Confirmands, today is an exciting day. For the last several years we’ve been talking about one central thing: faith in Christ. Faith in Christ isn’t about simply believing that Jesus is God or that He exists. Even demons believe that.
Martin Luther wrote about faith in the preface to his commentary on the book of Romans. Listen to what he says about faith:
Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God. It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good… Faith is a living, unshakable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace.
That’s faith. God grants it. And in His Church He nourishes it. So today we’re going to talk about the Church and how God nourishes that faith which He grants. So I imagine that most Christians know that what we do as the Church in worship matters, but I suspect many today don’t know why it matters. In other words, if they were asked, “Why do you go to church?” or “Why do you do what you do in church?” or “Why is worship important?” they’d struggle to come up with an answer.
What Purpose Does Church Serve?
So let’s see if we can give you an answer. To find it we’re going to turn to Scripture, in Luke 24:13–35, where Jesus intercepts two disciples on Easter Sunday sadly slinking out of town, thinking that Jesus is dead. They thought He might have been the Messiah, but they’re sure now that He couldn’t be – because messiahs weren’t crucified. Jesus engages them in conversation. Their eyes are kept from recognizing Jesus as they walk toward Emmaus. Note this now; God keeps their eyes dim to Christ’s true identity. That’s important. He’s going to open their eyes in a minute and the context in which He does it has implications for the church in worship today.
So Jesus listens to these disciples’ account of things and then tells them that they haven’t understood the prophets, that a crucified Messiah was precisely what they should have expected. And then Luke tells us, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” We could summarize this by saying, “Jesus opens Scripture” or “Jesus shows how Scripture proclaims the suffering/glorified Christ.” Now, just to make sure you appreciate this: Jesus is doing this with what we call the Old Testament. It was about Christ. Every page was about Christ, about preparing people to receive the Christ.
Adam, as the head of mankind, was a type of Christ. Abel, as one who suffered for righteousness’ sake, was a type of Christ. Isaac, as one willing to be sacrificed, was a type of Christ. The Passover lamb was a type of Christ. Israel’s wilderness experience foreshadowed Christ’s wilderness experience. Israel’s bread from heaven foreshadowed the Bread of Heaven, Christ. The bronze serpent lifted up foreshadowed Jesus’ lifting up on the cross. Joshua, who brought Israel into the Promised Land, was a type of Christ. Boaz, who served as Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, was a type of Christ. The Temple, as the place God dwelled among men, was a type of Christ.
Jesus was prophesied in Genesis 3, 12, 49, Deuteronomy 18, 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 2, 16, 22, 69, 110, 118, Isaiah 7, 9, 11, 35, 40, 42, 52, 61, Jeremiah 31, Micah 5, Zechariah 9, 11, 12, Malachi 3, 4, and on and on and on. Are you getting it? The whole Bible is about Jesus, not just the New Testament. But our point for now is this: Jesus opens Scripture. Scripture proclaims the suffering/glorified Christ. That’s what Scripture is about. Now, log that away for a moment. We’re going to come back to it.
Jesus does one more thing in our Luke 24 text that we need to highlight. Luke tells us: “When [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Okay, this is pretty big. Table fellowship was a big deal in this culture. It’s still somewhat significant today. Having someone over to your house for a sit-down meal is a big deal.
And just like today, this was about more than food; it was about inviting people into a close relationship, into an intimate fellowship. And Jesus did this throughout His earthly ministry. The big one that jumps into our minds is Holy Communion, and that surely was the ultimate table fellowship, a table fellowship the Church still practices today. But there were numerous other occasions where Jesus practiced table fellowship with people.
What we need to see now is that it is precisely at this moment, when Jesus is introducing the fellowship meal, that God opens the disciples’ eyes. Surely this is significant. Remember, their eyes had been kept from recognizing Jesus until precisely this moment. And He opens the eyes of faith right here in the fellowship meal. Jesus is revealed in the fellowship meal.
Okay, let’s process what we’ve seen. Very simply, Jesus has taught from Scripture, He has opened Scripture to show how it points to Him and He has revealed Himself in a fellowship meal. The Word which points to Christ is proclaimed and a meal which reveals Christ and unifies people is shared. Does this sound at all familiar to you? Can you think of any other setting or gathering where the Word which points to Christ is proclaimed and a meal which reveals Christ and unifies people is shared?
Worship. Christian worship. That’s what we do here. That’s why we do what we do here. We’re here to hear God’s Word as it proclaims the suffering/glorified Christ. We’re here to fellowship, to commune at this table with Christ and with one another. We’re here to gather around this Word and this meal. We’re here to have Jesus teach us and to have Jesus reveal Himself to us. This Word and this Meal are the heart of the Church. This Word and this Meal provide the structure for worship. They provide the scaffolding for hymn and liturgy. And they are the means by which God awakens and strengthens faith.
Where Do We Find Food for Our Souls?
So listen now, cofirmands; and listen now confirmand families, if faith matters to you, if it’s real to you, then you need this Word and this Meal like your lungs need air. Christians who stay away from this preached Word and this shared meal are like someone who thinks he doesn’t need air to live. Either he’s really good at holding his breath or he’s dead. If you’re faith isn’t being nourished regularly by this Word and this Meal, your faith is dying.
Remember what we said about faith? “Faith is a living, unshakable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace.” That’s the faith God awakens and nourishes through this Word and this Meal.
It’s tragic, then, that so many Christians put themselves on a starvation diet by reducing faith down to a mere acknowledgment that God exists and the Church down to a charitable organization for personal betterment. Confirmands, confirmand families, don’t starve yourselves! Hear this Word week in and week out. Receive this meal every time it’s offered. This is where and how faith is awakened and strengthened.
This living, daring, confident faith is awakened and strengthened here. This fearless stare-death-in-the-face faith is awakened and strengthened here. This joyful, happy, never-wilt-in-the-face-of-distress faith is awakened and strengthened here. This I-will-suffer-anything-to-confess-Christ faith is awakened and strengthened here. This I-will-conquer-death faith is awakened and strengthened here. This new-identity-in-Christ faith, this forgiven-redeemed-made-new faith, this justified-and-sanctified-in-Christ faith is awakened and strengthened here. God awakens and strengthens this faith through this Word and this Meal.
It’s no wonder the Emmaus disciples said, “Did not our hearts burn within us?” They had encountered Christ through word and meal. And that is precisely where we encounter Him today – through the Word and the Meal. And when faith is awakened and strengthened by this Word and this Meal, hearts burn. That’s my prayer for you confirmands. That’s my prayer for your families. That’s my prayer for this church, for the Church. Hear the Word; eat the Meal. Hear the Word; eat the Meal. Be taught by the Word and filled by the Meal. Connect yourself to the heart of the Church and watch your own heart burn within you. May God grant it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Editorial Note: This article is an abbreviation of a sermon preached for Confirmation 2017.
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, is a former board member for the Hausvater Project.