Hey, how are we? Doing well? If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab them. Romans 6 is where we’re going to be. I’m going to be in a bunch of different texts today, but we’ll land a little bit there in Romans 6 to unpack really where I feel like we need to go today.
If you talk about what it means to be a Christian, in one sense, when we say that, we’re talking about some intellectual pieces. There are some things that are primarily living in our intellect. We believe in the historicity of Jesus Christ, that he was a real man who lived a real life who was killed by the Roman Empire in legitimate time and space. We believe as Christians that he rose from the grave.
We believe in the reliability of the Scriptures, that the Scriptures have been given to us by God, and that those Scriptures give us all we need to know in regard to knowing and understanding the God of the universe as well as how to live life as he designed it. Those are kind of intellectual pieces, but Christianity is not intellectual alone.
In fact, most of us don’t start with the intellect, although a couple of you probably have. Most of us probably start with kind of an experience with God that then drives and informs, leaves us searching for words to explain what happened to us. This is also found in the Bible. We see in the Word of God things like the Holy Spirit doing the work of illumination.
When we talk about the Holy Spirit doing the work of illumination, what we mean is that the Holy Spirit turned on, flipped the switch, turned on the light, and enabled us to see. This is ferociously experiential. It’s where it clicks, and all of a sudden, “I know I’m a sinner. I know I need a Savior, and I know Jesus is that Savior. I don’t have a good doctrinal base or build-out around that. I don’t know anything about the effectual call of God. I don’t know anything about that. I just know all of a sudden, I believe.” Like the blind man said, “I was blind, but now I see.” That’s all we really have.
In my own story, that’s exactly what happened, the gift of illumination from the Holy Spirit of God. Up until that point, I knew all the reasons I didn’t need to believe in Jesus. I knew there were sinners, but I certainly was not one of them. I mean, I wasn’t perfect, but I was not the craziest guy in my crew. Are you tracking?
“There is a sinner. His name is Ray. It’s not me. At least I have lines I’m unwilling to cross. Ray-Ray will cross any line out there, so I get you. There are sinners in need of a Savior. I actually know this brother. You’re having the wrong conversation, Jeff. You need to be spending some time with Ray.” That’s how I saw it.
Then I was the king of deflecting. What I mean by that is when Jeff starting sharing the gospel with me, I didn’t really want to talk about me. I really wanted to talk about God. He would try to help me understand, “No, no, no. All have sinned and fall short.” You know, the Roman Road. He would try to walk me through the Roman Road.
My questions were about the genocide in Rwanda. My question was, “Does God lack power, or does he lack love? He’s certainly lacking in one of those. Either he has power and chooses not to use it lovingly or he lacks love and, therefore, allows the type of darkness that goes on in the world to go on.” I would never let it be about me. I would always turn it and make accusations against God.
Then after a year of having my questions answered, of men trying to engage me with the gospel, the Holy Spirit did the work of illumination. Now, here’s what is stunning to me about the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination. I had all of these questions about the historicity of Christ. I had intellectual questions. I needed to know about evil and suffering.
I had all of these questions about the goodness and mercy of God, and none of them were answered before my conversion. I’ve often giggled at that, that the Lord just thought my questions were cute. “Oh, that’s sweet, but go ahead and love me.” I did. That’s the gift of illumination. It’s experiential. I had no intellectual framework for what had just happened in my heart. I couldn’t tell you what had happened.
Now, there are all sorts of great theological words and systems to explain the work of illumination. I knew none of them. I couldn’t explain to you what had just happened to me, but I knew something had just happened to me. That’s experiential. It’s not intellectual, although that experience leads you to try to define it intellectually.
The second thing the Bible would tell us if we think about our experience with the Lord is that Christians, if we’re talking about being a Christian, not only does the work of illumination occur, but we also see that the Bible describes becoming a Christian as having your heart of stone removed and replaced with a heart of flesh.
What this means… I think this actually had started happening to me before I was a Christian. This kind of softening of the heart begins to occur. You begin to consider things that are being said. Maybe the light hasn’t turned on yet. You can just feel your heart softening toward the Lord. Even before the gift of illumination occurred in my own life, I could tell that my cynicism and frustration with my mom’s God…
Mama was a PK and loved the Lord. Daddy, not so much. My home was as dysfunctional as it gets. There wasn’t a lot of hand-holding, singing “Kumbaya” in the Chandler crib growing up, all right? I had some legitimate gripes and complaints against my mom’s God, and if that was the God I was to serve, I wanted nothing to do with him.
Yet, in this space where Jeff Faircloth is sharing the gospel, friends are trying to help me understand the Lord, I could feel my heart soften. This is that heart of stone being turned into a heart of flesh. That’s experiential. I didn’t have any intellectual framework for the effectual call of God. I didn’t have these theological terms I now have. I just knew my heart was softening.
I started to spot this real weird hypocrisy in me where I would mock everything they were doing, but I would want to hang out with them. I started even going, “What’s going on?” On the way home with Jeff, I’m dogging out everything his pastor says, but then I want to go back with him the next week. I could spot this inconsistency starting to raise in my heart.
Now, I have theological language for that now, but at the time, it was just an experience I was having. Then finally, we see in the Word of God, in the book of Colossians, this idea of being transferred out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of his beloved son. The heart is softened. The Holy Spirit does the work of illumination. We begin to see, “I am a sinner. I need a Savior. Jesus is that Savior.”
I knew nothing about the Trinity. I knew nothing about how I was being saved other than that it was by Christ. I didn’t know if I was doing this or if God was doing this. I had no theological framework that wasn’t, “Maybe you grew up where you got catechized by…” That was not the home I grew up in. I just didn’t know what was going on except that at that work of illumination by the Holy Spirit, my allegiances shifted. They shifted radically, and they shifted quickly.
Where my allegiance had once, according to the book of Colossians, belonged to the domain of darkness, now I found my allegiances over in the kingdom of his beloved Son, and I think probably the most clear place this could be seen was that I left my high school as a junior as just one of the better partiers at a school, and not in the good biblical sense of partying.
Parties are actually a biblical idea. Even in the book of Leviticus, which people don’t think is a happy book, God literally says that if Israel doesn’t celebrate, if they don’t party, he’ll destroy them. I’m talking about the sinful type of darkness I was walking in. The work of illumination occurred. My heart was softened, my allegiances shift, and I showed up for two-a-days with an “I heart Jesus” shirt on, knowing I would be mocked, knowing people wouldn’t understand, knowing that the circle of friends I had run with over the last four years was more than likely going to shift.
This is what happened. This was shifting of allegiances, and now I don’t care. I don’t care if I’m mocked. I don’t care if I’m not in with that crowd. I have a whole new group of friends. Ironically, I see Mark in here now. Mark was one of those friends I became friends with late in high school because Christ had grabbed ahold of me. My allegiances shifted. These are all experiential that led me to try to define these things intellectually.
The reason I’m kind of teasing these two apart is because being a Christian is more than just imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus. Being a Christian is the present experience of the risen Christ indwelling our hearts by the Spirit. Theologians call this union with Christ. It’s a celebration that we are in Christ, and it should change everything about how we live and how we see the world around us. I’ll give you just a very simple illustration to unpack union with Christ, being in Christ.
It would be this. On Sunday night of last week, I realized I had to get to a meeting on the East Coast. It was going to be a one-day meeting. In fact, if I could get in and out on the same day, I needed to do that. It turns out it didn’t work out that way, but it was a one-day meeting on the East Coast, so I hopped online and immediately booked a flight to the East Coast, told Patterson he was coming with me, and Patterson and I got on the plane.
Everything about me changed once I was inside that airplane. Let me kind of unpack that for you a little bit. I’m in pretty decent shape. I bet you I could do a mile in right about seven minutes right now, the first one. The second mile is going to be right at about 22 minutes after I vomit. The third mile, longer than that. The fourth mile I’m probably just crawling on the ground, asking God to kill me. All right?
On Wednesday of this week, I was moving at about 350 or 400 miles per hour for two straight hours. In this immediate area, I’ve seen that Lake Lewisville has joined the community in a very aggressive way. I could see that the lake is up. I could see that things are green in a time of year when they normally start to grow brown. I could see all of these things. Once I got in that airplane, I began to see it wasn’t just Lake Lewisville. It’s not just us. Really, in the entire metroplex now, all the lakes are filled.
There are now backyards that are no longer backyards. They now actually have their own ponds. I began to see things from a new perspective because I was in this airplane. All of my weaknesses, all of my perspectives changed by getting in the plane. When we talk about being in Christ, we’re talking about this kind of fundamental shift in who we are, in what we can do and what we can’t do, how we see and can’t see. Everything changes in our union with Christ.
If you have a church background… This idea is everywhere in the Scriptures. In fact, throughout the New Testament, the phrase “in Christ” is a near constant. In fact, some of Christians’ favorite verses in the New Testament revolve around this idea of being in Christ. I’m going to read just a couple of these to you. If you have a church background, you’ll know the first two.
The first one is 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If I am in Christ, if I get in the plane, then the old has passed away, and the new has come. Old shortcomings and failures fall off. New abilities are mine because I’m in the plane. I am in Christ.
Since I first read it, Galatians 2:20 has been one of my favorites. In fact, on more difficult weeks, I like to read Galatians 2:20 and just put my own name in it. Here’s what it says. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
One of the things I’ll do on a more difficult week… I’ve tried to say just honestly that faith is a wrestle with doubt. That’s what it means to follow Christ. Faith is a wrestle with doubt. “I know what’s true. I’m going to cling to what’s true, even when life gets difficult or I get confused. I’m going to cling on by faith to what I believe is true.” That’s faith.
On difficult weeks, I like to just read my name into Galatians 2:20. “Matt Chandler has been crucified with Christ.” That’s good news. That’s good news because it means all that is dark and wicked in me died with Christ. When I’m prone to revisit my history and feel shame and feel guilt and feel like I’ve failed, I can just rejoice in the fact that all of that was nailed to the cross of Christ.
“It is no longer Matt Chandler who lives but Christ who lives in Matt Chandler, and the life Matt Chandler now lives in the flesh, Matt Chandler lives by faith in the Son of God who loved Matt Chandler and gave himself up for Matt Chandler.” By reading myself into this text, I’m able to feel and let the weight and warmth of it wash over me. All of this is possible because I am in Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.
That takes me to Romans 6, where hopefully you’re turned and ready there. We’ll pick it up in verse 3. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk…” Here you go, Baptists. “…in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” You see here again this union with Christ. As Christ was killed and was buried, so we with Christ, in our sinfulness, in our flesh, in our brokenness, died with Christ and were buried with Christ, so that in the resurrection of Christ, we might also be raised and walk in the newness of life.
This is all union with Christ. This is all, “I can do what the airplane can do because I am in it.” That’s all great, but what does it mean practically, day in and day out on the ground? If I’m saying this changes our lives, how does this actually change our lives? It kind of sounds ethereal and a little bit too, “Okay, how does this work itself out?” Well, I’m glad you asked because I have some notes on that. What does this union with Christ practically mean?
I think the first thing that has to be considered when you talk about union with Christ is identity. Here’s the reality. Whether you’re a Christian or not, we have been hardwired to construct an identity for ourselves. Maybe that identity is that you’re really fit and in shape. If that’s the case, you know all about supplements and regimens and how much sleep you need and how many grams of protein you need and when you should do what.
Maybe that’s not you at all. Maybe for you, your identity is that you’re good at business, or you’re a good salesman, or you’re a husband or a wife or a father or a mother. Maybe those are where your identities are. Here’s the reality about all of that. In every instance I just named and more, those identities can be taken from you and leave you without one. There is nothing more terrifying than having no idea who you are anymore.
Several years ago, I was invited to speak to a group of professional baseball players. I’m perfect for that room because I don’t like baseball. I’m just not impressed by anybody. They’re amazing athletes. I’m not dogging them here, but it’s just too slow of a game for my little ADD brain. I can watch the last inning, but I’m just not a baseball guy. If you’re a baseball guy, praise his name. Enjoy it, all 160,000 games a year or whatever it is. I was perfect.
I went in, and we were just having conversations about the gospel and about identity, and there was a group of guys there who had recently retired who were just in tears, struggling. Here’s why. From their earliest memory, they were baseball players. From the time they were 5, they were baseball players, and not just baseball players but better baseball players than guys who play baseball. Are you tracking the difference between baseball players and guys who play baseball? Those aren’t the same thing. Okay.
Their whole lives, they were baseball players. They went to college to play baseball. They were drafted into Major League Baseball. Their whole world was as a baseball player. Their wives married baseball players. Their children had a dad who played baseball. Every little marker of their lives was, “I am a baseball player,” until they weren’t. When they weren’t, all of a sudden, there was a crisis. “Who am I? What am I to do? What is the next part of my life?” It created legitimate crisis.
There are all sorts of statistics that show what happens after guys retire. Men, after they retire, get into this series of doubt and confusion where they don’t know how to identify themselves anymore. What are they? What do they do? Who are they? See, we all seek an identity. We have been hardwired by our Creator to do so in a loving attempt to show us that the only identity that will mark us and make us safe that cannot be taken from us is the identity of being in Christ.
See, I might not always be the pastor of The Village Church. Heck, I might not always be a pastor. Now, I plan on it, but I don’t control the future or know what God has in store for me. I’ve never really primarily defined myself as a pastor. I deeply love my wife, and I love my children, but I don’t know what the Lord has for me there. They are not my primary identity. I love being married. I love being married to Lauren. I love being the daddy to Audrey and Norah and Reid. It’s the joy of my life to be the pastor of this church, to love them. None of those are my primary identity.
See, when your identity is in Christ, it straightens out or at least lines up well where we find our value and worth so we don’t have to put that pressure on other people. Do you want real practical applications of union with Christ and your identity being primarily a son or daughter of God? You won’t, if you understand union with Christ, put expectation on your spouse for them to be more than they possibly can be.
Now, I’ve said this to you for years now, in fact, coming on 13 years. Your spouse makes a crummy god. They can’t do it. Stop expecting them to be that. They can’t. The more you hope they are, the more you’re going to be disappointed and frustrated and feeling like you’re missing out on life. No, no, no. You’re trying to put someone in a god-like place that doesn’t belong there.
No, rejoice in being married. Rejoice in being a mom or dad, but that cannot be your primary identity. Your primary identity cannot be businessmen or salesmen. Your primary identity cannot be that you’re fit or that you’re handsome. That cannot be your primary identity. The more your identity is out of step with being in Christ, the more your identity is bankrupt, and you’re always going to be scrambling, trying to project an image that is inaccurate.
You want to really get on the ground? Union with Christ means our identity is secure. It means it’s hard to push you into overwhelming crisis. I’ve been in pastoral ministry for 20-something years. Here’s what I have learned. There have been seasons in which my reputation was really high and seasons in which my reputation was really low.
There have been times when I have been loved and times when I have been hated. There have been some times that the same person loves and hates me simultaneously, and that’s really confusing. What I’ve learned in all of that is the way I can stay true to my convictions around the Word of God and the truth of God’s Word, the way I can stay unwaveringly faithful to the Lord, regardless of attendance or applause, is to not give you any power over me around my identity.
Where I need to lean into, where I need to lay before the Lord is that I am his, I have been forgiven by him, I am loved by him, and he who began this good work in me will be faithful to complete it. If you want to tell me I really messed up, I would just go, “You don’t know the half of it. You’re only seeing the place you see I’ve messed up. I’ve messed up far more than you see.” I’m able to do that because my identity is in him.
Just on the practical side of things, union with Christ means we can celebrate that our identity is in him. It means our experience being in Christ is one of a new creation. All that means is I have new affection. When this experiential illumination takes place, and those allegiances begin to shift, maybe subtly, maybe radically, what ends up happening is I begin to spot new affections in my heart. I begin to love what God loves. I begin to hate what God hates, slowly but surely.
Next, union with Christ means being conformed into his image, being conformed into the image of Christ. I don’t know if you pick up on how easily you’re influenced, but the reality is that you probably dress like the people you run with. In fact, you probably see this. I’m a part of Generation X, so one of the more ironic twists when I was in high school were the goth kids because they were rebelling against the status quo by being goth, all 60 of them. Right?
They’re not going to be jocks. “We’re going to just put on black lipstick and come over here and wear all black.” There were 60 of you. You just created your own little subculture, which is the very thing you were rebelling against. You were influenced. I don’t listen to a lot of preaching. I read a lot and have a lot of conversations with preachers, but I don’t listen a lot because I’ll find myself out of nowhere just parroting one of them.
A couple of years ago, I had been listening to Pastor Eric Mason, who is the pastor of Epiphany Fellowship up in Philadelphia, one of our partner churches. He pastors a primarily African‑American church. We’ve brought him in several times to preach. If he feels like he’s making a good point and is not being heard, he’ll say something like, “I wish I had some help.” Then the crowd would just go, “You have help,” and then everybody would finally dial in and encourage this brother as he preached the Word.
I was preaching, just minding my own business and preaching my sermon. I was over here. My notes were over here. I was just preaching. I thought I nailed it. Nobody said anything, and out of nowhere… I don’t even remember having the thought. Out of nowhere, I just said, “I wish I had some help.” As soon as I said it, in my mind, I made the decision to not listen to E for a bit, to just stop for a little bit because I had just said, “I wish I had some help,” in Flower Mound.
There was this confused, “What does that mean?” Emails of encouragement afterward. “I don’t know what that meant. I would love to help you in any way I can.” Right? Ultimately, that’s what I mean by conformity. We’re drawn into. We parrot. What I mean by conformity and union with Christ is there is a confidence that in the highs and lows of life, I am being conformed into the image of Christ. I have confidence in that. He is my life. It’s not compartmentalized.
In Christ, we have the righteousness of God. Look here in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What happens when I get in the plane? What happens when I get in Christ? I have over me and on me the righteousness of God. Think about that.
In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness supersedes that of the Pharisees, you’ll have no part in the kingdom of God,” what a blow to works-based righteousness. Nobody was better than the Pharisees in moral righteousness. They had memorized the Torah, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Let’s be straight. You haven’t made it through Numbers yet. You’ve tried every January. You just haven’t made it.
They had it not just read but memorized. They tithed on mint and dill. They tithed on their refrigerator. They’re better than you. Even if you’re Type A and grew up being the good kid, they’re better than you, and Jesus says, “You’re going to have to be better than that if you want any part with me.” Now, how is that possible? Well, it’s possible because in Christ, we’re imputed the righteousness of God.
Finally, and don’t take this further than I’m saying it because I’m no prosperity preacher. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians that in Christ, we are given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. If you’re not a believer in Christ, not a Christian, a skeptic… I love this about The Village. I love that you’re here. I love when I’m preaching, and there is a quasi-scowl, or I can see that you disagree. I just love that you feel safe being here. I like that lost people hang out with us for six months, nine months, ten months, two years, and they just keep coming back.
See, that’s what happened to me all those years ago. It was called the effectual call of God, but I didn’t know what it was. I could just see my own weird hypocrisy of, “These people are idiots.” “Can I pick you up again on Saturday?” “Please.” I could see that happening. That’s what I’m hoping is happening to you right now, but here’s what I want to say.
Weekly, here’s how we’re praying for you. That your heart would soften toward the Lord. That the Holy Spirit would let all you have heard and are hearing click, and that your allegiances would shift as you believe, repent, and put your faith in Christ. Look. All my cards are down so you don’t have to guess. I want you to become a Christian. I want you to experience life in the plane. I want you to step into Christ, and I want you to see the view and experience a rich, anchored identity that holds fast, regardless of what occurs in life.
I’m not saying it’s not a wrestle. I’m just saying it’s there. I want that for you. I my hope is that at some point today, we’ve prayed actively that as we’ve gathered, the Holy Spirit might just do that. If you’re a Christian, this conversation around union with Christ is meant to stir your affections and create lives where we live in gratitude and gladness and worship.
On top of lives marked by that, Jesus gave his church two ceremonies, two sacraments. For some of you, that might be too Catholic, and you might want to say ordinance, but I like sacraments, so you can email me, and I’ll just say I like sacraments better. I’ll explain why maybe at the end of the sermon. It will help you some. He gives the church two sacraments in which the church herself is to celebrate this union with Christ. That’s what it’s all about, to celebrate our union.
Union changes everything. Union with Christ changes how we identify ourselves and how we see the world. Understanding union is imperative to Christian maturity. He puts before the church two sacraments to remind us of that union. The first is the sacrament of baptism. It’s what we do after we confess our belief in Christ. As a mark of obedience, we come forward and testify, “I’ve given my life to Christ. The work of illumination has occurred. My allegiance is with Christ. I’m here to publicly profess that he is my Lord.”
Now, there are evangelical Christians who are very serious about the Bible who would baptize babies. It’s a system of theology called covenantal theology. We would affirm and love our Presbyterian brothers, our Anglican brothers, and the like, but we would disagree on this secondary issue on what baptism is. We would say baptism occurs post-conversion by immersion, not sprinkled but dunked, if you will.
This is not meant to be a built-out argument for how we believe baptism should be done. That’s not what I’m doing here today. We have a class on that, if you’re interested in it, and we have tons of things we’ve written online if you want to go read about why we land where we land. Ultimately, we believe that baptism is a public profession of Christ as our Lord and is evidence that we’re serious about following him, that we are disciples. We see Jesus teaches apostles and his followers, his disciples this in Matthew 28:18-20.
“And Jesus came and said to them, ”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them [dunking them, immersing them] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.“
Now, I’m going to let out some trade secrets here, so we have to keep this between us. Are you ready? We baptize. Our baptistery is right over here. It’s in this part of the stage. It’s built down. Again, this has to stay in the room. That’s city water. That pipe does not go to Jerusalem. It does not go to heaven. If you took a bucket of that and threw it on a vampire, the vampire would just be wet.
If you live in this area and get water from your sink… We don’t do that, right, because that clean water isn’t clean enough, so we have some sort of filtration device to even drink the clean water we have. We clean the clean water, and then we drink the clean, clean water. Right? We’re getting that from the same place you’re getting that. It’s just water.
What the church is doing, when in obedience to Christ, post the work of illumination and shift of allegiance, is we’re getting in the water and allowing the church to celebrate together union with Christ. Think about what happens. Think about how weird baptism is. You get in the water, and you testify, ”The Holy Spirit opened my eyes. He saved me from this.“
Then you plug your own nose because if the other person does it, they could hold too loosely and flood your sinuses with water, or they could do it too tightly and give you a nosebleed. You hold your own nose. Somebody else gets in, and they dunk you underwater, representing what? The death of Christ. ”Buried with Christ in his death…“ Then we don’t leave you there. Right? We pull you up. For what reason? ”…and raised to walk in the newness of life.“ Then the church goes nuts. We celebrate. We applaud.
My first month as pastor here, Dean Polly, who is in this room, was baptized. I didn’t know Dean. I had had maybe one conversation with him, so I was just there as a casual observer. I’m not the one who baptized Dean. Somebody else, I think one of his friends or a family member, was baptizing him. Here’s all I remember about it. I don’t remember his testimony. All I remember is I’m new to this church. I’m 28. I don’t quite know what I’m doing. I’m just trying to figure out what’s what before I make any dumb decisions.
They baptize Dean, and when they pull him out of the water, his home group was there, and they went nuts. I mean, they had kazoos and little poppers. It was literally amazing. It was at that moment that I knew, ”I think I’ll fit okay here. I like this place.“ For them to be that excited about Dean’s baptism… Dean’s story wasn’t that he had killed some people or had just gotten out of prison. He was just a good man who loved his wife well, and Christ rescued him.
This is a good sacrament God gives his church so that we might celebrate our union with him. That’s not the only one. See, you’re baptized once. You don’t get baptized every week, right? Now, some of you come from denominations and backgrounds with the old rededication thing where you were baptized like 14 times, and you were just hoping one of them stuck. In reality, you were baptized once. Every other time, somebody was just dunking you in water.
Baptism is done once as a public profession of faith in Christ and a public celebration of union with Christ. Then Christ gives the church Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, so that we might celebrate weekly, so that we might be reminded weekly of our union with Christ. If you have your Bibles, flip over to Luke 22. I chose the gospel of Luke, but the truth is the story of the institution of the Lord’s Supper is in all four gospels and is also in the letter to the Corinthians, about how Paul would establish the gathering of the saints in the churches he planted.
The command was that as they got together, they would celebrate the Lord’s Supper, they would celebrate Communion, they would celebrate the Eucharist so the church might be again reminded of some things, specifically reminded of our union with Christ. Let’s look at this. Luke 22. We’re going to pick it up in verse 14.
”And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ’I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ’Take this, and divide it among yourselves.
For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ’This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ’This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’“
Three things about the institution of the Lord’s Supper and how to think rightly about Communion in light of union with Christ. There are several things here Jesus is laying before his disciples and laying before us.
The first is, ”Do this, do Communion, in remembrance of me.“ The whole history of the people of God is that we are a people prone to forget the goodness and grace of God. Think about how astounding the claims of grace are. Think about how hard it is to believe that our identity in Christ is what it is. Think about how hard it is to believe that in that plane, we’re really flying at 35,000 feet at 500 miles per hour. It’s hard to believe.
It feels unnatural and not right, so Jesus says, ”You’re going to be prone to forget. My people are always prone to forget, so I’m going to give this to you as a sacrament so that when you gather, you’re reminded that I am for you, not against you. You are reminded that my body was broken and my blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins. I want you to remember that in my death, your sin dies too, and in my resurrection, your Holy Spirit empowered living is accomplished.“
In Communion, we remember what Christ has done. He also says… This is great. If you ever want to dig around in this more than I’m going to just throw out here, I would encourage you to do it. He also calls the cup the blood of the new covenant. This is a reference back to the Passover as well as the sacrificial system that was instituted after the people of Israel had made their way toward the Promised Land and stalled out.
You had this sacrificial system that required the shedding of blood, not because God needed bulls and goats. He wasn’t like, ”Gosh, I’m really hungry. I wish somebody would feed me.“ That’s not what was going on there. He was teaching the seriousness of sin. If you think about blood sacrifice, it’s grotesque. It smells. It’s awful. It was there to remind the people of how heinous their sin was before a living and holy God.
Then in Jeremiah, the prophet says this. This is chapter 31, starting in verse 31. This is not the ”wings of eagles“ text that so many people love in Jeremiah. Jeremiah 31, starting in verse 31, says, ”’Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ’when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,’ declares the Lord.
’For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days…’“ Listen to the new covenant. ”…declares the Lord: ’I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the Lord. ’For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’“
This is what Jesus is saying. Both the writer of Hebrews and Christ himself is saying, ”My blood that will be shed tomorrow is the blood of the new covenant.“ Basically, he’s shutting down the altar. He’s saying, ”I will pay with my blood once and for all for all sins, past, present, and future, for those who are in me, who are in Christ.“ Now the law isn’t outside, but the law is on our hearts. Remember back to illumination and the shift of allegiance, new affection.
That new affection is the law on our hearts that now longs to please the Lord. We remember in Communion that Christ paid our bill in full, and that forgiveness didn’t just happen as we got saved but continues to be available for us and has already been completed for us in Christ as long as we live. That’s why week in and week out, I say all of our sin has been paid for in the cross of Christ, past, present, and future.
In fact, I’ve tried to remind you often that all of your sin was future sin when Christ died on the cross. He’s not now looking at you and wanting a mulligan. He’s not now going, ”Gosh, 2,000 years ago, this seemed so wise, but now that I’m looking at this dude here, I just want to take it all back. Spirit, can we take it all back? We can’t take it back? Okay. Never mind. I can’t take it back, but I want to.“ No, that’s not what has happened here.
In fact, the prophet Jeremiah, the institution of the Lord’s Supper in all four of the Gospels as Jesus met with his disciples, on into the institution of the Lord’s Supper across the world for churches that were planted were all meant to remind us that Christ has paid our bill. There is no penance for the Christian. We don’t lash ourselves or punish ourselves, for all the punishment deserving of our sin was placed on Christ. He absorbed it fully.
When he went into the ground, our sin went with him. When he was raised to walk, the Holy Spirit now empowers a life of obedience for the believer. The third thing we see him do in the institution of this sacrament you see in every gospel. It comes from a different angle to say the same thing. In Communion, we have the opportunity to realign our hopes to the future Christ is bringing.
What he says actually twice in the Luke passage is that he won’t drink this cup or eat this meal again until he’s with them in his kingdom. Communion realigns our hopes and expectations in our union with Christ for the day coming where we walk no longer by faith but by sight, that day coming where all things have been made new, where we stand face-to-face with Christ, and all of our faith is rewarded by Christ himself.
As I was preparing for this weekend, knowing we were coming out of James, knowing we were about to start a summer series that is separate than this, I just wanted to… As I was writing, I remembered an article I read about eight months ago. The article was really about the death of sacred spaces. What I mean by that is… I’m not a big sacred/secular divide.
To be really honest with you, I don’t think there are such things as Christian muffler shops. I just think mufflers can’t give their hearts to Christ. You have a great muffler shop run by a Christian, but it’s not a Christian muffler shop, right? I’m not a big sacred/secular divide thing, but the purpose of the article was that the ability to be sober and quiet and reflective about deep things in this culture is becoming an anomaly.
The article talked about our capacity as being an inch deep and six miles wide. All of it was built around this. In a given three- or four-month span, the writer of this article found 10,000 silly selfies (taking a picture of yourself) at the Holocaust Museum in Berlin. They found 10,000 pictures of primarily millennials. If you’re a millennial, I’m not hating.
I’m just saying there is a herd of you who are. There were these morons laying across tombs of dead Jews from the Holocaust and smiling with a thumbs up, taking selfies, and posting it. They’re so ignorant that they’re posting it on their Instagram accounts. They’re putting these pictures online. They would plank on tombstones. There was one girl who pushed her feet against one of the walls and her back on the other and then smiled and took a picture.
It was this inability to enter a sacred space and be sober and thoughtful about that space. That article also linked to selfies that were taken at funerals. ”Papaw’s funeral,“ with friends. It’s a tragic loss of any real ability to, with seriousness, think about deeper realities. See, when a society gives itself over to entertainment, the only thing we cannot feel is quiet and awkward.
There are times for our own good, for our own development in the depths of our soul, we must enter those quiet spaces and linger. Communion is that space for the Christian. It’s that space to stop, to think, to reflect, to realign, to confess, and then to rejoice. The article talked about the death of the ability to do this. Certainly, that has leaked into the church also.
Some things I’ve picked up on are… There are some of you who… We have baptism weekend. That’s next weekend, so you know when it is. It’s next weekend. In fact, God has so blessed us that there is no sermon. There is barely any music. For an hour and 20 minutes, people are going to say, ”I was blind, but now I see. The work of illumination has occurred. My allegiances have shifted. I’m here to testify that I’m going to follow Christ.“
We’re going to dunk them and raise them up to walk in the newness of life, and you should celebrate and applaud and shout and rejoice because of the miracle of being dead and being made alive. What I’ve found over the years is that some of us go, ”Oh, there’s no sermon, so it’s not real church, so I’ll just miss that week. I’ve been wanting to work on my swing anyway.“
What you do in that moment, or what you do (I’ve noticed this around Communion) around the Lord’s Supper when you feel like that space is actually meant to beat everyone out into the parking lot or to hurry up and get your kid before there is a line is the equivalent of taking a selfie at a funeral.
It’s the refusal to enter into uncomfortable space and consider and be thoughtful about union with Christ, about what has been accomplished in the cross, about the confession of sin, about realigning our hope, not toward a good marriage or toward obedient children or toward wealth or toward a promotion at work, but having our hope in Christ and Christ alone.
The only thing you’re doing is robbing yourself of the ability for the Lord to grow you deep. Reflection, meditation, consideration, sobriety, seriousness. Even my own pull right now, because I can feel the weight in the room, is to make some sort of joke to make it go away, but that’s not what we need. We need to feel sober at times. We desperately need quiet in a world that is so noisy.
This is the gift of the sacraments. Consider quiet. Feel the weight. Rest in the seriousness. Then rejoice. Rejoice that what we believe is true is true. I love that The Village Church is six miles wide. What I mean by that is our sheer size has created this place where you’re here, and you’re not a believer, or you’re a skeptic, but you’re here, and you feel safe because you can hide out here for a little while.
I’m all right with that because I’m hoping the Holy Spirit will eventually just punch you in the soul. I’m asking and hoping that on top of being six miles wide, we might get to about 10 to 12 miles deep, so it’s not just width but depth. Without that depth, without that formation, then in the day of trouble, in the season in which it’s our turn to suffer, to mourn, to wrestle with doubt, we’ll find our legs weaker than we had hoped. That’s not what the Lord has for you. What the Lord has is a celebration, a union with him, and his legs don’t get tired. Let’s pray.
Father, I thank you for union in you. I thank you that so many of us are in the plane, so to speak, that our identity, as much as we have to wrestle with that from time to time, is in you, that you have given us new desires and new abilities to say no to sin, that you’re conforming us, that we get to rest in your righteousness and not strive for a righteousness of our own.
Thank you for how you’ve blessed us with spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms and all that means. I do pray that over the course of just the last few minutes here, that we would remember, remember things we’re prone to forget, and not just remember them just as intellectual facts but that we would recall and remember when you opened our eyes, when you softened our hearts, when you shifted our allegiances.
We would look and lean into the blood of the new covenant and be reminded that although we’re prone to drift, we can confess and come clean, and you will welcome us with open arms. I pray that you would realign our hopes in you toward you where we have placed our hopes in things that will not be able to bear the weight of them, that you would dial our hope back in to you.
Increase our depth. Help us walk in the sacred without such discomfort. Let us yearn for and desire quiet spaces and places to consider you and your goodness and grace toward us. We thank you for this sacrament we’re about to enjoy, an opportunity to quietly reflect on you and your goodness. It’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen.
We provide Communion, the Lord’s Supper primarily for our covenant members. If you are a guest with us this morning who is a believer in Christ in good standing with the church you’re visiting us from, I want to invite you to celebrate the Table with us. You’re a brother and sister in Christ. It’s a good, right thing for us to rejoice together.
Here’s what I would like to add. If you’re not a believer in Christ… You’re here. You’re not quite sure what to make of any of this. Maybe you don’t like me. You just don’t get any of this. Will you do me a favor? Will you just abstain? Will you just let the elements pass? This is for those who are in the plane. I’ve almost aggressively invited you into the plane this morning, to come and repent and sit down and let your identity be found in him.
If you’re not there yet, will you just let the elements pass? If you feel your heart softening toward the Lord, if you feel your allegiances beginning to shift away from the world and toward the Lord, we would love to pray with you and consider that. There will be some men and women up here after this to pray with you on that, but for now, I just want to give you a couple of questions to consider before we do this together as a family.
I have two questions. I’m going to put them on the board. Here’s what they are. Knowing now that Communion is that place where we celebrate God’s grace in Christ, are there sins we need to confess, that we need to lay before the Lord? Surely, you know you don’t have any secrets, right? You know the Lord doesn’t just peek down on earth on Sunday morning, just check that you’re here, and then think everything is good.
You have no secrets. Are there things you need to confess before the Lord? We want to take this time and do just that. On top of this, as we consider our future, are there places in which you’ve placed your hope in the future in something other than Christ and your identity being in Christ? Is your hope in a promotion, in a job coming through, in your relationship with your spouse, in your children being obedient, in this event occurring like you want it to occur?
This is that opportunity to cry out to God for help and for guidance. Let me give you just a couple of moments to consider these things, to pray through these things. Then I’ll be back up, and we will celebrate the Table together.
As we read earlier, the Bible says that on the night Jesus was arrested, he took the bread and broke it, and he said, ”This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.“ After the meal, he took the cup, and he reminded them that there was a day coming that they would drink this cup with him in his kingdom that had been established fully on the earth. We realign our hopes, and we remember this charge, and we know we are a day closer to his return. We remember together.
Hey, I love you. If you’re not a believer, and the Lord has done something, we’ll sing, and there will be some men and women here. They’re here simply to pray for you, to answer your questions, to really serve you in any way we can. If you’re a member, I always love gathering with you, worshipping with you. I’m looking forward to praying with you tonight. Let’s stand and sing a bit, and then we’ll be dismissed.