The Place of the Sulk

When we think about our salvation by grace and the fruits of grace that would provoke others to jealousy, even elect Israel (Romans 11:11), we do not deny “the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha” (John 19:17). We call it Calvary, from the Latin, Calvariae meaning “skull.” Jesus was tortured, mocked, and crucified at Calvary. He was crucified as a sinner so that He could be a substitute for sinners.

Because of His death, He is our righteousness, our eternal life, our present and our future. So we should not turn our remembrance of the place of the skull into the place of the sulk. We’re at this Table by invitation of the King. We’re here because He paid for us to be.

Why might a communicant sulk?

  • forgetting one’s forgiveness in Christ, or not seeking it
  • giving too much credit to sin, acting as if guilt can’t be covered by Christ
  • holding a grudge against another member of the body of Christ
  • judging another member of the body for not appreciating communion with Christ like you do

We desire fruit, but a garden can be full of all sorts of rotten fruit. A rotten-fruited garden does not make anyone jealous. “How did you get all that rotten fruit? We were wanting to make something just like it for ourselves!”

Bread tastes good, wine gladdens the heart, the word of the cross is the power of God. So celebrate! Sing! Smile! Enjoy! It isn’t because of what we’ve done. We can’t forgive ourselves or cover our sin or make fruit grow. Jesus paid. Jesus saves. Jesus lifts. Reckon it so, and rejoice! Our kids should want in. The elect of all nations should want what we have in Jesus.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)

Shape and Cadence

In perhaps the most well-known passage about salvation by grace through faith, one word is used three times. It isn’t grace, it isn’t faith, it isn’t saved, it isn’t Christ or God. The word is works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10)

We are not saved by works. No man can be justified with God by obedience or good-doing. Perfect law-keeping of God’s standard was only attained by one man, Christ Jesus. We receive His work on our behalf so we cannot boast in what we have done.

In addition to regeneration, the sovereign grace of our Savior recreated us so that we are His “workmanship.” We are divine work-product, made alive with Christ to be like Him and to do for Him. Our new lives have a designed shape and cadence, like a statue or a poem, but much more than a stationary stone or printed sentence. We are alive “for good works.” We can’t be saved by works but we are saved for works.

This has been God’s goal all along. The branches for our fruit have a particular direction, a determined thickness, a certain color according to His desire. He prepared these works “beforehand,” like a map, “that we should walk in them.”

We still don’t get to boast. Our works are His working and willing in us (Philippians 2:13). But this means we also don’t get to coast. He knows the plans He has for us, plans to make us productive, to give us a heavy basket of fruitfulness. He made us alive to follow the course of His Word, following the Prince of Peace, through the Spirit that is now at work among the sons of obedience.

Is binge-watching Netflix the good works God planned for us? How about non-stop social media scrolling or cable news captivation? Video gaming? How many other ways of consuming rather than working are we excusing?

Differences Are Assumed

It’s proverbial that everyone puts their pants on the same way: one leg at a time. And, not everyone wears the same size, type, or color of pants. Also, not everyone does the same work in their pants once they’ve got them on. This is not a deep parable.

We who come to the communion table hold something precious in common: our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16) We all share Christ, and we come to the table the same way, the only open way: by faith.

But we are not all equal in every way. We are equal in Christ and part of the same body, but we are not the same part of the body. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body for we all partake of one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

What does eating the “one bread” mean? It means that divisions are not allowed. But being “many” means that differences are assumed.

We have different testimonies, but one Savior. We have different parents and family backgrounds, but one Father in heaven. We have different spiritual gifts, but one Spirit who gives them. We have different tastes, but one goal to glorify God whether we eat or drink. We have different genders, but one Creator who made both male and female to bear His image. We have different futures, but also the same, proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes.

“In one Spirit we are all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). We come to the Table the same way and, once we’ve shared the same bread, we go out to follow the individual callings God has for us.

Broccoli for Dinner

The sage preacher once said, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Sinners can be teachable, especially when others are getting caught. They’re not concerned about violating a principle but about avoiding punishment. In Solomon’s day a delay could occur between the sentence being sorted out and carried out. How much more license in our day when judges can’t even define an “evil deed.”

The children of men take a similar approach to God’s justice. Sin today often has no consequences tomorrow, so it seems. Many sinners appear to be profiting, flourishing, basking in their sin. There are no negative consequences, and apparently not any judgment from God. So it must be okay with God, right?

This is a category mistake. Whether or not something is right is not determined by rapid results. Turn it around to the positive. Broccoli for one dinner doesn’t make a bodybuilder by breakfast. A diligent day sowing seed in the field requires more than a week to see the fruit.

And Paul told the Romans that delayed judgment is not due to God’s lack of will, but instead from God’s will to be kind. “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is mean to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) God isn’t failing, He’s extending forgiveness.

The apostle addressed unbelievers but it is a good reminder for the justified as well. Just because Jesus paid for our unrighteousness doesn’t mean that we can keep on committing it without consequence. Because God is patient and kind, repent.

A Long Session in the Same Direction

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.

Bleeding Forgivness

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.

Even More Personal

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.

What Is Earthly

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.”