Making Himself Known

When Jesus instituted the Supper of remembrance He told His disciples, “this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). What was the new covenant and how is the Lord’s Table connected with it?

The New Covenant was God’s promise to “the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31; Ezekiel 36:22, 32) to do for them what they failed to do in the previous covenant. Ezekiel described how God would give them a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), which they could not do for themselves. Jeremiah described it differently. He wrote that God would put His law into them, He would write it on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33a). The prophecy goes further.

I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33b–34, quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12)

God makes a promise to make Himself known. In light of what knowing God means in John 17:3, God makes a covenant to give eternal life.

The New Covenant belongs to the nation of Israel. The sun will stop and the heavens will be measured before that changes (see verses 35-37). But God gives life through the knowledge of Himself to all His people, including the “children of God scattered abroad” (John 12:52). God is gathering His people from every tribe, tongue, and nation with a special fulfillment still to come among Israel. This is His own covenant at His own cost because it is His own character. He is making Himself known.

Jesus’ death on the cross not only purchased our forgiveness, it is part of knowing Him. In his book Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves wrote, “On the cross, Christ the Glory puts to death all false ideas of God.” He makes Himself known so that we can have life and our life brings Him glory as the life-giver. This meal of remembrance that Jesus instituted is our life because here we know God and here we glorify God.

Racing Back for More

We’ll be studying John 17 as a church for a while on Sundays and taking our exhortation to confession cues from Jesus’ prayer. What He wants for us should be valued and pursued by us. If we’re not desiring in the same direction that He is supplicating, we have something to examine, and possibly to confess. Last week we focused on His prayer for our sanctification. This week let us consider that He prays for His own glory.

It may seem out of place to point out our need to glorify Him when we have gathered together to glorify Him. The dentist doesn’t need to give me grief about teeth care, “I’m here, aren’t I?” And yet religious people don’t always care correctly. Take, for example, the Jews who killed Jesus to honor God.

Jesus prays that the Father would glorify Him (John 17:1, 5). Do we want the Father to glorify His Son? And how does the Father do that? What part do we have, if any?

The Father lifts up the honor of His Son by making Him known. “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Light reveals, knowledge clarifies and distinguishes, the face makes it personal. The Father removes the veil that keeps men from seeing “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (verse 4).

Knowing Christ, as we esteem His features and enjoy His fellowship, brings Him glory. So Peter commanded, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). How about us? Are we resting in our collection of knowledge relics or are we racing back to learn of Him in the Bible, more by day by week by year? Are we gathering to say things about Him or are we gathering to see Him, know Him, and give Him the sort of glory He asks the Father for?

Many Offspring from One Offering

Christ is our high priest. He ministers with our names on His heart as the priests in the Old Testament carried the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. They prayed, they offered sacrifices for the people. But they were limited.

The author of Hebrews wrote “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said ‘Sacrifice and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me'” (Hebrews 10:4-5). Why a body? Jesus not only offered sacrifices, He was the sacrifice, and many offspring came from His offering (Isaiah 53:10).

[E]very priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11–14)

In the communion meal we come to the epicenter of our life, the epicenter of our sanctification, the epicenter of our victory. Jesus conquered sin, He killed death, He defeated His enemies, and He has returned to glory until that time when He comes to get us and bring us to glory.

He gave His body for the bread of our life. He gave His blood as the covenant of life. He is true food and true drink. He invites us to partake of Him, to share together His love until the glorious day when we will be with Him where He is and see the glory that the Father gave Him in love (John 17:24).

Prayer for Sanctification

Last Sunday we entered a study of John 17. The entire chapter is one prayer by Jesus for His disciples the night before His crucifixion. We learn, or at least we have confirmed for us, what sorts of things the Son desires for us as we hear Him ask the Father. He makes a variety of supplications and we will take a few weeks in our confession time to examine if we are wanting what the Son wants.

First let us consider that Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in your truth: your word is truth” (17:17). Two verses later He says, “For their sake I consecrate myself that they also may be sanctified in truth” (verse 19).

We define (or argue about) sanctification better than we desire it. Christ wants us to be sanctified, to be set apart from the world in our desires and loves, but yet not removed out of the world. Sanctification is not an escape, it is a conscious battle to love God and to love our neighbors who don’t deserve it. The moral behavior part of being made more holy grows out of better and stronger love for the right things.

Jesus prays for our sanctification as our priest, as the one who goes to the Father on our behalf. Not only that, He went to the cross on our behalf. He “consecrated” Himself, He dedicated His life and death for the sake of our purification from sin. He cleanses the inside of the cup first.

Christian, are you pursuing purity in your heart for the sake of your pure, unmixed, uncontaminated loves? Are you loving the same direction that Jesus is praying? Are you living in a way that matches the purpose of Christ dying?

Loathsome Liturgy

Those of us who know so much, we who have been given so many biblical vistas of God’s glory, will naturally struggle to match our hearts with His majesty. Our feet are too small for the worship shoes we have to fill. There is a very real danger to give up, not entirely, but in certain religious ways. Rather than fight against sin and fight for fuller affections, we settle for worship motions.

We’re not the first or only people to ever be in that dangerous spot. Psalm 50 helps us even though it wasn’t written to us. It was for Israel, written by Asaph for Israel to sing. The choir were the “faithful ones” (verse 5), or “godly ones” (NAS), “saints” (NKJV), “consecrated ones” (NIV). The Hebrew word is hesedi, a derivative of hesed which we repeatedly heard last week: “for his hesed endures forever.” This psalm is addressed to recipients of His hesed, His-mercy-have-gotten ones.

But Psalm 50 is not a song of consolation. It is song a judgment because God is angry. “The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth” (verse 1). “God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest” (verse 3). He comes to “rebuke” (verse 8), with “rebuke” mentioned again in verse 21 as He “lays [the] charge” before them. God the LORD, the mighty, devouring, righteous judge has come into the universal courtroom to testify against His people. Why?

The indictment can be found in verses 8-21. God did not charge them with failure to offer sacrifices. “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burn offerings are continually before me” (verse 8). Nor did He charge them with ignorance of His statutes. His question in verse 16, “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?” assumed that they were singing or speaking His law. The people knew who He was. They knew what He revealed. They knew what He required in worship. They knew what He had given them.

Yet two things made their liturgy loathsome to God. They were not depending on God nor were they obeying Him. God hated their liturgy because their hearts weren’t in it. The gestures of their worship were false signals.

Wrong-hearted liturgy is worse than worth-less, it is worth His wrath. The more we have to live up to the more tempting it is to make believe. As we get more excited about growing in our understanding and practice of worship, some may appear to be excited who are not actually more grateful and dependent on Him. That doesn’t mean we need to close up shop, stop learning new songs and new parts, but it does mean that we must always remember that God is looking at our hearts.

Table Rules

When the Corinthian believers came together it was not for the better but for the worse. It is sadly, and maybe too often, the case that Christians offer worship to God that He despises. Scripture reveals a variety of despicable practices and Paul mentions two of them related to the Lord’s supper in 1 Corinthians 11. The church broke two table rules.

First, when the Corinthians came together as a church there were divisions. Paul could not commend them because they despised the church by despising one another. Especially when we come to the communion table, we must receive all those whom the Head of the table receives.

Second, when the Corinthians came to the table, they failed to examine themselves. “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (verse 29). “Discerning the body” is key, but what is the “body”? The “body” could be one’s own body, but what would the point of that be? The body could be Christ’s body, mentioned in verse 27, but why not also mention His blood?

The “body” could also be the church body. In fact, note the conclusion to the chapter in verses 33-34. “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another, if anyone is hungry let him eat at home so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.” In other words, we eat and drink judgment when we fail to follow the table rules. That means we must receive one another. The two rules go together: examine yourself as concerns your connection to the body.

Each part can (and should) celebrate what he or she has in Christ. But part of what you have in Christ is one another. Part of what you have is the whole body. So enjoy the other members. That makes it better when we come together.

Say the Same Thing

Usually we use the word “confess” when we speak about admitting our sin. John the Baptist called men to confess their sins (Matthew 3:6). The apostle John wrote that if we confess our sins then Christ forgives us (1 John 1:9). You have probably heard before that the Greek word behind our English translation is ὁμολογέω, a saying (logeo) of the same thing (homo). William Tyndale translated it as “acknowledge” rather than “confess” because the Roman Catholic church turned confession into a sacrament. But we Protestants understand that when we confess we don’t tell our sins to a priest. Instead, we same the same thing as God about the nature of our sin, namely, that sin is sin and we’ve done it.

In the New Testament the word “confess” also has a different subject than sin. For example, John the Baptist “confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ'” (John 1:22). The apostle John described the fearful parents of the man born blind because the “Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22).

Our salvation depends on our confession of faith: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Some day, “every tongue (will) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11).

This type of confession has a different subject but the same action. We say the same thing as God about whatever He says, including the nature of His Son. As we mature in Christ, we will be more specific in our confession about our sin and more specific about our confession of the Savior. Peter commanded it: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

How is your confession? Are you more frequent, more specific, and more eager for both types? If not, now is as good a time as any to confess.

Training and Tasting

At least two things keep church discipline from being as understandable and appreciated as it could be. First, too often church discipline is driven by a motivation to punish the disobedient rather than train for obedience. The purpose for disciplining our kids should not be to prove that we are bigger, stronger, or better able to define their sin. We don’t discipline with pain as the end. We discipline to direct them back to the joy of fellowship that comes in obedience. Likewise the motivation for church discipline should be to bring the sinner back into fellowship through repentance and restoration.

A second thing that keeps church discipline from being understood and appreciated is that our communion is not a feast. When an unrepentant sinner is disciplined, what is the only thing that he is prohibited from? We do not prohibit him from attending services, though he usually won’t be interested. We do not stop him from hearing the Word preached. We do not keep him from any interaction with believers, though the nature of those interactions changes. What changes is that he is no longer welcome to have this supper of the Lord, to share the fellowship. That’s why it can also be called excommunication, ex-communion-ed.

A weekly, joyful, harmonious, celebrating time around the Lord’s Table should create quite a taste. The unrepentant should have something to miss. For that to happen, we ought not to miss our opportunity. Eating and drinking by faith is sweet today and strengthening for tomorrow. This meal both satisfies us and fits us for wanting it again. The pull of joyful communion with God through Christ and with each other in Christ should be worth repenting so that we can keep coming.

May God make our communion something that we want so badly that we’ll repent from whatever sin threatens it.

Comparing Kills

Comparing kills. One sure way to kill joy and stir up envy, jealousy, and bitterness is to compare yourself with another, your lot with your neighbors’. God did not make us equal in all ways, nor does He give gifts to His people to the same degree. When we look over the fence, compare piles, and complain that ours is smaller or stinkier, our first mistake is the pride that expects more.

There is, however, another kind of comparing that kills our pride. God commands us to look at this and respond in humility. In Colossians 3:13 Paul writes about how the chosen ones, the holy and beloved of God, should treat one another. We are to put on compassion, kindness, and other Christlike clothes. Then we are to be “bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.” The sentence isn’t finished yet, but this command goes far enough. It goes so far, actually, that there must be qualifications coming.

We could call the next phrase a qualification, but the qualification removes limits more than it confines. The apostle makes an inspired comparison: “forgiving each other as (“just as” NAS) the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” “As” (καθὼς) is the killer comparative conjunction. Jesus provides more than an example of forgiveness, He sets the standard. If He forgives, we must forgive.

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 18 to the same effect. Peter asked a numerical question and Jesus gave a qualitative answer. Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive and Jesus described a man who started to choke a man who owed him 100 denarii (about three months worth of pay) when he had just been forgiven 10,000 talents (about 200,000 years worth of pay). Mercy should be shown just as mercy was received.

This is one reason why our corporate confession of sin is so important to our corporate life. If we are not struck by the contrast between His holiness and our sinfulness, then we will not be ready to treat one another with mercy and forgiveness by comparison. Such behavior should kill the weeds of pride, self-righteousness, and unrealistic expectations and grow the peaceful fruit of unity in the soil of humility.

This Table Is Reserved

God is full of grace. From His fulness He overflows in good things to the undeserving. He gives many good, undeserved things to those who hate Him. Jesus said that His Father makes His sun rise on the evil and sends rain on the unjust. We call this common grace. Do you have food? Do you have sight? Do you have kids? These are all blessings that believers and unbelievers can know.

Christians know another sort of grace, a special grace, a grace not given to everyone. We call it particular grace. God gives it particularly to His elect, those for whom His Son died. Particular grace is exceptional, exclusive, reserved for His people alone.

Does this make us special? Yes. Does this mean we deserved grace? No, not in a million years, no. If grace were earned it wouldn’t be grace.

Consider what the Lord revealed through Jeremiah.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, ESV)

We don’t honor God by claiming that we deserve His blessings. We also don’t honor God by claiming that we don’t have special, particular blessings that others don’t. It is all about boasting. Everyone boasts. Many boast in self. Some boast that they prohibit boasting, which is a backward way of self-boasting. And those who know particular grace boast in Christ.

This meal of communing is a meal of particular grace. Bread is for men, but the body of Christ is for believers only. Wine is for celebration, but the cup of Christ’s blood belongs only to the people who celebrate a bloody sacrifice on the cross.

Every week we boast in something exclusive. The Lord’s Table is reserved for particular people who received particular grace. If you don’t know Christ, you are invited to Christ but not to this meal. If you do know Christ, this meal invites you to everything in Christ.