The Ordinances of the Lord's House
19 May 2007, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
THE ORDINANCES OF THE LORD'S HOUSE
The words of Jesus in Matt 23: 12 ring out loud and clear across the years when He said to the multitudes, 'And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.'
Jesus, throughout His ministry was to give marked lessons in humility to all he came in contact with. This was to continue right through to the point where His work on earth was nearly finished and He was about to return to His Father's throne.
It was at this time that one of the last lessons He was to share with His disciples was one that dealt with the importance of humility.
This was at a time when the disciples were contending as to who should be the greatest in the promised kingdom.
So what does He do?
He girded himself as a servant and washed the feet of those who called Him Lord and Master (White, 1944 Vol. 4: 374). This never to be forgotten lesson was to teach them that rivalry had no place in God's kingdom.
You imagine what this would have been like. At any feast it was customary for a servant to wash the feet of the guests, and on this occasion preparation had been made for this to happen. The pitcher, the basin, and the towel were all there in readiness for the servants to do their work.
However, no servants were to be there. Jesus' intention was to have the disciples perform this task.
What was their response?
Initially, each of them was to yield to wounded pride, determined not to act the part of a servant. They looked around themselves with an air of unconcern, seemingly unconscious that there was anything for them to do. By their very silence they had refused to humble themselves (White, 1940: 644).
How could Jesus show them 'that a mere profession of discipleship did not make them disciples or ensure them a place in His kingdom' (Ibid)? How could He show them that it was to be loving service and true humility that makes for real greatness? (Ibid)
While Jesus was to wait for a short time to give them opportunity to move towards serving each other, it seemed that this was not to be. It was then that Jesus rose from the table and took a towel and girded himself. This unspoken rebuke was understood and, we are told in DA 644 that the eyes of the disciples were then opened. He gave them an example they would never forget (Ibid). As a result of this lesson, they were now 'clean' and consequently, they were to be more teachable. He had taught them what it really meant to minister to others.
However, it was to be this act that was to harden the heart of Judas, the betrayer. Believing that Israel's king could not so humble himself in this manner, Judas was satisfied that there was nothing more to gain by following Christ. He felt that Jesus, by degrading himself in this way, was not a worthy person to follow and as such was prepared to disown him and confess to all that he had been deceived (Ibid: 645). It was at this point that Judas, possessed by a demon, resolved to finish the work he had set out to do in betraying his Lord and Master.
Having washed their feet, Jesus exclaimed that 'I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.' In washing the disciples feet Jesus was making clear that He would do any service, no matter how humble, if it meant leading them to the kingdom.
However, this was to be more than mere hospitality. Jesus, here, was instituting a religious service, a consecrated ordinance, and when rightly celebrated it was designed to bring the children of God into a more holy relationship to bless and help each other.
It was to become the second of three ordinances or steps that Jesus gave to the Church to point all believers to the kingdom of God.
The first ordinance was to be that of Baptism. The second was to be the ordinance of humility that, in turn, was to provide the necessary preparation for the third. This final step or ordinance was to be the sacramental service or Lord's Supper.
It is only when we see in the Lord's Supper a symbol of service for us and in the preliminary ceremony of foot washing a symbol of service by us will we even begin to understand the depth of spiritualty involved in these ordinances.
Jesus is in the Lord's Supper by virtue of His own taking of the cup of suffering and making the cross a tower of spiritual blessing. This service becomes a celebration of victory symbolising the way of salvation for every believer.
When we celebrate His victory we are never alone and this is supported by Matthew's words in 18: 20 where he says, 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them'.
Author Ellen White takes this a step further when she says in DA 656 that 'When believers assemble to celebrate the ordinances, there are present messengers unseen by human eyes…Heavenly angels…are present. These unseen visitants are present on every such occasion…There are witnesses present who were present when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples…More than human eyes beheld the scene' (White, 1940: 656).
When we take the emblems of the Lord's House, we show forth His death. He died rather than accept selfishness and worldly honour and lived for all that is right. When we take these emblems we need to remember that the Lord is present here with us.
Jesus instituted this service that it may speak to our senses of the love of God that has been expressed in our behalf. Consequently, there can be no union between God and ourselves except through Jesus. Further, it is only because of His death that we can look with joy to His second coming. Therefore, His sacrifice becomes the centre of our hope and upon this we must fix our faith (White, 1940: 660).
Where will this ordinance of the Last Supper finally lead us?
Jesus declared in Matt 26: 29 that 'I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.'
In other words, the next time Jesus celebrates this ordinance will be with the redeemed, when they are seated around the table in heaven. It is here that Jesus will welcome all those that have come out of tribulation, those who have suffered for Him and done His will. All are invited to the great supper of the Lamb where He will gird himself again and have the privilege of serving those who are there (Luke 12: 37)
Jesus never stops being a servant. He serves the universe and all of heaven. He served His disciples in the upper room, and we will enjoy His serving us throughout eternity only if we have learned to serve one another while here on planet earth. What a concept of greatness and service there is in His example.
Let us remember today that Jesus gave these ordinances to the Church to point the way to His Kingdom. Therefore, it is my prayer this morning that we will recognise the depth and meaning behind these ceremonies so that our relationship with Him will continue to grow until that day He comes to take us home.
White, E. G. (1940) The Desire of Ages. Mountain View, California: Pacific press Publishing Association
White E. G. (1944) Testimonies for the Church, Vol 4. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
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