Real Participation: H.C. Question 79

Why then does Christ call the bread his body and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood, and Paul use the words, a participation in Christ’s body and blood? 

John 6:51, 55 – I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17 – Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

1 Corinthians 11:26 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Romans 6:5-11 – For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.



Eat and Drink: H.C. Question 76 (Part 2)

What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood? 

1 Corinthians 6:15-17 – Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

Ephesians 5:29-30 – After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.

1 John 4:13 – This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.

John 15:1-6 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

Ephesians 4:15-16 – Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

1 John 3:24 – The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.



Eat and Drink: H.C. Question 76 (part 1)

What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood? 

John 6:35, 40, 50-58 – Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

1 Corinthians 12:13 – For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Acts 1:9-11 – After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

1 Corinthians 11:26 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Colossians 3:1 – Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.



Here, There, Everywhere: H.C. Lord's Day 18

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 18

Q 46. What do you mean by saying, “He ascended to heaven”?
A 46. That Christ while his disciples watched, was taken up from the earth into heaven and remains there on our behalf until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Q 47. But isn’t Christ with us until the end of the world as he promised us?
A 47. Christ is true human and true God. In his human nature Christ is not now on earth; but in his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is never absent from us.

Q 48. If his humanity is not present wherever his divinity is, then aren’t the two natures of Christ separated from each other?
A 48. Certainly not. Since divinity is not limited and is present everywhere, it is evident that Christ’s divinity is surely beyond the bounds of the humanity that has been taken on, but at the same time his divinity is in and remains personally united to his humanity.

Q 49. How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?
A 49. First, he is our advocate in heaven in the presence of his Father.

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself.

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a corresponding pledge. By the Spirit’s power, we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.

The ascension of Christ is not something that falls under anyone’s “first things I think about in the morning” list.  This event is treated by Christians and the Church in most places as an afterthought, almost like it seems to appear in Scripture, the segway between Christ’s death and resurrection and the beginning of the Christian movement.

But the reality of what the Ascension of Jesus Christ accomplishes for us is quite important.  It also raises some important questions that we also should consider as we think about such things.

The first has to do with the dual natures of Christ, being both fully human and fully God.  As we have talked about before, Jesus has to be 100% of both to accomplish the work of salvation that He did.  It is an important point to make, though, that while Jesus is indeed fully God and fully human, these two natures are never separated.  It was not the human Jesus that died while God the Son looked on.  Neither was it God the Son that endured the wrath of the Father while the human Jesus was somehow unconscious.  Both endured, both died, and both were raised; never are they separate.

Why does this matter?  Well, two main reasons are brought up in the Heidelberg Catechism and therefore deserve mentioning.  First, it is important to know that Jesus, being now in heaven and seated at the right hand of God is both human and God.  His human presence in heaven is a guarantee that we too, as humans, will be welcome into heaven.  His presence as God ensures that He can and will rule and reign over the entire universe as the eternal King of kings and Lord of lords.

The second is brought up by questions 47 and 48 have to do with Christ’s presence here with us.  We often talk about how Jesus is with us always, He even states that at the end of the Great Commission: “Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  But, how is this possible if Jesus Christ is in heaven and His natures as both God and human cannot be divided.  Human Jesus is not sitting up in heaven while God Jesus is floating around the earth.  Does this make Him a liar?  Or is our theology incorrect?

The answer to this question lies, quite perfectly, in the nature of the Trinity.  God is one God in three persons.  Jesus speaks a lot about sending the Holy Spirit, something we will talk more about in the coming weeks, and it is through the Holy Spirit that the things of God continue to be revealed to us.  It is also through the Holy Spirit that, as Scripture says, we are “united to Christ.”

God’s spirit is implanted in our hearts and on our minds, a gift and a deposit which guarantees our inheritance in Christ.  Because the Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son, though being distinct in person, Christ is with us and we are united to Him, and He to us through the Holy Spirit.  And through Him, we participate in the united life of the Trinity and God fulfills His promise moment by moment, faithfully walking with us through every experience of our lives.



1 Timothy 2 – Worship Instructions

Read 1 Timothy 2

I do not typically do a lot of research when it comes to these blog posts.  My goal and hope for these posts when I started them was that they would be more personal reflections out of some of my education and life experiences.  Today, however, I’ve done my homework.

First of all, Paul is addressing the worship of the church, particularly in Ephesus.  Some of this we have talked about elsewhere, especially in the book of Ephesians.  It is interesting to note, I think, that when addressing matters of worship, Paul never once addresses the issue of music.  Music is a stylistic preference that the church has far too often equated with whether worship is “good” or “bad.”

Paul’s concern in worship, as always, is where the heart of the people is as they gather together to worship God.  Here this motivation is found expressly through Paul’s encouragement toward unified prayer, not just for themselves, but for the world around them as well.

In doing so, Paul also encourages Timothy and the church in Ephesus to avoid distractions and put off and selfish ambition.  This is the driving force behind both the plea for unity, “lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing,” as well as Paul’s comments on modesty and appropriate dress.  Those who dressed in fancy clothes, jewelry, and hairstyles did so to show off their elaborate wealth, not as a way of honoring God.

All of this falls in line with what Paul has already written to the church in Ephesus, as does his comments about women being in leadership.  Remember that, in Ephesians 5, Paul talks about the roles of men and women under the distinct phrase: “submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.”  That is still true here.

The specific context here, 2000 years ago, is somewhat of a mystery.  Where the women of this community particularly dominating in nature, causing trouble with the men?  We do know that, because of the cultic worship of pagan gods that went on in the city, Paul desired that the Christians be set apart.  This pagan worship involved showy signs of spiritual indwelling as well as temple prostitution, most of which happened by women, and which Paul obviously wanted to avoid.  We find this to also be true in the context of the church in Corinth as well.

Whatever the specific issues that led to Paul’s words here, we also cannot read them in a vacuum without looking to the rest of Scripture for God’s will in this subject.  One of the fundamental themes of God’s work in Jesus Christ is breaking down barriers in relationships both with each other and with him.  Through the reconciliation that Jesus Christ ushered in, divisions were also broken down.  Paul himself writes that there is no longer “Jews nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  In addition, the prophets attest to a time when God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (not just on men).  Women have been clearly gifted by God for the tasks of leadership and service in the Chuch and in the world and we must honor that gifting and God’s call on their lives by equipping and empowering all women and men to their fullest God-given potential.



Philippians 4 – Think On These Things

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As Paul closes his letter, he returns to the subject of unity, once again encouraging them to be unified in their actions and thinking.  He even names a few people whom he asks the rest of the church to help in being more unified.  It is interesting that he doesn’t put them down here, but rather builds them up as those who are faithful in their work for the Gospel.  They have worked alongside Paul for the advance of the Gospel but struggle now with unity together.

How often does that ring true in our congregations?  We are all in this together, working to share the Gospel and Christ’s love for all people, but we cannot seem to get along with each other well.  Sometimes it’s because of current issues, but far too often it has to do with us holding on to things in the past that continue to divide us, even if the original issue has been solved or is no longer relevant.

How can we move toward greater unity in the midst of such struggles?  Paul says to think on things that are noble, pure, lovely, etc.  He encourages them to show gentleness to everyone as well.

Perhaps, if we are indeed looking for the good, seeking out what God is doing in our lives and all around us, and keeping the focus on the “peace of Christ” rather than on the abundance of negative things that are so prevalent around us.

The reality is that the Church is full of imperfect people.  We do things that end up causing hurt but we also have a choice in that moment, to focus on the negative and the injury to ourselves, or to share the same mind as Christ, identifying and forgiving sins committed against us, not allowing those things to cause division among us.



Philippians 2 – Be Like Jesus

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As Paul continues to encourage the community of faith in Philippi, he both encourages them in their walk of faith and warns them of some potential dangers that might crop up in the church.  The chief among them is disunity and division.

When we experience good times of prosperity and growth, our tendency is to want to hold on to them.  While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can lead to selfish actions geared at personal gain, something that is antithetical to the message of the Gospel and the purpose of the Church.  Paul warns against this citing the benefits and encouragement from Union with Christ that are meant to be turned outward, not inward.

How we know this and see this is the example of Jesus Christ, His life, work, and especially His death.  Jesus, stepping out of heaven, humbled himself by taking on human flesh.  In this humility, not only did He put on the skin of a mortal being, He also submitted Himself to the will of the Father, fulfilling the Law by living the life that we could not and also dying the death that we deserved.  Paul writes that Jesus “took on the very nature of a servant.”

The cross was Jesus ultimate act of servanthood and humility. At the same time, it was also His greatest glorification.

The best way to avoid division and disunity is to take on these same traits, being like Jesus and turning all the benefits of being His child outward towards the world.  When we do this, we realize very quickly that it isn’t about us, it’s about God and showing His love and sharing His Good News.

As Paul continues in this chapter, he commends several people to the church in Philippi, all of whom are living out what Paul has encouraged the people there to do.  These are people who will encourage and strengthen the community when they arrive there, all because they are striving to be like Jesus.



Ephesians 4 – Mature Unity

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So, Paul writes, what are we going to do in light of this?  His writing often takes this turn into practical application, something theology should always do because the reality of Christ in us is not just something we acknowledge in our heads, it is in our hearts and lived out in our lives.

What does that mean here in the book of Ephesians?  It means we should be taking our cues from Christ, living a transformed life through the Holy Spirit.  God, who has drawn us near to Himself through the life and work of Jesus Christ calls us to draw near to each other, to be unified showing the same love that He has shown us.  This is, as Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians, the freedom we have in Christ to love one another, to put others before ourselves.

This idea of being unified can be a bit confusing for us.  Especially in today’s culture, unity is often misconstrued as thinking the same way ideologically, politically, and even religiously.  When we have differences, we tend to push others away.  That is not at all the way God showed His love for us.  In fact, in the midst of our differences and the barriers that were in place, God stepped toward us, drawing us in rather than pushing us away.

When people wrong us do we push them away or step toward them in love?

Using this as an example, Paul encourages the Church to rise above their differences of opinion and exhibit the same love, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that Christ showed us.  We are of one body, we have one God, and we have one identity that binds us together.  As such, we can transcend our human differences for the and live together in peace.

Doing so may not always be perfect, comfortable, or even clean.  There are bound to be bumps in the road.  However, the encouragement here is not to let those things be a reason to push others away, but that in those times we would step into the gap and move closer to the other in that relationship and in so doing, show the love of God to all those around us, whether in the Church or not.



Acts 2 – Pentecost

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The day of Pentecost is, for Christians, one of the most important days of the year; its significance is upstaged only by Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.  As Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, He comforted His disciples that a helper would be sent to be with them.  Pentecost sees this promise fulfilled.

There are a number of things that begin to happen here, impacts of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all who believe in Jesus.  While this outpouring is important, we actually begin to see the beginnings of God’s restorative work in the world; the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

Pentecost was the day that Jewish people celebrated the giving of the Law of Moses.  That Law represented a specific revelation of God to His people in how He called them to live.  Yet when the Holy Spirit is poured out, the limitation of ethnicity disappears, a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel:

And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

More than this, however, is the fundamental reversal of the curse of babel.  At the tower of Babel, all language was confused separating and dividing people.  Yet here, as the Holy Spirit comes, this division again disappears and all people hear the Gospel clearly.

This is the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven coming to pass.  In God’s Kingdom, there are no more divisions, no more broken relationships; “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”



John 17 – My Prayer for You

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Jesus concludes the Passover celebration, His Last Supper with His disciples with a prayer for Himself, His disciples, and for all those who will believe in Him.  In this prayer, Jesus hits three major points: God’s glorification (His and the Father), the protection of His disciples, and the unity of believers.

Glorification: Ultimately, Jesus’ glorification through the cross.  As we have talked about, the ultimate purpose of Jesus was to bring light into the darkness, life into a world of death.  All that Jesus did was meant to bring glory to the Father (remember the blind man?)  Now God’s glory would be revealed again as Jesus finishes His work and goes to the cross.  Jesus’ glory too would be revealed, in both His death and resurrection.

Protection:  As He has prepared them for His departure, Jesus now prays for His disciples knowing that there are trying times ahead for them.  This is an echo of His words in John 13: “In this world you will face trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  He also points out that, while He is leaving, it is important for them to stay.  Though they would face many trials, it was part of their sanctification.

Unity: Jesus prays for what we consider the Church universal.  Yet He doesn’t pray for protection for us but instead for unity.  When the Church is one as He and the Father are one, Jesus says that people will know and believe in Him.

Part of this unity comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.  God has made this possible for us; the question is whether we will live into this unity or not.  It seems that, at least on some level, the message of the Gospel depends on it.