Socialism Versus Biblical Christianity

There is the seed of an idea in the modern Church that socialist systems of government may be advocated in the Bible. Proponents might point vaguely to concepts like “the brotherhood of man” or might even site specific Bible stories such as the Samaritan who helped a man who had been attacked by robbers. They might site the passage in Acts describing how early Christian visitors to Jerusalem “shared all things in common”. Certainly Christians are noted for their love of people and generosity toward the poor, but is this socialism?

cross_and_sickleI think not. The Christian generosity described in the New Testament is personal, communal, and voluntary rather than the compulsory, corporate, and coercive system of socialist government. Simply put, Christianity is rooted in individuality. The Gospel calls for each individual to make a decision to follow Christ as Lord and for the individual to become a member of the “cloud of witnesses” proclaiming the Gospel to future generations.

This message of individual autonomy begins in the Old Testament. Consider the warning given to advocates of man’s rule in 1 Samuel 8. The people of Israel demanded of the prophet Samuel that they have a king like the other nations. Now admittedly, in those days they didn’t consider man’s rule to be socialism, but what they were demanding was a strong central authority to ensure their defense and prosperity. In that sense, kings and commissars are the same. God speaks to Samuel to describe central rule like this:

“This will be the procedure of the one who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves.”

“You yourselves will become his servants.” In other words, the powerful leader you wanted to protect you will become your oppressor.

This theme of skepticism about human lordship continues in the New Testament, even in regard to church government. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:3, “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.” Peter understood how power corrupts and advised the Elders of the church not to rule, but to lead. Jesus’ words were recorded in Matthew 20:25-26 saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. It shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

The United States Constitution powerfully advocates this servant-leader concept of government through its provisions for elected officials who serve the people for a specific term of years. Our leaders are selected from among the people to serve the people’s interests and protect their individual liberty. The government wasn’t created to control you, regulate your work, or tell you how to live.

By contrast, socialism is a top-down system of managing the affairs of people. Although its intent may be to care for your needs, there is no system of restraint to prevent officials from becoming rulers. Deanna Walton, a contributor to our podcast (The Key: Christian Ideas and Activism), asked the question, “What is the morality of the Left.” First and foremost, they are atheists. But furthermore, because they have no trust in the providential nature of God or salvation through Christ, they are collectivists. Their hope is that humankind will unite to save themselves.

Karl Marx attempted to apply scientific principles to human society, and the unpredictability of individuals was problematical to a scientific thinker. Instead, he focused on group identity and class struggle as the defining elements in human history. From that Marxist root, the sociopolitical left sees classes of people instead of individuals. The left creates coalitions of dissatisfied groups…racial minorities, feminists, homosexuals, labor unions, and others.

So strong is their sense of group identity that they expect individual rights to defer to the collective. Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley commented July 2019,  “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice.” In other words, speech is only free if it aligns with an individual’s group. Independent speech upsets the expectations of the social scientists and leftist theorists.

Many of my Christian friends say we should not be involved with politics because it is ungodly, but I say it is spiritual. It is a conflict between atheism and Biblical Christianity and many lives hang in the balance. Furthermore, we have received our orders. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” is our calling. Politics is not about electing the next President, but transforming the hearts of people.

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Should Socialism Be Illegal?

Hopefully, this brief article will not be interpreted as a typical conservative rant against socialism. Rather, I wish to follow up our recent podcast from The Key: Christian Ideas and Activism on the subject of socialism from a rational and legal perspective.

All of the Democrat candidates for President are elected officials who have sworn an oath to uphold the United States Constitution. Nevertheless, they seem to be competing with one another to be the voice of socialism.

As I compared socialism to the ideals of the United States as presented in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, I saw an obvious disconnect. America’s ideals are rooted in the value of every individual, whereas socialism is rooted in management control by a central authority. Consider the First Amendment to the Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

As a top-down system of central planning and control, socialist systems by necessity come into conflict with all of these individual freedoms. Central planners can’t tolerate free speech, because speech is the means to communicate ideas and advocate actions. Therefore, speech that goes against the central plan threatens to disrupt the plan, and disruption must be suppressed. Until now, speech has been suppressed primarily through manipulation of public opinion in the form of political correctness, but suppression by law always follows when socialists gain power.

Neither can socialists tolerate the free exercise of religion because religious ideals, especially Christian ones, appeal to a higher authority than that of the central planners. Christianity threatens the planners because Christians might not obey man’s laws when they conflict with God’s law. This is why atheism is universally codified in socialist constitutions as the only acceptable belief system. There are exceptions. Socialist governments will tolerate theistic beliefs when they are held without sincerity. As the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, there will come a time when people “hold to the outward form of our religion, but rejecting its real power.” Corrupt religious institutions are the only ones that cannot stand against socialist regimes, therefore socialists will tolerate them for the perception of religious freedom.

And then there’s the Second Amendment. The right of citizens to have weapons is a last-resort protection when central control becomes oppressive. That’s why socialists beginning with Adolph Hitler always take away gun rights. Socialists need citizens to be defenseless so the central plan can be implemented with the least resistance.

More could be written, but you get the idea. The need for a socialist system to control and manage economic activity absolutely requires management and control over human activities and necessarily limits individual liberty. Therefore, socialism is incompatible with America’s highest laws. In spite of this fact, almost every Democrat candidate for President advocates some form of socialist agenda. One might say it’s a free country, and candidates should be able to say whatever they want, but does that include advocating what is contrary to the Constitution and detrimental to human rights?

So this is the question. Should socialism be against the law? Maybe it already is, and we should call on lawmakers to formally declare it through legislation. But before the next election cycle comes around, every individual needs to consider reality versus rhetoric. We’ve created laws to protect our freedoms, and abandoning the rule of law can surely be our undoing.

Provision, Wholeness, Authority Part II

WHOLENESS-PINIn my previous post about Provision, Wholeness, Authority Part I, I explained how God had provided these threefold blessings in the Garden of Eden, providing Adam and Eve with abundant provision, personal and spiritual wholeness, and authority to subdue the earth.  When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost those blessings and were forced to fend for themselves, separated from direct fellowship with God. History since the Fall largely became mankind’s striving to restore provision, wholeness, and authority through man’s own strength until God sent His Son to restore the blessings properly. Jesus came to redeem us, but also to begin the process of restoring God’s blessings.

The importance of the teaching about provision, wholeness, and authority is the guidance it gives us as we conduct our ministries to extend God’s Kingdom. Everything we do should follow the pattern Christ gives us restoring the blessings that were lost in the Garden. The question then is what does it look like for a ministry to promote these blessings.  Sometimes we need an example to illustrate how to implement the teaching.

For the past few weeks I’ve been meeting with people to plan the creation of a Christian community center at Lake of the Ozarks. Although it seems at times like a daunting task, I look at it with new eyes because I can see how a community center might continue the Lord’s strategy of restoring the blessings that were lost in Eden.

philippians-4-191Consider first the matter of provision. Our community center will be a place of spiritual, social, and material provision. We currently have two groups of Christians representing multiple churches meeting regularly at Orion Center to share the things of the Lord in fellowship. We see our community center as a place of learning for both spiritual and mundane subjects, but I’ve received new appreciation for material provision. James 2:15-17 reads, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, ‘Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,’ but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead.…” One of our community center advocates has operated a soup kitchen in another community and has a heart for the poor. Why shouldn’t our community center kitchen be used for that purpose to be a material help for Camdenton neighbors in need? What other material needs might we also meet?

resurgent-christianity-14Our community center should also promote wholeness by bringing together people across denominational barriers. We Christians rightfully love our churches, but the unintended consequence of separate church fellowships is to keep one church community apart from another and to keep every fellowship separate from the unchurched people we hope to disciple. This is the opposite of wholeness, but it isn’t the churches that need to change. We should build a community center to provide opportunities for wholeness to benefit our churches and the people. We should bring together brothers and sisters from different fellowships and we should let them minister together to the people in our community who have not found the Lord. What a testimony for Christ would this kind of unity become!

authorityFinally, the community center will allow people to walk in their God-given authority. Whereas churches provide opportunities for service, the exercise of authority is limited to a church’s leadership team. God has given each individual a need to walk in authority, not based on human will or pride, but the rightful authority delegated from Jesus.  The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:9-11, “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will  bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

During our east coast trip, we visited the Billy Graham Library and received revelation to clarify this point of authority. Billy Graham walked in personal humility but confronted the world with resolute boldness when he spoke on behalf of the Lord. His special anointing was to present the Gospel with power and clarity, but something occurred to me. What role of authority could Billy Graham exercise in a typical church made up primarily of Christians? I suggest he would be frustrated and under-utilized by not having the opportunity to exercise his kind of authority among non-believers.

Church-BeyondOur community center must be a place where Christians can exercise their individual rightful authority publicly.  This view of authority fits in perfect sync with the restoration of provision and wholeness I’ve already presented. The community center here is a good example of what the church community needs. Rather than try to change our churches, we need something to supplement what churches do to reflect the restoration that our Lord Jesus Christ has asked us to implement. The restoration of God’s blessings gives us specific direction for the characteristics of ministry that reflects Christ’s mission.

 

Provision, Wholeness, Authority Part I

The Threefold Miracle Mandate with Rob & Aliss Cresswell - Y_Jul 1, 2018, 11.54.36 PMPeggy and I just got back from the east coast where we attended a Christian conference about prophecy. Although we went to learn about the prophetic, God had something else in mind when He spoke to us through a couple from the United Kingdom, Rob and Aliss Cresswell, and Rob’s book, “The threefold Miracle Mandate”. They were neither featured speakers or famous personalities, but what they shared in their small workshop was one of those important gems that the Holy Spirit arranges. Their teaching links together the Father’s work in creation with Jesus Christ’s redemption of that creation. It amplifies the Lord’s Great Commission, giving us specific detail regarding how we should be extending God’s Kingdom. It all begins with three great blessings God gave Adam and Eve in the Garden: provision, wholeness, and authority.

Gen2-8Although we sometimes focus on the fruit that God forbad, the first people were given bountiful provision. Genesis 2:8-9 reads, “The Lord God planted a garden toward the east in Eden and there he placed the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food…” Adam and Eve had no lack of food in Eden. We can only imagine what it would be like to never worry about making a living, providing for your family, or planning for retirement. Adam and Eve lived care free lives of abundance. God provided.

Gen2-18They also enjoyed wholeness, a quality that might be described as completeness in fellowship and personal wellbeing. Not only did Adam have complete fellowship with God, but God also recognized Adam’s need for a helpmate and created Eve. When Genesis 2:25 reads, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed,” it means that Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect relationship. There were no quarrels or expressions of self-interest. We can also be assured that they had individual personal wholeness, because they lived in an environment that hadn’t yet produced illness or physical disability. Adam and Eve enjoyed the state of being completely satisfied and at ease. They had no lack.

Genesis_1-26The third blessing God gave them was authority. Adam was made in God’s image and had the inherited need to create and care for the world around him. God satisfied that need by delegating responsibility and authority to man. Genesis 1:26 records, “Let us make man in our own image according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth…” God also gave Adam the job of tending the garden. We sometimes think of jobs as a necessary burden to make ends meet, but the job God gave Adam allowed Adam to feel worthy.

Collection of hundreds of Free Bible Verse from all over the world.In that early creation, God gave mankind blessings that truly satisfied their needs, but Adam and Eve threw it all away. The serpent persuaded them that God was withholding something, and they violated God’s one rule. The consequence of sin was separation from God and loss of the three areas of blessing. When Adam and Eve were forced to leave the garden, God’s abundant provision was replaced by the need to eke out a living. Genesis 3:18-19 reads, “The ground will produce thorns and weeds for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. You will sweat and work hard for your food.” Because they were expelled from the Garden, they lost the satisfying wholeness of walking with God as they had before. That loss of wholeness translated to them lacking in personal wellbeing and health. As for authority, they had none as they found themselves on equal footing with the elements and other creatures in the struggle to survive separated from God’s covering.

It was a devastating turn of events for the first man and woman, but God had a plan for restoration. Several thousand years later, God sent His son Jesus to define the next chapter in mankind’s history. Certainly Jesus’ purpose was to redeem humanity and provide the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, but He also came to restore the blessings of provision, wholeness, and authority.

Temptations.001At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he was tempted by Satan, and  it’s no accident that Satan challenged Jesus in the areas of provision, wholeness, and authority. Satan suggested that Jesus should provide for his own provision by turning stones into bread. He challenged Jesus’s wholeness in relationship to God by questioning whether God would save his son if Jesus threw himself down from a high place. He tempted Jesus with issues of authority by offering him earthly kingdoms. In each case, Jesus passed the testing by reasserting his dependence on his heavenly Father. It was the beginning of a pattern in Jesus’ ministry. He would be about restoring God’s blessings in the areas of provision, wholeness, and authority.

John4_14Consider the restoration of provision through Jesus ministry. Jesus supplied an abundant catch of fish as described in Luke 5:6. He turned water into wine. He fed 5,000 people with just a few fish and loaves of bread. John also records Jesus’ words in John 4:14, “But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus was restoring not only material provision, but spiritual provision as well.

john-17_22Jesus also began the process of bringing us back to wholeness in our relation to the Father. John records Jesus’ eloquent prayer about this in John 17:22, “The glory which you have given me I have given to them that they may be one, just as we are one.” Jesus restores us to fellowship with the Father and later assures us he will be with us “even to the end of the age.” Jesus also created the entity we call church which creates wholeness through fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters. It is not without cause that we refer to it as our church family, because the wholeness we experience is relational with both God and man. And then too is the ministry of healing Jesus conducted to correct the lack of wholeness that results in physical illness.

Matthew 28-18Finally, Jesus restores authority to us when he sends us to disciple the nations while proclaiming in Matthew 28:18, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and earth.” Just as God had delegated His authority to Adam and Eve to subdue the earth, Jesus sends us out under His covering in authority. The authority Jesus is restoring to us is not merely a position of power among men. Jesus exercised authority over the natural world and over demonic principalities. His power over nature is illustrated in Matthew 8:24-26 where he calms a storm. It reads, “A great storm arose on the lake so that waves covered the boat. His followers went to him and woke him, saying ‘Lord save us or we will be drowned.’ Then Jesus got up and gave a command to the wind and the waves, and it became completely quiet.” He was also able to cast out demons as described in Matthew 8:32. That passage reads, ” Jesus told them to go, so the demons left the men and went into the pigs. Then the whole herd rushed down the hill into the lake and were drowned.”  Is it possible that Jesus wants to delegate that kind of authority to us also?

The importance of the teaching about provision, wholeness, and authority is the guidance it gives us as we conduct our ministries to extend God’s Kingdom. Everything we do should follow the pattern Christ gives us restoring the blessings that were lost in the Garden. However, there is more to the teaching than mere marching orders for ministry outreach. There is also the mandate for us to walk in Kingdom power in the areas of miraculous healing and spiritual authority.

 

BoldnessHow do we find the boldness to do as Jesus did in these areas?  We’ve already seen that Jesus told us he was delegating His authority to us, so we have His Word.  We also see that Jesus began the process of restoring the blessings during His earthly ministry. So let’s add another line of evidence. I would suggest we have seen progress throughout  history in the restoration of those blessings since the time of Jesus.

 

TrueLightThe Apostle John wrote in 1 John 2: 7 – 8, “Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.” For 2,000 years since the time of Jesus, the Lord has continued to transform the world with increased provision, advancements in health, and Christian authority. We live in a time of unprecedented access to material wealth and the availability of food. We see amazing advancements in the reversal of health infirmities, replacement of damaged joints, and surgeries to cure blindness to name a few. We also see Christian ministers like Billy Graham having ready influence in the lives of world leaders and the ability to communicate the Gospel throughout the world. To be sure, the world is increasingly Godless in other respects, but it is assuredly better wherever God’s people have touched it through the power of Jesus.  The early church would consider the modern world, in spite of its faults, as a miraculous improvement over their world.

 

gods-planIn light of the Lord’s continuing restoration of the blessings, we can trust God’s plan. We merely need to join in. Because we trust Him, we should boldly proclaim the Gospel, pray for the sick, cast out demons. We won’t always see the result we expect because we don’t know what God knows, but that should never stop us from doing what the Word tells us in seeking miracles for God’s glory. The Threefold Miracle Mandate has two tracks leading to the same destination: one for our ministry work and one for our personal life. For ministry, we should follow Jesus’ pattern to restore provision, wholeness, and authority. In our personal life, we should trust God that He has the same plan for us individually through supernatural provision, healing, and power through Christ. 

Because He Holds The Future

Many Christians believe that God knows everything and in particular knows all future events. Some even take that to the next level and claim that God predetermined everything. Is it possible they believe this way out of a mistaken idea about how best to honor God?

I offer the following anecdotal evidence to suggest an alternative, that God is interactively working relationally through us moment by moment to bring about His purposes for the future He intends. With that in mind, I take you to the story of Hezekiah’s illness in 2 Kings 20:1-6:

In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, “Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “”Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.”‘”

Hezekiah’s prayer gives evidence to how our prayers can change God’s mind. God clearly knew the king would die, but decided in response to prayer to change Hezekiah’s future. How do we best reconcile the power of prayer to God’s control over the future? I suggest that God knows what He wants to achieve and is constantly influencing people and events to bring His vision to pass. I would also suggest that we as individuals are not that important, and I cite Esther 4:14 as reference:

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

Mordecai had just asked Esther to help save the Jewish people, and Esther was wavering. Mordecai’s point was that God will achieve His purpose regardless of Esther’s cooperation. He would simply decide to use somebody else if Esther refused.

Stories like these tell me that God’s power is much greater than we tend to think. He didn’t create a world in which the future is laid out toward an unchangeable outcome. Our God has relationship with us and is using us to create the future. If I don’t fulfill His purpose, He will use someone else to achieve it. He probes and tests us to determine if we can serve His purposes. It’s not about me. It’s all about Him, and His will will be done.

What I love about this way of looking at the future (aside from the fact that so many historical incidents in Scripture testify to it) is that it puts the relationship between God and man in its proper order. God can do whatever He wants, and each person either steps up to God’s calling or not. God will simply pivot to achieve His purposes, and the complexity of God’s interaction with humanity is mind boggling. Your life is not on cruise control decided by an impersonal eternal destiny. You are God’s child with the freedom and responsibility to live that way.

Orion in the January Night Sky

OrionAt this time of year the dominating star group is the constellation Orion rising in the east in early evening. Look for a large, vertical near-rectangle of four stars about half-way up toward the zenith from the southern horizon.

This near-rectangle is about twice as tall as the width of your fist seen at arm’s length. It’s standing on end, with a nearly perfectly straight row of three stars in a diagonal line right in its center, Orion’s most distinctive feature. It has a bright red star in its upper left corner named Betelgeuse and a bright blue-white star in the lower right corner named Rigel.

The three stars in a line inside the rectangle form the belt of Orion and some even fainter stars in another line, pointing down from the belt form Orion’s sword. The red star Betelgeuse represents one of Orion’s shoulders. A line of faint stars curving off that shoulder, and up over the top of the rectangle forms a raised arm.

OrionArtAs pictured here, Orion is the gigantic hunter of primordial times described in Greek mythology. One story says Orion challenged the gods by claiming that he could kill every wild animal on Earth. Some versions then say Artemis shot him with her arrows; but others say that Artemis produced a great scorpion which killed him. The gods raised him and the scorpion to the skies, which of course is the origin of the Scorpio/Scorpius constellation.

The nearby constellations of Canis Major and Canis Minor are visualized as Orion’s hunting dogs.

However, Orion was talked about by anciencient people long before the Greeks came along. The Bible mentions Orion three times. The book of Job chapter 9 verse 9 describes God saying, “He is the maker of the Bear and Orion”. Then in chapter 38 verse 31, God questions Job’s wisdom by asking , “Can you loosen Orion`s belt?” The prophet Amos records in chapter 5 verse 8 that God is “He who made the Pleiades and Orion.”

The evidence is that stories about Orion have been handed down from the earliest civilizations. In ancient Aram, the constellation was known as Nephila, and Orion’s descendants were known as Nephilim, the pre-flood “giants in the earth” of Biblical fame.

The stars were associated with Osiris, the god of rebirth and afterlife, by the ancient Egyptians who were descendants of Noah’s grandson, Mizraim. The Giza pyramid complex, which consists of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure, is said to be a sky-map of the Belt of Orion. Even farther in the past, the Babylonian star catalogues name Orion, “The Heavenly Shepherd”. Other Babylonian stories called Orion “The Brilliant One” or the “Bearer of Light”.

From this name is derived several modern words including ORACLE…someone you go to to seek enlightenment…also ORATION…a formal speach intended to convince or enlighten. To the Hebrew contemporaries of the Babylonians, the “Heavenly Shepherd” was their picture of the messiah. Thus, the meanings of Orion have to do with bringing light and guidance.

Getting back to astronomy, the Orion Constellation includes some interesting stars and objects. Betelgeuse, Orion’s right shoulder known alternatively by its Bayer designation “Alpha Orionis,” is a massive red supergiant star nearing the end of its life. When it explodes it will even be visible during the day. It is the second brightest star in the Orion constellation, but was mistakenly classified as the brightest because it is a variable star and was experiencing a tremendous increase in brightness at the time it was classified. The actual brightest star in Orion is Rigel forming Orion’s left leg.

Hanging from Orion’s belt is his sword, consisting of several stars ending with the Orion Nebula (M42). This is a spectacular object which can be clearly identified with the naked eye as something other than a star; using binoculars, its swirling clouds of stars, luminous gas, and dust can be observed. Another famous nebula better observed with a telescope is the Horsehead Nebula, just below the left-most belt star. It contains a dark dust cloud whose horsehead shape gives the nebula its name.

 

Communion’s Greater Meaning

I was inspired to examine the meaning of Communion when someone told me her husband didn’t care for it…that Communion seemed like just a religious ritual, a ceremonial remembrance of the past. His feeling is understandable when we consider that we contemporary Christians aren’t much into religious ritual, and Communion stands alone as something like a ritual.

communion-cup-and-bread-with-textSo I began looking at Communion in the context of the Last Supper described in the Gospels.  As we know, each of the Gospel writers was inspired to include different details in their version but all proclaiming the same message. John’s Gospel doesn’t include the Last Supper. Matthew and Mark identically describe the blessing of the bread and wine but make no mention of it as a remembrance. Only Luke includes the phrase “do this in remembrance of me”, which is confirmed as being true by Paul in 1 Corinthians. But the fact that two of the Gospel writers didn’t stress the idea of a remembrance encouraged me to think there is something more that God is telling us through Jesus’ celebration of Passover.

With that in mind, let’s read Matthew’s version in Chapter 26:26-28 which reads,

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

When I was a young Christian, I read this passage and thought Jesus was saying something new, giving us an analogy to describe the reason for his death on the cross. What Jesus was actually doing is something ancient. Since the time of Moses, the Jews celebrated the Passover meal with a scripted series of observances called a seder.  It included four ceremonial cups of wine, with each cup having a specific meaning. The third cup was immediately preceded by the blessing of bread with specific ceremonial blessings for the bread and the wine. The cup Jesus blessed was almost certainly what the Jews traditionally called the cup of redemption which Jews understood as a remembrance of the Hebrews’ deliverance by God from Egyptian Bondage. So here is our redeemer, Jesus, performing the ceremonial blessing of the cup of redemption for His disciples, saying that the Passover remembrance that the Jews had celebrated for all those centuries had been only partially understood. Yes, it was a remembrance of God’s deliverance from Pharaoh, but it was also a prophetic vision of a messiah who would deliver them from a far worse tyrant, the bondage of sin and death. The disciples were transported out of remembrance mode and into “what’s about to happen tomorrow mode.” They recognized that they were participating in God’s plan, not just in the past, but in the present and future.

So here we are in our present day looking back at the Last Supper and we tell ourselves “Surely for us it’s a remembrance of the past”. But there’s more. After partaking of the third cup, Jesus says in Matthew 26:29,

“I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus shared the cup of redemption with his disciples, but he holds back from drinking the fourth cup. His disciples would have thought it strange if the fourth cup wasn’t included in the ceremony. The Gospel of Luke gives us this insight:

“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.”

The Jewish tradition about the fourth Passover cup is that it signifies completion. They believed there would be a future time of peace and final deliverance from persecution and conflict. We of course recognize it as the day when Jesus returns to rule His Father’s kingdom. Jesus was fulfilling the third cup, but the fourth cup was deferred for a time in the future. Therefore, we are not just commemorating the past when we take Communion. We are bringing to our thoughts the entire panorama of God’s plan throughout history and into His future rule and reign on Earth.

As followers of Jesus, we remember and honor the past, but we live expectantly in the future. We are being called to remember, not just the past, but the future. Jesus was mobilizing his followers to participate in the coming kingdom. What we call “communion” is a call to action to prepare the way for Jesus’ return and future reign.