The Nature of Bread and Wine

We know from Psalm 19 that the heavens declare the glory of God so that all men should see His handiwork. We know from Romans 1 that creation reveals the existence and power of God so that all men should honor God and thank Him. And in 1 Corinthians 11 we read that nature makes it so that all men know how long to cut their hair.

What does nature teach about the Lord’s Table? Well, that is probably asking too much. Nature doesn’t tell us about the cross or about the resurrection or about the need to believe in Christ for our sin, and nature doesn’t tell us about either ordinance of the church. We need special revelation, which we have.

But does this mean that nature does us no good whatsoever when it comes to the communion meal? I don’t just mean the physical elements, or the embodied persons who partake, though those do argue against any kind of gnostic or dualistic priority. While recognizing that Christ instituted the Supper with words and that His apostles delivered the instruction, and while recognizing that Christ’s pattern was the Passover meal provided by God’s Word to the Israelites, there is a created nature of the meal that belongs with the revealed intent of the meal.

What does nature teach about bread? Eat! It’s good! What does nature teach about wine? It’s a gift! Drink! Let your heart be glad! And what does even nature teach about a table of bread and wine? It is meant to be shared, and shared in joy.

There are occasions for corporate quiet and contemplation, but even nature recommends fasting for such sobriety. Nature commends feasting in fellowship for stirring up thanks and gladness.

To be sure, Paul could not commend the Corinthians for their communion practice. But that is because they were divided and because they were selfishly indulging themselves. I would argue that not only goes against the gospel, that goes against nature.

Likeness Sharers

In creational terms, man is the glory of God and woman is the glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:7). That is God’s sovereign Word, we receive it, regardless of the culture’s hatred of gender distinctions, a misplaced hatred because they really want to do away with the distinction between themselves and God.

In redemptive terms, all believers are being remade in the image of God to share the glory of God; we are brothers and sisters in Christ. This is also God’s sovereign Word, we receive it, regardless of the Arminian’s (or Pelagian’s) argument.

For those whom he [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29)

This is just an amazing thing. God decided beforehand that we would be summorphos, that is, sharing the likeness of God’s Son. We are predestined to this adjective: we are the “likeness sharers.”

Verse 30 follows not with a hierarchy, but with a chain.

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This glorified state is not separate from Christ’s image in us. We are being transformed into the same glory by beholding the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). By His “very great promises” we are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3).

So man was created for God, and woman was created for man, and you, beloved, are created and called and saved for glory.

Everything Intended

When we make a sacrifice, we are giving up something in the present for sake of something else in the future, something we believe to be worth more than what we’re giving up. We reason inductively, based on experience, that a certain type of sacrifice (i.e., not eating dessert) will result in a certain type of payoff (our belt won’t dig so deeply into our belly). We also may make a particular sacrifice (not eating meat) by faith, without having seen fruit (our brother’s conscience not being ruined), based on our trust that God follows through on His Word.

Of course things are different for God Himself. But for our encouragement, consider Christ’s death on the cross. What did Christ hope to accomplish by His sacrifice?

Christ did not hope like we do when He laid down His life. Christ did not need faith similar to us for what might happen in the future. Christ secured the fulfillment of everything that He and His Father ever intended for His sacrifice.

No elect person will be lost, no, not one. No sin, however longstanding, however powerful, however tempting, however crippling, will remain in power over any Christian, not even one. No guilt, no weakness, no pain, no suffering, no loss, will define any of those for whom Christ died; not one promise will be left unfulfilled for eternity.

There is still timing to consider; not all the effects happen at once. But in Christ we are in the realm of waiting on the when, not in the realm of wondering if at all. He has not spared His only Son for us. He will give us all the rest. This is the power of the cross.

Too Thankful for the Right Things

Names matter. Part of our image-bearing identity is to name things, and the names we give not only categorize and help us communicate, they also shape our expectations.

Every week we “have” communion, or we observe it, or we celebrate it. Communion reminds us that we are not isolated from the Lord or from one another. This is a meal that reminds us what we share in common. It is also the Lord’s Supper, served at the Lord’s Table. We meet on His terms and receive His provision.

I have mentioned it before, but Christians used to use an additional name, and some still do, but it has baggage that is too bad. It is called the Eucharist, which really is too good a name to let the non-Protestants have. It’s called the Eucharist because the Greek word eucharisto is used all over in connection with the eating and drinking. Eucharisto is the Greek word that means I give thanks.

“He took bread, and when he had given thanks” (eucharistesas)(Luke 22:19). “He took a cup, and when he had give thanks” (eucharistesas)(Matthew 26:27). Paul repeats what he received about giving thanks (eucharistesas) for the bread and “likewise” for the cup (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

Even in chapter 10 Paul said, “If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” (eucharisto)(1 Corinthians 10:30). He wasn’t referring to eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table specifically, but doesn’t it apply? “You’re not acting sufficiently sorrowful during communion but way too grateful.” Really?

We can be thankful for the wrong things, but we cannot be too thankful for the right things. The gospel is good news for our souls and communion is a meal of thanks for all we have in Christ.

Substantive Sharing

There have been frequent arguments in church history about what exactly happens at the Lord’s Table. Most of these arguments have come from motivations to value Christ’s work on the cross and in communion, though not all of the arguments can be true.

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul helps us see the nature of the Supper through his comparisons with two other types of worship meals.

Example one: “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” (verse 18) But where are the arguments about transubstantiation or consubstantiation when it came to the various offerings eaten by the Jews? Those arguments don’t exist. The sharing in the sacrifice did not happen because the molecules of the meat or the grain were changed or mixed.

Example two: “what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons” (verse 20). The same sharing is happening and, again, the sharing happens without the substance of the elements being transformed.

So, when we participate in the blood of Christ by drinking the cup, and when we participate in the body of Christ when we eat the bread, there is a real and supernatural and substantive sharing in Christ’s sacrifice. But it not because the wine or the bread change substance, or even because the spiritual presence of Jesus shows up in the wine or the bread. By faith we partake of the Table, and we are associated with Christ and with all that His sacrifice accomplished in and among us.

Lyrics and Harmony

One of the ways we know if we’ve been born again is our attitude toward those who sit around the Lord’s Table with us.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. (1 John 5:1)

This meal of communion is only for Christians, those who are born again, and Christians are those with a particular affirmation and with personal affection.

Those who are born of God believe “that Jesus is the Christ.” Any claim of new life apart from confessing that Jesus is Lord and Savior is a bogus claim. The lyrics sung by the born again are clear: Jesus is the Christ, the promised and anointed one, the substitutionary sacrifice who died on the cross for sins, was buried in a tomb for three days, and was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection.

The harmony of the born again song is loving other born-againers; this is not a solo act. We who are born of God confess Christ and care for one another. Diluted affections for, resistance to forgive, and reluctance to fellowship with other believers calls into question one’s spiritual life just as failing to breathe calls into question one’s physical life.

If you’re harboring resentment or anger toward a brother, whether the size of a cruise ship or kayak, you should repent and make that right before you celebrate the symbol of our uniting love. He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and we who are born again must love all the others who share our living hope.

Come, eat, drink, and celebrate your born again life in Jesus the Christ. Come, eat, drink, and commune with your born again family.

How Grain Gets Memorialized

When some Greeks came to see Jesus, Jesus said it was the hour of His glory. Then Jesus explained the truth of buried seed bearing abundant fruit.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:23-24)

The way of fruit is sacrifice and burial for sake of life. This is not only the way God made the world to work, this is the way He made men to receive glory. We remember battles. We remember sacrifices. We memorialize those who gave what they had, and in a thousand ways we don’t even recognize, we are the fruit of many men’s deaths.

Of course this is ultimately true in the gospel. Jesus took on flesh to spend it, He came low so that He could be lifted up on a cross, and He knew that such a death would be His glory.

We learn the path to glory and how we ought to imitate Him. In the communion meal we start by remembering His cross-work, and consider the results of His death and burial. It wasn’t just His resurrection, it is the many brothers who He has raised since. May we remember, may we rejoice, and may we not give up our place in the line.

The Mask Is Off

When Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, what did that miracle do? It seems that there are at least two things. First, it enabled the party to continue. Second, it demonstrated that Jesus had divine power.

But is that it? Is the point of the miracles to reveal Jesus as God? It is certainly one of the things that happened, and it is important to acknowledge Jesus’ identity. But any given sign that Jesus did, such as turning the water into wine, is intended not merely to make us think about that one event, but to think about every time God ever does a similar natural thing.

Athanasius was the first to make this connection regarding the Incarnation. C.S. Lewis followed up on it in his essay, “Miracles.” All the miracles Jesus performed were supernatural, but they were focused demonstrations of what God is always doing naturally.

[E]very year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana. (God in the Dock, 29)

It doesn’t make the miracles less significant, but it does mean we should be more in awe and giving thanks for the mundane.

The Lord’s Table is not a miracle, but as we eat the bread and the wine it is a focused, and special, opportunity to remember the death of Jesus, followed by His resurrection and the vindication of His sacrifice for sin. But this is not the only time we should think about God’s provision of bread and wine, or about His provision of a church body, or His provision of everything, and how He is building it all together.

Many things come into focus when we focus on this meal rightly.

We Were Tohu va Bohu

In the beginning was the Word, the Logos. In the beginning the Logos created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was tohu va bohu, “without form and void.” After the initial act, there was darkness, chaos, and emptiness.

Then God’s Word went to work. God spoke and light pierced the darkness. God spoke and order came from chaos. God spoke and filled the earth, overwhelming the void. His Word formed and filled. The Logos changed the landscape of existence.

And the Logos changed existence a second time when He died on the cross and rose again on the third day. He is still changing it.

Because of Adam’s sin, we are born sinners and so we sin. There is darkness in our hearts, a chaos of confusion and disobedience, an emptiness of meaning and of love. The incarnate Word of God sacrificed Himself so that we could see the light and be in the light. We are in Him, and He is the light. He is the truth, the one who clears our thinking and conforms us to His image. He is the life, and in Him we have love and joy. He is the value by which we measure all things, and He is the meaning-giver.

Apart from Christ, we were tohu va bohu, without form and void. For those who believe, for those in Christ, we are being formed and filled with the fulness of God. Let us remember and rejoice in this Word.

What Good Is That

If you walk into your house and your wife is cooking something new for dinner dinner that smells delicious and she offers you a bite of whatever she’s making, what good is that taste? Or if you are watching a show about food, especially one of the shows where the host visits a hole-in-the-wall place, and you get to see how the dish is made and the host takes a bite and his face lights up, what good is that to you?

Neither situation is meant to discourage you or frustrate you. When your wife gives you a taste, she’s not flaunting how you’ll never get any more. When the host enjoys his taste, he’s not rubbing it in the audience’s face that he gets what they can’t. He’s inviting you to take a trip, maybe to a place that’s nearby that you never knew about.

There are times when I reference things you might not have much familiarity with. Last Lord’s Day I mentioned Prince Caspian a couple times, previously I’ve mentioned things from Omnibus books or from other resources that caught my attention. It’s possible that this could frustrate you. “I don’t know anything about that.” But that assumes that you want me only to prepare things you’ve already eaten before, maybe even cut up the meat for you.

I could act superior, and that would be a turn off. I could give a taste that isn’t tasty. But giving a taste is an invitation to get more for yourself, not discourage you because you’ve never had that dish before.

And so with this taste of communion with the Lord. It is no discouragement that we’re not with the Lord, it is an encouragement that there is more where this came from.