The St. Paul’s Pulpit
An Invitation to Supper
Delivered on May 6, 2018, by
Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph.D. at
St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Baton Rouge, LA
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:44-48)
In the church where I grew up, there was a great deal of emphasis on what was called “soul-winning.” You don’t hear the words “soul-winning” much anymore, except in some fundamentalist circles. What we called soul-winning is now referred to as something like “personal evangelism.” Many pastors and evangelists encouraged us to go door to door, or even to buttonhole strangers and make what was called “a presentation of the gospel.” It may have been something like the Roman Road to Salvation, The Four Spiritual Laws, or some techniques taught to us in programs like Evangelism Explosion. One of the interesting things about the pressure that was put on us to present the gospel to people was that inviting people to church didn’t count as personal evangelism. If all you could do was invite people to church, you were a chicken. You weren’t really soul-winning, you weren’t really witnessing, you weren’t really engaging in personal evangelism, unless you made a full gospel presentation to the person and then pressured them right then and there to make a decision for Christ. But as we followed these techniques, we saw that there were certain disagreements about what should be included in this presentation of the gospel. People couldn’t agree about what was really necessary for the sinner to believe in order to be saved. Were four spiritual laws enough? Was it necessary to believe in the eternal existence of Christ? Was it necessary to believe that Jesus is God? Was it necessary to go through the Ten Commandments to make sure that the person knew what sin was so that the person might truly repent of all known sin? Was it necessary for the person to believe in hell, and if so, what kind of hell were they supposed to believe in? After many, many years of engaging in this style of personal evangelism, I have finally come to the conclusion that the best style of evangelism is simply to invite people to church, because inviting people to church is inviting people to come to the banquet table to have fellowship with our Lord. It is in church, especially a liturgical church like ours, where people will hear the full gospel every single Sunday, not simply four points or five points chosen by some evangelist or organization. In churches like ours, every service, containing confession of sin, the Nicene Creed, the reading of Scripture, and the preaching of the gospel, teaches people what to believe about God, what to believe about Jesus, what it means to have faith, and what it means to repent. If you have ever felt guilty about your inability to make a full presentation of the gospel to someone, I’m taking the pressure off of you. The best form of personal evangelism is simply to invite people to church, for when we invite them to church, we are inviting them to have table fellowship with Jesus, which is what salvation really is. Salvation is coming to know God through Jesus Christ and having fellowship with the Holy Trinity. That fellowship, in its richest and most meaningful form, takes place here at the Lord’s Table.
So, what is evangelism? Evangelism is simply inviting people to a great supper, but we tell those who are invited that some things are necessary before you can sit down and have table fellowship with Jesus. For example, there is a certain dress code required. Just as people receive invitations to a wedding or a banquet, sometimes the invitation will specify the dress code. It may specify tuxedos, black tie, suit and tie, or cocktail dresses, formal gowns, or party dresses. Of course, I’m not saying that people have to come to church dressed in tuxedos, but figuratively, symbolically, yes—a dress code is required. When people come to church, the liturgy and the minister inform people what they must do in order to have table fellowship with Jesus. In the passage from Luke 24 that I just read, Jesus tells his disciples the content of the message that we must preach when we invite people to the gospel banquet.
First, in order to come to the Lord’s table, people must understand who the Lord Jesus Christ really is. In this passage in Luke 24, we have seen how our Lord appeared to his disciples. At first they are afraid, thinking that he might be a spirit. But he calms their fears once again by eating with them. Then, he instructs them once again from the word of God. In verse 44, Jesus says, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” Remember he did exactly the same thing for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” As you can see, according to the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the Old Testament is first and foremost about Jesus. If anyone ever asks you what the Old Testament is about, just tell them that it is about the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Jesus said that what was written in the law of Moses was about him. All the Old Testament, the sacrifices, the cleansings, and the commandments, all pointed toward Jesus. Therefore, Genesis through Deuteronomy is about Jesus. Then, Jesus said that the prophets wrote about him. When we read the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and all the prophets, they are looking toward the future and telling us about Jesus. Then Jesus said that even the Psalms are about him. As we go through the Psalms, we see over and over the Psalmists writing about the day when Jesus would come and what he would accomplish. We have to remember that in the time of the early church, especially in the book of Acts, the apostles were teaching from what we call the Old Testament. There was no collection of books called the New Testament yet. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached from the book of the prophet Joel and from the Psalms, even showing from the psalms how David had prophesied the resurrection of Jesus. When Philip finds the Ethiopian eunuch reading from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, we are told that Philip began at that place and preached unto him Jesus. I could go with you through the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms and show you how they all teach about Jesus, but as you know, I do that all of the time. It is the duty of the minister of the gospel to always be preaching about Jesus, and even when he preaches from the Old Testament, he is preaching about Jesus for Jesus is there in the pages of the Old Testament. Billy Graham used to recommend that new converts get a book by Henrietta Mears called What the Bible Is All About. In her book she took every book of the Bible and showed how it is about Jesus. She describes that Genesis is about Jesus, Our Creator God, Exodus is about Jesus our Passover Lamb, and she goes through all the books of the Old Testament and shows how each book of the Bible is about Jesus. In like manner, Jesus explains to his disciples how all the writings in the Old Testament were about him.
But like many people of his day, and people of our own time, it was difficult for them to see Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament. Therefore, once again, we are told that he opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. When we come to this place, to feed on the word and sacrament, our prayer is that Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit would open our understanding so that we can understand the Scriptures. It is essential that the Holy Spirit perform this miracle, otherwise we will misinterpret the Scriptures as so many millions of people do. When people who do not know Christ attend a service like this, they will have little if any understanding of what is being said unless this supernatural act occurs. How we need to pray each Lord’s Day that God would send people our way, and that when they come, God would open their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures, especially the centrality of our Lord Jesus Christ! All of Scripture is about him. It was essential that our Lord open the understanding of the disciples, because he is about to send them into the world to preach the gospel. We are not prepared to tell others about Christ until we have sat in his presence and fed on the Word and Sacrament. Then, we will have the ability to do what he commands in our text for this morning.
After he has told them how the whole Old Testament had prophesied about his coming and all that he would accomplish, he told them something else that the Old Testament had prophesied. The Old Testament had prophesied that he would come into the world, give his life a ransom for many on the cross and then be raised from the dead. But the Old Testament had also prophesied that “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” We often think that the first time the Bible says that the gospel of Jesus Christ would be preached to all nations is when Jesus gave the Great Commission, just before his Ascension. But Jesus said that the Old Testament had also prophesied this day when the good news about what he had done would be preached to the whole world.
One of the first times we read of this prophecy is in Genesis 12:1-3, when God called Abraham: “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” How would all the families of the earth be blessed because of Abraham? Because it was through Abraham’s seed that Jesus would come, and the good news of Jesus would go out through the whole world. The greatest blessing that ever came to the world was the message about Jesus Christ and the redemption and eternal life that are available through him. A moment ago, we sang the Benedictus where Zacharias is praising God, for he knows that the time of the fulfillment of God’s covenant to Abraham was being brought to pass: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham”(Luke 1:68-73). The Apostle Paul said that the covenant God made with Abraham was fulfilled by Jesus Christ: “ And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed… Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:8, 13-14). As you can see, that promise that God made to Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him was a prophecy that the gospel would be preached to all nations.
Jesus also said that it was prophesied in the Old Testament that this gospel would be preached in all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Indeed, the prophet Isaiah had prophesied just that in Isaiah 2:2-4: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Just as Jesus commanded his disciples, this message began to be preached at Jerusalem, and it spread throughout all the world.
What is the message that the disciples would carry into the world? Luke summarizes the message as “repentance and remission of sins in his name.” As Christians who have the wonderful privilege of having table fellowship with Jesus, it is our joyful duty to invite others to join us in this feast. But there is prerequisite for coming and sitting at table with Jesus: repentance. It is this requirement that causes many people to refuse to come to the feast. Repentance is turning from our sins and committing ourselves to live in obedience to the teaching of Jesus. In Jesus’ Parable of the Great Supper, we read,
A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:16-27)
The teaching of Jesus is that all are invited to the feast, but those who come must forsake all their sin, turn from their sins with hatred and loathing for their sins, and strive with all of their might to live in obedience to the commandments of God for the rest of their lives. Our commitment to Jesus must be absolute and total, taking priority over everything else, or we cannot come and sit at his table. Our message to the world is, “Repent of your sins and commit your life totally to Jesus Christ to live as he commands. If you make that commitment, you are welcome at his table.”
Luke says that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations. Without repentance there is no forgiveness of sins. St. Peter preached this great truth on the day of Pentecost. After his sermon, when the people cried out, “What shall we do,” Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). There we see that baptism is required for the remission of sins. There is a connection between repentance, baptism, and the remission of sins. This baptism for the remission of sins began with John the Baptist, of whom we are told in Mark 1:4, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” For this reason, when Matthew records the Great Commission, he reports Jesus as saying, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them…” It is a strange thing that many modern Christians consider baptism as optional–a good thing, but not necessary. But the plain teaching of Jesus is to go into all the world to teach and baptize. There is a great controversy among Christian denominations concerning whether baptism is necessary for salvation. In the section of our Prayer Book called “Offices of Instruction,” there is a question, “How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?” The answer given is, “Christ hath ordained two Sacraments only, as generally necessary to salvation; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord” (BCP, 292). The teaching of our church is that the Scriptures teach that both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are necessary for salvation. Most of us were raised in traditions that thought of salvation as simply saying a prayer, but in our church we see salvation as a process that continues throughout life. We have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. The Christian life begins with baptism, and the Christian life is sustained by partaking of the Lord’s Supper; thus, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are necessary for salvation—baptism to make us members of the Church and the Lord’s Supper to give us the strength to remain members of the Church. Peter says, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.” Ananias tells Saul of Tarsus, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). In the service of baptism, we pray, “So give now unto us who ask; let us who seek, find; open the gate unto us who knock; that this Child (or this thy Servant) may enjoy the everlasting benediction of thy heavenly washing, and may come to the eternal kingdom which thou hast promised by Christ our Lord. Amen” ( BCP, 274). When the priest blesses the water for baptism he prays,
Father, Almighty, Everlasting God, for that thy dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins, did shed out of his most precious side both water and blood; and gave commandment to his disciples, that they should go teach all nations, and baptize them In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Regard, we beseech thee, the supplications of thy congregation; sanctify this Water to the mystical washing away of sin; and grant that this Child (this thy Servant), now to be baptized therein, may receive the fulness of thy grace, and ever remain in the number of thy faithful children; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, now and evermore. Amen. (BCP,279)
Therefore, repentance and baptism are necessary for us so that we might have table fellowship with Jesus, otherwise we will be like the man in the parable of the marriage supper who came without a wedding garment, and for that reason, was cast into outer darkness. That wedding garment is the white robe we receive at our baptism when our sins are washed away. Without our sins being washed away, we are unclean and cannot have table fellowship with our Lord. Our catechism states that in baptism a person is “made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven” (BCP, 577). Baptism is necessary for salvation, for it is in baptism that we become members of the covenant family of God where all the blessings of the covenant are made available to us, including the remission of sins. This truth is so important. Evangelism is not just getting people to accept a few facts about Jesus. Evangelism is making people members of the covenant people of God; that is, evangelism is making people members of the church, for there is no salvation outside the church. “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5: 25). Baptism incorporates people into the church where all the blessings of salvation are received, including the remission of sins. Each Sunday, we confess in the Nicene Creed” “I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins.” Even baptism was prophesied in the Old Testament in all the ritual washings and cleansings that were necessary to make one pure for the worship of God. The duty of the people of God is to go into the world with the message that people must repent and be baptized. Repentance, baptism, and remission of sins are inseparably intertwined by our Lord. We can distinguish them from one another, but we can never separate them. God has joined together repentance, baptism, and the remission of sins. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.
David Chilton, in his commentary on the book of Revelation, Days of Vengeance, writes,
The greatest privilege of the Church is her weekly participation in the Eucharistic meal, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It is a tragedy that so many churches in our day neglect the Lord’s Supper, observing it only on rare occasions… What we must realize is that the official worship service of the Church on the Lord’s Day is not merely a Bible study or some informal get-together of like-minded souls; to the contrary, it is the formal wedding feast of the Bride with her Bridegroom (476-7).
When we invite people to church, we are sending them an invitation to the formal wedding feast of the Bride (the church) with her Bridegroom (the Lord Jesus Christ). As they watch this feast taking place, the minister of the gospel invites them to come and join us in the feast by saying, “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort.” We invite you to participate in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. When we send the invitation, the invitation says, “wedding garment required”—a white robe made clean by the washing away of sin. Amen.