Wednesday of Holy Week (Acts 2, 36–47)

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They devoted themselves themselves to the Apostles’ Teaching and to the Fellowship of the Breaking of the Bread and to the Prayers.

Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

᛭ INI ᛭

How does the Lord do His work among us? The same way He always has.

THE LORD USES THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD, AND ALL HIS MEANS OF GRACE, TO ADD TO THOSE WHO ARE BEING SAVED.

(I. What is breaking of the bread?)

What are we to make of the worship life of the Christians who lived in Jerusalem? Well, before we can cover that, it needs to be said that “The Breaking of the Bread” is the term used for the Lord’s Supper both in the New Testament as well as by the very early Church.

“Breaking of Bread” can refer directly to the Lord’s Supper like it does here in Acts 2 or in Acts 20. That’s how Paul also uses in 1 Corinthians 10: “The Bread that we break, isn’t it a communion (fellowship) of the body of Christ?”

“Breaking of Bread” can also be an allusion to the Lord’s Supper in order to be a clue to deeper Biblical connection. That’s how it’s used when Jesus Feeds the 5,000 and the 4,000. (Jesus’ teaching in John 6 bears this connection out.) It’s also used this way in Luke 24, when the Emmaus disciples recognized Christ in the breaking of the bread. (Lk 24:30–31, 35)

[[Concerning these things, our Lutheran confessions say, “Although we do not object if some interpret these passages as referring to the Sacrament, it does not make sense that only one part of the Sacrament was given. According to the ordinary use of language, naming one part also means the other.” (AP XII, §7)]]

[[There is one final example of “Breaking of Bread” in Acts 27:35, and this is most likely the exception that proves the rule. Finally, the Didache, which was written about the same time as the Gospel of John, also shows that “Breaking of Bread” was used in the early church, since it also uses “Breaking of Bread” as one term for the Sacrament.]]

(II. How often did they gather to Break the Bread?)

So, now that that’s out of the way, what about the worship practices of Christians in Jerusalem?

Well, it was rooted in the daily sacrifices of the temple, which I preached on last week. The Apostles’ gathered at one of those, and they preached (Acts 3). The people went to listen to “Apostles’ Teaching,” then they returned to the individual house churches for “the Breaking of the Bread.”

They gathered every day to hear preaching and receive the Sacrament. That’s how often the Lord’s Gifts were offered in Jerusalem. Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit to write Acts, doesn’t tell us how long the Jewish Christians continued this practice in Jerusalem, but AD 70 is a firm end. (The temple was destroyed by the Romans that year.)

Outside of Jerusalem the gathering of Christians was to the Synagogue. The Jews gathered once a week in the Synagogue—every Sabbath. The early Christians also gathered that day for awhile, but moved their gathering to the first day of the week, “the Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10, Didache 14:1), to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. That’s when and how often they gathered. Acts 20 tells us that was the day they gathered “to break bread.” That’s how often the Lord’s Gifts were offered outside of Jerusalem, and, with the destruction of the Temple, the weekly gathering is the most common practice that’s around even today.

Our Lutheran confessions, written in the 1500s, also say: The Lord’s Supper “is celebrated among us every Lord’s Day and on other festivals.” (AP XXIV (XII), § 1), and “among us many use the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day.” (AP XV (VII), § 40) It was offered that frequently and many made use of it. No one was forced to receive, but it was offered. This was just continuing what’s described in Acts. (The “why” of all this is coming.) And this continued until the 1600s.

There were many events during 1600–1800s that befell Lutherans that caused this practice to change: wars, famines, plagues, lack of pastors, including traveling to a new world where there were circuit riders. Besides all that, there was a shift in the way Christians thought about the Christian faith in general, but also the Sacrament. It shifted focus to the Christian rather than the Lord’s Gifts and Promises.

That cultural shift also affected Lutherans even though our Catechism says, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared [for the Sacrament] who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Small Catechism, VI: Sacrament of the Altar) So, “we reject the teaching that worthiness comes not only from true faith, but also from a person’s own preparation.” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, VIII: The Lord’s Supper, § 124)

(III. Why did they gather to Break the Bread?)

Why gather to Break the Bread? What’s the reason behind receiving Sacrament? The reasoning is always the same, whether it’s in Jerusalem (Acts 2) or Troas (Acts 20) or Wittenberg or some other part of Europe or here or another congregation. Jesus’ own words hold the day: “My body, given for you; New Testament in My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Constantly preaching forgiveness and delivering forgiveness, especially in “The Breaking of the Bread” has one benefit that’s laid out in Acts 2: The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Through Baptism, through preaching, through the Sacrament, the Lord’s adding to His own. His own receive His Word and His Gifts with thanksgiving.

THE LORD USES THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD, AND ALL HIS MEANS OF GRACE, TO ADD TO THOSE WHO ARE BEING SAVED.

The Christians in Jerusalem believed like we do: “My body…my blood for you for the forgiveness of sins.” “For in the words you have both truths, that it is Christ’s body and blood, and that it is yours as a treasure and gift. Now Christ’s body can never be an unfruitful, empty thing that does or profits nothing.” (LC V § 30)

What does it profit? The forgiveness of sins, and a pastor named Ambrose once said, “Because I always sin, I always need to take the medicine.” (AP XXIV, § 33)“But whoever would gladly receive grace and comfort should drive himself and allow no one to frighten him away. Say, “I, indeed, would like to be worthy. But I come, not upon any worthiness [of my own], but upon [Christ’s] Word, because [He] commanded it. I come as one who would gladly be [His] disciple, no matter what becomes of my worthiness.” (LC V § 62)

“We must never think of the Sacrament as something harmful from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy that grants salvation and comfort. It will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. (LC V § 68)” “It’s the medicine of immortality, the antidote to not die but to live in Jesus Christ forever,” (Ignatius, Ephesians 2:20) as another pastor said long ago.

The words of the Catechism stand firm. These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. “Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say, forgiveness of sins.” (SC VI) “We believe, teach, and confess that no true believer ’as long as he has living faith, however weak he may be’ receives the Holy Supper to his judgment.” (Epitome of the Formula of Concord, VII: The Lord’s Supper, § 19)

(Conclusion.)

THE LORD USES THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD, AND ALL HIS MEANS OF GRACE, TO ADD TO THOSE WHO ARE BEING SAVED.

That’s how the Lord works for His people, “to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem,” even here.

᛭ INI ᛭

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