Category: liturgy

A lot of things happened when the sun went down Thursday evening of Passion Week. Too much, in fact, for the disciples to process until after the resurrection. They were caught in the whirlwind. Yet Jesus planted an unmistakable reference point when He wrapped a towel around Himself in John 13.

We don’t believe that foot-washing is an ordinance such as baptism or communion. Jesus commanded His disciples to follow His example to serve one another and washing the Twelve’s feet was an illustration, not the institution of a formal ceremony. Yet we rarely consider that the context of the Lord’s Table is when the Lord got up from the table to do the servant’s work.

When we eat and drink, part of us should object, just as Peter initially objected to the Lord washing his feet. It’s not right for the Lord to die for us. That’s not His place. He’s too good for that. We’re right in one way, and yet we’re called to live and die and serve and love others just as He did.

While He lived, the Lord served those He loved. When He died, the Lord loved those He served. He condescended to our weakness. He overcame our pride by His humility. He spent His mortality to purchase our eternal life. Though He is the only-begotten Son of God, He wasn’t grabby about His position, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, in order to bring many sons to glory.

We’re part of His family now, so we must use all that He has given us to serve others. Sharing the Lord’s Supper together reminds us how to do it.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18, ESV)

liturgy

One great success of Christians in our culture can be seen by considering one great criticism from the culture against Christians. One of the most frequent and vigorous judgments is that we don’t love each other.

This judgment is grounded in truth. Jesus said that Christians should love one another sacrificially just as He did and obviously so that the world can see.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35, ESV)

It is good that the world knows what we’re supposed to be doing. But how did they even grasp how to grade our assigned work? We gave them the answer key. Nature teaches them that God is powerful but nature doesn’t teach them about love. God’s Word teaches that God is love and that He commands us to love. Christians have translated and printed and preached the Word so that our society breathes that assumption.

When your kid asks from the back seat why you’re going so fast, remember that you’re the one who explained to them what speed limit signs are for. Unbelievers may point out our responsibilities even though they may not like the standard or plan to apply the standard to themselves. Fine, but at least least they know the law. That’s good.

It’s bad that it is so obvious that we aren’t obeying. They know we’re His disciples because we love to talk about all the Greek words for love. We’ve become like a team of 500 pound nutritionist bloggers and the irony is heavy.

The answer here isn’t for Christians to be secretive about Jesus’ commands. The answer isn’t to hide the truth from our kids about the requirements of speed limit signs. The cultural accountability is good; we want them to know the Bible and we want them to watch our lives. We’ve gotten what we’ve asked for, but we haven’t lived up to our press. Let’s continue to paint the target for our culture to criticize us but let’s also give them no ammo to shoot at us.

liturgy

My dad’s dad and mom lived during the depression. My granddad (who I never met) used to say about my dad’s mom that she was so tight with money that she’d “skin a nickel to get the lard out of it.” In a similar way we ought to squeeze thankfulness out of any and every situation, even when the situation seems anything but fat for gratitude.

In what circumstances did the Lord institute His supper of communion? The night before He was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23). Yet when Jesus took the bread and the cup, what did He do? He gave thanks.

I’ve mentioned before that the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist. In our day, usually only the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to this ordinance by that name. That’s too bad we have so much vocabulary baggage to carry around with us. The word eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo which means, “I give thanks,” the word found in Matthew 26:26-27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:19-20, and the passage from 1 Corinthians mentioned above. The noun form, eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.” Eucharist is a great word; communion is a thanks-meal.

I’m thankful that God has grown our congregation into giving thanks at communion rather than giving up, that we eat and drink with more gratitude than guilt. In fact, guilt makes the focus wrong. Gratitude is the only way to have Christ as the centerpiece. We come to this table not so that we can be more fastidious in finding sin but rather so that we can be more faithful in giving thanks to our Savior.

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Our God is special. He does things hardly anyone expects though He expects everyone will notice. Paul told the Romans that all men know God but they won’t honor Him or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). It strikes me that gospel, the power of God to salvation, goes after the ungrateful. The good news that causes us to be most thankful addresses sinners who are the least thankful.

Salvation, analyzed in one way, is deliverance from ungratefulness. God justifies unthankful men, forgiving them and declaring them innocent of all their thanklessness. God sanctifies men by the gracious work of His Word and Spirit to make a man more thankful. Even the word itself expresses a great measure: thankFUL, or grateFUL. A saved man is full of it, in the right way.

So there are two parts to this exhortation. First, is your thank tank full? If not, you should confess it as sin.

Second, are you faithfully reflecting God to the unthankful around you? Jesus told His disciples,

love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35, ESV)

Using unthankfulness to fix an unthankful neighbor works as well as using a Brillo pad to fix a scratch on his eyeball. If we obey the command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thesslalonians 5:18), we may find that thanks is potent to overcome complaints. We won’t overcome evil with grouchiness because God doesn’t.

liturgy

Last week we learned of new ways that our government has been collecting data on us. Through web visits and wireless communication they gather and sift our locations, our contacts, our interests. They’ve stuck their collective nose where they shouldn’t, though we’ve given them tacit permission by voting for officials who would make us “safe.” Many Americans are surprised, outraged, and probably nervous about being exposed.

Remember, though, that our God knows not only the words we type and text, but the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. We can’t get off His grid. Wherever we go, He is there, attentive and writing it all down. He misses nothing from no one, Americans included.

What does He do with all that? He judges us. He holds us to account. We cannot vote Him out of office nor can we change His policies.

But, for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation. Have you gossiped, lusted, lied, been lazy, clicked into bad areas of the Internet? God knows. God sent His Son to die for that. We are naked and exposed in heart before His word but we are also clothed and covered in Jesus.

No one will find out anything about you that Jesus didn’t already know when He went to the cross. He’s your defense now, more informed than any Big Brother. He is God, the Omniscient Forgiver. As a prism separates white light into a spectrum of colors, so the cross refracts our punishment onto Christ.

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Ambrose Bierce construed the verb “acknowledge” or “confess” in The Devil’s Dictionary as follows: “acknowledgment of one another’s faults is the highest duty imposed by our love of truth.” In other words, the more we are wound by truth the tighter we put the screws on our neighbors.

We love the truth; that’s good and necessary. We are learning to confess sin, to speak the truth about sin, not only for salvation but also for worship. Appropriate confession depends on accurate truth so that we know what should be confessed, so that we don’t chase the standard around like a ball of mercury.

Loving the truth is good, confessing sin is also good. But a great temptation for truth lovers is to see it as our duty to speak about everyone else’s need for confession first. I suppose this is better than seeing no sin at all; at least we acknowledge God’s law. But if we acknowledge the truth and exalt it as the rule of life (which it is) primarily for others (which it isn’t), we double our disobedience. Denial of sin is another sin.

We also make our work double. Approaching confession in this way requires us to regard the truth in one instance and then to disregard it in another, to be smart and then dumb. Many, it seems, listened to Jesus’ words but they did not do them. They both acknowledged His word and refused to acknowledge it. James referred to the hearer-no-doer as a self-deceiver. Self-deception causes self-destructive without self-awareness. The Word is a mirror so that we can see ourselves, not a microscope so that we can scrutinize someone else.

Our highest duty as truth lovers is to love the truth accurately, as it exists on its own, and applicably, as it exposes our hearts. We have plenty to acknowledge at home before we take our show on the road.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.1 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.


  1. Yeah, I started reading a book to the kids with a similar line. It didn’t take me eleventy-one years to begin, only thirty-eight.

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