1 Corinthians 10:14-22
March 10, 2021
There is only one Gospel, because there is only one Savior Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again to give us victory over sin, death, and hell. And this one Gospel of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ is received through faith alone. This is why Scripture consistently teaches that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. Yet, as we have been learning in this Lenten series, the Gospel is delivered to us in multiple ways called the means of grace. And the benefits of every one of these means is received through faith alone, because the Gospel can only be received through faith.
This is no different in regards to the Sacrament of the Altar. The Sacrament of the Altar is Gospel, which give forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to all who believe. When we meditate on the Sacrament of the Altar, we usually cover it in four parts: 1. What is it? 2. What are its benefits? 3. How does one receive its benefits? And finally, 4. an admonition to receive this precious sacrament. Under each of the four parts lies the fundamental truth that the Sacrament of the Altar is Gospel given for the purpose of sinners receiving the forgiveness of sins and salvation through faith in Christ alone.
First, what is the Sacrament of the Altar? “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.” These words cannot be understood in any other way than Gospel, for what else is the Gospel than that Christ Jesus laid down his own body and shed his own blood for us? Why else would Jesus give us his body and blood to eat and to drink except to tell us that he lays down his life for us! This is Gospel. It should only be understood as Gospel.
Yet, there are many who deny that the Sacrament of the Altar is Gospel. They don’t call it a sacrament. Instead, they call it an ordinance. Why? Because they do not believe that it is Christ’s body and blood, but only a symbol of Christ’s body and blood. Well, that might make sense. It doesn’t look like Jesus’ body and blood. It looks like bread and wine. It tastes like bread and wine. And to be honest, the idea of eating a person does sound gross and disturbing! So, why do we confess it to be the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ? Because of the words of our Savior Jesus:
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup after supper, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
So, there you have it. We confess the Sacrament of the Altar to be Christ’s body and blood, because Jesus said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” Moreover, he says this is for the forgiveness of our sins! Why then do people deny it to be Christ’s body and blood? Well, because it is scientifically impossible for Christ’s body to be in so many places at one time and to be consumed by people without being torn apart. Well then, scientifically that is correct. Yet, scientifically only pertains to human knowledge. But we are not dealing with mere human knowledge, but the knowledge of the almighty God for whom nothing is impossible. So, we should confess with St. Paul that God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20), and leave it up to him how this can be! Christ our God and Lord desires to feed us his own body and blood, which he sacrificed as our Great High Priest for our forgiveness and salvation.
Second part: What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? Luther answers, “These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” This is the obvious answer. For what other purpose would Christ give us his body and blood except to declare to us that he forgives us, that he desires to be with us forever. He is the bread of life from heaven. Whoever feeds on his flesh and drinks his blood will live forever! The Lord’s Supper makes the Gospel personal, because if you have any doubt that Jesus died to forgive your sins, that doubt must be erased when the very body and blood of Christ is given to you to eat and drink with Christ’s promise attached to it!
The third part quickly follows: How can one receive this Sacrament and so receive the forgiveness of sins? Here, you must remember that the Gospel can only be received through faith. We’ve clearly established from Scripture that the Lord’s Supper is pure Gospel, so it can only be received rightly through faith. This is why your Catechism answers, “Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’”
This seems simple enough, but it is a difficult thing to grasp, because we feel unworthy and unprepared for such a glorious gift. So, what do we do? We invent qualification to receive the sacrament! We wait to receive the Sacrament, until we think we have adequately conquered our own sins. Of course, all these requirements outside of faith only burden consciences and make sinners self-righteous, which is the opposite of faith! No, you must know that it is by faith alone that you receive the Sacrament worthily! For only faith can receive the Gospel of Christ!
Yes, it is true that we do not give the Sacrament to everyone who comes. This is because Scripture clearly warns against those who receive the Sacrament unworthily and without examining themselves. And it has always been the responsibility of the church, the pastors in particular, to prepare and examine Christians in preparation for the Sacrament.
Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 11, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” For this reason, we do not give the Lord’s Supper to children, who have not been instructed and examined. Neither do we give the Lord’s Supper to adults who have not been instructed properly on the Sacrament and the Gospel. Even a Christian, who does not believe that the Sacrament is truly Christ’s body and blood, can be harmed from this Sacrament if he does not have faith that it is Christ’s body and blood! Participation in this Sacrament is a confession of fellowship of faith as well. That is why it is called Communion. We have something in common! This is why St. Paul warns against communing with demons and communing with the Lord! For this reason, we do not give Communion to those who teach contrary to our Church, neither do we commune at churches that teach false doctrine, because to do that would be to confess contrary to what we believe and would be misusing the name of the Lord.
And of course, the Sacrament should not be given to those who are not sorry for their sins, but who live in open and impenitent sin! This is obvious, because those who desire forgiveness repent of their sins and flee from them. Those who continue in their sins do not truly desire forgiveness. Jesus warns against throwing pearls before swine. Those who refuse to repent of their sins should not be forgiven until they repent, so obviously they should not receive the Lord’s body and blood lest they take it to their own judgment and harden their hearts against it!
Finally, there is the admonition to come and receive the Sacrament. In a sense, it is maddening that there would even be the need to admonish anyone to receive this gift, but of course, sin drives the world crazy and blind to good sense! If a celebrity from Holly Wood or even Washington D. C. were to speak at our church, we’d probably fill every pew! If we offered free vaccinations for Covid-19, we probably would have a line going out the door! Yet, here we have Jesus Christ come to us in his body and blood every week, and even Christians frequently do not come! Here Jesus offers forgiveness and eternal salvation, yet people feel no need to receive this from Jesus’ hand! There are more excuses to not come and receive this Sacrament than there is sand on the sea shore, but you know they wouldn’t be worth the ink to type them or the breath to speak them. We need Christ’s forgiveness and salvation. Christ offers us forgiveness and salvation in the Sacrament. So, we should desire to receive it.
So, how can we convince those who don’t think they should receive it? Luther says to convince them by declaring their need! First, do you have flesh and blood? Pinch yourself to double check. You do! Well, then read what Scripture says about the flesh. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warned you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Well, who is the exalted saint among us who has put away all these works of the flesh so that he has no need to go to the Supper, which offers forgiveness and an inheritance in God’s kingdom to all who believe? Even St. Paul writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh, For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19) We must flee our works of the flesh, by receiving the flesh and blood that takes away all sins! How much we need this Sacrament!
Luther also points out that we live in a sinful world filled with temptations and distractions. And of course, Satan is constantly searching for a way into our hearts to deceive us. Luther says if we knew how many fiery darts the devil shot at us at all times, we’d run to the Sacrament. In short, we should go to the Sacrament, because we need it.
We need the Gospel, because we are sinners. Only the Gospel can save sinners. Only faith can receive the Gospel. So, prepare your hearts to receive the Sacrament by believing God’s promise to you. When you feel least worthy, that is when you need it the most. The Gospel is for sinners. Amen.
Midweek Lenten Series: The Means of Grace
“We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc.”
The article above is from the Smalcald Articles, written by Martin Luther at the request of Elector John Frederick in December of 1536 and presented at the meeting of the Smalcaldic League in February of 1537. The Smalcald Articles are part of our Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord. In this particular article Luther explains that the one Gospel is given to us in multiple ways. These multiple ways are called the Means of Grace. They are means by which God gives us his grace. So, there is one Gospel, which reveals God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ. Yet, there are many means by which God gives us this Gospel. And no matter by which means the Gospel is given, it is received through faith alone. This Midweek Lenten Series, we will explore how rich and liberal our God is in his grace by examining the Means of Grace.