Do You Remember When God …
It’s incredible how fast we can forget stuff that has a massive impact on our lives! By forget, I don’t mean we literally can’t remember, but rather that we don’t remember. Instead of being something at the front of our minds, it becomes something in the back of our minds, and as such, it no longer affects the way we think or feel about life, nor does it influence our decisions, priorities, or even values—it no longer defines our experience.
The Israelites had a habit of quickly forgetting the testimonies of God’s power, grace, mercy, and love! Just a little more than two and a half months into God leading them with His supernatural fire at night and a cloud during the day; two and a half months after the small matter of passing over the Israelites in Egypt as He killed every firstborn human, parting the Red Sea for them to cross it on dry land, then destroying Pharoah’s army as they attempted to cross it, then turning the bitter water at Marah to sweet water, and then bringing them to Elim where there where twelve springs of water; this happened,
1 They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." (Deuteronomy 16:1-3)
Forgetting all the power and trustworthiness of God was the constant pattern of the Israelites. It happened so frequently that it was almost anticlimactic when they chickened out about going into Promised Land. After all that God had done to demonstrate His trustworthiness, they essentially practically forgot! It’s not that they didn’t know, but rather that they chose to no longer allow that knowledge to affect their decisions and lives, and therefore it no longer defined their identity and experience. The knowledge of the greatness of God and His obvious commitment to them was moved to the back of their minds as unimportant and irrelevant to their lives and circumstances.
4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. 10 "And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you--with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant--and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:4-12)
Trying to make sure the cultural habit of forgetting God was broken, Moses commanded the generation that survived the forty years of wandering in the wilderness to intentionally do things that kept the knowledge of God front and center in their hearts and minds. Moses said,
With that in mind, let's fast forward to where we left off in Joshua. Joshua sent two men across the Jordan to spy out the land and they returned with news that the people in the promised land were scared to death of Israel and their God. This is likely when Joshua gave the order in Joshua 1:10 to the tribal leaders of Israel to have everybody ready to cross the Jordan in three days. After forty years of wandering around as a nation, Joshua says it’s time to enter the Promised Land to conquer and claim all that God has given them, however, as only God does, the occasion to go forward is blocked by a massive obstacle—a flooded Jordan River.
It's interesting how we often think the sign that God is calling us to do something is that there are no obstacles in the way of doing it. I’m not suggesting God never calls us down a path with no obstacles, but more times than not, when you read the Bible, the typical call of God is to walk down paths that only He can get us to the other side! Easy Street is rarely the route of choice for God, and this is exactly how things are starting for Israel as they launch out into the Promised Land. So how is this going to play out? Let’s go through Joshua chapters three and four together and watch what God does.
1 Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over.
Note: “Though the Israelite camp was only about seven miles from the bank of the River Jordan, moving all the people and their livestock was a mammoth undertaking. The people numbered about two million,7Some scholars suggest the size of the nation should be measured in the hundreds of thousands rather than the millions. and the difficulty of Joshua’s task can best be understood when we consider what happened when Barak, king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse God’s people. The Israelites were spread over such a vast area that at no time could Balaam see the entire camp (cf. Numbers 22:41b; 23:13; 24:2). Now all these people had to move across the flooded river.”8 Barber, C. J. (2006). Joshua: A Devotional Exposition (p. 33). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, "As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before."
2,000 cubits in length is approximately 1,000 yards which is a little more than a half mile (880 yards). In all kinds of different ways, many commentators spiritualize the command to follow 2,000 cubits behind the ark, however, the text tells us it was simply given so the masses could see where it was going! It had to be far enough ahead so that this massive group of people, who likely formed horizontally by tribe along the banks of the river, could all see what God was about to do!
Interestingly, Joshua doesn’t have a specific command yet from God about sending the Ark into the river first, but he can’t obey God’s command to lead the people to conquer and claim the land without first leading an entire nation, with all its equipment, livestock, and even the children and elderly across a flooded river. But Joshua knows if God has called them to do it, then God will lead the way, therefore he sends the priests to the front with the ark that represents the presence of God with Israel and tells them to lead the way! The Ark was NOT an idol, but an object used by God to physically testify to His people that He was with them. Therefore, Joshua having them follow The Ark into the river is a very clear statement of their trust in God.
However, before the Ark was to lead the people across the Jordan, Joshua wanted the people to see it and not simply commit to following the Ark, but rather to be sure they were committed to trusting and following the God the Ark represented! Therefore,
5 Then Joshua said to the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you."
The people had been preparing for war for the last few days, but the most important part of preparing for the war in front of them was making sure they were going into it totally committed to trusting God to do what He said He was going to do, and therefore totally committed to obediently follow Him as He did it! To do this, Joshua commanded the Israelites to “consecrate” themselves, and as such, get their hearts and minds focused not on the river, or even the people they needed to conquer, but rather totally on God, the only God, who had called them to live their lives totally surrendered to HIM!
“On 9 Nisan Joshua instructed the people to consecrate themselves (cf. Nu. 11:18), emphasizing the army’s holiness. This sanctification involved washing their clothes (cf. Ex. 19:10) and abstaining from sex (cf. Ex. 19:15). On 10 Nisan Joshua instructed the priests to pick up the ark.”9 Waltke, B. K. (1994). Joshua. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 240). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
“As a person would prepare scrupulously to meet someone of earthly fame so it was appropriate for the Israelites to prepare for a manifestation of the God of all the earth. The same command was heard at Sinai when the previous generation prepared itself for the majestic revelation of the Lord in the giving of the Law (Ex. 19:10–13). But that was not all. The people of Israel were to expect God to work a miracle. They were to be eager, gripped by a sense of wonder. Israel was not to lose sight of their God who can do the incredible and the humanly impossible.”10 Campbell, D. K. (1985). Joshua. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, pp. 333–334). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Now what happens next takes us back to a promise God made to Joshua after Moses died. In Joshua 1 we read,
5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. (Joshua 1:5-6)
God promised Joshua He was going to communicate to Israel that He had called him as he did Moses and be with him as He was with Moses, but that He was going to use Joshua to do something Moses couldn’t accomplish—lead the people to conquer and claim the Promised Land. But here’s the key, this wasn’t something Joshua needed to try and convince them to believe, but rather it was something that God was going to convince them to believe. So here they stand at the flooded Jordan, and this is what happens,
6 And Joshua said to the priests, "Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people." So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people. 7 The LORD said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, 'When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'" 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, "Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God." 10 And Joshua said, "Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap."
I want to point out a couple of things. First, Joshua’s command to the priests and the people is not of his own making, it’s because God told him to do it. Remember, faith is not trusting God to do what we want, but rather following God and trusting Him to do what He wants. For Joshua, what God has led him to do is not hard to believe, because Joshua remembers what God did with Moses at the Red Sea! He has not forgotten what God is capable of and committed to, and therefore there is no surprise or hesitation in his command to send the priests with the altar down to the river. But the key here is that Joshua’s faith is not based on what he wants God to do, but rather on what God said He was going to do. Because Joshua has been committed to remembering what God has done in the past, has no reason to wonder what’s going to happen next!
It’s also worth noting that although God tells Joshua one of the reasons He’s getting ready to demonstrate His power is so that He can firmly establish Joshua’s leadership over the people of Israel, nonetheless, Joshua still doesn’t tell everybody the Lord said that to him. Notice the text again,
7 The LORD said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” … 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, "Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God." 10 And Joshua said, "Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.” (3:7,9-10)
The point was, Joshua wasn’t trying to exalt himself, he knew if his leadership was going to be exalted by God, then there was no need for him to do anything but follow God! Instead, what Joshua wanted the people to have in their minds was not how God was getting ready to demonstrate he was the man called to lead Israel, but rather something much more important for them to believe—that their God was the only LIVING and real God, that this one and only living God was WITH them, and that He should be trusted to drive out the inhabitants of the land He had promised to the descendants of Abraham! He wasn’t interested in making sure the people knew God called him to lead them, but rather, He was interested in making sure they understood that God was calling all of them to join Him in the battle to conquer and claim the land He had declared for them.
14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
As soon as the priests’ feet got in the water, they began to see the waters receding. Picture it, the river is overflowing the banks, so the water is way above where the banks drop off into the river, however, as the priests walk into the shallow water above the banks it never gets deeper than the souls of their feet. Even as they descend the bank into the heart of the river, the water is disappearing from under their feet. No matter how far they went into the river, the water never got higher than their feet, until they finally found themselves standing in the middle of a river on dry land with no water in it! Just as it was when they crossed the Red Sea on dry land, God had not only held back the water, but He had also dried up the mud beneath it so this massive nation could cross it!
“Though the place named “Adam” is found only here it is usually identified with Tell ed-Damiyeh, about 16 miles north of the ford opposite Jericho. A wide stretch of riverbed, therefore, was dried up, allowing the people with their animals and baggage to hurry across (cf. Josh. 4:10). How could this sensational event occur? Many insist that this was no miracle since the event can be explained as a natural phenomenon. They point out that on December 8, 1267 an earthquake caused the high banks of the Jordan to collapse near Tell ed-Damiyeh, damming the river for about 10 hours. On July 11, 1927 another earthquake near the same location blocked the river for 21 hours. Of course, these stoppages did not occur during flood season. Admittedly God could have employed natural causes such as an earthquake and a landslide and the timing would have still made it a miraculous intervention. But does the biblical text allow for such an interpretation of this event? Considering all the factors involved it seems best to view this occurrence as a special act of God brought about in a way unknown to man. Many supernatural elements were brought together: (1) The event came to pass as predicted (3:13, 15). (2) The timing was exact (v. 15). (3) The event took place when the river was at flood stage (v. 15). (4) The wall of water was held in place for many hours, possibly an entire day (v. 16). (5) The soft, wet river bottom became dry at once (v. 17). (6) The water returned immediately as soon as the people had crossed over and the priests came up out of the river (4:18). Centuries later the Prophets Elijah and Elisha crossed the same river on dry ground to the east (2 Kings 2:8). Soon thereafter Elisha crossed back over the river on dry ground. If a natural phenomenon is necessary to explain the Israelites’ crossing under Joshua, then one would have to conclude that two earthquakes occurred in quick sequence for Elijah and Elisha, which seems a bit presumptuous.”11 Campbell, D. K. (1985). Joshua. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, pp. 333–335). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
“The narrative now focuses both on the perfect obedience of the people—everything proceeded exactly according to the earlier instructions—and on the astonishing character of the event. The text goes out of its way to stress that the crossing occurred in April at first harvest (see 5:10–11), when the river was overflowing. In line with other intended parallels between Moses and Joshua, the crossing occurred at the same season of the year as Israel crossed the Red Sea. The crossing probably took place near the ford the Arabs call Al-Maghtas, 7 miles (12 km) south-east of Jericho and 8 miles (13 km) west of Tell el-Hammam. The city of Adam, today Tell ed-Damiye, where the waters piled up, is 17 miles (27 km) upstream from Jericho, and so a wide stretch of the river bottom, more than 18 miles (30 km), was exposed for the whole nation to cross quickly. A landslide dammed up the river in 1267 and in 1906. An earthquake on 11 July, 1927, dammed the meandering stream for 21½ hours. These parallels give the account credibility without taking away from Joshua’s prediction and the amazing timing of the event.”12 Waltke, B. K. (1994). Joshua. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 240–241). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
Now, some of you are wondering why I started this sermon by first drawing your attention to how quickly we forget who God is, what He has done, and what He said He will do. I did that because of what God instructed Joshua to do after the people finished crossing the Jordan. Watch what happens.
1 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 "Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, 'Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.'" 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, "Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, 'What do those stones mean to you?' 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever." 8 And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the LORD told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. 9And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.
Now there’s nothing spiritual about this other than it’s meant to be a memorial. People love to turn places like this into some super spiritual place where they can uniquely hear His voice or receive a blessing from God. The Bible strictly says the stones were used to make a memorial to future generations about the fact that God is all-powerful and totally trustworthy. Whenever the book of Joshua was finally completed, both monuments were still standing (the stones erected on the west side of the river where the people first set up camp and the stone that Joshua put in the middle of the river where the priests had stood).
Thousands of years later the stones in the river have long since been washed downstream and the ones on the banks have at minimum been buried in the sand, if not knocked over and moved by some later invading force. However, we have something greater than twelve stones stacked on top of each other that couldn’t stand the test of time; we have the Word of God that has! His Word, which has stood for thousands of years, tells us something of much greater significance than a river drying up; it tells us how God sent His Son to conquer death and lead us into His life! I’m going to talk about that more in a minute, but let me first take you through the final verses of chapter four so you can see how this day at the Jordan River ended.
10 For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the LORD commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. The people passed over in haste. 11 And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the LORD and the priests passed over before the people. 12 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. 13 About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the LORD for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life. 15 And the LORD said to Joshua, 16 "Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan." 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, "Come up out of the Jordan." 18 And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before. 19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in times to come, 'What do these stones mean?' 22 then you shall let your children know, 'Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.' 23 For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever."
The people of Israel are now officially in the Promised Land! They have been gone for almost 500 years, but they are officially back!
But what does this have to do with us? Well, there are all kinds of directions we could go with this, but I believe the most doctrinally important thing we need to know is the imagery the story provides us about what Jesus did to bring us through the insurmountable obstacle of the curse of sin, the curse that keeps us from entering the promised land of God’s Kingdom and the life that is only experienced in it.
However, I believe the most practically important thing we need to know about this story is actually not the miracle of what happened with the Jordan, but rather what God told Joshua to do afterward—make sure they remember it! “that you may fear the LORD your God forever." (4:24)
What good would it be that God had demonstrated His power and trustworthiness if they then did as their ancestors did so frequently and forgot? What practical good was there in this miracle if the next generation of Israelites didn’t know who truly gave them this land (The Lord), and thus turned from Him and lost the land!?
Remember, if God is not in the front of our minds, then it doesn’t matter if He’s in our minds. I’m not saying this simply because God’s nature cannot rationally allow us to consider Him in any other way but front and center in all our thinking. Rather, what I’m suggesting is that in a very practical way, if God is not at the front of our minds, consciously dominating our perspectives, values, emotions, and decisions, then who He is and what He has done for us in Christ is of no use to us. We cannot actively live in and experience the life God has for us if what has been revealed about God and His life exclusively in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is not what we are actively remembering and being defined by. It's why Paul wrote,
20 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. (Galatians 2:20)
Note: His total allegiance and trust in Christ was driven by the constant conscious awareness of the Gospel! Elsewhere we read Paul saying this,
8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (2 Timothy 2:8-9)
The reason why this is such a big deal is because when we forget the Gospel; that is when the truth of who God is, and what Christ has accomplished for us, is not at the forefront of our thinking, then even those who are disciplined in the practice of their faith can quickly fall in love with the disciplines of their faith rather than its author! When the Gospel is not defining our perspectives, values, emotions, and decisions, we can quickly fall in love with a religion about Jesus instead of being in love with Jesus. God becomes our justification for traditions and rules that we love and trust instead of Him. This is apparently what eventually happened in the Church of Ephesus, and its why John was told to write this to them,
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:4-5)
So, it is vital that you and I consistently remember the Gospel, so much so that we cannot have an opinion, or an emotion or make a decision that doesn’t have The Truth about God and His Life at the forefront of our minds leading us! This is why it’s so essential to regularly attend worship gatherings that tune our hearts and minds into the Gospel; where both the preaching of God’s Word and the music are used to not only inform our minds but also encourage our hearts to keep pressing forward in the faith! It's why getting with other believers to talk about God’s Word and pray for one another is crucial. It keeps God’s Gospel at the forefront of our minds and thus God at the forefront of our life! Listen to what the New Testament says about the importance of all this,
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-12)
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
Finally, knowing our human tendency to forget God and His Gospel, Jesus told His disciples to change a tradition the Jews had practiced for 1,500 years to remember what God did to rescue them from slavery in Egypt. Instead of using it as an occasion to remember what God did in Egypt, He now wanted them to remember what He was going to do on the cross! John doesn’t recount what we call the Lord’s Supper, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke do, each with a slightly different angle and some minute unique details. But, all three captured the same main point, so let me read the one that has the most information in it,
17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 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." 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:17-20)
Luke is the only Gospel account that tells us Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” It makes it abundantly clear that every time they took the Passover meal in the future, they were to now view it as an opportunity to reflect on what Jesus did on the cross, rather than what happened in Egypt. However, because Jesus fulfilled and replaced the Covenant that God made with Moses (The Law) with the New Covenant, no one is required to celebrate the Passover. Doing it brings no more blessing from God than not doing it brings punishment, because the command to do it was in the Law that God replaced with the New Covenant. Furthermore, we need to understand that while the law made arrangements for Israel to receive earthly blessings from God, there has never been any means of receiving God’s grace other than faith (right belief plus repentance)—Romans 4.
Therefore, Jesus was in no way spiritualizing eating bread, and drinking wine. His purpose was to capture their memory for something way more important! The Passover meal was a deeply ingrained tradition within the Jewish culture and Jesus wanted them to know the ultimate reason God instructed them to do this annual tradition was not to remember what happened in Egypt, but rather to point to what was going to happen on the cross! All that God had done in and through the Jewish people was done to set the stage for the day Jesus Christ would pay the penalty for the world's sin, the day His body and blood would cause the wrath of God to forever pass over us as God’s wrath on all the firstborn in Egypt passed over the Jews who had sacrificed a lamb and painted their doorposts with its blood. There was nothing wrong with the disciples gathering to celebrate the Passover from that point forward, but when they did, they now has something different and better to remember Jesus!
Over time, what happened during the final Passover meal Jesus had with His disciples developed into an entirely different-looking church tradition. The only time the New Testament mentions the church practicing anything like it was when Paul rebuked the church in Corinth in 1st Corinthians 11 for turning it into a drunken feast where the wealthy gorged themselves and the poor got nothing! Paul said if you think you can act that way in the name of remembering Jesus then you have another thing coming that you won’t like at all!
From there the tradition took all kinds of twists and turns that included a tremendous amount of influence by a group of Judaizers who wrote something called the Didache. It was an effort by a group of Jewish Christians to get Gentile Christians to practice their faith in a way that would be acceptable in Jewish culture; something the Apostle Paul frequently rebuked in his letters! As a result of their influence on the church in the later part of the first century, traditions got started that resulted in many of you growing up being taught that communion is of itself holy; that it can only be served by certain people, and only to certain people, because drinking the wine and eating the bread is of itself a holy event you must earn the right to participate in. If you grew up Catholic, then you were taught that in order to receive the Grace of Christ you must eat bread and drink wine that has been literally transformed into the physical body and blood of Jesus; that you literally have to eat His body and blood to receive His grace. The irony is that you can’t partake of the body and blood of Jesus and receive His grace until you’ve earned the right to do so, a right you can only maintain if you continue meeting the necessary standards. This absolutely creates works-based salvation despite the fact the catholic church says it teaches salvation by grace through faith. In addition, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and surprisingly a growing number of Baptists now hold to the view that it’s not actually the body and blood of Jesus. In taking in eating and drinking it correctly you somehow receive more of God’s grace. I do not feel the necessity to even attempt to explain the logic behind either of these positions because they both fly in the face of entire chapters of the Bible, not to mention entire books of the Bible like Galatians and Hebrews. Proponents will defend their positions with random verses and lots of church history, but those who oppose these positions can respond by simply reading the absolute train-size load of Scripture on the doctrines of grace, sanctification, and spiritual maturity.
However, despite all of the religious pomp and circumstance that has been built around the intimate time that Jesus had with His disciples on his last night with them before the cross, in my opinion, there is still something simple and worthwhile in occasionally taking time as a church to join in a tradition that so many Christians have practiced in some way or another, for two and a half millenniums, to at minimum remember the significance of the death of Jesus, even if we disagree with what the death fully accomplished.
So today, we are going to spend the rest of our time together singing songs about the significance of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and as we do, we are also going to offer you the opportunity to come forward and eat a piece of bread and drink some juice as a way to remember that the truth about what the body and the blood of Jesus did for us is not something to simply hear but to be consumed; that is it is to fill us, lead us, and control us.
You’ve heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” We are in no way suggesting you can eat the body and blood of Jesus and then in some way be supernaturally transformed and receive more of His Grace. But what we are saying, is that as we eat that which symbolizes the body and blood of Jesus, we should be reminded that what truly defines us as a person and gives us life is Jesus and nothing else! We need to remember that what informs our perspectives on life and this world has to be Jesus. What steers our emotions has to be Jesus. What determines our morals, ethics, and values has to be Jesus. The one who governs our decisions has to be Jesus! We need to constantly and, in every way, remember JESUS! We need to have stones piled high in and around our life that refuses to allow our hearts and minds to ever stop remembering the God who saved us, how He did it, and what we owe Him in return!