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The Sacraments – Week 8 / February 17th
In our last devotional we looked at some depth into the nature and dignity of the local church. I deliberately left out two rituals or sacraments that play a huge part in local church life. These are Baptism and Communion. So often these celebrations, expressly commanded by Jesus, are given scant attention by the local church thus giving the impression that they are unimportant. But they are important as the one Baptism; guards the door to the church and the other, communion; guards the life of the church. When we know this they take on a whole new significance and importance for us.
“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and
preach the Gospel to every creature. He who
believes and is baptized will be saved…”
Jesus commanded that all those who repent of their sins and exercise faith in His saving and finished work on the cross should be baptized in water. That is, they must pass through a ritual cleansing bath and thereby confess certain truths. This act gives them visible entrance to the local church. The early church practiced this sacrament all the time. (Acts 2:38-41)(Acts 8:26-38)(Acts 10:44-48)(Acts 16:11-15)(Acts 16:25-33) So, what then does it signify or mean? Well first of all we must stress that baptism doesn’t save anyone. Only our faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross saves us. (Ephesians 2:8) The repentant thief on the cross was saved because he called on the Lord with his dying breath even though he was not baptized. Paul himself recognized this truth when he wrote that Jesus never sent him to preach a saving message based on water baptism. (1Corinthians 1:14-17) All the New Testament writers affirm that salvation is by faith alone in what Jesus has done for us. (1Peter 1:3-5)(1Peter 1:18-21)
Baptism then is:
1. An act of obedience to the command of Christ. Baptism declares that you will live a life in obedience to Christ. Baptism is the first step on this journey. Jesus said, “If you love Me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
2. A public statement of repentance. ( Acts 2:38) Baptismal candidates renounce all sin and wickedness and indeed all occult practices. The writings of the early church reveal that those baptized did more than just make an affirmation of belief. No, they confirmed their personal repentance publicly. By this confession the door to the church was guarded and only opened to genuine believers.
3. A public appeal to God for a clean conscience. Baptism calls upon heaven and earth to bear witness that you have truly repented. Thus baptism implicates God and invites Him to bless you because you have truly repented. (1Peter 3:21) Again this serves as a “safe guard” for the church.
4. A public statement of what you believe to be yours by virtue of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. (Romans 6:3-4) Baptism is thus a visual confession of Jesus’ passion on the cross. The water is a symbol of the grave and so one is buried with Christ in the grave and then raised to life out of the water by Christ’s resurrection. Baptism declares that being united with Christ you are now dead to sin and alive to Him. You are born again and are thus a new creature! (Ephesians 2:4-6) (2Corinthians 5:17) Given this symbolism, affirmed by Paul in Romans six, baptism should be by emersion and only believers capable of making such a confession should submit themselves to it. We believe in believer’s baptism. Any other form of baptism allows people to come through the door of the church who are not true disciples of Christ!
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you:
that the Lord Jesus on the same night that He was betrayed
took bread; and when He had given thanks He broke it and said,
“Take eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in
remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He took the cup after
supper, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. This do
as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you
eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death
till He comes.”
The New Testament refers to what we call communion as the breaking of bread. (Acts 2:42) They celebrated this sacrament from house to house and at one point did so on a daily basis. (Acts 2:46) Eventually they broke bread or celebrated communion on the first day of each week. (Acts 20:7) It was therefore a regular practice of the early church partly because it guarded the spiritual life of the church. According to scripture there is something very powerful about the communion service in that God is present in a way that He is not present in other local church events. This is so because, as we gather around the communion table and receive its emblems we are thereby affirming that we are indeed living our lives according to what the emblems signify! That is, that we are right with God, right with all men, in as much as it is possible for us to be, and that we are living holy lives. This and nothing less than this, is what we do and mean when eat the bread and drink the cup of communion. However, in taking communion we should do so with joy since we are invited to give thanks to God for all that He, in Christ, has done for us.
So then we must take careful note of the following:
1. Communion is indeed a sacrament of remembrance by which we recall all that Jesus has done for us and dedicate our lives to live accordingly. (Luke 22:14-23)
2. Communion is more than just a sacrament of remembrance as; if we approach the Lord’s Table as we should we can expect to be healed and touched by His love in a new and powerful way. Conversely, if we do not approach the Table of the Lord with due consideration of what it signifies it has the power to make us weak, sickly and bring us to a premature death. (1Corinthians 11:27-30) There are no doubt thousands of believers, world-wide, who are weak and sick and possibly even dead and all because they did not live out the things they claimed to be true as they celebrated communion! We need to have a greater understanding of this very blessed sacrament.
3. The bread and wine at the communion table remain just that; bread and wine. These elements symbolize the once for all finished work of Jesus on the cross. (Hebrews 7:27) There is nothing mystical or magical about them. It is as we partake of them by faith that we feed on the life of the resurrected Christ and draw near to Him. The early disciples, we are told, recognized Jesus “in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:28-32)Those then who come to this communion table discerning the Lord’s body properly will be greatly and mightily blessed.
4. We celebrate communion as a way to keep our lives right with God and so the life of the local church is guarded from imposters. Scripture affirms that we shall do this “until He comes again.” (1Corinthians 11:26) Our remembering of Jesus is thus not the mere recalling of historical facts that took place 2000 years ago but the recalling of what these facts mean for my life today!
This then constitutes the biblical teaching on Baptism and Communion. We would do well to note it. The local church needs to be protected from unrighteous and wicked people and Jesus gave us the tools by which to do just this. We too often have had a very low view of what these two sacraments truly mean and we need to claim back that which we have lost and by so doing we will enjoy more of the blessing of God.
©Malcolm Hedding Ministries