Centrality of the means of grace

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In Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 65 we confess:

65. Since, then, we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, where does this faith come from?

The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts1 by the preaching of the Holy Gospel,2 and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.3

1 Jn 3:5; Rom 10:17; 1 Cor 2:10-14; Eph 2:8; Php 1:29; 2 Rom 10:17; 1 Pt 1:23-25; 3 Mt 28:19-20; Rom 4:11; 1 Cor 10:16

 

In the words of Reformed church planter Rev. Danny Hyde in his helpful book, Welcome to a Reformed Church (I believe this book can be downloaded for free as an “ePub” for those more tech savvy than me; just “google” it):

By the means of the preached Word and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, our gracious God meets with us in public worship.  By these means, God the Father stoops down to our level as little children in order to communicate to us as well as to bring us into intimate fellowship with Himself.  Although these means are not outwardly flashy, exciting, or even seemingly powerful to accomplish what we say they do, they are God’s chosen means to sustain His weary pilgrims in the wilderness and to strengthen their faith.

The best of the Reformed tradition has believed in the centrality of the means of grace in the life of the church.  When we try and be wiser than God in replacing this missional thrust of Christ’s church with home groups, programs and social justice, we have no guarantee of God’s ongoing blessing.  Indeed, there is a place for private means of grace like solitary meditation and prayer, family worship and group Bible study, but these are secondary in the life of the Christian.  They flow out of and depend upon the public means of grace administered by an ordained minister.

Jesus is the bread of life

IMG_2853In the sermon on Matthew 4:4, we saw that when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, after being without food for 40 days and 40 nights, he responded with a direct quotation from Deut 8:3: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Jesus endured temptation where the Jews and us, Gentiles, have failed.  He did the will of his heavenly Father perfectly.  He kept the law for his wayward people and he suffered the punishment due to their sins.  Jesus is our spiritual food and our spiritual drink in the wilderness of this present evil age.

It is through the Word of Christ preached that sinners are made to hunger after and savour the Bread of Life.  It is in the Lord’s Supper that this same Word of Christ is made manifest to our sight and senses for the strengthening nourishment of our faith.

In John 6:51-56 Jesus said:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”   So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

In Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 79 we confess:

79. Why then does Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the new covenant in His blood; and the apostle Paul, the communion of the body and the blood of Christ?

Christ speaks thus with great cause, namely, not only to teach us thereby, that like as the bread and wine sustain this temporal life, so also His crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls unto life eternal;1 but much more, by this visible sign and pledge to assure us that we are as really partakers of His true body and blood by the working of the Holy Spirit, as we receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of Him;2 and that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own, as if we ourselves had suffered and done all in our own person.3

1 Jn 6:51-55; 2 1 Cor 5:16-17, 10:16-17, 11:26; 3 Rom 6:5-11