Theologians (a.k.a. debaters) love to go around on the nature of Christ’s work on the cross. Two common views are that 1) His sacrifice was substitutionary or 2) His sacrifice was exemplary. Which is it?
Without a substitution we could not have salvation. We needed someone to pay our penalty, to do what we couldn’t, so that we could be freed from the punishment due our unrighteousness. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18). “God put forward [His Son] as a propitiation by His blood to be received by faith so that we could be forgiven” (Romans 3:25).
Of course, that doesn’t mean that His death is not also an example. It isn’t only an example, as some liberals say, but it is an example. In fact, the willing sacrifice of Christ on behalf of others is the example. The love and patience and endurance of His suffering is glorious because it wasn’t for Himself, it was for others. His sacrifice provides both a propitiation and a pattern.
The Lord’s Table is a moving indicative, a message we receive by faith and a model we emulate by faith. By faith we give glory for Christ’s sacrifice for us. By faith we live glory as we give our lives for others.
Solomon warned that “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). How does the fear of man trap us?
The fear of man catches us in the trap of comparison. Down in the pit we can’t see out of the pit to get any sort of perspective. The only ones we can see are the ones right next to us. Of course, the taste-makers themselves never disclose that they feel just as trapped, but we listen to them because we have no one else to listen to.
The fear of man catches us in the trap of confusion. We’re stuck looking at others and we can never know how to please our protean neighbor or the motley preferences of the mob. Everyone wants to be paid but everyone has his own currency of glory. Some want euros, some want dollars, and all we have is a pocketful of pesos. No wonder we’re so broke.
The fear of man also catches us in the trap of competition. The only way to get out is by climbing on top of each other. No one actually wants all the way out, though, since we still want the approval of men. They might fight us for the top spot, but we need them to be on top like the tip of the iceberg needs a base.
The fear of man leads to servitude not free fellowship. The fear of man prohibits love, makes every sacrifice selfish, and turns us into reflections of reflections which have nothing of substance to reflect. The fear of man keeps us from believing God (John 5:44) and ruins us, now and forever.
What happened when Jesus was lifted up on the cross? We don’t have enough courses in the communion meal to give us the time to drink in all the fullness. We’ll have to keep coming back Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day and talk some more. We can say, in light of John 12:31-32, that we know that His death fixed the judgment of the world, the defeat of the evil one, and the salvation of every son of light. We also know that God the Father and God the Son were glorified. We know that Christ made a substitutionary and exemplary sacrifice.
The list of accomplishments is long and yet the accomplishments are only seen by faith. We do not see the final fulfillment of all things but that doesn’t mean a man is right who can’t see around the corner. We believe Jesus. We believe His Word. We believe what He told us. He will finish (in the cosmos) what He’s finished (on the cross).
What happens when believers eat and drink at the Lord’s Table? Again, more things than we have time to chew. But we believe that God does things here, things He tells us He is and will do whether or not we see effects immediately or obviously. So we eat and He strengthens our souls. We eat and He knit us together. We eat and proclaim Christ’s death until He returns. We are being changed, we are making war against the dragon, we are breaking down division among us.
We don’t know half of judgment half as well as we should like; and we like less than half of mercy half as well as it deserves. If that seems unexpected or difficult to understand, I’ll try to work it out for us. We don’t appreciate judgment or mercy very well.
We don’t know half of judgment half as well as we should like. It would benefit us to know more clearly and more fully the judgment due to sin, our sin and the sin around us. Sin is terrible. It mocks our Maker. It offends His goodness and righteousness and earns His wrath. We should like to know the law better to learn our condition better, to know God’s character better. If we only knew half of judgment half as well as we should, we would be quicker to confess. We would also be more urgent in call others to escape it.
We like less than half of mercy half as much as it deserves. Mercy is even greater than judgment. Actually, our gratitude for mercy will grow as our grasp of judgment grows. The more sin abounds, mercy abounds much more. Mercy should be magnified. How could any of us sinners get out of judgment? We all deserve all we have coming to us. Yes, but God is merciful! His mercy should be known and exalted! We should like it much more than we do, certainly it deserves the fullness of our affections.
The cross helps us know and like both better. The wickedness judged and the mercy offered as Jesus bore the punishment in His body teach us about both. We don’t need forgiveness because nothing is wrong in our hearts. He will judge us. But the fact that our hearts are so wrong doesn’t mean He won’t forgive. He offers us mercy.
Dying to serve others is difficult. It may be so difficult that, when faced with the implacable long hand on the clock, you say to yourself, “I can’t do this!” You could rephrase it, “I can’t make this many sacrifices. I don’t have the time or the strength or the energy or the patience to die as many times as I know I’ll need to.” You may say this quietly inside your head or loudly out your mouth. Either way, God hears it and He disagrees.
When we say that we can’t die, God reminds us that we already have. This isn’t to say that the mom has already changed the diaper, but rather that the believing mother has already been freed from the self-pity that tempts her to leave a stinking bottom. The teacher hasn’t already answered the same stupid question for the seventh time, but he has died to the impatient spirit that wants to blow up at the entire class.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
Each day we live out the death we have already died in Christ. He gave Himself for us and that includes all we need to give ourselves for others.
At the communion table we enjoy the fruits of Christ’s death for us. By faith we acknowledge that we’ve died with Him. When we eat the bread and drink the cup we enjoy fellowship with God, we experience fellowship with each other, and we are being fed to go and die likewise for others. After eating the Lord’s Supper, we can die it.