Category Archives: Cross

COMMUNION

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Matthew 22:26-30 (NLT) and 1 Corinthians 11:25 (NLT)

Jesus instituted ‘The Lord’s Supper’ with His disciples around the dinner table. This meal was familiar to them all at this specific time of the year. It was a family meal in every Jewish household to which every member of the family was invited to participate. Indeed, the Passover meal tapped into a tradition that reached all of the way back to Moses and the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 12).

COME TO THE TABLE

So, the Lord’s Supper, as instituted by Jesus, was part of a family meal around a table. Here, the entire Jewish family was welcome (Exodus 12:47).

Today, however, when we gather around ‘the Lord’s Table’ we may think of a wooden table with “Do This In Remembrance of Me” engraved across the front. We may also think of communion trays for the bread and trays for thimble-sized cups for the grape juice. In many congregations we may also have collection trays beside them, making the point that this part of the service is not a part of the Lord’s Supper; it is a separate act of worship.

These are not the kind of tables that a person would find in an average home. These are almost exclusively found in church buildings. Neither would we likely find the ‘utensils’ in any of our homes. These would only be found in church supply catalogues for these special tables in these special buildings with special rooms that we sometimes call, “sanctuaries”. *

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

Throughout the first century the church enjoyed these “Agape Feasts” or, as we might say, “Love Pot Lucks”. Over time, however, the Lord’s Supper became more formal and ceremonial. It continued to be about sharing in the body and blood of Christ. What was different is that it evolved into a ritual that each person did without regard to the person sitting next to them or the people around them. Somewhere along the way, the social aspect of the meal was lost.

This is not to say, necessarily, that there is a right and a wrong way to remember Christ’s sacrifice except for the example Paul gives us of what was happening in the church in Corinth. There, some were gorging themselves during the meal without regard to others who would have to walk away from the meal hungry because the food was gone. The very idea of excluding anyone from the table was horrifying to Paul! Instead, it would be better for them to eat at home, he would tell them, rather than eat and drink God’s judgement upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)!

COVID-19 AND COMMUNION?

This time of self-isolation and social distancing during the Covid-19 crisis means that almost all of what we do in public is now only allowed at home. What a perfect time to return to the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, duplicating the practice of the early church! Here is a simple outline of how we can ‘return to our roots’ of our Christ-centered faith:

  • Gather the entire family around the dinner table for a meal.
  • The head of the family takes a loaf of bread or cracker or unleavened bread and prays a blessing over it as a reminder of the body of Christ–the bread of life–that was broken for us.
  • The bread is then passed around the table for everyone else to ‘break’ for themselves. This includes everyone, not just baptized believers. And there is no rule about the size of the portion except to make sure that everyone is able to take what they wish.
  • At this point the meal begins. While eating the meal it would be a great time to ask everyone to share what Jesus means to them and how He has changed their lives. To talk about the hope that Jesus’ sacrifice has planted in their hearts and how important God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy is to them. Reading portions of Psalms 115-118 may be a great way to relive that Passover meal.
  • As the meal concludes and everyone is satisfied, now pray a blessing over ‘the fruit of the vine’ as a symbol of the blood of Christ that was poured out for everyone. Pour the grape juice into each individual’s glasses. As everyone drinks, have each person share the importance of forgiveness and cleansing.
  • Close the meal with a prayer that God will empower His Holy Spirit in our lives to help us live like God’s kingdom people, holy and acceptable before His throne.

CONCLUSION

And so, we realize that the entire process of the Lord’s Supper is a social one that brings people together as the body of Christ. This happens at so many levels. Our lesson today is broken into three parts.

Part 1 is our welcome and focus upon today’s emphasis as we consider The Lord’s Supper.

Part 2 is a sharpening of our focus upon the importance of the social aspect as we gather around the table. We conclude with a commission to all to take this time to integrate the Lord’s Supper with a table meal of the day.

Part 3 is a simple communion service that is similarly conducted every Sunday morning in our worship assemblies.

May God bless us as we realize new and different ways to worship our Savior and our God by revisiting the core of our example: Jesus Christ.


* Much research has been done on the evolution of the Lord’s Supper meal transitioning to the formal ritual we now do in our church buildings. Among Churches of Christ a recent author is John Mark Hicks who wrote a book entitled Come To The Table. Click HERE for a Biblical Archaeology article that summarizes the discussion and offers other references for further study.

COMFORTER – PART 2

Sunday, March 29, 2020

John 14-16 (NLT)

We continue the journey of Christ to Jerusalem. Now we enter into a time of teaching with His disciples. They are confused about Jesus’ talk of dying, leaving and going away. This was not what they had envisioned when they responded to His call to “Come, Follow Me”.

By Thursday, Judas has already met with the religious rulers. He continued to act like nothing is wrong as they all sit down to eat the Passover meal. He even endures Jesus washing his feet!

This is where we begin with our lesson today. We will begin by revisiting last week’s lesson about ‘The Comforter – Part 1.’ Now we are fully into Thursday evening, the night that Jesus was betrayed. Now he has time to address the disciples’ fears and confusion.

SPECIAL PRESENTATION: SUNDAY’S LESSON

Due to the Covid-19 virus we are not meeting together to stay in place and stay safe. So, the following presentation basically follows our Sunday morning order of worship. The only difference is that we are not singing together. Might I recommend clicking HERE to enjoy Keith Lancaster’s “Acappella Company’s YouTube Channel.”

The presentation will also include a time to share in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper with your family. And, if you wish, you may mail your contribution check to Shoreline Church of Christ, 525 W. Barney Ave., Muskegon, MI 49444.

God bless!

COMFORTER – PART 1

Sunday, March 22, 2020

John 14-16 (NLT)

Jesus and His disciples came together for the Passover Meal on Thursday night.  The predictions of His death, burial and resurrection plus His comments about going away were taking their toll on the disciples.  He is aware that they are worried, afraid, and confused.  In John’s gospel account we have some wonderful, comforting and intimate reflections of Jesus as He contemplated the unfolding events that had already begun.

IT’S TIME

John 13 sets the stage for this intimate time of teaching by Jesus to His disciples. It begins with Jesus, realizing that the time He has anticipated has finally arrived and that He had received full authority from His Father (vss. 1, 3). So, of course, it is time for Him to wash the disciple’s feet! This included the feet of Judas. It includes the intense conversation with Peter (John 13:1-17) concluding with Jesus’ encouragement for the disciples to ‘wash each other’s feet’ (vss. 14-15).

Immediately afterwards, Judas leaves the room into the night (John 13:18-30) and Jesus predicts Peter’s denial later Thursday evening (John 13:31-38).

JESUS IS THE WAY

In several places Jesus refers to His departure which leaves the disciples disheartened. Yet, at the same time, He talks about how He will be with them which adds confusion to their discomfort. In John 14-16 Jesus points out that Jesus…

  • is the Way to His Father (14:1-14)
  • will feed and sustain them (15:1-17)
  • will show them how to suffer (15:18-25)
  • will be the source of their peace (16:16-33)

THE PARACLETE

Sandwiched between these clear assertions of Jesus’ dynamic activity in the lives of his followers, Jesus inserts teachings about “The Paraclete” in Greek (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), which, literally translated into English means “The One Who is Called to Their Side.”  This Being is identified by different translations as “The Comforter” (KJV), “The Advocate” (NIV, NLT), “The Helper” (NASB), “The Friend” (MSG) and “The Counselor” (WEB), among others.  In all of the translations, however, Jesus tells us that His name is “The Holy Spirit” (John 14:26).

HE WILL BE IN YOU

In John 14:15-21 Jesus comforts His disciples by assuring them that the Holy Spirit will not only continue to be with them but that He will take up residence within them (vs. 17).

“All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.”

John 14:23 (NLT)

This is truly a remarkable statement. Jesus assures them–and us!– of not only His continuing presence in their lives through the Holy Spirit, but also, that of His Father’s! So long as Jesus remains in the flesh, walking the streets of Palestine, He is choosing to be limited by time and space. Once the Holy Spirit comes, however, He will dwell in all who believe

HE WILL TEACH YOU

In John 14:22-26 Jesus further assures them that He will not only teach them what they need to know but that He will remind them of what Jesus said (vss. 26). Through them, the power of Jesus’ words have been given to us in the Scriptures and they resonate deep within our hearts as the Holy Spirit joins with our spirit to confirm the truth of God’s word (1 John 5:5-10).

CONCLUSION

Jesus is the only way to His Father. Through the Holy Spirit Jesus dwells in us and teaches us. It is Jesus who feeds and sustains us. Jesus shows us how to suffer. Jesus is the source of our peace.

Next week we will take on the other references Jesus makes to The Comforter (Part 2) in John 15:26-16:15.

Comforter – Part 1
With Closing Comments by Dean Wolf, Shepherd

For further reading: Tim Woodroof, A Spirit for the Rest of Us (Leafwood Publishers: Abilene, TX), 2009.

Judgement

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Matthew 21-25 (NLV)

7 DAYS LEFT

Seven days are all you have before you go to meet the Lord. What do you do with the time you have left?

WHAT JESUS DID

When Jesus had seven days to go before the cross He became intensely focused upon giving the people of Jerusalem one last chance. A final warning shot over the bow. This included the religious rulers. Looking back, we already know where their hearts were as they plotted to kill Jesus. Nonetheless, Jesus cuts through their cheap suit religion and begins open heart surgery to give them one last opportunity to respond.

Jesus, The Crowds, His Disciples and The Religious Rulers – The Week Before The Cross

ONE LAST CHANCE

Matthew 23 forms the peak of Jesus’ attempts to reason with the religious rulers. Now it is time for no-holes-barred judgement intended to soften hearts by crushing them; to open eyes rather than to intensify the darkness; to speak directly to the consciences of his audience with brutal clarity and pinpoint accuracy.

In His criticism of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, Jesus points to a set of positive kingdom characteristics that apply to all of His followers. Setting the stage, Jesus admonishes the crowds and His disciples: “…practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example” (23:3) because “Everything they do is for show” (23:5).

Then Jesus points out the distinction between the lives of the religious rulers and the lives of God’s kingdom people:

The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. 

Matthew 23:11-12

CRUSHING CRITIQUE

In Matthew 23:13-36 Jesus conducts spiritual heart surgery upon the religious rulers in front of the disciples and crowds. These 7 critiques point, conversely, to seven principles that should characterize kingdom people. We can summarize these principles as follows:

  • The kingdom is intended to be an open door kingdom. No one is excluded from the invitation (vs. 13).
  • There’s a difference between a) converting someone to your religion and b) leading them to fall in love with Christ (vs. 15).
  • Truth and transparency are core values of kingdom people.  Your word is your bond (vss. 20-22).
  • Kingdom values touch all of life. From the grandest of principles to the smallest of details, God’s kingdom is all about it all (vss. 23-24).
  • Kingdom people are about transformed lives, not keeping up appearances (vs. 25).
  • Kingdom values are not about what I can get for me but upon what can I do for you (vss. 27-28).
  • The humble realize that the mistakes of others are learning opportunities, not fuel for judgementalism.  The unexamined life leaves too much room for pride (vss. 29-30).

Jesus’ final words of mourning over Jerusalem are particularly moving at this point (Matthew 24:37-39). Looking back at Israel’s history He speaks as One who stood at His Father’s side as they turned away from Him, time after time. Knowing what is brewing in their hearts now and about their plans for this special Passover, He is overwhelmed.

RELIGIOSITY VS DISCIPLESHIP

Finally, Jesus takes His disciples aside to prepare them for two important events. First, He speaks to them about the immediate future involving the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (Matthew 24). Finally, He speaks to them about His return and the end of time (Matthew 25).

Seven days have now come to two days before the Passover (Matthew 26:1). Next week our focus will be upon the time Jesus gathers for a final meal with His disciples (John 13-17).

Judgement – Jesus’ Final Week
Closing Comments by Dean Wolf, Shepherd

The following Skit Guys video encapsulated the lesson today at the conclusion.

God’s Chisel Remastered Video | The Skit Guys

Arrived

Sunday, March 8, 2020

John 11-12 (NLT)

Last week we contemplated the wilderness as Jesus began His ministry immediately after His baptism.   In December we concluded our Knowing Christ series as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in Luke 19. Today we are studying in John 11-12, just six days before the Passover weekend of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

LAZARUS

After raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45), John tells us that many believed in Jesus. At the same time, the religious rulers were wrestling with how best to deal with this person who could obviously work miracles. Of course, the only answer that made sense to them was to kill Jesus (John 11:45-57)!

MARY

John tells us that there was at least one person who got it: Mary, the sister of Lazarus (John 12:1-11). She actually begins the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial while, at the same time, the leading priests begin to plot the death of Lazarus, too!

Jesus: “She did this in preparation for my burial” (John 12:7)

JESUS’ ARRIVAL IN JERUSALEM

People’s reactions are so different towards Jesus at the conclusion of John’s record of His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. The disciples are confused. The crowds want to see more. The religious leaders are exasperated, complaining, ” Look, everyone has gone after him!” (vs. 19).

THE GREEKS

Then, seemingly out-of-the-blue, some Gentiles show up wanting to see Jesus and meet Him. So, they go to Philip who then goes to Andrew who then goes to Jesus…and that’s it. We assume that they are in the crowd as Jesus speaks about His death, burial and resurrection. During that discussion a voice thunders from heaven verifying Jesus’ message followed by Jesus’ dispelling the myth that the Messiah will not die (John 12:20-36).

THE PEOPLE

In the end, John tells us, most of the people really did not believe in Jesus. For those that did believe, however–even among the religious rulers–they chose to keep their faith to themselves out of fear (John 12:37-43). John assures us that this was what Isaiah had predicted from long ago.

CONFUSION

With Lazarus Jesus showed His authority over death. His predictions of His impending execution directly confront the belief that the Messiah cannot die in spite of the popular myths and legends. The arrival of the Gentiles who just want to meet with Jesus mixed with the volatile mixture of belief and disbelief of the crowds certainly set the stage. Added to this are the murderous intentions based on the fear and confusion of the religious leaders over what to do with Him.

CONCLUSION

It is almost as though John has been preparing us for Jesus’ final word before He completely turns His attention to the disciples in John 13-16 and His prayer for them in John 17. Here, at the conclusion of John 12, verses 44-50, Jesus makes it clear that “when you see Me, you are seeing the One Who sent Me”, His Father. Whether it is first century Greek Docetism or the modern day belief that Jesus was a good and wise man, the overriding theme is that there are people who will not believe in Him in spite of His claims.

The challenge for us is to accept God as He defines Himself. But, our nature is to take that role upon ourselves, creating a god in our own image, limited by our own understanding.

In sharp contrast, for those who do put their faith and trust in Jesus, Jesus Himself tells us…

  • they are trusting in God,
  • they are seeing God,
  • they are emerging from the darkness,
  • they are saved from the world,
  • they will obey His commands and
  • they will be given eternal life.
Arrived – Jesus is God!

Wilderness

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Matthew 4:1-11 (NLT)

LENT

40 days before Easter Sunday, many churches celebrate Lent. It usually begins with Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and ends on Maundy Thursday, the day when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, or on Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead. 

Sometimes the season of Lent is associated with the idea of the wilderness in Scripture. Understanding the principle of brokenness is another important value to all followers of Christ. 

Many congregations do not normally observe Lent as a religious tradition. Nonetheless, the ideals of service, sacrifice, fasting, penitence and prayer are worthy practices of every follower of Christ.

BAPTISM, LENT & EASTER SUNDAY

Constantine

The Lent tradition seems to have emerged from the sudden influx of people who wanted to become Christians once the legal penalties were removed by Constantine around 315 A.D. The early church’s practice of baptisms on Easter Sunday gradually expanded to include the 40 days preceding Easter and more. This was to allow time to disciple people from largely pagan background, teaching them the core doctrines of Christ and the church as a prerequisite to baptism. In its earliest years, its essence was an evangelistic desire that strongly connected baptism with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

Ambrose

With the advent of infant baptism in the early centuries after Christ, however, the connection between baptismal service and Easter Sunday had largely disappeared by the time of the Reformation. * 

THE WILDERNESS

The concept of 40 days and nights marked moments of significance in God’s dealing with fallen mankind. Consider the life and times of these great leaders and their role in the history of God’s people: Noah (Genesis 7), Moses (Exodus 24, 34), The Spies (Numbers 13), Israel (Numbers 14) and Elijah (1 Kings 14).

Of course, our prime example of the importance of the wilderness is Jesus Christ Himself, Who, immediately after his baptism by John, is led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). He did not resist the Spirit’s lead. Rather, Luke tells us that in spite of the crowds that were gathering around Him–perhaps, in part, because of them–Jesus would often retire to the wilderness to pray (Luke 5:15-16). In other words, Jesus would embrace the wilderness as a means of connecting to his Father.

OUR WILDERNESSES

And so, the parallels between the ideals of the season of Lent, our Christian walk and Jesus’ time in the wilderness convict us. All of these describe the all-day, every-day lifestyles of followers of Christ that go beyond 40 days and nights. And isn’t that the purpose of Lent, after all? It reminds us all of the importance of the consecrated life lived before an Everlasting God by the grace of His Son, Jesus Christ! These are every-day yet eternal truths that cannot be moved!

Sometimes it seems that happiness itself is the goal, meaning and purpose for so many lives. Still, there are special people in this world who have become accustomed to the wilderness periods of life, learning to embrace them as opportunities to know God more intimately.

Perhaps the achievement of happiness is pursuing goals, meanings and purposes in life that–though littered with wilderness wanderings–are anchored in Someone Greater than ourselves!

Wilderness – Embracing The Wilderness

* For further reading about the genesis of Lent and the traditions that surround it, these references may be helpful:

For analysis of the early development of the church’s assimilation of new converts and Abrose’s (340-397 A.D.) influence on the teaching of those early ‘new convert’ classes:

“Ambrose and Catechetical Instruction” in the Online Library of Liberty.

Ambrose: “On The Mysteries”

For an interesting discussion of Lent as understood by the Reformed tradition, check out:

“Yes and No: Lent and the Reformed Faith Today” in The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.