Thanking God for His Indescribable Gift

Series: Preacher: Date: November 26, 2006 Scripture Reference: Luke 22:14-20

Luke 22:14 – When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table.

15 – And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

16 – For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 – After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.

18 – For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 – And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

20 – In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.”

This is the Word of the Lord . Thanks be to God.

Today we are coming to the end of a season of Thanksgiving. For the past month we have prepared for this past Thursday’s annual celebration but now it’s over. Even now planes, trains, and automobiles are full of family and friends returning home after gathering together to enjoy the holiday that surrounds this big meal. The leftovers are in the fridge. The cornucopias and fall-colored decorations are being put back into storage. Everyone is pretty much tired of turkey. All around the world people are “closing the books” on Thanksgiving 2006.

Now, you may have noticed that here at Redland we have highlighted this “pre-Christmas Thanksgiving season” with a special bulletin-one that we’ve used each Sunday in November. Sheila has very skillfully put this together using our color printer, and I like it because it features a colorful graphic display of the month in which each day lists something for which we should be grateful. By the way-in my mind I think that is a great way to start the day all year round. In fact, I would encourage you to try it. Every morning, after the alarm rings and your well-trained arm reaches over to touch that tiny little button to silence it before you pull back the covers and get out of bed, train yourself to utter a short prayer to God in which you Thank Him for something. Thank Him for a different blessing each day. And you’ll never run out of things to thank God for because as the Scriptures tell us, God’s mercies are, “new every morning.” That’s how great His faithfulness to us is. (Lam. 3:23)

Well, we have decided to conclude this “Thanksgiving month” here at Redland by celebrating the ordinance of communion-as a way of reminding us of God’s greatest Blessing, the sending of His only Son to this world so that His body could be broken and His blood shed on a Roman Cross as He died for our sins. And, there are several reasons that observing the Lord’s Supper at this time of year is appropriate. First, communion goes well with this holiday is because, as 2nd Corinthians 1:20 says, ” the promises of God all find their ‘yes’ in Christ.” And they do indeed! Think about it. Our Lord’s virgin birth, sinless life, vicarious death, and victorious resurrection prove without a shadow of a doubt that God is completely faithful! Jesus’ coming to earth proves without a doubt that all God’s promises are true. As the hymn writer puts it, Jesus Christ is indeed, ” the fount of every blessing .” of God.

The second reason I think communion “fits” this Thanksgiving season is because church history confirms this perspective. I say this because the members of the early Christian church, saw partaking in the Lord’s Supper as primarily a time of praise and thanksgiving. The first name they gave this ordinance is “Eucharist” and it comes from a Greek word that literally means “giving thanks.” So, from the beginning this service was seen as an expression of gratitude to God-gratitude from hearts filled with praise for the gift of His Son and for all the ways a relationship with Jesus enriches life.

And then a third reason I think this is appropriate is because, as Luke and other Gospel writers tell us, Jesus’ first act at this first “last” supper was to give thanks. In fact, He did this before sharing the bread and also before sharing the cup-a tradition our deacons help us continue in our celebration of this ordinance to this day. Our Lord Himself set the example in this-showing us that the Eucharist is indeed a time for Christians to give thanks to God, ” for His indescribable gift.” (2nd Corinthians 9:15) So, like this calendar on the cover of your worship bulletins, this special meal is designed to remind us to thank God.

And while I think of it, let me remind you that here at Redland we believe in open Communion. In other words, you don’t have to be a member of this church to share this meal with us today. All Christians are welcome to this table. After all, if you are His, this is yours.

Now, so that we can better understand this principle of communion being a time of giving thanks to God-let’s begin our observance of this ordinance by seeking an answer to these questions:

(1) And the first is this: “Why do we thank God for the bread whenever we observe this ordinance?”

Why is there always a deacon assigned to give thanks before we share the bread? Well, we do this because the bread symbolizes the body of Christ-and we are thankful because, this part of communion reminds us, that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God had a body. The bread reminds us that Jesus was a flesh and blood human being. That body that hung on the cross was a real one. Those hands that were pierced were hands just like yours and mine. The Roman spear that was thrust through His side went through real ribs and tore open a real heart. Heresies like Gnosticism say Jesus just appeared to be human, but the Bible teaches and His crucifixion confirms and communion celebrates the fact that in Jesus and only in Jesus God literally became one of us.

I love the way that old St. Augustine described this amazing paradox that in Jesus, God did indeed become man. Augustine said that when Jesus came to earth:

“Man’s Maker was made man; that He, Ruler of the stars might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread of life might hunger, the Fountain of life thirst, the Light of life sleep in the darkness, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses; the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation of the Universe be suspended on wood, that Strength might grow weak, that the Healer might be wounded. That life might die.”

And all of Augustine’s statements boil down to one wonderful fact: In Jesus Christ, God Himself descended to literally become a man. Like you and me Jesus got hungry and thirsty. He had sore feet after a long journey. He had headaches and hangnails and muscle cramps. When He was struck, He bruised; When He was sad, He wept; When He was happy, He smiled. When Jesus was angry, He revealed it. When He got cold, he got goose bumps; He got hot and sunburned under that Palestinian sun. Jesus got bone-tired such that he needed sleep and refreshment. All this is to say that as the man, Jesus, God came down to our level. He went through our human experience.

And that is indeed a reason to thank God. You see, the fact that Jesus Christ had a real body means there is no experience you and I go through that God has not gone through while wearing the same sort of “earth suit” that you wear every day. As Hebrews 4:15 says, Jesus was,“tempted in every way, just as we are, yet He was without sin.”

Don’t get me wrong. God is omniscient and always has been-I mean, God knows everything-including what we feel like. Even our thoughts are not hidden from Him. But it’s easier for us to understand this because we know-we believe-that in Jesus God actually became one of us. He was fully God but He was also completely man. And the bread in our communion meal symbolizes this wonderful fact.

In his book God Is Closer Than You Think, John Ortberg tells of a Catholic priest named Father Damien who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers. He moved to Kalawao, a village on the island of Molokai, in Hawaii, that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony. Here’s an aerial photograph. And here’s a picture of Father Damian. For 16 years, this Christian man lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built 2,000 coffins by hand so that, when they died, they could be buried with dignity. Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, because Father Damien offered hope. But, Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with his patients. He shared his pipe with them. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close. For this, the people loved him. But one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: “We lepers ” Now he wasn’t just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward, Father Damien wasn’t just on their island; he was in their skin. First he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.

Well, in a very real sense, one day God came to Earth and began His message: “We lepers ” From that moment on He wasn’t just helping us. Now He was one of us. Now He was in our skin. Now we were in it together. That’s what the incarnation is all about. And I don’t know about you, but this fact means so much to me. You see, I know that when I pray I know I’m not talking to Someone Who is removed from my existence. I’m not talking to someone Who’s never left the glories of Heaven. I’m talking to someone who has walked in my shoes.

Would you join me now in prayer as I thank God for the body of Jesus?

Father God,

We are so very grateful for the fact that in Jesus Christ, You literally put on flesh, just like ours. We praise You for the body of Jesus because it reminds us that, ‘we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses ” The fact that Jesus had a real body compels us to, ‘draw near with confidence to Your throne of grace ‘ We are more eager to come to You with our problems, because we know Jesus had them as well. Thank You for Jesus’ body, a body that not only bore our sin but illustrates to us the wonderful fact that You do indeed know what we go through as we live on this fallen world.

In Jesus’ most precious name I pray. Amen

As you eat this bread remember what Jesus said when He instituted this memorial meal, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

At this point in our observance I want us to answer a second question:

(2) Why do we thank God for the cup?

Why does a deacon always lead us in a prayer of thanks at this point in our observance? Well, we do this because of course the cup represents the blood of Jesus-something we are very thankful for, because as 1st John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sin.” We’re thankful because we know that nothing we do can ever cleanse us and make us pure. As the old hymn text puts it and sing it with me:

“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow! No other fount I know! Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

There’s a powerful scene in the film version of Lew Wallace’s classic book, Ben Hur. I want to show it to you but first let me set it up.

It’s near the end of the movie and the mother and sister of the main character, Judah Ben Hur, are returning from Jerusalem after having seen Jesus Christ stumble along the Via Dolorosa on the way to Calvary. Their bodies are eaten up with leprosy and they are being escorted by Judah’s fiancĂ©. What happens next is a very untypical Hollywood film illustration of the power of the blood of Jesus. Watch and see what I mean.

Movie Clip…

Did you notice the symbolism? Jesus’ blood is pouring from his body, flowing down the cross and spreading all over the world as if to symbolize the fact that the blood of Christ was shed to wash away the sins of all mankind.

I’m reminded of the words of the hymn by Andre Crouch words that we sang earlier.

“The blood that Jesus shed for me, ‘way back on Calvary;
the blood that gives me strength from day to day,
it will never lose it’s power.

It soothes my doubts and calms my fears, and it dries all my tears;
the blood that gives me strength from day to day
it will never lose it’s power.

It reaches to the highest mountain. It flows to the lowest valley.
The blood that gives me strength from day to day,
it will never lose it’s power.”

And it won’t! Any sinner-no matter how grievous their sin-can pray confessing their sin to God and that sin will be washed away as far as the east is from the west such that in God’s Holy eyes, he or she stands pure and forgiven.

Won’t you join me know as I thank God for the cup?

Father God, Thank You for this cup-a cup that symbolizes the powerful blood of Jesus priceless blood that was shed to wash away our sins blood that was poured out to defeat fear and death, blood that paid our sin debt and gave us access to You. We are so very thankful for this cup because it reminds us that “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that we were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down from our forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” Thank You God. In Jesus’ name I pray. AMEN

As you drink this cup, do so thankfully because as Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.”

In closing, I want to remind you of another reason communion should always prompt our gratitude to God. It compels us to thank God, because as Paul said in 1st Corinthians 11:26, “Whenever we eat of this bread and drink from this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” In other words, Communion reminds us that someday Jesus will return bodily and in great victory to take us home to be with Him and all the Christians who have died before us.

You know one of the best things about Thanksgiving is the gathering of family. On this day every year, children come home and sit around a huge table with parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts. I am convinced that one of the things that makes all that food taste so good is the fact that we share it with loved ones. Well as we grow older the crowd around the table every year changes as parents and grandparents pass away. Thanksgivings can be hard. I remember the grief I felt in the pit of my stomach as we gathered around my parent’s table the first Thanksgiving after dad died. It was so hard to see his chair at the head of the table empty that year. If you have “empty chairs” then you know what I mean.

One thing that enables us to endure grief like that around the Thanksgiving table-is this table. Because when we gather around it, we symbolize the fact that some day, Jesus will come back. And when He does, He’ll take us home to be with Him and our Christian loved ones who have preceded us and once again we’ll sit around a table the banquet table of the Lamb of God never to be separated again! Aren’t you thankful for that promise of God!?

As we sing our hymn of invitation, if you’re here and are not a Christian, then I invite you-I urge you– to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Today-accept God’s indescribable Gift. And if you are a Christian, but you don’t have a church home, then if God so leads, show your gratitude to Him by coming forward to ask to join this church so that you can have a place to serve Him. But come know, in any way that God leads.

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