Illustrations of the Gospel

Illustrations of the Gospel

Readings: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 66, 69, 75

 

If I wanted to describe to you something I could just tell you everything I know about it, and after a while you’d understand what I was talking about. But another way I could do it is to just show you. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. What they mean is that by showing someone a picture you save yourself a thousand words trying to describe it. For example I could describe to you our house, or I could just show it to you. I could describe to you what my kids look like, or I could just show you. I could describe to you what Eddie used to look like or I could just show you. Doesn’t that just prove my point, words could never do that hair-do justice! In the same way instead of telling people how we should live you can just live it out so they can see it. Peter writes, ‘12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God… (1 Pet 2:12)’ In fact, Peter tells wives to win their husbands over not with words but by their behaviour, so they can ‘2 …see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Pet 3:2)’ Seeing something is important, it impacts us. This morning I want to look at how the sacraments are illustrations of the gospel. When we see the sacraments, when we see the water, when we see the bread being broken, and when we see the wine being poured out we are seeing the gospel.

 

1) The Gospel Made Visible

So firstly, let’s start with how the sacraments make the gospel visible. As Reformed Christians we believe that Jesus established two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And there are a few general truths about both sacraments.

a) Sacraments are a sign

Firstly, sacraments are a sign, or a symbol. They illustrate something, make it visible in some way. The Heidelberg Catechism says that ‘Sacraments are holy signs …for us to see. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 66a)’ They are an illustration to help us see something that ordinarily we can’t see. They are visible signs of invisible spiritual realities. In the Old Testament God used circumcision as a sign of the covenant. God says, ‘11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. (Gen 17:11)’ In the same way Jesus tells us to baptize people and share the Lord’s Supper as a sign of the New Covenant. In baptism and the Lord’s Supper we see God’s invisible, but none the less real, activity in our lives.

b) Sacraments are a seal

Secondly, sacraments are a seal. I don’t mean the type of seal that eats fish and balances balls on their noses. I mean the type of seal that government officials place on official documents, proving that the document belongs to them, that it carries their full authority. Usually seals were made with wax that had been impressed with the governmental stamp. Matthew tells us that Pilate put a seal on the stone that covered Jesus’ tomb (Mt 27:66). According to the Bible God has also put a seal on us. Paul writes, ‘21 …[God] anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit… (2 Cor 1:21b-22)’ And later, ‘13 …Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. (Eph 1:13b)’ The Holy Spirit is God’s seal of ownership. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, ‘[The sacraments] were instituted by God so that by our use of them He might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put His seal on that promise. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 66b)’ The sacraments are more than just signs pointing us to a spiritual reality, the Holy Spirit makes real in our lives the things that they point to.

c) Of the Gospel

So what do the sacraments point to? The sacraments are signs and seals of the gospel, they point to Jesus and his atoning sacrifice on the cross. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this, ‘And this is God’s gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’s one sacrifice finished on the cross. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 66c)’ The sacraments help us see what Jesus did on the cross for us and remind us that the Holy Spirit is actively applying that work to our lives. So let’s take a look at how they do that.

 

2) The Gospel in Baptism

Firstly, let’s see how the sacrament of baptism helps us see the gospel.

a) The Sign = washing

The sign in baptism is the washing of water. In the Old Testament God promised that one day he would, ‘25 …sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities… (Ezek 36:25)’ And that’s exactly what baptism symbolizes. Paul recalls his own baptism when Ananias said to him, ‘16 …Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away… (Act 22:16b)’ And the writer to the Hebrews talks about ‘22 …having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:22b)’ And the Apostle John how ‘7 …the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 Jn 1:7b)’ And Peter tells people to ‘38 …Repent and be baptized… in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. (Acts 2:38)’ Baptism helps us see how the blood of Jesus shed on the cross washes away our sins. Baptism reminds us that through faith in Jesus we have been cleansed from our guilt. Once we were filthy in God’s sight, once we were stained by our sins, but in Christ we have been washed clean.

b) The Seal = the Spirit

And that promise is sealed by the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament God promised that he would achieve our cleansing from sin by, ‘27 …putting my Spirit in you… (Ezek 36:27a)’ And Jesus says, ‘5 …I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (Jn 3:5)’ When we baptized Zoe, we are doing more than making her head wet, or pointing to something that happened 2000 years ago, we are putting our faith in the fact that the Holy Spirit will apply Christ’s work on the cross to her life. Paul writes, ‘11 …But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:11)’ And later he writes, ‘5 …He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Tit 3:5b-6)’ In baptism we not only see the gospel in action, but we believe that the Spirit is applying the truth of the gospel to the lives of those who have been baptized. The Heidelberg Catechism says, ‘as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly His blood and His Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity, in other words, all my sins. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 69b)’

c) The Gospel

The point is that in baptism we see the gospel. In baptism we see how Christ’s blood washes away our sins. In baptism we are reminded that it’s not by our works that we are saved, but it’s by the work of Jesus on the cross. In baptism we see the Good News that by God’s grace we have been cleansed from all our sin, all our impurity, all of our filth, and we are now clean and holy and pure in Gods sight. Zoe has been included into God’s family, not because of what she has done, but because of what Jesus has done on her behalf. If you’re wondering what the name Zoe means, it’s the Greek word for ‘life!’ And in baptism we celebrate not just the new life that God has given to Jeremy and Sarah, but also the new life that God has given Zoe through the Holy Spirit. If you haven’t been baptized, but you have put your faith in Jesus and the fact that his blood has washed away your sins, then come and see me after the service.

 

3) The Gospel in the Lord’s Supper

So let’s finish by taking a look at how the Lord’s Supper helps us see the gospel.

a) The Sign

Unlike baptism the Lord’s Supper has two signs.

i) Broken bread

Firstly, there’s the sign of broken bread. Four times in the New Testament we’re told that on the night before Jesus was crucified, ‘19 …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.” (Lk 22;19; cf. Mt 26:26; Mk 14:22; 1 Cor 11:23)’ The broken bread is a symbol, or sign, of Jesus’ body broken on the cross. The writer to the Hebrews says ‘10 …we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb 10:10)’

ii) Poured out wine

Secondly, there’s the sign of the poured out wine. Again we’re told that, ‘27 …[Jesus] took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Mt 26:27-28)’ The poured out wine is a symbol of Christ’s blood poured out on the cross. Jesus talks about his blood as being the symbol of the New Covenant, not a covenant based on obedience to the law, or the Old Testament sacrificial system, but a covenant based on Jesus’ perfect obedience, on Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

The broken bread and the poured out wine are signs that remind us Jesus’ death on our behalf. As Paul says, ‘26 …whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor 11:26)’ The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this, ‘as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely His body was offered and broken for me and His blood poured out for me on the cross. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 75b)’

b) The Seal = the Spirit

But like Baptism is more than just a symbol so too is the Lord’s Supper more than just a memorial meal, rather the Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work on the cross by uniting us with Jesus. Jesus says, ‘54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life… 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. (Jn 6:54,56)’ And the Apostle John tells us that it’s the Holy Spirit who connects us with Jesus. He writes, ‘13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. (1 Jn 4:13)’ The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this, ‘Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 76b)’ The Spirit applies Christ’s death on the cross so that just ‘as bread and wine nourish our temporal life, so too His crucified body and poured out blood truly nourish our souls for eternal life. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 79a)’

c) The Gospel

The point is that in the Lord’s Supper we see the gospel. We see Jesus being broken to pay the penalty for our sins. We see Jesus’ blood being poured out so that we might be cleansed from our sin. We see Jesus suffering and dying, so that we might be freed from suffering and death and instead receive eternal life. That’s why we talk about celebrating the Lord’s Supper, for although it reminds us that it cost Jesus his life, it also reminds us of God’s grace, and our salvation won on the cross. The Lord’s Supper reminds us that Christ’s death is Good News for all those who put their faith in Jesus Christ.

 

This morning I want you to see the gospel. I want you to see the invisible realities of our faith. I want you to see how just like water washes away dirt, so the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross washes away our sin. I want you to see that just as we break the bread, so Jesus’ body was broken for us on the cross that we might be healed. I want you to see that just as the wine is poured out, so too Jesus’ blood was poured out on the cross for the complete forgiveness of our sins. Our faith, our hope, our joy, our peace is found in the fact that Jesus died in our place. Though we are completely undeserving, God in his infinite grace, saves us from our sins and an eternity separated from Him. God reconciles us with Himself and gives us eternal life through his Son, Jesus Christ. My prayer is that you will see the gospel and that you will put your faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Amen.

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