The earliest practices of the first believes are described in Acts 2:42-47. One of their regular habits was eating together and celebrating communion. Luke, the historian, wrote: “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
There is no redundancy in that sentence. “Broke bread” and “ate together” are two different activities, although they always happened together in the Bible.
“The breaking of bread” (verse 42) referred to celebration of the Eucharist (the bread and cup of communion). The earliest believers “devoted themselves” to a handful of things, including “the breaking of bread.” What does it mean to devote yourself to something? At the least, it means to observe it regularly.
These verses were written before any church buildings had been constructed. The Temple still existed at that time. Although they could gather in the Temple to hear teaching and preaching from the Hebrew scriptures, they were certainly not allowed to eat and observe Christian communion there. So, they met in homes. Sharing what they had with each other was more than just part of their culture; it was part of their faith.
We Brethren generally take the bread and cup along with a meal, which we call the Love Feast. There is a good reason for this. Try to find a New Testament description of believers taking the bread and cup apart from a meal.
The Passover Seder, which was the Jewish precursor to Christian communion, involved a meal. Jesus told his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).
The Apostle Paul was more than a little unhappy with the Corinthian believers for not sharing their food with each other when they came together to celebrate communion (see 1 Corinthians 11). Clearly, the church of Corinth celebrated the bread and cup in conjunction with a meal.
Jude mentions the “love feasts” (verse 12) of the church, likely referring to the meal during which the bread and cup which were celebrated.
There is something about a shared meal that binds people together. The best fellowship takes place around the table. An angel told John: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9). This meal represents the union of Jesus with his Bride, the church. It’s our future. And it was made possible by the body and blood of Jesus. So, it makes sense to “break bread” and eat together at the same time. Let’s do it this Sunday!
Did you notice that Jesus shared two cups with his disciples in Luke 22?
Before the meal, Jesus had the disciples divide a cup between them (verse 17). Then, “after the supper” he took another cup and passed it around (verse 20).
Today we only take one cup at communion. What’s up with the two cups? I never understood what was likely going on there until I experienced a Messianic Jewish Seder (Passover Meal).
Typically, four cups are consumed at a Jewish Passover celebration. The four cups represent four promises God made to Israel in Exodus 6:5-7.
It is uncertain how far back the tradition of the four cups of Passover goes. However, Luke’s description of the meal as “the Passover” (verse 13), as well as his representation of the cups before and after the meal, seems to fit the pattern. If the tradition was already in place in the time of Christ, then the cup we take at communion is the third cup, the Cup of Redemption, which was taken after the meal.
Originally, this third cup reminded the Israelites of the blood of the slaughtered lambs on the doorposts, which was the cost of their redemption from slavery in Egypt. Of course, Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He was about to shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins. In doing so, he would inaugurate New Covenant blessings on all, both Jew and Gentile, who believe and follow Him.
Luke doesn’t say anything about the fourth cup--the Cup of Restoration. However, Jesus does say, “I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (verse 18). This is likely a reference to the Second Coming of Jesus described in Revelation 19.
Until Christ returns to establish his kingdom in all its fullness and glory, we take the cup as a reminder of Christ’s blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins and the establishment of a New Covenant. In taking the cup, we proclaim Christ’s death until he returns.
We proclaim Christ’s death first to ourselves. We need to hear the truth of redemption over and over and over again. It is the foundation of our identity, the source of our life.
When asked why he was reading the Bible on his deathbed, the late comedian W.C. Fields, answered, “I’m looking for loopholes.”
Author Edgar Allen Poe lived a life of lies and drunkenness., but when found dying on the street, he said, "Lord, help my poor soul."
In contrast, John Knox, Reformation leader, cried out from his deathbed, "Live in Christ, die in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death."
We may have heard sermons on the last seven words Jesus uttered on the cross, but in the 13th chapter of John, we read some more very important words of our Lord. These include life principles for each of his followers--from the disciples gathered around the table with him the night before his death to you and me today.
Read the passage and ask yourself, “How do Jesus’ words apply to me today?”
Perhaps the first principle we can learn from these verses is that it's not only important what you say but how you live. In short, "Actions speak louder than words." When Jesus washed his disciples' feet, he was demonstrating humility. Jesus said, "And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other's feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you."
When is the last time you stooped low to serve someone?
Another truth almost hidden in this scene is that the devil was in attendance at the same dinner as Jesus. When he shows up, you can be sure he's up to no good. Later in the chapter, Jesus' last words to Judas were, "What you are going to do, do quickly." Sadly, the rest of the disciples didn't have a clue.
Are you aware of the influence Satan has in your circle of friends? If so, what are you doing to overcome it?
A third lesson Jesus taught at dinner that night illustrated doctrines of salvation and sanctification. When Peter objected to having his feet washed, Jesus said, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." What a wonderful picture of our salvation! We are washed in the blood of Jesus. And when Peter misunderstands and asks to be washed from head to toe, Jesus teaches the very important principle that one bath (salvation) is all we need. But we must constantly be confessing and renouncing our daily sins (i.e., washing our feet from the daily dust of the world), which is a vivid picture of sanctification.
Are you up to date on your personal daily "foot-washing"?
Jesus’s benediction that evening was a wonderful promise. "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." What great last words from our Savior! gmd & jbd
Becoming a Christian as a Jewish believer was freedom into the unknown. Life had consisted of a set of rules for everything, but suddenly the rules were gone, having been fulfilled in the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14).
In the last few chapters of Galatians, Paul teaches us how to live in freedom and love, in contrast to legalism. It’s easier, frankly, after having lived by a strict set of rules, to continue in that life. Even as non-Jewish believers, we tend to relapse into a legalistic set of rules for our behavior as Christians.
Re-cid-i-vism – noun. a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime.
Leaving prison should mean having a fresh start, but for many returning citizens it presents a host of new challenges. Re-entering society can be overwhelming for many reasons, and unfortunately many people end up back in prison. The rate of recidivism in the United States is an astonishing 70% within 5 years of release. (Reducing Recividism: Creating a Path to Successful Re-Entry. First Step Alliance. October 12,2020)
The early Jewish believers may not have been literally incarcerated, but their lives, like prisoners, were intensely impacted by the legal system of Jewish life. Paul offers guidelines for living in the new freedom in Christ. In chapter six he begins with how to deal with a believer who is caught in sin.
Who comes to the aid of someone guilty of sin? The one who is spiritual. But who is “spiritual”? One who manifests the fruit of the spirit . . . gentleness, patience, kindness, self-control, not boastful or envying (Gal 5:22-26).
How? With gentleness and humility considering yourself, since this could be you.
We are to bear each other’s burdens and bear our own burdens. What does that mean? No one is allowed to sit and idly ask everyone else to carry their pack, but when a boulder-sized burden needs moved, we all work together to lift the load.
What are the criteria? We are to examine ourselves. How close am I to God’s example of perfection? (Christ’s.) Not how well do I compare to Mr. or Mrs. Not-So-Perfect?
Can I do just enough to get by? Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows . . . Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal 6:7-10).
Let’s all beware of spiritual recidivism, falling back into sinful behaviors.
This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible. It is jam-packed with great stuff.
Among other things, it includes a great summary of New Testament teaching. Want to hear Paul’s teaching in a nutshell? Here it is: The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
There you have it. Simple enough, right?
Well, yes and no.
It is simple to understand. It’s not so easy to live out.
Our flesh gets in the way.
In fact, Paul says that all true believers have a built-in conflict within them. The desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are in tension with each other (verse 17). That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news. The Spirit of God is far greater than our flesh. True freedom is listening to the Spirit’s desires rather than giving in to the impulses of the flesh.
That is why Paul says, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh,” (verse 16), be “led by the Spirit” (verse 18), “live by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (verse 25). It is an active relationship with a real Person (who happens to be God!).
It is challenging for us to think about how to have an ongoing, moment-by-moment relationship with a Being we can’t see, hear, or touch. Nonetheless, God helps us with that. We have the Word of God, which is central to our relationship with the Spirit. We also have each other. God’s Spirit dispenses his grace through the Body. God even gave us a list of the “fruit of the Spirit,” (verses 22&23), so we don’t have to guess at what the Spirit wants to work in and through us.
Nonetheless, we could all get better at listening to the still small voice. His voice may be quiet, but his power is not small. Putting more effort into obeying the Law is not the way to freedom. The path to freedom is learning to listen and obey the Spirit of God who dwells within us.
In this chapter, Paul employs two extended metaphors, both dealing with being sons.
In the first word picture, Paul compares Christ-followers to adopted sons who have come of age. No longer under the guardianship of the Law, they have now entered into the fullness of their rights, privileges, and responsibilities as heirs.
This is worth reading again...
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).
Through faith in Jesus, we are adopted into the family of God. It is God’s Son who purchased our adoption, and it is the Spirit of the Son who indwells us. No longer is the Law our nanny. Instead, the very Spirit of God has taken up residence in us to transform our thinking and guide our lives.
As fully adopted children of God, we don’t have to go through a priest or intermediary to get help. We have the privilege of talking directly to God, our Father.
We also have the hope of being co-heirs with Jesus. That means we inherit all that he deserves because of his obedience. That is plenty of motivation to listen to the Spirit and to obey.
This new status is far superior to the old status under the Law. Paul urges his readers not to devalue the incomparable privilege of living as adopted sons and daughters of God.
This new status is not something we have to earn through slavish obedience to the Law. This new status is based on God’s promise. He is the one who makes it happen. That is the gist of Paul’s second word picture.
We are not children of the slave woman, defined by human effort to accomplish God’s will. Instead, we are sons and daughters of God’s promise, which is accomplished through God’s power. We enter our new status through faith. In what God has done.
Now we are free children of God. We are not free to do whatever we want. Instead, we are free from sin, free to know our Father, our Savior, and the Spirit, and free to follow Him in doing what is good and right.
In other words, as adopted children of God, we are called to live as true sons and daughters of God in freedom and Spirit-empowered righteousness. The Law couldn’t make this happen. But what the Law couldn’t do, God has now accomplished through His Son and His Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, let’s choose to live a life worthy of our grace-bestowed status as God’s children, redeemed by Jesus and filled with his Spirit.
What did you want to be when you were a child? I wanted to be a princess. In second grade, I wore my hand-me-down dress with the crinolines underneath and announced to everyone that I was a princess, spirited away from imminent death, and left to live in poverty with my guardians. (This is what happens when you teach children about Mephibosheth.) If I had stayed in my childhood imaginings, you would be addressing me as “Princess Linda”. As part of the pattern of childhood development, we leave behind our childish ways and learn to behave like adults. As we read Scripture, we also see a spiritual maturing element. In Galatians, we find the value of the Old Testament Scriptures. While there was a certain amount of glory to the law, there was a greater glory in the gracious salvation of God, found in Christ.
With the coming of Christ, the nation of Israel moved from childhood into adulthood. The law could not justify the guilty sinner. Nobody was righteous. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 10”11) The law could never give a person oneness with God, it separated men from God; there was a fence around the tabernacle. Childhood excluded me from certain adult privileges like driving a car, voting or assuming my rightful place on the throne. It was great to pretend to be a princess but I wanted to be a princess with my own set of wheels. “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.” (Galatians 3:23) You will be relieved to know that I have traded in my childhood princess status for the garments of adulthood. Believers no longer need to wear the spiritual garments of childhood where the law was their guardian. In Galatians 3:27, we read, “…you…have clothed yourselves with Christ.” The believers have laid aside the garments of sin, “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6): and by faith received robes of righteousness. (Colossians 3:8-15) The believer has an adult status before God, leaving behind the childhood guardianship of the law. Why do people go back into the childhood of the law?
My legal status as a tiara-wearing princess was soon discovered to have no merit. My parents were not just my guardians, they were my parents and I was their heir, and consequently, I still had to eat my peas. Our status as Christ-followers makes us heirs of God where the law could never make us heirs. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs, according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29) This section of Galatians is valuable to us as we read the Old Testament. It shows us that the spiritual lessons of the Old Testament are not just for the Jews, but have an application to Christians today. Freedom in Christ means that I can leave the childhood of the guardian of the law and move into the adulthood of inheritance. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (I Corinthians 13:11) The Christian life ought to take on new wonder and meaning as you realize what you have in Christ. All of this by grace-not by the law. You are an adult in God’s family, an heir of God. Are you drawing on your inheritance?
Galatians 1:6-9 & 3:1-14
Have you ever found certain biblical teachings to be confusing?
Verses like “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13) and "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (John 15:16). Which is it?
Or Jesus' delay when Lazarus died. When the sisters send word, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:3), they clearly expect him to come. And yet Jesus delays. “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:6). That’s confusing. Why would he wait?
Then, of course, there's the faith and works dilemma in the book of James (2:14), “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”
And what about the "Law or Grace" tightrope, the subject of today's Scriptures? The Apostle Paul is making it clear that keeping the law—which so many were trying to do—cannot save. He writes, “Those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse.” (See Gal. 3:10). In contrast, he continues, “So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (3:11).
Are God's law and his grace contradictory or do they work together? I'm confused! Are you?
How would you explain this to a young Christian?
Even though we know the difference between law and grace, our lives often seem to be tied up in law-keeping.
|In high school, my band director required certain activity involvements to earn our band award.
We had to check the boxes.
___ Practice an hour a day
___ Play with an ensemble regularly
___ On-time for rehearsals
___ Perform for an outside group
___ Sell concert tickets
|In my Christian college, we were expected to follow certain disciplines to complete our program successfully.
___ Have daily devotions
___ Attend chapel regularly
___ Attend a local church on Sunday
___ Witness, distribute tracts
___ Be involved in Christian Service
Were you ever trying to “keep the rules,” hoping to earn God’s favor? What was that experience like?
Perhaps you have regarded biblical law in the same fashion. Is keeping The Ten Commandments or pursuing the characteristics of a "good" Christian your purpose? Wanting to grow in our Christian faith is a worthy goal for all of us, but is that growth dependent upon our law-keeping and rule-following?
What is the value in following principles (instructions) for Christian living?
Have you found yourself trying to check all the boxes in your Christian life? How comforting it is to realize that the God of all grace extends his gracious love to us, not because we keep the rules so faithfully, but because Jesus paid the penalty for law-breaking and we who have trusted him are declared righteous and free to obey and serve.
Are you experiencing joy, not by law-keeping but by responding to God’s grace in obedience and service?
jbd & gmd
Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10
This week I’m heading out to the Delaware shore (that's "beach” in East Coast speak). If the water and waves are good, I’ll spend hours body surfing. When I do that, I must pay attention to the currents, which can pull swimmers away from the beach. It’s easy to drift.
The currents of this world have a way of pulling us away from what matters. The author of the book of Hebrews warns his readers not to drift away from Jesus and the gospel. Rather than drift, we are to intentionally draw near to God. We can do this with confidence because Jesus is the final and greatest High Priest.
Like all the high priests before him, 1) Jesus was appointed by God from among the people, 2) he could sympathize and relate to the people he was chosen to represent, and 3) he made sacrifice for sin. Nonetheless, Jesus is a “better hope” by which we may draw near to God (Hebrews 7:19). Why?
Jesus was appointed by God “forever in the order of Melchizedek” (5:5-6). The whole Melchizedek thing is complicated (check out Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7 for more). Suffice it to say that what Melchizedek (which means “King of Righteousness”) appears to be (that is, a priest of the Most High God without beginning or end), Jesus actually is. The important word is “forever.” Unlike all the high priests who went before him, Jesus lasts. He will never die.
Because of the incarnation, Jesus can also relate sympathetically with those whom he represents, namely, us. The author of Hebrews says Jesus “learned obedience” and was “made perfect” through his suffering. At first glance, this sounds heretical, as if Jesus had started out disobedient and imperfect. However, the context is emphasizing Christ’s identification with us humans. As a human, he experienced firsthand the challenges of obedience, as he was tempted in every way. The text clearly tells us that “he did not sin.” Nonetheless, the suffering of obedience which Jesus endured made him the “perfect” high priest for us, because he can now represent us as one who has experienced our trials and temptations as one of us. Jesus understands.
Finally, Jesus offered a sacrifice for sin. But not just any sacrifice. He offered himself. Jesus is both the eternal High Priest and the once-for-all sacrifice for sin. Because Jesus was a human who had never sinned, he was able to take our punishment in our place. Jesus is enough. He’s all we need.
Jesus is the final and greatest High Priest because he lasts, he understands, and he is enough. His sacrifice opened the way into the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God. Through faith in Jesus as our High Priest, we may freely and confidently come to the Father. We have access.
So....don’t drift away. Instead, draw near.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and my wife and grandson, and I have been outside trimming our boxwood bushes. Over the past several months the bushes have developed some errant growth, which needs to be cut off and the bushes restored to their intended shape. One of the tools we’ve used is an electric hedge trimmer. It has teeth that go back and forth in a straight line along the blade. The blade is a straightedge.
Many people use various forms of straightedges. Carpenters, for example, would be hampered without a straightedge. Carpet layers sometimes use a serpentine straightedge (kind of an oxymoron, don’t you think?).
The problem with pruning our boxwoods is that most of the bushes do not have flat surfaces. Some of the bushes are barrel-shaped, some round, some more oval, some conical, and so forth. You can probably see what we’re up against using a straightedge to trim something that isn’t straight. We have to apply the straightedge over and over again to small portions of the bush in order to correctly trim and shape the bush.
The Bible has a lot to say about straightedges, particularly the Straightedge of all straightedges. Unfortunately, we bushes need the divine Straightedge applied to us over and over again so that we can be brought into the intended shape. We’d probably prefer a serpentine straightedge curved according to what we want. But that’s not the God of all straightedges.
“Be holy because I am holy” (Lev 11:44). “By one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:14).
One of the best worship choruses of all time is about being straight as the Straightedge:
Holiness, holiness is what I long for
Holiness is what I need
Holiness is what You want for me
Righteousness is what I need (that's what I need)
Righteousness, righteousness is what You want for me
Take my heart and mold it
Take my mind; transform it
Take my will; conform it
To Yours, to Yours, Oh Lord.
Life Application Questions