First Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53.1-12 June 4, 2017
Second Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15.1-8
Proclaiming the Lord’s Death – by What Authority?
by Rev. Bill Jennings
Introduction: In the words of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper we find the words, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Two great truths, here, the Death of Jesus and his second coming, and in a few minutes we will be testifying to these great events surrounding the life and death of Jesus. And, we will be testifying to one of the most controversial issues between followers of Jesus and Muslims. Did you know that the Qur’an denies the fact that Jesus even died? This is what Sura (Chapter 4) “Women” verse 157 says: “’They [Christians and Jews] denied the truth and uttered a monstrous falsehood against Mary. They declared: ‘We have put to death the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary the apostle of Allah.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did.” According to the Qur’an and Muslim belief, Jesus did not die – ever! Some think Simon of Cyrene was forced to take Jesus’ place on the cross. You may look it up on Google. It is called the Muslim “Swoon” theory about the death of Jesus.
L So, if celebrating the Lord’s Supper puts us into controversy with 1.6 billion Muslims or 23% of the world’s population, we had better be very sure that we have strong authority to back us up.
A. So, what is the authority behind our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper? Is itIjust a routine that we have just become so accustomed to that we do it automatically without thinking about what we do? Is it just a ritual that has become so familiar that it has bred at best disinterest or at worst contempt? Listen to what the LORD has to say about empty ritual: (Amos 5.21, 23): “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.” “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.”
B. So, let this be a reminder to us all, beginning with me, to attempt to answer the authority issue. At first we read that this authority comes from Jesus himself. Paul wrote, “I have received from the Lord, what I have also passed on to you…” That is pretty powerful authority, Jesus himself, who knocked Paul off his horse and blinded him on his way to Damascus. I guess if somebody had knocked me off a horse and blinded me for a few days, I would take what he says pretty seriously also. But Paul the Pharisee needed confirmation from something more, the Scriptures of the O.T. which he was immersed in as a serious student of the O.T.
C. In a similar passage in the same letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that behind Jesus there is another authority, important for Paul, as a Jewish Pharisee, an expert student of the Jewish Scriptures. He needed, and found confirmation as indicated in I Cor. 15.3-8:
“What I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (I Cor. 15.3-8)
So, the authority of Jesus was preceded by the authority of the Scriptures. Probably the specific Scripture that Paul had in mind was the passage we read this morning from Is. 53. Jesus himself said to the Jews, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” (John 5.39)
And, the author of the letter to the Hebrews confirms that in Heb. 1.1-3: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven.”
Now neither Jesus nor Paul had the New Testament like we do. They both helped bring the N.T. into existence! So they were speaking exclusively about the Old Testament as their authority which testified to Jesus. So the Old Testament and what became the New Testament are one in the same!
II. Now, to help us on this authority question, we are going to try to answer the
question n about both the O.T. as well as the N.T. Are they the Word of God? With most followers of Jesus, this is a no-brainer. The question is can we prove it to a non-believer? Peter wrote in I Pt. 3.15:
“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
A. Here is what the Bible says about the Scriptures being the Word of God:
Gen. 12.1, 3: “The LORD said to Abram,..’I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’’
Gal. 3.8: “The Scripture foresaw that God bless those who bless would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham, ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’”
Ex. 9.13,16: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say, to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews says:
Let my people go, so they can worship me…But I have raised you [Pharaoh]
up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name
might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
Rom. 9.17: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very
purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be
proclaimed in all the earth.’”
B. Now, let’s go in the other direction:
Gen. 2.24: “For this reason, a man will leave his
father and mother and be united with his wife
and they will become one flesh.”
Matt. 19.4-5: “Haven’t you read,” he replied,
‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said,
‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to
his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’?
Psalm 2.1: “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?”
Acts 4.24-25: “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer
to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant our father David: “’Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain.’?”
Isaiah 55.3: “Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”
Acts 13.34: “The fact that God raised him from the dead never to decay, is stated in these words: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.”
Psalm 2.7: “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’”
Heb. 1.5: “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today,
I have become your Father.’?”
The summary of these comparisons is that as we look at them, at times it looks like the Scriptures are spoken of as if they were God, and at other times, God is spoken of as if He were the Scriptures! Considering the two columns together, it is evident that brought into such a close relationship, we have no other option but to say that there is no “daylight” between what God Himself says and what the Scriptures say. That is the authority by which we proclaim the Lord’s Death. The early church did not invent the Lord’s Supper. It is an act of obedience to the command of Jesus as the Word of God: “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22.19)
But there is no way the early church could proclaim the death of Jesus without the resurrection! It is noteworthy that the early church never celebrated nor proclaimed the death of Jesus on a Friday! Only on the Lord’s Day, or first day of the week, the day we celebrate the resurrectdion! Without the resurrection, the death of Jesus could never be a “Celebration” to “proclaim”!
Essential to the Lord’s Supper is the phrase, “do this in remembrance of me” which appears twice in I Cor. 11.24 and 25. How can we, separated by 2,000 years from that event truly remember His death? A perceptive Reformed churchman once wrote this about “remembrance” in the Communion service: The word he uses is “anamnesis” “[it is] participation in [an] historical event[s]…the possibility of participating in the history that is being recalled and, in principle, this affirmation might be adequate to describe the Christian Supper….It is the ritual recalling of a past event to restore its original virtue, even more, the setting of those who engage in anamnesis in the very event which the ceremony celebrates.” (Von Allmen, pp. 23-24).
Now a theological definition is not much help without an illustration or two: The first is of the great Dutch painter Rembrandt, who was also a Reformed Protestant believer. He was so moved by the biblical account of the crucifixion that he painted the event several times, and in at least two of those paintings, he actually “inserted himself” into his paintings with a self-portrait as one of the men both in raising the cross and lowering Jesus from the cross. You can clearly see Rembrandt’s face in some of his depictions of the crucifixion: his way of saying, “I was there!”
Another great artist, the Italian Renaissance painter Titian is said to have done the same thing with some of his paintings of the crucifixion, and yet, he set aside his brushes and used his own fingers to transmit the colors and even his fingerprints (!) on to the canvas, to approach even closer to the dying Lord. Again, Titian’s way through his art in saying, “I, too was there!”
And, finally, as we shall soon be singing, that great Negro Spiritual, asking us all, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The first time I heard that hymn performed in a big church was when I was a seminarian, 60 years ago, visiting 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church in NYC. A black woman sang it with such personal involvement that by the time she had finished it tears were streaming down her cheeks – and those of not a few in the congregation including my own. Were you there? And if so, does it sometimes make you tremble? That is a beginning of understanding “anamnesis.” (Inserting yourself emotionally, morally and spiritually into the death of our Lord which we proclaim around this table.