No. 02. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
*September 7, 2008 Bothwell & Clachan
Jesus Wants Me to Do What? - No. 02. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
A Communion Meditation - “Will the Circle be Unbroken?”
This morning’s message is not intended to be a full-length message which deals with all the points raised in the controversial verses read earlier this morning. My intention is to direct our thoughts and attention to this morning’s Communion Service or Lord’s Supper. That is why I choose the title, based on the old gospel song: “Will the Circle be Unbroken?” Whatever I say today is done with the intention of having our hearts and minds prepared for that observance at the end of this message.
Today as we look at two of Jesus’ very famous promises I will also have a request for you to consider. You may be surprised at this request. Basically, I am going to ask you this morning not to just blindly quote or claim these 2 verses without being aware that they come from this specific part of the Bible. And because of that pastoral request I am going to start from the end of these verses and work backwards.
Matthew 18:20 contains a promise of Jesus Presence Among us, while Matthew 18:19 contains a promise of Answers to Prayer.
JESUS PRESENCE AMONGST US
First we need to admit that not everyone believes that Jesus is among us.
Humour: Jesus Wasn’t There
Joyce Parsonm writes: My three-year-old grandson found a quarter in the driveway as the family left for church. When they returned home, he pulled it out of his pocket and handed it to his mother saying, "You can have this money, Mommy. I was going to give it to Jesus, but he wasn't there."
On the other hand some among us are very perceptive when it comes to being aware of Jesus.
Jesus Opens Doors
C.L. Null writes: The preschool Sunday school teacher was explaining to her class that Jesus would always be with them even though they could not see him.
"I already know that," piped up one 4-year-old. "He's the one who opens the door when we go into a store."
PROMISES IN THE BIBLE
Perhaps the most famous promise in the Bible about the presence of Jesus is found at the end of Matthew. There in Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus sends out all of his disciples and commands us to make disciples, baptize and teach. We refer to those verses as The Great Commission. And they close with the wonderful promise in verse 20 “ And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
It doesn’t get much better that that. Jesus is saying, “As you are going and serving me in this way I will be there for you.” And that also, by the way, is a statement in which Jesus is basically saying, “Oh yes, and I am God.” How else could he promise to be with us where ever we were forever and ever? That is your first promise for this morning and it wasn’t even in the regular Bible reading.
So here is my first request this morning: If you want to remind yourself or any one else that Jesus is with us please use Matthew 28:20 rather than the verse that was read earlier this morning from Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." And I’ll tell you why in a few moments.
A Three strand Cord
But first I have another promise for you from Ecclesiastes. It is that tiny book in the Old Testament that we rarely read but has those famous verses about a time for everything etc. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 there is a promise about a three stranded cord. Three-stranded cord, you ask? It goes like this:
9Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10If they fall down,
they can help each other up.
But pity those who fall
and have no one to help them up!
11Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
That makes sense, doesn’t it? We have probably all at one time braided three strands of something together and then been amazed at the strength that it took to separate them. It is the principle behind the creation of cord or cable. A year ago I was very glad for braided steel cable as Robert took up on the “Canopy Tour” at Haliburton Forest. As I walked on those thin boards, 3 stories up in the air, I was praying that they had not been purchased from the lowest bidder. There is strength in numbers. Sports teams do so much better when the individual stars try to complement the other player’s skills. When the final prize is awarded how often do we hear one of the players praise the “role” players on the team. These are ones who may not be stars but they still have a very special niche to fill on the roster. In the Bible, Paul talks about the needed roles within the church. In his first letters to the Church in the City of Corinth, he writes that not every one is a Missionary or an Evangelist, because that would be like having a body composed of only a giant eye or an ear (1 Corinthians 12).
Why mention “A cord of three strands” or of First Corinthians 12? Again it is because of this morning promise from Matthew 18:19, which talks about “agreeing together”. I want us to remember that there are other verses which mention this theme.
Agreeing together. They were still using the old Massey Hall when I attended my first, and probably only, symphony concert. Back then I was a Music student at the Bible College. Our professor had told use to listen and watch very carefully. One by one, the finest classical musicians in Toronto took their seats, instruments at the ready.
Then they began to play.
I cringed. It sounded more like rush hour outside my dorm window on Spadina Avenue.
The sound from that stage was more like that which might have been created if they had instead been torturing a thousand stray cats. But fortunately it was only scores of separate instruments tuning up. Each musician played without paying any attention to the others, and it sounded bad.
Then the conductor took the stand. The instruments fell silent. A hush came over the audience as he raised his baton. At the downbeat, an ocean of harmony cascaded into the auditorium. The musicians now played in concert with each other. Together they were an orchestra. Together they expressed sounds that simply couldn’t be created individually.
You might be surprised to know that Jesus called His people to be a symphony. In Matthew 18:19, He said, "If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name there am I with them".
The Greek word for agree in this passage is the one from which we derive our word symphony. When we are in agreement before the Lord in our lives and ministries—and in our worship together—the combined effect is like that of a symphony. So an “agreeing” symphony is just another word for a “Team” or a “Cell” group which is committed to working together.
A PASTOR’S REQUEST RE USING THE BIBLE
By this point I hope that some of you are at least asking yourselves: Why does Steve care which verses I quote or use from the Bible?
To answer that question, let me first say that I am grateful for an article from Discipleship Journal entitles: “The seven basic principles of interpretation.”
The seven basic principles of interpretation
1. Look for the author’s intended meaning.
2. Read a passage in context.
3. Identify the type of literature in the passage you are reading.
4. Consider the historical and cultural background of the Bible.
5. Consider the grammar and structure within the passage.
6. Interpret experience in the light of Scripture, not Scripture in the light of experience.
7. Always seek the full counsel of Scripture.
There are two of these points that are important when looking at this morning’s Bible reading. Number 2 tells us to read the verses in their immediate context, that is, in light of the verses which surround them; number 7 reminds us to keep in mind what the other passages in the Bible say about our topic.
Based on those two principles it is very clear that these two verses (Matthew 18:19-20) are not a broad statement about prayer or even about Jesus’ presence. Again if you would like a broad promise about prayer, use the one found in John 15:7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” There are many verses like that in the Bible.
Rather, the context of today’s verses centres on these instructions for diffusing conflicts within a Church. They focus on sin within the church. We are not perfect! Jesus has already anticipated our need of discipline and reconciliation. Jesus is saying that when these regrettable events take place that God is particularly attentive to our efforts to reconcile wayward brothers and sisters or to carry out appropriate discipline based upon biblical guidelines. In such situations we have God’s ear.
So this should not be taken as a carte blanche for prayer. Rather, that topic can be clearly seen by seeking the teaching of the many other texts on prayer; we can learn the importance of believing (Mt. 21:22), agreement with God’s will (1 John 5:14–15), humility (Luke 18:14), and forgiveness (Mark 11:25) etc.
Now we all know that the Holy Spirit of God can take any of the words of the Bible and apply them to our hearts as he wishes, but my request this morning is that we at least be aware of where some of the verses originate that we are so quick to quote. Regarding these two instances this morning I have tried to provide you with a few alternatives.
So what does happen when we get together as Christians? Most Baptists love getting together to eat. Writer and Educator Howard Hendricks once asked: “How in the world did the early church “fellowship” without coffee and donuts?” I don’t know!
An eternal promise
But I do want us to also focus on the presence of Jesus with us this morning. At the beginning I said that this was to be a Communion Meditation - “Will the Circle be Unbroken?” And by that I mean that it does not really matter whichever verse you choose to use, if Jesus has promised to be here and if you and I have agreed to meet with here with him and with one another, then yes, the circle truly can be unbroken. We come in our brokenness to celebrate his willingness to be our suffering sacrifice. And we do it in light of his promise from Matthew 28:20 “I am with you until the end of the age.”
So if that promise is true it does not matter if there are a handful of us in Clachan or a room full in Bothwell. He is here. He is God. Let us meet him “At the Cross”. Our Communion Hymn “At the Cross” is at #143 - Verses 1-2.
 Joyce Parsonm, Concord, North Carolina. Christian Reader, "Kids of the Kingdom."
 C.L. Null, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Christian Reader, "Kids of the Kingdom."
The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), Ec 4:9-12.
Publisher Paul Westervelt, Discipleship Journal, Issue 132 (November/December 2002) (NavPress, 2002; 2006).
Publisher Paul Westervelt, Discipleship Journal, Issue 89 (September/October 1995) (NavPress, 1995; 2006).
Publisher Paul Westervelt, Discipleship Journal, Issue 89 (September/October 1995) (NavPress, 1995; 2006).
 Howard Hendricks, Leadership, Vol. 1, no. 3.