Look for a Second

On the first day of the week we worship because Christ rose from the dead; the first day changes all the other days for good. Likewise, His resurrection, though only something that happened once, is just the first of many in a different way. He will not rise from the dead again, but because He did many more will after Him.

Paul told the Corinthians,

in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20–23, ESV)

On the first day of the week we remember the first fruits. “First fruits” is one Greek word, ἀπαρχή, a word that refers to the beginning that represented more. Just as there is no need for an outline without at least two points, so a first signals us to look for a second, for a succession. Paul called Jesus the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18), the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).

We are an army of new men, the offspring of His offering. Supernatural life was breathed into us. We have hope not only in this life but in the life to come. We are no people to be pitied, we are a people purchased and raised and promised the glory of an imperishable body. Jesus is the first fruits and we are part of the rest of the resurrection harvest.

Blessed Forever

Since the Sunday of New Year’s Eve I have focused our exhortations to confession around the idea of being blessed. We’ve seen 13 #blesseds so far, and this will be the final one for [this series], though certainly not the last one found in the Scriptures.

The reason for the focus, as you may remember, is rooted in the belief that God will give such great blessing to the church across many nations that will provoke jealousy among the elect unbelievers to cause them to desire salvation and blessing in Christ. This has special concentration on the end times, receiving and rejoicing in our blessings so well that a generation of Israelites will believe and be saved.

The final blessing for attention fits both with that scheme of eschatology and with Easter.

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)

This is the fifth of seven blessings in the Revelation, and the blessing is resurrection and reigning. The “first resurrection” includes all those who believe in Christ and die physically before His return; it’s us, the church. The “second death” is eternal death, and it cannot harm the believers at all; it has no teeth.

The blessed will be resurrected to “reign with him for a thousand years.” This is the millennial kingdom, and we believe that this is actually 1,000 years of Jesus’ future reign as Lord on earth over every nation, and it’s us, with Him. We’re not there yet, but we will be.

God’s blesses His people with the hope of resurrection, He blesses His people with actual resurrection, and He blesses His people post-resurrection as they share in His kingdom. It is all because of Christ. In Him we come to life and reign with Him. We are blessed and will be blessed day and night forever and ever.

The Obedience of Cancer

Doug Wilson on The Obedience of Cancer:

“this cancer is right where it is because it is being obedient–and we don’t want to be less obedient than the cancer is being. And that means trusting the Lord who does all things well. He assigns a place to everything, and I need to be more concerned about being obedient in my assigned station than I am distraught at the inconvenience created by something else being obedient in its assigned station.”

Drinking the Purchase Price

We know that we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). There have been many people that were born into the world who knew guilt but who never knew that a sacrifice was made for their guilt. Christians are not those people. We have had the gospel preached to us, and many of us have believers in our family tree going back generations. Even if you do not have a long personal history, we live in a time and place dominated by the price paid on the cross.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. We remember when Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing that it was time to make the payment. He had been storing up payment for thirty years, blood, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot, that was completely without sin.

Paul told the Ephesian elders to work in light of this price.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Paul’s exhortation was to the shepherds, and Richard Baxter wrote an entire book rooted in the soil of this one verse titled The Reformed Pastor. As with Paul, Baxter addressed leaders, and here is one of his most pointed questions: “If sin be evil, why do you live in it? If it be not, why do you dissuade men from it?”

Let us borrow that and apply it to those coming to the Lord’s Table. “If sin be evil, why do you live in it? If it be not, why do you drink the purchase price week after week?” We have opportunity to confess our sin each Sunday earlier in the service, but we still don’t want to forget that we were bought with a price, His own blood, and so we also ought to pay close attention to ourselves and our sanctification.

Choices as Saints

On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, when He knew that His hour had come to die, He described the blessed life to His disciples.

Actually, before He described the blessing, He gave a demonstration, by taking up a towel and washing the feet of His guys. It was an act of love. It was an act of humility. It was the way of obedience. And it was an example for them to follow.

I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you….If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:15, 17)

The #blessed life is not the life that can retell the story of Jesus before the Passover Feast. The #blessed life is not the life that can explain the theological parts of our need to be washed. The #blessed life is not even the life that recognizes a difference between being a servant and master, and that knows that Jesus is the Lord and Teacher. The #blessed life is the life of obedience.

The apostle James knew it too.

The one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:25)

But aren’t Jesus and James too focused on the externals? Shouldn’t they be more concerned about the heart? That’s just it, they are concerned about the heart. They are so concerned about it that they expect that what is in the heart will be visible in obedience.

Don’t be deceived, hearing about pride from the Word but then not considering what pride is in your life that must be mortified. The same goes for worldliness, sexual immorality, and anger. Get specific about your sins to confess, and get specific about your choices as saints. Blessed are you not just when you know, but when you do.

(For a chapter’s worth of blessing for obedience and cursing on disobedience read Deuteronomy 28.)

Limbs and Organs

We are limbs and organs of Christ’s body. Each one is a individual unit of the complex and complete unit. We are in Him, He is in us. We are one with Christ, so what we do with our bodies Christ participates in.

It happens at the communion table. Paul contrasted two types of participation when it comes to eating and drinking.

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). The participation is a sharing, a unity, an all-togetherness.

Paul illustrated with the Israelite sacrifices. When they ate the meat from the altar they were participating in the sacrifice.

The contrast was with another offering. When pagans offered meat to idols, to eat that meat was to participate with demons. But Paul wrote, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21). The two are mutually exclusive, one or the other. We shouldn’t eat at more than one table.

Mediate on what this communion meal does to all of your associations. Remember Christ’s blood, shed to cover unrighteousness, and receive the blessing of the cup. Remember Christ’s body, given to reconcile rebels to God and enemies to one another, and partake of the oneness. We eat and drink here who we are, the body of Christ. And when we leave we take the body with us.

Cosmic and Concentrated

Blessing runs in two directions at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We bless God, which is to say that we glorify Him in praise, and He blesses us, which is to say that He gives us favor; He protects and provides and gladdens. We bless because He first blessed us.

The Father’s blessing to us is both cosmic and concentrated. He blesses us “with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.” I’m not totally sure what to do with that, other than thinking that it’s real good. Every blessing, as in, not missing one? And heavenly places, as in, the places where thieves can’t break in and steal and moths can’t eat away and rust can’t corrupt? In the heavenlies is the seat of His rule, the place His will is always done speedily and gladly. Our blessings are limited only by the Father’s ideas and abilities and resources.

Our blessings are also centered. The Father “has blessed us in Christ” (verse 3). The Father has predestined us to receive grace in such a stunning way so that it praises the glory of His grace, and “he has blessed us in the Beloved” (verse 6) with this grand grace.

“In Him” we were chosen to be holy and blameless (verse 4). “In Him” we have redemption and forgiveness (verse 7). “In Christ” we see the working of God’s plan for the fulness of time (verse 10). “In Him” we have obtained an inheritance (verse 11). “In Him” we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (verse 14).

All of these blessings are in Christ, and we who believe are in Him. We are blessed in Him who is over all things and who fills all in all.

A Table of Reckoning

When Jesus told His disciples to eat and drink in “remembrance of Me,” He wanted them to think especially of Him in body to death. His flesh and blood were the means by which God’s wrath was absorbed against our sin. The cross was a reckoning, a settling of accounts so that God could be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Christ. That makes the communion table a table of reckoning, a sign of Christ’s atoning substitute for all who would ever believe.

When we eat the bread and drink the cup we reckon that it’s true; Jesus died and rose again. When we come to this table we also reckon that it’s true for us. We died with Christ and have been raised in Him.

We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin….Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again. (Romans 6:6, 8-9)

We believe the truth of the gospel account, and then we believe the truth that we died and rose again in Him.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)

The translation “consider” could be “count” (NIV) or “reckon” (KJV). This is a table of reckoning. As you hold the bread and wine, hold to the reality by faith. We partake of the signs of God reckoning with sin on Christ, and as we partake we reckon that our union with Christ matters for everything.

Sex Is for Fruit

“Blessed the man that fears Jehovah and that walketh in His ways.” Yes, and amen to the one-hundred and twenty-eighth Psalm. And what form does the blessing referred to in verse 1 take? In addition to eating the fruit of the field (verse 2), God’s blessing includes enjoying the fruit of the womb (verse 3).

Sex is a blessing, for enjoyment and pleasure and closeness in marriage. Sex is for fun, and sex is for fruit. This fruit is a blessing, says God. The man blessed by the Lord will have children “like olive shoots around his table.” By the Lord’s blessing he may even see his “children’s children,” his grandchildren (verse 6).

Recognizing this blessing does not require that every married couple needs to have as many kids as they possibly could. It does mean that every newly married couple should not reject this blessing on principle. Recognizing this blessing also means finding days-old, dried-up pieces of pasta stuck to the floor underneath the kitchen table, or the fine powder of fist-crushed pretzels in the crevices underneath the car seat in the back of the van. It means inconveniently timed disobediences to deal with, or inconveniently timed emotional breakdowns to work through, or math homework that needs to be rewritten for the fifth time, while you watch.

But these are part of the olive shoots. These are part of the blessing. And too many of our kids don’t get that we get that they are blessings. They have father hunger rather than hunger to father. So they think that growing up and getting married is about the ceremonial wedding-dress pageant, or for the honeymoon-night undressing, or they run the other way and think that God thinks less of all those things and only wants us to be “spiritual.”

God bless us with kids, and God bless our kids with a vision of generational fruitfulness rather than merely moments of satisfying their physical pleasures.

Has Beens

There is only one kind of sinner who isn’t welcome at the Lord’s Table. Sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, effeminacy, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkenness, scoffing, and cheating are not prohibitive as long as they are past tense. These are representative sins, they are some of the “biggies,” and so long as “such were some of you,” so good.

The only kind of sinner who isn’t welcome at the Lord’s Table is the unrepentant. Have you repented? Have you called your sin, sin, according to God’s Word? Have you trusted in God’s Son who died on the cross in order to satisfy God’s wrath against unrighteousness? Have you received God’s Spirit, who dwells in every believer as a guarantee of eternal inheritance? Then, according to the good news, you have been cleansed, you have been consecrated, you have been confirmed by the Judge of Righteousness as one accepted by Him.

So we are all a bunch of “has beens.” You has been greedy, I has been angry, we has been ungrateful, but all of that was nailed to the cross. He has been a hater of his brother, she has been a gossip about her sister, but no more, because Jesus is raised from the dead.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And week by week as we commune around the Lord’s Table we make no compromises with the unrighteousness around us. We declare to the unrighteous that they can be has beens, too, but only through Christ. “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The glory of the cross makes us the most thankful has beens ever.