Doing something CORRECTLY almost always requires a lot of PREPARATION. An example of this principle that comes to mind is all the PREPARATION that was done to care for Dr. Kent Brantley and Nurse Nancy Writebol. As you probably know, these two medical professionals went to Liberia as missionaries with Samaritan’s Purse. Shortly after they arrived the Ebola outbreak hit. As they bravely stepped in to care for the victims of this horrible disease these two Christ-followers were infected themselves.
If you’ve been following their story in the news you know about all the PREPARATION that was made to bring them home and care for them. A plane specially-designed to carry people infected with contagious diseases like Ebola was dispatched. The plane was equipped with special isolation tents like this one. Once they arrived in Atlanta they were taken in an ambulance caravan to Emory University Hospital where they were put in special isolation rooms like this one. Nurses and doctors and technicians that care for them donned special personal protective equipment suits as well as face masks and rubber gloves before going into their rooms.
Now—Ebola is not air born. It is passed by touching body fluids of an infected person—so after the nurses and docs treated Brantley and Writebol and left the isolation room their protective suits were cleaned so that in removing the clothing these people would not be infected themselves.
I’m so happy to hear that Brantley and Writebol have both recovered and have been discharged from the hospital. I’m thanking God for answering my prayers! I would encourage you to join me in continuing to pray for the people of West Africa who are suffering from this horrible disease and for the doctors and nurses who are making preparations like these to care for them.
Well, tons of other examples of this principle pop into my mind—but the fact is—TO DO THINGS RIGHT, WE MUST ALWAYS PREPARE PROPERLY. I bring this up because 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 our Lord gave us–requires that we PREPARE ourselves. Let me put it this way. Just as in the Old Testament priests went through extensive preparation to purify themselves before serving before God’s temple we must purify our hearts before taking communion. Paul talks about this in his first letter to the church at Corinth. It is a familiar Scripture but let’s read it together. 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.
In this familiar text Paul is saying that the communion meal should never become so familiar that we just go through the motions. He’s saying we mustn’t make light of sharing this bread and cup. Otherwise when we partake we do so unworthily, and this would be a sin. No—before we partake we must always PREPARE ourselves properly. And the way we prepare ourselves is by taking the time to examine our hearts—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 that as sinners, we each NEEDED Him to die for us.
Bill Archer and I are both graduates of Southern Seminary. So is Kevin Freeman. But the years Bill and I spent there overlapped a bit. The other day we were talking about our time at Southern and the name of a music professor came up—Dr. Philip Landgrave. In my opinion he was a very gifted musician—composer and professor. Well, as I thought of this principle over the past week, the lyrics of one of Landgrave’s songs flooded my mind. They go like this:
Calvary had never had on me its 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.
And then the chorus asks this haunting question:
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 its full intended effect—to adequately PREPARE for this special supper—every single time we pass the plates and the cups, we must each 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. It was for my sin—my gossip—my envy—my selfishness. Jesus died for ME.”
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 anymore…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—things that will help us avoid this “mumbling” that Plantinga refers to. The first thing we have to remember is that GENUINE confession is not a simple thing. No—meaningful confession is a PROCESS.
(1) We BEGIN the process by asking God to SHOW us our sin.
You see, 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 we observe 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, 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 the 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 perspective, 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 “cataract” of sorts 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 HENRY 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 human being named Sally and her infant daughter, Louisa. He purchased them as slaves. He made Sally his concubine and fathered several children by her. Then when little 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 his daughters, aged 13 to 18—Hammond’s own nieces!
I’m saying Hammond was a bad guy—who did horrible things. It’s easy for you and me to SEE that. In fact, his horrible actions make us want to look away. But, by reading his personal diary we can see that Hammond was just the opposite. He was totally blind to his sin. When his wife left him because of his unfaithfulness—and when at the same time epidemics took the lives of many of his slaves and livestock (whom Hammond wickedly lumped together in the same category), he 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.”
Now, I’m not a mind reader but I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking, “What a horrible man? What a monster? How could he NOT see his sin? Thank God, I’m not at all like him.” And—I would agree—to an extent. I mean, I doubt seriously that there are not monsters in the congregation today 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 boast about our achievements without realizing 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 lenses 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?”
- Did we slander someone in order to get another person on our side instead of go to the individual we have bad feelings for and seek reconciliation?
We need to try and figure out WHY we sinned in the way we did. 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 them.
(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.”
Hybels is right. 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.
Okay—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 bulletin or on a scrap of paper—perhaps in the fly leaf of your Bible. Then, when I feel that enough time has passed, I will close our prayer time. And then as fellow sinners properly prepared we’ll share this meal that reminds us each that…it was for ME, my Savior died.
Father God, 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. AMEN
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.
OBSERVANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
As we stand now and sing our closing hymn, I invite you to respond as God leads. Come forward and ask Bobby or Kevin 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.