
  • Well, it is Jesus Himself who answered that in v16 where He promised that the Father will send another Helper, who is the Holy Spirit.  In Philippians 1:19, the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And in John 15:26, Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.”  So back in ch. 14, it is because His Spirit lives within us that Jesus says in v18, “I will come to you.”  It is by the Spirit of Christ that Christ is in us and with us; that He is made real to us.
    •  So with baptism, it is by the person and power of the Spirit that the blood of Christ washes away our sins.  And every-time we see another baptism, it is the Spirit who reminds us that we are in-Christ people.
    • And with the Lord’s Supper, it is by the person and power of the Spirit that we are nourished with the actual body and blood of Christ, and our physical and spiritual union with Him in heaven is made stronger and stronger.
      • Think of it this way: When you next sit at the Lord’s Supper table, earth and heaven connect.  And they connect not because Christ comes down into the bread and wine, but because the Spirit makes Christ real to you and brings you into the presence of Christ in heaven!   

So there you have the three S’s of how Christ is made real in the sacraments. 

The signs are water, bread and wine.

The seal is Christ and all His blessings.

And the way we receive Christ and all His blessings is by His Spirit.

So when you next celebrate a sacrament, may the Spirit make you feel the loving embrace of your Saviour.  Amen.