Not in Me

Pharaoh paid a great compliment to Joseph before seeing any of Joseph’s work for himself. “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” But Joseph answered, “It is not in me” (Genesis 41:16). He knew he had nothing that he had not received. For however audacious he’d been telling his own dreams to his brothers and father, he’d been humbled for the last thirteen years, sold as a slave and then serving as a prisoner. Joseph knew, at least by now if not before, that God was the source of his wisdom.

The Lord’s Table is a similar light on our interpretation of things. We could start to think that we belong here by nature of our righteousness or faithfulness or endurance. Another person could say, in a less than complimentary tone, that we think we’re so holy. But the bread and the wine remind us that salvation and redemption and righteousness are not in us.

We sing a song sometimes on Sunday mornings titled, “Not in Me.” Here are some of the key lyrics:

No list of sins I have not done,

No list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like,

Can earn myself a place with You.

No humble dress, no fervent prayer,

No lifted hands, no tearful song,

No recitation of the truth

Can justify a single wrong.

No separation from the world,

No work I do, no gift I give,

Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;

I cannot cause my soul to live.

Jesus is our life. Jesus paid our debt to death. Jesus bore our load of guilt. So “He alone can give me rest.”

As we celebrate this meal together by faith we proclaim that we’ve been lifted up from the pit of sin and guilt and death by Him alone.

After the Final Amen

Of all the petitions that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, the only one He clarified after the final amen, so to speak, was the request for forgiveness. There’s certainly more that Jesus could have said about the coming of His kingdom; that could have been really helpful for our eschatology. He could have said more about what things are like in heaven and how that would translate here on earth. Instead He followed up on forgiveness.

Not only is forgiveness comparative, the Father forgives as we forgive others, forgiveness is conditional. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). The key word in verse 12 is as, the key word in the clarification is if.

We believe that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself. We believe that salvation is through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation is not by obedience, including our obedience to forgive others. In fact, if we were actually justified by our forgiving then none of us could be forgiven. The psalmist asked, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” So also, If God should mark our resentment toward those who’ve sinned against us, who could stand?

There must be some way to understand this qualification without seeing it as a way of “practicing our righteousness before other people”; who has ever said, “No wonder God likes me so much, I always forgive”? Yet the condition in verses 14-15 is as easy to shake off as DNA, meaning, we can’t. There is a spiritual reality in place. Sons of the Father act like the Father. If we are not forgiving, what makes us think that we are sons of the Father of forgiveness? If we are not forgiving, what makes us think that He accepts hypocrites?

So, if you don’t or won’t or just can’t forgive, then why do you think you should be forgiven? If that’s the case then you don’t want forgiveness, you want acknowledgement from God that you don’t need it. But that is just what you can’t have.

Exsultamus!

Perhaps one reason why some young people in the church grow up and walk away from the faith is because they have not celebrated communion enough or because they have not celebrated it at all. This Table is a central location where the church and parents need to disciple young believers.

There is a wrong way to do right things. Observing the Lord’s Table in a way that stirs up guilt more than hope, that triggers shame more than joy, that prompts uncertainty more than peace, is dissonant with the gospel and dangerous to souls. A regular diet of doubt and fear not only doesn’t make the diet appealing, it makes faint Christians.

Infrequent celebration, or observation, is like an annual family meal, or maybe a quarterly repast. When we are around the Table we connect. We are reminded of who we are and how we’re related. We catch up and, if we mess up, we make up. We get right with one another because that’s what families do. More biblically, that’s what Jesus does for families that follow Him. It’s worth doing weekly.

Is it so surprising that young people who may never have seen joy at the Table aren’t interested in it, or who, when they saw the adults value it on a yearly basis, decided it must not have that much value after all?

We rejoice—exsultamus!—that Jesus is our Savior (Titus 3:4-6), our Lord (Romans 1:4; 10:9), our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), our firstborn Brother (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:17), and our example (1 Peter 2:21). We rejoice that He died, was buried, and rose again to defeat sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 5:21). We rejoice that we are His Body (Ephesians 1:22-23), and that He blesses all who participate in the blood of Christ and partake of the body of Christ by faith in remembrance of Him (1 Corinthians 10:16). As often as we eat this bread and drink the cup we exult in our Lord by faith (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The “Oh, no!” Conjunction

In the middle of the next petition in the Lord’s Prayer is a small word labeled by some Greek grammarians as the “Oh no!” conjunction. Actually the lexicons and syntax books call it a comparative conjunction, and this comparison cuts the conscience. Other names for this conjunction could be the “Conviction” conjunction, the “Are you serious?” conjunction, or the “Hypocrite’s Log-puller” conjunction.

The prayer Jesus teaches His disciples includes: “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). There are three key words: debts, forgive, and as.

Debt here is more than a financial obligation, it is a relational obligation caused by a wrong. These are debts caused by sin. We do not owe our heavenly Father any money. We owe Him thanks and obedience, but we failed to make all our payments. So we ask the Father to forgive us, to cancel the debt. We’re asking Him daily, just as we do for our bread, to remit the balance.

Even though Jesus hadn’t died yet at this point in His ministry, there is no hint that forgiveness from the Father was in question. Yet the Father is still watching for something.

“Forgive us … as we forgive.” Is it better to be forgiven as we forgive others or is it harder to forgive others as Jesus forgives us (see Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13)? Both seem impossible, the latter because Jesus forgives perfectly and the former because we keep records of wrongs against us perfectly.

The Father forgives us as we forgive:

  • our fussy spouses
  • our unthankful children
  • our overbearing parents
  • our annoying siblings
  • our passive aggressive neighbors

Did the disciples have any follow up on this? Perhaps they did, or Jesus anticipated that they would, since this is the only part of the prayer Jesus returns to when the prayer itself is finished (see verses 14-15). I’ll come back to those addenda next week, but the “Oh No” conjunction should be enough of a mirror to humble us in confession before the Father.

Familiarity Breeds

Since I’m a pastor and since I am responsible for much of the Lord’s Day liturgy at our assembly’s worship, I’m often asked what our Sunday morning service looks like. When I get to the part about having weekly communion, the follow-up question is typically, “Doesn’t that make it not special after a while?”

There are short answers, which is what I usually give (don’t be too surprised). I often say, “Not yet by God’s grace.” Still, we understand where the question comes from, and yet it is surprising that Christians are so fearful.

The truism we believe is that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s catchy, and we can see how that could be used as a diagnostic to explain why we have contempt for something. Now that I think about it, I’d much rather blame “familiarity” than something in my own heart. Yet (my/your) ignorance also empowers contempt, as do (my/your) pride and (my/your) envy.

I was meditating on the assumed power in the verb: familiarity breeds. Breeding doesn’t happen by proxy, there are no breeders emeritus, you cannot sign up for distance breeding. Husbands become fathers through familiarity with their wives. Why don’t Christians ask if marital familiarity is dangerous? Maybe Christians are too spiritual to ask it out loud, maybe some do think it. But familiarity is powerful to produce fruit.

In the Bible, familiarity with God breeds panic and praise, weeping and worship, dread and joy. As it turns out, familiarity isn’t the problem, we are the problem. Dinner with the family every night could become monotonous if mom despised the work and dad despised the interruption and the kids despised being despised. But when there is familiarity with sacrificial love and intention, contempt doesn’t have a place at the table.

The Lord’s Supper doesn’t stay special because of it’s scarcity, but by our increasing in the knowledge of God that grows our affections for and gratitude to Him.

Right Out of the Oven

Halfway into Matthew’s rendering of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus provides the most temporal of all the requests: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Bread stands for food, the kind of physical sustenance a man survives on, provided he doesn’t have celiac disease. You’d think that the Great Physician would have taken that into account. Probably He did. Bread is good, gluten and all, though some don’t have the guts to enjoy it.

We are to ask God to provide us with food, with bodily nourishment. Fasting is appropriate, see verses 16-18, but all fasting all the time leads to no life in which to fast.

The food we pray for is “daily,” bread, a “for today” bread, and we ask for it “today.” Without electric refrigerators, added preservatives, and sufficient shelf-space, quotidian bread makes sense for a 1st century petition. But even more so it reminds us that our dependence on God should be fresh. Daily as in right out of the oven is something to want, not necessarily a sign of want.

It is easy to think that we don’t need to pray this part of the prayer because we have weeks’ worth of food in the house, or to run the other direction and think that we must put ourselves in a position to only have daily food. Apathy and taking food for granted is one problem, false guilt and ascetic legalism is another.

The point is that God gives food. He must make the sun shine and the rain fall and the seed sprout. He must make yeast rise in the loaf and hold delivery trucks down on the road. He also must make cows masticate grass into milk for us to churn into butter for our bread. No stage in the process happens apart from Him holding the world together. Praying for our daily bread is a way to stay dependent and thankful.