Doing something CORRECTLY almost always requires PREPARATION. Take SURGERY for example. An amazing amount of prep work takes place long before the patient is actually wheeled into the operating room: The operating area itself is cleaned and disinfected thoroughly. All the surgical instruments and bandages that will be required are put into place for easy access. Surgeons study test results and look at x-rays to plan the procedure. They wash their hands with anti-bacterial solutions and put on sterile gloves. They even wear specially-cleaned clothing that is referred to as “scrubs,” symbolic of the fact that every effort has been made to “scrub” away germs or dirt that might cause infection. The anesthesiologist asks the patient a barrage of questions to determine if they will be able to handle the medication that puts him asleep. Nurses start IV’s, take vital signs, and sterilize the operating field. And I could go on, because a great deal of work goes into preparing for surgery. And aren’t you thankful for that! Without all that prep—there would be a lot more complications. Hospital stays would be longer and mortality rates would increase!
Another example of this principle sits about 100 yards to my left. I’m referring to the R.O.C.—short for Recreation and Outreach Center. I mean, long before it began to take shape an amazing amount of preparation was done. Soil was sampled; permits were secured; the foundation was dug; the concrete pad was laid; steel was purchased and welded into specific shapes; special fencing was installed to limit environmental impact; and so on.
Tons of other examples of this principle pop into my mind—but the fact is this. TO DO THINGS RIGHT, WE MUST PREPARE PROPERLY.
I think this is especially true when it comes to partaking of COMMUNION. To properly observe this ordinance—to get the full intended benefit of this memorial meal requires that we prepare ourselves. Paul talks about this in his first letter to the church at Corinth. It is a familiar Scripture but let’s read it together once again. Turn in your Bibles to 1st Corinthians 11:27-29:
27 – Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
28 – A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.
29 – For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
This familiar text reminds us that the communion meal should never become so familiar that we just go through the motions. We mustn’t make light of sharing this bread and cup. Otherwise when we partake we do so unworthily, and as Paul says, this would be a sin. No—before we partake we must always PREPARE ourselves properly. And we prepare ourselves by taking the time to examine our actions and attitudes—confessing our sins to God—and also our belief that, as this meal symbolizes, Jesus died for OUR sins. Sharing the Lord’s Supper is one way we confess that not only do we believe Jesus died for us—but also that as sinners, we each NEEDED Him to die for us.
As I thought of this principle over the past week, the lyrics to an old song by Philip Landgrave flooded my mind. They go like this:
Calvary had never had on me it’s full effect,
until I met the Master face to face.
Golgotha’s story I had heard but to my soul’s neglect,
I had never seen MYSELF at that dread place.
Was it I who nailed Him to the cross?
Was it I who pierced Him in the side?
Was it I for whom He bore such loss?
Was it I who had Him crucified?
Yes! It was for me my Savior died!
Well, for communion to have it’s full intended effect—to adequately PREPARE for this special supper—every single time before we pass the plates and the cups, we must first stop and admit the truth of these words. Before we eat—and before we drink—we must confess our sin and admit that, “Yes! It WAS for ME my Savior died.”
Unfortunately CONFESSING our sin is not a popular thing these days—because, well—let’s face it—we just aren’t as AWARE of sin as we USED to be—as aware as we SHOULD be.
Cornelius Plantinga writes,“The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it, grieved over it. Some of our grandparents agonized over their sins. A man who lost his temper might wonder whether he could still even GO to Holy Communion. A woman who for years envied her more attractive and intelligent sister might worry that this sin threatened her very salvation…[and so, they would confess these SPECIFIC sins]…but not any more…where sin is concerned people just mumble now.”
Before we share communion this morning—let’s in essence PREPARE to PREPARE ourselves by reviewing some basic facts about CONFESSION. And we must to do that because GENUINE confession is not a simple thing. No—meaningful confession is a process.
(1) First, we have to ask God to SHOW us our sin.
We need His help in this way because as fallen beings our perceptions are impaired by sin such that we can’t see SIN as SIN. We need God’s Holy eyes in order to see our faults clearly. So, before communion we must follow King David’s example in Psalm 19 and 139 and pray, “God discern my errors…forgive my hidden faults…Search me O God and know my thoughts…see if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”
In fact, I think it is helpful to use the Bible—God’s written Word—as sort of a “plumb line” to show us how far we have strayed from the straight and narrow. For example, we could review the basic categories of sin as taught by the Scriptures: pride, anger, lust, envy, greed, sowing dissension…or we could follow Martin Luther’s example and use the Ten Commandments as a tool. But, in any case, one way we can get God’s help in seeing our sin is by comparing our attitudes and actions to the standards in His Holy Word. When we shine the light of His truth on our lives we’ll be able to see all they ways we have strayed. We’ll see the sinful attitudes and actions and will know exactly what to confess to God.
And please don’t miss my point. I’m saying that without God’s help, we are often blind to our sins—sins that put Jesus on the cross. On our own, we each tend to forget that yes it WAS for ME my Savior died! Without confession—sin causes a form of cataract to grow such that we are no longer able to see our sinful attitudes and actions.
Civil War historian James McPherson writes about a plantation-owner who lived in that time period named JAMES A. HAMMOND. Hammond served as both congressman and governor.
Besides being insatiably ambitious and an ardent defender of slavery, Hammond also indulged a voracious sexual appetite. In 1839 he purchased an 18-year-old slave named Sally and her infant daughter, Louisa. He made Sally his concubine and fathered several children by her. Then when Louisa reached the age of twelve, he installed her in her mother’s old role and fathered several more children. His political career was halted—but only temporarily—when his wealthy brother-in-law, Wade Hamilton threatened to reveal publicly…that Hammond had been sexually abusing four of Hamilton’s daughters, aged 13 to 18.
So Hammond was a bad guy—who did horrible things. Its easy for you and me to see that. But, by reading his personal diary we can see that he was totally blind to his sin. When his wife left him and when at the same time epidemics took the lives of many of his slaves and livestock (whom he lumped together in the same category), Hammond wrote these words:
“It crushes me to the earth to see everything of mine so blasted around me. Negroes, cattle, mules, hogs, everything that has life around me seems to labor under some fated malediction.
Great God, what have I done wrong? Never was a man so cursed. What have I done or omitted to do to deserve this fate? No one, not one, exercises the slight indulgence towards me. Nothing is overlooked, nothing is forgiven.”
I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking, “What a horrible man? What a monster? How could he not see his sin? But—Mark, I’m not at all like him.” And—I would agree to an extent. I mean, in all likelihood there are not monsters in the congregation who have enslaved or violated human beings as Hammond did. But you know—in a smaller, quieter way, you and I DO have Hammond’s capacity for self-deception. I mean, we can lie to avoid personal PAIN and hardly be aware we have done so. We can flatter or seek to manipulate for personal GAIN almost without being aware of it. We can ignore injustice or human need for long stretches of time without any moral warning lights going on in our heads. I mean—if we are not careful, each of us can sin on auto-pilot—without even knowing it. So the process of GENUINE confession has to begin with our asking for God’s help. To truly SEE the sin in our lives we need the benefit of the perfect lense of His Holy eyes. I think this is what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 7:3-5 when He said,“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We all have planks in our eyes. Sin put them there—so before we can see WHAT to confess we need to ask for God’s help. We need Him to show us our “hidden faults” and “wicked ways.”
(2) And then in order to be motivated to CONFESS our actions AS sin—I think we must also answer two questions.
A. First, we must seek to understand WHY we sinned.
We need to discover what it was that motivated us to do what we did. Did we lie to escape the consequences of some selfish deed? Did we gossip to make ourselves feel important and “in the know?” John Ortberg writes,“This question is critical because sin is usually tied to some need or another. Indeed sin is often the attempt to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way.”
B. And then, a second question we must answer is this: “What happened as a result of my sin?”
Who was hurt by our lies and deceptions and gossips? What relationships suffered? Seeing the consequences of our sin helps us to see how BAD our sins really are—which makes us WANT to confess it and turn from it.
(3) And then as I inferred earlier another part of the confession process is to confess our SPECIFIC SINS to God, asking for His forgiveness.
I say SPECIFIC—because so many times our confession is GENERALIZED. Bill Hybels writes,
“We often hear people pray, ‘Lord, forgive us our many sins.’ We throw our sins onto a pile without so much as looking at them, and we say, ‘God, please cover the whole dirty heap.’ Unfortunately, this approach to confession is a colossal cop-out. When I lump all my sins together and confess them en masse, it’s not too painful or embarrassing. But if I take those sins out of the pile one by one and call them by name, it’s a whole new ball game.”
For us to truly benefit from confession—if God is to bless us as we partake of this meal—we must confess SPECIFIC sins to God asking for His forgiveness. I realize that we don’t always remember our sins—and I also know that it can be painful to confess the sins we do remember.
It can hurt to be specific—but like lancing a pocket of infection—unless we confess as specifically as possible no healing will come. John Wesley once said,“As a very little dust will disorder a clock, and the least sand will obscure our sight, so the least grain of sin which is upon the heart will hinder its right motion toward God.”
Now—when we confess several wonderful things happen.
A. First, we are liberated from GUILT.
We realize, “I’m finally being honest with God. I’m not playing games anymore. I really want this thing out of my life.”
B. We also personally experience God’s forgiving nature.
As God wipes our slate clean, we begin to understand how wonderful the words of Psalm 103:12 really are where it says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
C. And then finally, we will be less likely to sin in the same way in the future.
After being honest with God—admitting that a certain behavior is wrong—well, we’ll feel free to pray, “Give me Your strength to forsake that sin from here on out.” And—God will answer that kind of prayer—when we rely on the power of His Holy Spirit, we will be able to give up that sin and live for Jesus. Our lives will begin to change for the better.;
With all this in mind—let us stop and take the time to properly PREPARE ourselves to share communion.
Let’s all pray—and ask God to show us our sin—and then let’s specifically confess those actions to Him as sin and ask for His forgiveness. You don’t have to do this—but I would encourage you to take out a pen or pencil and write your prayer of confession on the sermon notes page of the bulletin. When I feel that enough time has passed, I will close our prayer time and as fellow sinners we’ll share this meal that reminds us each that…it was for ME, my Savior died.
Thank You for Your promise—that if we confess our sins, You are faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us…
…thank You for removing our sins from us—as far as the east is from the west…
…thank You for Your commitment to forget our faults and failures…to remember them no more.
Thank You for sending Jesus—to pay the price of our forgiveness.
As we share communion, remind us that it was His sacrifice that makes it possible for us to be forgiven and stand pure in Your eyes.
Let that memory motivate us to turn away from sin.
I ask this in JESUS’ name.
As we come now to share our Lord’s Supper I invite all Christians present to partake with us because even if you are not a member of this church, if you are a Christian…if you are His, this is Yours.
As we stand now and sing our closing hymn, I invite you to respond publically as God leads. Come forward and ask Bobby or me to pray with you. Come and profess your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Come and ask to join our church membership. But come as God leads.