Stranger Gifts, Part 3: The Sacraments
For the month of September I introduced the idea of "Strange Gifts" from God. We recalled how in literature the idea of strange gifts makes for a great story. A strange gift is something that is given to a character that at first seems odd or not useful but in the end the character sees the gift to be of utmost value. I began with suffering and how the scriptures both Old and New speak to suffering as something we might think as strange but in the end strengthens our faith, builds character and in the end points us away from ourselves and to Christ. The next strange gift was the law of God and how it leads us to Christ. Finally, this month we see how the sacraments are like a strange gift.
The sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper are indeed seen as strange gifts by the world. If you do not have faith in Jesus' words,
"As you are going make disciples from all nations by baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit"
"This is my body…my blood…given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins."
If you do not have faith in these words then the sacraments have no real enduring benefit. If you lack faith in Jesus' words then the sacraments are just symbolic rituals.
In many of the superhero stories like Antman, Superman and Batman, when the regular man first realizes he has superpowers sometimes the superpowers are more of a burden. Superman has to not use his powers when bullied at school. He has to keep his identity secret. Antman has an amazing suit but he doesn't know how to use it rightly and goes through a lot of pain and training. Batman becomes the target of every evil villain because he is the defender of good order. Many of the superheroes at the beginning are not always so happy to have their strange gift. So too when we look at the sacraments and how we are sometimes mocked for believing Jesus' words, the sacraments can seem like strange gifts.
First we can think the sacraments aren't so great because we often forget we need them. Too often we become complacent in our lives with our sinful nature and don't think our sins are so wicked. However the scriptures teach us
"the wages of sin is death."
"each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."
The sin in you brings misery both to you and to those around you. What if there was an antidote? What if there was a gift that opposes that sin and grows you?
Second the sacraments can seem not so great because we will be mocked for believing in what Jesus says they give. The devil tries to get us to believe that God is not trustworthy, that we can't believe him. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness the devil tried to get JEsus to doubt God's words when he declared Jesus his son in whom he is well pleased at his baptism. "If you are the son of God…" The devil replayed how he got Adam and Eve to fall. "Did God really say?" "Can you really trust God?"
In each of these circumstances God gave a promise attached to a physical sign and the devil wants to take away the promises of God. He knows our sinful nature is built upon our pride and self sufficiency. Our sinful nature does not like to live by faith but demands proof and when something doesn't happen it's always God's fault.
So the devil says, "Ha! You are silly for believing God can attach promises of forgiveness and life to mere water, bread and wine. Look how ridiculous. Look nothing happens! It's just water…it's just wine and bread. Besides you still commit sins. Also, look how sinful the other people at church are." But you see the devil is trying to take your eyes off Jesus' words.
Batman's butler Alfred has to constantly remind Batman who he is and what he's been fighting for. Antman has to be encouraged to trust the power in his suit and how to use it. Superman is constantly reminded where he is from, who he is and what he stands for. So too are we encouraged by the Holy Spirit to do the same.
To endure(do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord).
To remember(do this in remembrance of me).
To know our citizenship, heritage and identity is in Jesus(you must be birthed again from above.)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Even though we continually sin and perpetuate death, the mercy of God keeps coming to us in this life through the sometimes strange gifts of the sacraments. Jesus attaches a promise to be received by faith! "Lord I believe help my unbelief." Just as the superheroes are tempted to use their gifts in wicked ways or give up, so too we can misuse the sacraments when we don't trust in Jesus' words.
We will never on this side of heaven fully understand how the sacraments work nor will we fully appreciate them. This is intentional! We are to walk by faith not by sight. The purpose of the strange gifts of God, whether suffering, the law or the sacraments, is to point us to the work of Christ on the cross and that that work was for YOU! Your sins are forgiven and the death that you have brought upon yourself is taken away in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the penultimate strange gift. He did not look like people thought God should. He was despised and laughed at by all. He was considered odd and strange. However the fullness of God dwelt in him. Jesus is true God, true man. To his cross and resurrection is attached the promise that the world's sins have been take away. The source of death and evil has been defeated, not by our works, obedience nor effort. Solely by the death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world has the reign of the devil been demolished. That victory is yours by faith.
Receive the strange gifts for what they are, weapons against your sin and unbelief. How often do you like to resist temptation? How often do you like to be strengthened in your battle against your worst sins? How often do you desire to be given rest from worry? How often do you want forgiveness and life?
"Do this often as you drink in remembrance of me."
Whether you've received socks, underwear, a homemade sweater that doesn't fit, gifts that seem strange, no stranger gift given to sinners is the righteousness of Christ. For while we live in the devil's kingdom we will be mocked and fought against. Take heart. Your Savior knows even when a hair falls and he gives us exactly what we need to endure the long battle. He conforms you to himself more and more and be sure he gives you the victory even now. You can trust Him. He bet his life on it.
See you on Sunday!