The Communion of Saints

We all too often blithely repeat the Apostles’ Creed, without realizing that we say we believe in the communion of saints. What does it mean? If you say you believe in it, then you had better act on it, or you are breaking your promise to God and to whatever church in which you are a member. What does it mean?

It means that we have fellowship with Christ in His sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension; and thus, being members of His body, we also have fellowship with one another, and share the same joys and trials. We are one body of Christ. As such, we have just as much obligation to minister to one another as the eye of the body has the obligation to help the hand and foot know where to go. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL! I get really sick of hearing “me, the Bible, and God is all I need.” Balderdash. That is like the eye saying to the rest of the body, “I don’t need you.” Just imagine for a moment a solitary, real, human eye-ball sitting on a table. Can it see without being connected to the rest of the body? Can it do what it is supposed to do? Such is the believer who decides he doesn’t need the rest of the body of Christ.

The WCF makes the point that communion is not communism. The instance of the early church was not meant to be normative, and is to be read in the context of the rest of Scripture, where Paul says that if a man does not work, he shall not eat, combined with the 8th commandment, and Acts 5:4 (which is even in the context of that same early church!).

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Matthew 5:17-20
There is a common miscon- ception out there about the OT. Probably some of us here have held to it from time to time. That miscon- ception goes like this: a particular command came from the OT. Since we are no longer living in the OT time period, therefore I do not have to obey that law. That is a misconception, and the words of our Lord Jesus here confirm that. Why is this important? Because God wants us to obey His holy law as part of being a good Christian. And the OT is where we find a good bit of that law. The OT is extremely valuable for knowing how God wants us to live. Jesus certainly valued the OT highly, and so should we.

Jesus starts off by responding to an objection. Someone was looking at what he did on the Sabbath and was saying, “This guy wants to abolish the law and the prophets. He does nothing but upset all the OT law.” Jesus is here responding to such a person by saying that the law is something he upholds. In fact, far from abolishing the law and the prophets, Jesus came to fulfill them. What Jesus is against is not the law, but all the additions to the law that the Pharisees had added to the law. For instance, with regard to the Sabbath, the Pharisees had said that no one should walk outside their house more than 50 paces, unless it was to go to the synagogue. Burdens more than a certain weight were not to be carried. Both of these activities constituted work, according to the Pharisees. Now, what the Pharisees were trying to do, according to their own account, was to make the law doable. But what they actually succeeded in doing was to make the law impossible. They laid heavy burdens on the people, but did not lift up a single finger to help the people. So Jesus wants to strip all that away, and concentrate on the weightier matters of the law, if you will pardon the pun. So that is how Jesus objects to this imaginary persecutor.

The second thing Jesus does here is to state what He actually came to do. Jesus here answers the question, “Why did Jesus come to earth? What is the reason for the incarnation?” The answer is that Jesus came to fulfill the law. Now, before we get into what exactly that means, we must note that it does NOT mean that Jesus came to fulfill and thus end the law. We know that from what He says immediately after this: not a jot or tittle (or, as the NIV says, “the least stroke of a pen”) shall pass away from the law until all is accomplished. Let me illustrate what Jesus is saying here. Turn to page 960 in your church Bible. Right over verse 73 is the Hebrew letter Yodh. That is what a “jot” means. The NIV translates it in Mat 5 as “the smallest letter.” This is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is the same letter in the Greek alphabet “iota,” which is the smallest letter in that alphabet as well. And now turn to page 959 in your church Bible. Right above verse 41, we see the Hebrew letter Waw written in Hebrew and English. Then, right over verse 49, we see the Hebrew letter Zayin. The difference between these two letters is a very small extension on the top of the letter. That small extension is called a tittle. That is what the NIV translates as “the least stroke of the pen.”Now, the Hebrews took extremely good care of the manuscripts of the OT. If any mistake was found in the manuscript, then that entire page had to be thrown away. They had ways of testing the accuracy of the text. For instance, they would make sure that the same word in the parent manuscript was on the same place in the copied manuscript. They would count the words on the page, and the same number of words had to be there in the parent and in the child manuscript. Well, that same level of care for the manuscript is what Jesus is talking about here. In no way will the smallest detail perish from the law until everything is accomplished.

Notice the severity of the punishment that will come on those who teach that the law is no longer in effect. In verse 19, Jesus says that anyone who relaxes the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. There is a punishment that fits the crime. The law is so important that the smallest of the commands of the law carries a whopping punishment in the event of its being broken. The person who does it will be called least. Their status will match the law that they broke.

Now, by this time, you are probably wondering to yourself whether or not we should bring back the sacrificial system which was so obviously part of OT law. And you might also be wondering about those OT laws that applied to OT Israel alone. Be patient, we’ll get there. But first, I want us to feel the weight of what Jesus is saying here. The law is NOT something that we can dump into the garbage and expect God to be happy about it. That simply cannot happen.

Now, as Reformed folk, we need to realize a vital principle of how to interpret Scripture. And that principle is that Scripture interprets Scripture. What one Scripture says has to be laid alongside of another Scripture passage on the same topic. What happens when we do that? One Scripture tells us what the other Scripture means. This principle of interpretation is called the analogy of faith. Scripture interprets Scripture. A point of application here. If we do not know what Scripture means in a particular place, then we must go to other Scriptures that are more clear. We use those texts that are clear to interpret those texts that are not so clear.

That being said, we know from other Scripture that the law is not all the same in how it applies to us. The sacrificial system is fulfilled and comes to an end in Christ. We no longer sacrifice. We know this for an absolute certainty from the book of Hebrews, which tells us that Christ made a sacrifice once and for all. The very purpose of the OT law concerning sacrifice was to point to Christ. Since the purpose of that is now fulfilled, that part of the law is no longer binding on us. Indeed, if we were to reintroduce sacrificing animals today, we would be spitting on Christ’s sacrifice of Himself. Instead, we are to offer a sacrifice of praise, to offer up our bodies as a living sacrifice. That is how we now fulfill the OT law of sacrifice. The OT sacrificial laws still apply to us, but they are filtered through Christ, as it were.

The same is true of the national laws of Israel. Israel was to eat certain foods, and not other foods. From Acts, in the vision given to Peter in Acts 10, we learn that God has made all foods clean now. Those OT laws about not eating pork no longer apply the same way to us. We are not to eat food sacrificed to idols. That food is unclean. But pork is now clean. We can see that Acts 10 interprets the OT for us.

But now we come to the Ten Commandments. Many people think that we can just put those Ten Commandments into the same category as the other two categories of sacrificial and national laws. In fact, some go so far as to say that these are now the Ten Suggestions, rather than the Ten Commandments. But what does Jesus do with the Ten Commandments? Does He not actually re-establish their application to us? Look at what he does to the Ten Commandments in the rest of Matthew 5. Jesus says that murder is bad, but hate is the same as murder. Jesus says that adultery is bad, but so also is lust.

We need to notice here something about how Jesus is talking. It was common for Jewish rabbis to say, “It is written in the law,” or they would say, “Rabbi so-and-so says.” They would never take to themselves any authority. But Jesus is saying, “the law says this, but I say unto you.” Jesus is putting Himself on the same level as the law. We see that in verse 20. Verse 20 is quite remarkable. Jesus here is saying that His interpretation of the law will either allow a person into the kingdom, or shut them out of it. So Jesus claims ultimate authority here.

So Jesus interprets the law for us. We will see in coming weeks just what that means about these laws. All of what Jesus says in the next couple of chapters relates to the Ten Commandments. Jesus does not abrogate ANY of the Ten Commandments.

Now, I wish to focus just a little bit on one of the Ten Commandments that has been systematically abrogated in America, and that is the fourth commandment. I am talking about this one because Jesus does not address it directly in the Sermon on the Mount.

There is this idea floating around out there, including some people in our very own churches, that the Sabbath was only an OT law. We are not in the OT period anymore, and so we do not have to honor that law anymore. Let’s take a look at what Jesus would say about that. First we notice that He heightens the requirements on all the other Commandments. So, in order to say that the Sabbath law is finished, we would have to say that all the Ten Commandments retain their force except this one. Surely, just because Jesus does not mention specifically the fourth commandment in the Sermon on the Mount does not mean that Jesus is abrogating it. We should interpret Jesus to be saying that what He says is representative of how all the Ten Commandments should be interpreted. That means that the Sabbath command is still in full force.

I can hear you asking the next question, “Well then, why don’t we worship on Saturday?” That is a good question, not a stupid question. Let’s look a little bit at the reasons for the Sabbath command in the OT. We see in Exodus 20 that the reason given for the command is because God had created the world in six days. In Deuteronomy 5, the reason is that God brought them out of Egypt. In other words, there are two reasons for the Sabbath command, the creation reason and the redemption reason. In the NT, Jesus offers us a new creation, and a new redemption. 2 Cor. 5:17 says this, literally: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” God brought order out of chaos both at creation and at the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the start of the new creation. Secondly, we are well aware that we are redeemed by Jesus from the power of sin and death by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Do you see how this argument is shaping up? There were two reasons for the Sabbath: creation and redemption. There are two things that happened at Jesus’ resurrection: new creation and new redemption. Jesus’ resurrection happened on Sunday. Therefore Sunday is the new Sabbath day. Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. Let me repeat that. Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. How is the day to be spent? In worship to our God, and in acts of mercy to other people, and in acts of necessity that we must do to live.

Here again, the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture is helpful to us. Jesus and his disciples picked heads of grain on the Sabbath day, because they were hungry. One needs to eat on Sunday. Therefore, meal preparation, and things you need to do in order to live are entirely appropriate on Sunday. Jesus also says that helping another person in a life or death situation is appropriate on Sunday. He says that we can get out neighbor’s ox out of the ditch on Sunday. That is appropriate. What is not appropriate is normal work activities, unless they fall into the category of acts of mercy, such as working in the nursing home. Is recreation appropriate on Sunday? I do not think so. Here is why: Isaiah 58:13 says this: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Since we have already said that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, then this passage in Isaiah applies to Sunday today. Now, lest you think that Sunday is more about you can’t do than about what you can, let me say that there are many activities that we should be doing on Sunday that we are not. For instance, we should be visiting the sick and the elderly. We should be visiting other people in the congregation. We should be going into our community and talking to those people we know who don’t know Jesus. We should be reading the Bible and good Christian literature. There are a myriad of things to do on Sunday that honor the Fourth Commandment. However, we should not be approaching this commandment thinking to ourselves, “What can I get away with?” That is not the proper attitude. Instead, we should be thinking about how God would want us to honor the day. We have two worship services on Sunday in the summer time. We should attend both of those faithfully, since worship is the most important thing we do. So that is an example of how Jesus interprets the Ten Commandments. We use the information about how He interpreted the other Commandments, and then apply that to the Fourth commandment. Next time, we will see how Jesus interprets the other Commandments.

If you have never thought of these things before, and now consider yourself to have broken the Sabbath Commandment countless times in your life, then join the group. We all sin and break God’s law. The point that we must remember now is that God forgives us on the basis of the perfect Sabbath-keeper, Jesus Christ, if we trust in Him. That is the good news for us.

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