When Jesus told His disciples to eat and drink in “remembrance of Me,” He wanted them to think especially of Him in body to death. His flesh and blood were the means by which God’s wrath was absorbed against our sin. The cross was a reckoning, a settling of accounts so that God could be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Christ. That makes the communion table a table of reckoning, a sign of Christ’s atoning substitute for all who would ever believe.
When we eat the bread and drink the cup we reckon that it’s true; Jesus died and rose again. When we come to this table we also reckon that it’s true for us. We died with Christ and have been raised in Him.
We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin….Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again. (Romans 6:6, 8-9)
We believe the truth of the gospel account, and then we believe the truth that we died and rose again in Him.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)
The translation “consider” could be “count” (NIV) or “reckon” (KJV). This is a table of reckoning. As you hold the bread and wine, hold to the reality by faith. We partake of the signs of God reckoning with sin on Christ, and as we partake we reckon that our union with Christ matters for everything.
There is only one kind of sinner who isn’t welcome at the Lord’s Table. Sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, effeminacy, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkenness, scoffing, and cheating are not prohibitive as long as they are past tense. These are representative sins, they are some of the “biggies,” and so long as “such were some of you,” so good.
The only kind of sinner who isn’t welcome at the Lord’s Table is the unrepentant. Have you repented? Have you called your sin, sin, according to God’s Word? Have you trusted in God’s Son who died on the cross in order to satisfy God’s wrath against unrighteousness? Have you received God’s Spirit, who dwells in every believer as a guarantee of eternal inheritance? Then, according to the good news, you have been cleansed, you have been consecrated, you have been confirmed by the Judge of Righteousness as one accepted by Him.
So we are all a bunch of “has beens.” You has been greedy, I has been angry, we has been ungrateful, but all of that was nailed to the cross. He has been a hater of his brother, she has been a gossip about her sister, but no more, because Jesus is raised from the dead.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
And week by week as we commune around the Lord’s Table we make no compromises with the unrighteousness around us. We declare to the unrighteous that they can be has beens, too, but only through Christ. “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The glory of the cross makes us the most thankful has beens ever.
A couple weeks ago I referred to the discipline not just of not being allowed to come to the communion table, but to the discipline of coming week by week. There are benefits for disciples, remembering the truths of the gospel about the love of God and the peace-making work of Christ on our behalf.
The discipline of communing is not only for individuals, but also for the entire church. There is discipline for my heart to make sure I’m ready to eat and drink with God, there is also discipline for my heart to make sure I’m ready to eat and drink with the sons and daughters of God. God has high standards, so His eating in His presence requires preparation, but He is perfect, so He’s never irritating or annoying. He lowers Himself to meet me at the communion Table. But if I start looking around the wrong way, I could think, “Whoa. What is wrong with all these people?”
When Paul said, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones…compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against one another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:12-13) this was an antidote to lawsuits, and bickering and bitterness and backbiting and bad-attitudes. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).
Don’t take your brother to court, take him to dinner. Or, at least remember that we share the same meal of communion here together because of the work of Christ. We are at peace in Christ. Let it be so in real time.
When a man refuses to repent from his sin the church disciplines him which includes no longer allowing him to participate in communion. When a man is repenting from his sin the church provides discipline of a different style which includes providing weekly opportunity to participate in communion. There is discipline in not communing, there is discipline in communing.
Discipline almost always has the idea of negative feedback, equated to punishment and involving pain of some kind. But discipline and disciple are related terms, and both are rooted in the Latin word discipulus which means “learner” at the most basic level. A disciplined person is a person who is learning, not just suffering something unpleasant.
There is discipline for disciples in coming to the Lord’s Table week by week. The way we approach it, it is not unpleasant, but it is not easy either. There is necessary work to get ready for it and to partake in it. What do disciples learn here at Supper?
We learn, or are regularly remembering what we’ve learned, that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. We learn that salvation is not by any of our works. We learn that atonement is substitutionary. We learn that God fulfills His promises. We learn that faith gets fed. We learn that God desires fellowship with us. We learn that we are not alone. We learn that we are always proclaiming something, and that we are privileged to proclaim in eating and drinking the good news of Jesus’ death. We learn that today is not the end, but we must eat and drink “until He comes.” We learn that thankfulness is the necessary tone, and the Table trains us get in tune.
Because of how the gospel connects indicatives to imperatives, we can not only say: you are what you eat, but also you eat what you are. When we eat and drink Christ's body we are being knit together and strengthened. Our faith is strengthened by His bread, our hearts are gladdened by His wine.
But we are also eating what we are. We are, in Christ, bread that strengthens the faith of others. We are, in Christ, wine that gladdens the hearts of others. We are a new lump, and what is it good for? It is good to be eaten. We are new wine, and what is it good for? It certainly can’t stay in old wine skins.
So Christ's body is bread and wine to us, and also we are bread and wine as Christ's body. We celebrate all that we have in Him because He is our Passover lamb who has been sacrificed. And that celebration is not limited to one day of the week or one week of the year. That celebration extends to our lives.
Feast here on Christ in communion, and remember that you eat what you are. How will you celebrate with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth? Put off the old self which is corrupt through deceitful desires and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24). Do honest work so that you have something to share (Ephesians 4:28), speak for the building up of others that gives grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up as a fragrant offering (Ephesians 5:2). You are that fragrant offering in communion with Him.
The argument for church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5 assumes at least a couple things. First, from the sinful man's perspective, he still wanted to be associated with the congregation. Paul confronted the flock for not removing the man; he had not removed himself. Whatever he was getting from his membership, he didn't want to lose it. Second, from the congregation's perspective, they should have something that the sinful man should want. Once removed and delivered over to Satan and the flesh, that bitter taste should turn him back to the fold.
In a similar remembrance that produced repentance, the prodigal son remembered all the blessings in his father's house. The difference for the prodigal, of course, is that he had left on his own whereas the disciplined man was removed. But what happened to the prodigal would hopefully happen to the disciplined man: he would remember all the blessings among God's people.
So part of our strategy for purity, preventative and remedial, is joy around the Lord’s Table. We share the blessings of salvation in communion, food for our faith and fellowship among the body in such a way as to fix in a man's mind something desirable. In the case of a disciplined man, the Lord may use remembrance of the shared bread and wine to draw him back. For us, we are encouraged week by week to not want sin more.
A couple Sunday mornings ago we welcomed to the Lord’s table two first-timers. They made their public profession of faith in the waters of baptism the previous Sunday evening, and we want for their first communion to be one of many sweet and serious celebrations. May our proclamation of the Lord's death until He comes be loud and compelling.
Where is it most important for you to know that God is at peace with you? Maybe that seems like an odd question, but is it more important for you to know that God is at peace with you in soul or in body?
A while ago I was in a discussion with some men about the idea of “soul reports.” A soul report is an account of what’s happening in your soul. What are you learning? What are you excited about? What is difficult? It is curious to me that many Christians don’t seem to like the idea. For all of the criticism these days of superficialness and hypocrisy and focusing on things that don’t matter, isn’t it a good thing to account for our souls? Jesus asked what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul? So how is your soul? Is your soul “found”? How do you know? What is its state?
Our time of communion is for the soul. We’re reminded of Jesus’ death and resurrection to save our souls. Because of Christ we can say when sorrows overwhelm us, “It is well with my soul.”
Of course communion can’t take place just in our souls. There is a material table and it holds tangible bread and wine; it’s not merely a mental picture. We’re supposed to gather together and eat and drink. These are things for the body, our bodies as Christians and together as the Body of Christ.
It is not dualism to care more about two things, such as soul and body, worship and work. Dualism distinguishes in order to care more about only one of the things, and usually that means more about the invisible things. To fight dualism we don’t break down distinctions between things, we exalt the distinctions and what is valuable to both. Celebrate that in Christ your soul will be forever receiving God’s favor. Celebrate that in Christ your body will be resurrected and will forever be together with the saints in the presence of our Savior.
In his “Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord and Only Savior Jesus Christ” John Calvin observed:
The devil, knowing that our Lord left nothing more beneficial to the Church than this holy sacrament, according to his accustomed manner, exerted himself from the beginning to contaminate it with error and superstitions, and to corrupt and destroy its fruit, has not ceased to pursue this course, until he has almost wholly subverted this sacrament of the Lord and converted it into falsehood and vanity.
What was true in 1536 is still true today; the devil is still our adversary and he still seeks to spoil our time around the Lord’s Table. Whatever specifics Calvin had in mind, what are the things that make communion “false” today?
- Communion is false if men participate as frauds, that is, if they partake without love and pursuit of righteousness.
- Communion is false if men participate as if the bread and wine themselves are magical, that is, if they do not partake of the elements by faith.
- Communion is false if men participate in sadness, that is, if they partake without rejoicing in the salvation Christ purchased for them.
- Communion is false if men participate in isolation, that is, if they partake either on their own apart from the body or in unresolved conflict with another member in the body.
- Communion is false if men participate with presumption, that is, if they partake without giving thanks. Jesus gave thanks when He instituted the meal, twice, both before the bread and the wine. Being confident to share communion with God in a meal of peace does not mean He owes it to us.
- Communion is false if men participate flippantly, that is, if they partake without a sober appreciation of the cost, namely, the death of God’s own Son. To be solemn does not require us to be sullen, but a lack of serious joy disrespects His gift to us.
Satan is working to make a mess of this meal. Is our communion true or false?
If you plan to start a new Bible reading plan this year (or if you “cheated” and began at the end of December), you are more than likely going to read Genesis 1. The plan I’m using in 2018 includes the first two chapters for the first day of the year. I always really enjoy the feeling of a new year that goes along with the creation account and the sense of gift and possibility that comes from God.
But, and it’s no more surprising than the inevitable deflation of the Christmas break balloon, Genesis 3 is coming. The ancient dragon is coming. Eve will eat like she’s done every other time. Adam will fail to obey His Maker, and he will doom humanity to death again. For all the optimism that January 1 tends to bring, January 2 is back to work in a world under the curse.
So now is a timely place to remind you that time does not heal all wounds. Hanging up a new calendar has never fixed any relationship. Amazing plans for self-discipline in diet and exercise and communication cannot, by themselves, get anyone back to Edenic paradise.
Depending on your reading plan, maybe you get one day out of 365 (which is a puny percent of the year) where, during your Bible meditation, there is no sin. But in reality we don’t even get that. We are facing, right at 12:00:01 AM on 1/1/18, another year of spiritual enmity, of conflict, of sweaty work, of pain, of death. Here comes another year of seeing our nakedness before God, of the guilt that comes from being deceived or being weak. We are facing another year of sin desiring to rule over us.
Time, past or present or future, does not solve sin, time is a theater for sin. Jesus—dead, buried, and risen from the grave on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures—is the Savior from sin. He is the seed of the woman in whom the serpent’s head is crushed. We enter the year of our Lord 2018, and we do so abiding in Him that His joy may be in us and that our joy may be full.
Birth brings people together. One of the seasonal favorite songs, “The First Noel,” celebrates the good news about the birth of the King of Israel whom we know is the King of kings.
The word noel seems to be borrowed from French (nael) which itself is a derivative from Latin (natalis) meaning nativity, “the occasion of a person’s birth.” The first birth was not the first in history but rather the first in preeminence. Jesus is the true “firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 98:27). He is the one who brings together.
Consider the group that His birth brought together. There was the unwed, teenage mother, Mary. There was the unheralded but steady Joseph. Then add the dirty “poor shepherds” outside the city, and also the “wise men came from country far.” God used a Caesar to get Mary and Joseph in place, angels to get the shepherds in place, and a star to get the wise men in place. Though all of them weren’t actually together on the same night, they did all come together around Jesus.
As do we. Who are we? We are not many wise according to worldly standards, not many powerful or of noble birth (1 Corinthians 1:26). We are more the previously sexually immoral, idolators, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunken revilers (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). But a baby was born. God by His grace and Spirit has brought a ragtag group together around the baby.
Matthew’s genealogy includes the outcast, scandalous, and foreigner. The family Jesus comes from anticipates the family he has come for. (Sam Allberry)
We who believe in Jesus are a new family, a new humanity in the Second Adam from above. Jesus’ birth, leading to His death and resurrection, is still bringing people together.