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[Feel free to edit and use this Easter/Lenten Season]
Whenever we refer to something as symbolic, we are saying that it is representative of something else – generally of something much greater than the symbol itself. For instance, on my left hand I wear a symbol, a ring that represents the covenant I made with my wife many years ago. In our church auditorium as I stand at the pulpit, to my right and to my left are two other symbols – one a flag representing the Christian faith and the other flag representing the United States of America. On the table in front of the pulpit are more symbols, quite simple ones, really, just some pieces of bread and cups of juice. But these simple elements are representative of something much greater. Most of you are familiar with these symbols, but it is quite probable that many of us have become overly familiar with them.
Paul records for us what Jesus had to say about them:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:23-25, NKJV).
One item that many overlook in Jesus’ words is one of the most important – it is the word “broken.” The symbols that Jesus used to describe the great reality of His impending crucifixion were symbols that were broken, broken to represent four significant truths that should have a tremendous impact on each one of us reading this today.
1. A BROKEN WORLD
God created this world perfect in every way. The earth itself was devoid of any pollution and any corrosion. In the original created order there were no earthquakes, or hurricanes, or tornadoes. There was only rich soil, clean air and water, flawless vegetation and an absolutely perfect atmosphere. In the human realm there was no disease, no sickness and no death. God created humankind to be perfectly healthy in every respect. Morally, there was no animosity, or rebellion, or racism or division in any way.
But when the first human couple rebelled against God by sinning, God’s perfect creation was broken, every part of it, the natural, human, animal, and moral realms of creation were all affected negatively by sin.
When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned (Romans 5:12, NLT).
Adam’s sin broke the world. It caused division between the created order and man, man and man, and man and God. God had given Adam dominion over the entire creation; one was connected to the other, so when sin entered into Adam it also entered the natural world. God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17).
It was like the proverbial house of cards that came crashing down. Not only does Genesis record for us the fall of man, but also the fall of the world in every single respect. Jesus’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper was looking forward to the day when God’s broken world would be reconciled with God.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21, NIV).
Our time of Communion is a time of looking into the future, when God’s new order becomes a present reality, when the shackles that bind the hands of the world are loosed and God’s original design is reinstated.
…we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13, NIV).
The broken symbols that we partake of are a reminder of the broken world in which we live, and which Jesus came to heal. They are a picture of the certain hope of a world that will be fully restored and within which we will dwell for eternity.
2. A BROKEN LIFE
As Jesus broke the bread and distributed it to His disciples, He had in the mind the broken lives of every man, woman, and child that would ever live. He could look at all of us, from Adam down through all of His descendants, and His heart was stirred with a desire for reconciliation and restoration.
God’s deepest desire is that the broken lives of today become the restored lives of tomorrow. When Jesus sees the brokenness of our souls and bodies He is moved to compassion.
As they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to cry (Luke 20:41, NLT).
Why did Jesus weep? Because He was looking out upon a city of people with broken lives that would not accept His offer of reconciliation. Jesus was looking at people just like us and He saw lives broken because of sin; he saw broken bodies, broken marriages, and broken souls in need of redemption. He saw disease that needed to be healed. He saw relationships that needed to be restored. Jesus saw tears that need to be wiped away, and sin that needed forgiven. Concerning His ministry, Jesus stated:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”(Luke 4:18-19, NIV).
Jesus’ anointing was directed toward the broken lives of his culture and ours. The good news of God’s gifting is for those whose lives are dominated by poverty, for the imprisoned seeking liberation, the afflicted in search of healing, and the oppressed who so badly need their burdens to be lifted.
A number of years ago I was a member of a church where a man who had been afflicted for many years by polio also attended each week with his mother. This man had full mental faculties but his body had been so ravaged by this dread disease that he could not walk or even speak. Men from the church would drive out to his house early Sunday morning, lift him onto a sheet of plywood, and then place him in the back of a station wagon to drive him and his elderly mother to the worship service. When they arrived at church they would place him on a flat cart and push him to the very front pew. Each week, when the ushers passed out communion, they would go to this man’s side where his mother would take the bread and the cup and place it in his mouth. One day I was asked to assist in passing out the elements for communion. It just so happened that I was the one who would take the cup and bread to this man. As I handed the elements to his mother, I watched as she lovingly placed the bread in his mouth, and then the juice. As he swallowed I looked into his eyes and saw the tears begin to well up. And from the look in his eyes I could tell that he knew a better day was coming!
As Jesus broke the bread that day so many years ago, He saw the face of this man and He saw your face and mine. Jesus came to restore us and make us whole again. The Lord’s Supper distinctly represents the fullness of a life that has been cleansed and renewed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The elements are a constant reminder that He has come to restore our broken lives and make us whole again.
3. A BROKEN BODY
Near the Cross, Fanny Crosby wrote, Jesus keep me near the cross, and multiplied thousands have sung it as a prayer. Those near the cross could hear the dripping of His blood and see it form a dirty pool on the ground. They saw it trickle down His naked side and drip off His toes. They saw it oozing from the spikes through His wrists and ankles. They saw it gush in a sacrificial fountain when the spear was thrust into His side. Those near the cross heard the sighs, the groans of the Savior. They saw the agony on His face when God the Father would not listen to Him anymore, but let Him die all alone. They heard His voice when He prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” They saw His lips, feverish and parched, when He begged for water and was given vinegar to drink. They were there to see Jesus’ head drop to His chest as He breathed His last.
The Lord’s Supper represents the broken body of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It represents the agony and the pain – Yes! But more than that, it represents the length to which God is willing to go to restore the broken world and the broken lives that dwell there. The only way that God could heal the broken world and our broken lives was by coming to earth Himself and taking the punishment for our sins in our place. Because of His great love for us, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to earth to offer Himself as a sacrifice of substitution.
Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Heb. 9:28, NIV).
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (Col. 1:19-22, NIV).
It is through the broken body of God hanging on a Cross that our brokenness is healed, our sorrows diminished, and our souls reconciled to our Creator. Peter wrote, (Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24, NIV). The broken symbols of the Lord’s Supper are a reminder that our healing was purchased with the price of Christ’s death.
4. A BROKEN HEART
Does your heart break when you learn what Jesus has done for you, and when you recognize how you have run away from Him? The symbols on the table represent your heart if it is willing to be broken. The old spiritual asks the question, Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? O! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble! Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Why should we tremble at the memory of Jesus’ crucifixion? Because it shocks our system to come to the realization that this God of the Universe, the Creator of the World, would love us so much as to choose not to punish us for our rebellion, but embrace us with His love and an offer of reconciliation.
When I see my own life, when I consider the times when I have rejected God, when I think of the many sins that I have committed against Him – and to know that He loves me so much that He is willing to die in my place – my heart is broken. It is broken because I have come to the realization that I was there when they crucified my Lord! It was my sin and my rejection of God and my foolish ways that drove the spikes into His wrists and ankles. It was my deliberate “in your face God” kind of attitude that thrust the spear into His side. It was my hate that ignited His love, my complacency that moved Him to action, my cruelty that fueled His compassion, and my sin that brought His grace.
My heart becomes broken when I fully see that I have broken the heart of God. To have a broken heart, and to see it represented on the communion table, is a good and honorable thing, because it is only when our hearts are broken that they become pliable. It is only when we come in shame for our sin that we are able to see and accept God’s outstretched hand. Martin Luther said, “God creates out of nothing. Therefore until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.” And what does God make of us and our broken hearts? When we come in faith, accepting what Jesus has done for us, He takes our broken heart and replaces it with one that is brand new.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV)
Through Jesus’ broken body, the broken world, our broken lives, and our broken hearts are reunited with God for all of eternity. I hope your heart is broken for God today.
The world is filled with broken things. A child weeps over a broken toy. An archaeologist rejoices over a broken jar. A broken atom powers a city. Before us each Sunday are two broken symbols: let us partake of these symbols, fully aware of what they represent, and let it be a time for both reflection and rejoicing.
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When you are in ministry, people just assume that you have a very strong relationship with Jesus. And they should be able to assume that, but unfortunately, it is an assumption that doesn’t always turn out to be true. In my ministry I get to talk to a lot of pastors, and truth be told, many of them know a lot of facts about Jesus, but for any number of reasons, they don’t have a close personal relationship with Him anymore. Here are some common reasons:
- Not enough time with the Word. It is one thing to read the Bible to get together a sermon outline or lesson, it is quite another to read the Bible devotionally for the sole purpose of drawing closer to Jesus.
- Not enough time in Prayer. Sometimes we are in such a big hurry that the only prayers we offer are before meals and from the pulpit.
- Not enough Faith. You might be shocked to learn how many ministers struggle with their faith on a day-to-day basis. It isn’t that they are atheists, but they’ve come to a point in their spiritual journey where they just have trouble believing like they once did.
- Not enough Motivation. Sometimes after working 50-70 hours a week in ministry, you are so spent trying to be Jesus to others, that you have no drive to spend time with the real Jesus yourself.
- Not enough Concern. Unfortunately, there are a number of ministers who just don’t care about knowing Jesus at any more depth than they know Him now.
The words above aren’t written to condemn, but to recognize some of the behaviors that have led us away from knowing Jesus as we should. I am convinced that we all would rather experience what John shared:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life–the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us–that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. — 1 John 1:1-3 (NKJV)
It’s hard not to envy John as we read these words. He begins this letter by identifying himself as one who had experienced an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. How wonderful to consider what it must have been like to hear, see, and touch the one who has always been. If we use our imaginations, we can perhaps obtain a small glimpse of what John was able to see firsthand so many years ago.
But you and I both know that seeing Jesus with our eyes is not what we need the most, even though it would make us feel good on an emotional level. What is most important is that we recognize Jesus as John describes Him, as “the Word of life.” This is the same way John started out his Gospel account – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, NKJV). This Word John speaks of is the eternal, infallible, sinless, crucified, risen, and returning Son of the living God. And the great news is that today, even as you read these words, THE Word wants nothing more than for you to grow in relationship with Him. Are you ready?
How can you begin to know Jesus again on a personal level? How about reversing the negatives above, and turning them into positives?
- Spend time in the Word! Starting right now, open your Bible and begin reading one of the Gospels and discover all over again why you are in love with Jesus. Don’t stop to take notes! Don’t try to find a sermon outline in the text! Just read it and take the time to ponder how great Jesus is.
- Start Praying! Jesus wants to hear your voice right now. You don’t have to come up with something flowery or something that sounds like an institutional prayer. Just lay your heart out to Jesus like you once did. Let Him know your fears, your doubts, your frustrations, but also let Him know that He can count on you to continue fighting for Him and His Kingdom!
- Begin Building Your Faith! Remember all the ways that God has worked in your life in the past. Ponder all the times you’ve seen Him work in the lives of others. Look up into the sky and fathom the wonderful universe that He has created. What brought you to faith in the first place? Reflect on that and begin to focus on it all over again.
- Recharge Your Battery! I know what it is like to work long hours, struggling to be everything everyone thinks you should be. It is exhausting! You are going to have to take time off for yourself. Hopefully you are taking at least one day a week where you are not focusing on ministry at all. Read a book, go for a walk, talk to your spouse! Allow yourself a break from the everyday stress of ministry.
- Reignite Your Passion! You know deep down that without an intimate relationship with Jesus, your life is just going to keep getting worse. Depression, burnout, marital problems, and much more, often take place when we lose our passion for Jesus and the ministry He has called us to. All of what has been stated above will help you to get your passion back, but there is one more thing that will help — surrender your life to Him all over again. I’m not talking about being “resaved,” but recommitting yourself to Jesus and your calling. When you recommit you refocus, and when you refocus, your passion will return.
So Pastor, how well do you know Jesus? I hope that starting today, you’ll take the steps necessary to know Him better than you ever have before!
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