The sign of the old covenant was circumcision. There were other signs and symbols given by God to Israel to designate them as His own, but circumcision was the specific covenant mark. The sign of the new covenant is not baptism, at least it isn’t ever connected as such in the New Testament. While there are some similarities between the two initiating rites, especially that both happen at the beginning and ideally only once, nowhere do we read in the Bible about Christian baptism and a covenant.
We do, however, hear Jesus teaching about the connection between a meal and a covenant. “On the night when he was betrayed” He gave thanks to His Father and gave bread to His men. Then, giving thanks to His Father again, “he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
The old covenant was not as good. The author of Hebrews says “Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). Then Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31, leaving in all the parts about “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
The blood of Jesus acquired and sealed the new covenant promise. That does not, though, mean that Jesus’ blood finished the covenant. Obviously it didn’t. His word guaranteed it, His blood obtained it, and His Spirit will complete it.
So there is both an already and a not yet as well as an in addition. Those of the household of Israel who believed in the first century and centuries since are evidence of the beginning of what still will be finished, atonement and restoration. Gentiles also who believed in Paul’s day and in ours are evidence of God’s grace to extend salvation to the nations. This meal is a long session in the same direction.
Why does God forgive anyone? We come near the beginning of our worship service to confess our sins and seek His cleansing and forgiveness. God says that He will forgive those who repent and believe. He sent His Son as a substitute so that He could grant forgiveness without undermining justice. There is no question that He does forgive, but why does He do it?
He forgives because we need it. Men have been rebelling against His commands since Eden and breaking fellowship with Him. All are guilty before Him, we all stand in need of forgiveness, a need He sees and meets. He is the God of need-meeting. But forgiveness runs deeper than that.
Forgiveness is first subjective and then objective. By subjective and objective I don’t mean forgiveness is just God’s perception, let alone our perception, rather than reality. I mean that, in the simple gospel statement, “God forgives sinners,” the subject of the sentence takes priority over the object. He is the God of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not peculiar to God but it is essential to God. God forgives because that’s who He is.
As Jewish pilgrims sang on their way to Jerusalem for worship, “If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness so that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4). This isn’t because He loves to hold it over our heads, always ready to remind us of what He could have done to us. “Remember that time when you…?” We fear Him, we stand in awe of Him, not only because He could have crushed us instead of forgiving us. We stand in awe because He forgives like a great fountain flows. He promises to forgive. He loves to forgive. He is eager to forgive. Forgiveness is not a reluctant position He takes to meet a quota. Spurgeon once said about Bunyan that if you pricked him, he would bleed bibline. If we could prick God anywhere, He bleeds forgiveness.
In Luke’s account of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper, he chases the eating and drinking with two surprising things.
The first thing that Luke relates after the New Covenant meal is that “a dispute arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). This may not be the correct chronology, as both Matthew’s account and John’s account of the night of Jesus’ betrayal do not mention this argument between the disciples as happening between the Last Supper and Gethsemane. But it is interesting that Luke would back the two events together. Jesus just said that He was going to suffer, that His blood would be poured out after a betrayal. Then Luke wrote that His men were fighting like kids. It may be because they didn’t fully understand yet, which they didn’t, and it could also be some because men still think that those who serve are not the greatest. Jesus said, “But I am among you as one who serves.”
The second and very next thing that Luke records, after describing the Supper and the greatness of serving, is the coming Kingdom in which His disciples would have positions of greatness.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30).
Now would have been a great time for Jesus to correct their false expectations about a national Messiah-King fulfilling Old Testament prophecies concerning the Lord’s rule on earth. Not only did Jesus not correct those expectations, He made them even more personal for His disciples.
The communion table is a foretaste of the Table of the King. We eat and drink around it, not in expectation of a great allegorical table in the sky, but in expectation that Jesus will return in body and reign just as He said. There will be physical bread and wine, and thrones, and we will see them because He gave body and blood for us.
There is a way that we must hate the things of earth so that we can also love the things of earth in a different way. In order to change the world we must not be slaves to the world; we cannot worship the world and offer that to God. That’s idolatry, and the Lord is jealous for His own glory.
So let us take very seriously our responsibility to hate the things of earth as God defines the things of earth. We must take extreme measures as individuals and as a church to deal with “what is earthly” in us.
In Colossians 3:5-11 Paul gives three commands: 1) put to death, 2) put away, and 3) do not lie.
We must “put to death what is earthly” in us, and that includes any sort of sexual sin, whether in our hearts or with our parts. We must kill greed, which is the functional equivalent of idolatry, sacrificing ourselves for the pleasures of money rather than for the pleasures of God. But “on account of these the wrath of God is coming.” Therefore, mortify sin for sake of honoring the marriage bed on earth. Put sin to death in order to be generous with wealth in this world.
We must also “put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk.” This verb could be translated “take off,” as if we were wearing soiled and stained clothes. The contrast comes in the next paragraph with “put on” the character of Christ. Don’t put on rage and bitterness, those are earthly things. Instead, put on kindness and patience here and now. Put on thankful diligence in the work God gives.
And then “do not lie to one another.” We are people of the truth because we are not what we used to be.
Our new selves are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Creation is not the problem, our sin is the problem, and we must be ruthless in repenting from it or it will ruin us. As John Owen wrote, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Our fellowship around the communion table is in faith. What we have in common is Christ, and how we hold onto Him is also the same: by faith.
Because we rely on Jesus, when we gather around the table we like to tell stories about those who lived (and died) by faith.
I love how tired the author of Hebrews got when giving history to his readers about those “of whom the world was not worthy.” The writer got through a lot of specific stories, from Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Moses and others. But then he either was running out of papyrus or patience.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32–34)
They did their work in the world ”through faith.”
But this isn’t the only way to live in the world through faith.
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35–38)
By faith we do stuff. We try to win, and sometimes we do when God gives the victory. We try to win, and sometimes we don’t when God grants us not only to believe in Christ but also suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29). We try to win, and sometimes, the way of victory is to die to bring life, the story we remember at the Lord’s Table.
One word Christians don’t seem to use as much as they once did is the word “godliness.” It’s a biblical word, one used frequently in the pastoral epistles. When Paul wrote to Titus he identified himself as a servant and an apostle, and the reason for those roles was “the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.”
The Greek word for godliness is eusebia and it means “a life devoted to revering God.” This piety is the goal of faith and knowledge. The object of faith is Jesus, the end of faith is godliness. The knowledge we seek is “of the truth,” and that truth has a form. True-truth fits with, it agrees with godliness.
Paul told Timothy that godliness is proper for women and goes along with their “good works” (1 Timothy 2:10). Godliness is the opposite of believing silly myths, which are easy to swallow, but godliness is something to “train” for (1 Timothy 4:7). Training for godliness is comparable to bodily training which is of some value, but “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
Peter also told his readers that God’s power has given His people “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Christ” (2 Peter 1:3), and that we are to intentionally “make every effort to supplement” our faith with, among other things, godliness (2 Peter 1:7).
As wings to a bird so is godliness to a believer. Are you spreading your wings or are you in a nose dive because sin has pinned your wings to your back? People of faith, people of he truth, ought to be easily identified as those devoted to revering God.
If you were God and wanted a way for people to remember the most important event in human history, what program would you use? More than a watershed event, this is the Son of Your love, Your eternal glory, who enfleshed obedience and sacrifice to purchase a people for life. How will you move the redeemed to remember and rejoice?
We might be tempted to focus on the mental aspect. After all, memory is the brain’s territory. Once the truth is in there, we need a trigger to recall it. We could also support it with specifics to remind us about the scope of this truth—say, that God planned it before the foundation of the world, and the comparative value of the truth—the resurrection of God-incarnate means more than any other resurrection. We can do quite a lot on the inside of our heads and all on our own.
This is what maybe most Christians make of communion in the individualist West. We are separated from one another, separated from connection with place and time. We are even tempted to be separated from our tongues. If we could just visualize communion, wouldn’t that be easier? Wouldn’t that make it less likely to get messed up by forgotten salt in the bread or by bitter wine from the bottom of the bottle or by a slow family at the start of the procession to the table? Isn’t communion about remembering Jesus?
It is, and Jesus instituted a meal for us. Words explain it; we don’t disengage our reason. But words explain it, that is the table and the bread and the cup of wine and the plural number of particular persons with faces and names. The symbols are not empty or superfluous. The eating and drinking together are not wasted physical motions. God cares about who He’s saved and that includes what He’s made them to be. Your body may be broken for now, but He has promised you a healed one for eternity, purchased by the giving of Jesus’ body for you.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus listened as Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself, and their hearts burned. Earlier in His ministry Jesus had talked with some other Jews who were serious Bible studiers. They searched the Scriptures. They didn’t do it to disprove God’s Word, they did it with confidence that they would find eternal life in there.
Yet Jesus claimed that while they knew some of the finer points they had missed the entire point. They knew the details and they didn’t actually know God (John 5:39).
Jesus confronted the Sadducees over a similar problem when some of them came with a Bible question. They wanted to know how the law of Moses—specifically the law about a younger brother marrying his deceased older brother’s wife—fit with the teaching on resurrection. Before giving them the answer Jesus told them, “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). But again, their question was based on the Scriptures.
What did these men need to repent from? They needed to repent from the very thing they considered their righteousness. They needed to repent from their Bible reading.
Of course it’s not the Bible that’s the problem, it’s the reading. There is a way to read and search and know the Bible that isn’t enough. It is to read partially, or academically, or for the purpose of impressing others with what we know. But reading the Bible should make us want the glory that comes from God not that comes from man. And reading the Scriptures to know Jesus should show that Jesus is interested in more than just our Bible reading.
It is not enough to be delivered out of the land of weak theology and topical-topic sermons, but still complain and not obey. Some have itching ears for sermons that make them feel better about themselves, yes, and others of us have itching ears for expositional sermons that make us feel better that we aren’t like “other men,” like the unrighteous (see Luke 18:11). Let us repent whenever we need to, including when we find ourselves missing the point while staring at the pages.
The Christian life is a life in the body. Paul told the Roman church to present their bodies as living sacrifices as part of their spiritual worship (Romans 12). He warned the Corinthians about sexual sins against the body, because “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you. You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
He made us with bodies, He redeems us to “control [our own bodies] in holiness and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4), and He promises that, we, with Job, will see our Redeemer in our flesh (Job 19:25-26).
God affirmed our body-ness by giving one to His own Son; the Word became flesh (John 1:14). And God declared Christ Jesus to be the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).
Jesus was eager to show the disciples His hands and feet post-resurrection.
he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:38–39)
Jesus died in the flesh. Jesus lives in the flesh. Jesus told us to eat His flesh and drink His blood in our flesh and blood.
We receive His grace-strength by faith, but that grace-strength is not for sake of mystical good-feels and holy-thinks. That grace-strength enables us to listen with our ears, to speak truth in love with our mouths, to take the gospel with our feet, and to make lunch/wash clothes/write code with our hands, all for Him.
Those who believe in the sovereignty of God ought to be the most kind instead of belligerent, and the most patient instead of panicked, in discussions with those who disagree. This is true logically; it is inconsistent to act as if you make the difference while saying that God makes the difference. So it is an issue of being consistent. It is also an issue of obeying God’s command.
the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24–25)
Act in accordance with your doctrine, and that doctrine is displayed in the next sentence. As the Lord’s servant behaves himself, “God may perhaps grant them repentance.” Turning from sin is a gift of God, a work of His independent grace.
But what particularly interests me is the result of repentance. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”
Repentance precedes knowledge. Sin is blindness,. and God gives the gift of open eyes. Sin is willful error, and God gives the gift of hating falsehood. Sin is slavery to lies, and God gives the gift of freedom from confusion.
This is God’s work in unbelievers, those who are caught in “the snare of the devil,” those who were “captured by him to do his will.”
As it applies to spiritually dead men repenting toward a knowledge of the truth, let us not forget that spiritually alive men still need to repent, and our repentance will result in knowing more truth. We are rescued from the devil’s stranglehold, but we are not without need of correction. Sometimes our sin makes us stupid, and we learn when we turn.