If you were God and wanted a way for people to remember the most important event in human history, what program would you use? More than a watershed event, this is the Son of Your love, Your eternal glory, who enfleshed obedience and sacrifice to purchase a people for life. How will you move the redeemed to remember and rejoice?
We might be tempted to focus on the mental aspect. After all, memory is the brain’s territory. Once the truth is in there, we need a trigger to recall it. We could also support it with specifics to remind us about the scope of this truth—say, that God planned it before the foundation of the world, and the comparative value of the truth—the resurrection of God-incarnate means more than any other resurrection. We can do quite a lot on the inside of our heads and all on our own.
This is what maybe most Christians make of communion in the individualist West. We are separated from one another, separated from connection with place and time. We are even tempted to be separated from our tongues. If we could just visualize communion, wouldn’t that be easier? Wouldn’t that make it less likely to get messed up by forgotten salt in the bread or by bitter wine from the bottom of the bottle or by a slow family at the start of the procession to the table? Isn’t communion about remembering Jesus?
It is, and Jesus instituted a meal for us. Words explain it; we don’t disengage our reason. But words explain it, that is the table and the bread and the cup of wine and the plural number of particular persons with faces and names. The symbols are not empty or superfluous. The eating and drinking together are not wasted physical motions. God cares about who He’s saved and that includes what He’s made them to be. Your body may be broken for now, but He has promised you a healed one for eternity, purchased by the giving of Jesus’ body for you.
The Christian life is a life in the body. Paul told the Roman church to present their bodies as living sacrifices as part of their spiritual worship (Romans 12). He warned the Corinthians about sexual sins against the body, because “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you. You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
He made us with bodies, He redeems us to “control [our own bodies] in holiness and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4), and He promises that, we, with Job, will see our Redeemer in our flesh (Job 19:25-26).
God affirmed our body-ness by giving one to His own Son; the Word became flesh (John 1:14). And God declared Christ Jesus to be the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).
Jesus was eager to show the disciples His hands and feet post-resurrection.
he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:38–39)
Jesus died in the flesh. Jesus lives in the flesh. Jesus told us to eat His flesh and drink His blood in our flesh and blood.
We receive His grace-strength by faith, but that grace-strength is not for sake of mystical good-feels and holy-thinks. That grace-strength enables us to listen with our ears, to speak truth in love with our mouths, to take the gospel with our feet, and to make lunch/wash clothes/write code with our hands, all for Him.
After a paragraph of imperatives and illustrations about the generational work Timothy was called to (1 Timothy 3:1-7), Paul added another imperative, a turn of the head to the Savior.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel (1 Timothy 2:8)
Think on Jesus, keep Him in your mind. And in particular, remember that He died, was buried, and on the third day rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. The gospel Paul preached is a gospel promised. God promised a servant-king in the line of David, a redeemer-ruler who came and is coming again. These are ancient truths, these are also get-you-out-of-bed-today truths.
They were truths that Paul was willing to suffer for, to be imprisoned for, and it had a larger aim that his own endurance. He said, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
We also remember Jesus Christ at the Lord’s Table. We remember His sacrifice of body and blood as we eat the bread and drink the wine. We remember how He substituted Himself for us, for sinners, for those chosen by the Father and given to the Son. We remember that He purchased our forgiveness, our cleansed consciences, and also our place of honor with Him forever. He gets glory and gives it to us. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” For now, let us eat and drink with Him.
Even though He offers them no redemption, God is, perhaps surprisingly to us, interested in teaching the angels.
For much of the Old Testament, prophets searched and inquired their own prophecies about the grace that would come through the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. All of this good news, which Peter said had been preached to his elect readers, were “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12).
On the cross Jesus died for those who were dead in their trespasses. He canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” This is Christ’s work for us. But in doing so He also “disarmed the rulers and authorities, and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:13-15). At the cross God taught the angels a lesson.
There is another lesson still going on. God is bringing to light for everyone what is the mystery of His plan. This “God who created all things” continues working “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9-10). Angels learn lessons as God builds His church.
This demonstrating work goes all the way back to Eden. God told the dragon, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed,” and you are going to lose. We usually don’t describe God’s revelation as “smack talk,” but this is divine insult to the serpent. The woman’s seed wins.
For generations God has been talking this way to rebel angels and He continues to make His point by uniting the church in the Dragon-Slayer, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The sovereignty of God and the suffering of men is not an academic exercise. Theodicy—a good God’s control over man’s evil (and nature’s destructive force that hurts men)—confronts us every day. If we say He can stop it, why doesn’t He? If we say He can not stop it, where can we go for help?
I’ve always found it helpful to remember that the most evil thing that has ever happened in the world was planned by God before He created the world. No torture has ever been more unjust than what the soldiers did to Jesus, and by those wounds we are healed. No State sanctioned capital punishment has ever been more malicious or murderous in intent, and by Christ’s death we know God’s loving intent. God used the most heinous sin of man to purchase the salvation of man.
The apostles recognized God’s hand in the crucifixion. Peter preached on Pentecost:
this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)
The believers prayed in light of predestination:
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27–28)
God not only can use the evil of men, He meant to. He invites us to remember the glory of the cross–where He designed the ultimate display of glory–as we eat the bread and drink the wine together.
Jacob blessed his sons on his deathbed with a vision of the future he could only see by faith. He prophesied that a ruler would come from Judah’s line (Genesis 49:9-10), and he probably would have been impressed if he’d seen David and Solomon in their day. We know, though, that another and greater King came from Judah.
The apostle John saw a vision around a throne in heaven, and an elder said there was no reason to weep because the “Lion of the tribe of Judah…has conquered” (Revelation 5:5). The Lion was something to “behold.” He was worthy to open the scroll, and all eyes were on Him.
But this Lion didn’t look like a lion. Between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders John saw a “Lamb, standing as though it had been slain” (verse 6). Jacob didn’t see this. He didn’t see how the tribute of the peoples would start flowing. It was because the Lamb purchased them. The saints were singing a new song:
“you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (verses 9-10)
Men from every tribe, not just Israel’s Twelve, are ransomed. The Lion-Lamb purchased their salvation, their freedom, their obedience, and their praise. We who believe in Christ are in that number. We are part of the patriarch’s prophetic blessing some 4,000 years ago. We are redeemed servants and saints of the slain and risen Lamb, glad servants of the ruling Lion from whom the scepter shall never depart.
We gather around the communion Table together in the name of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, in the name of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
In Psalm 20 David has us sing,
Some trust in chariots and some in horses
but we trust in the name of the LORD our GOD. (verse 7)
The verse before (6) and the verse after (8) connect this song to battle. Verse 1 talks about “the day of trouble” and verse 9 includes a shout out for the king. Men are always tempted under fire to trust their strengths, their strategies and supplies, to trust what they can see. This is true especially for those out front.
What wins, though, is the Lord. “He will answer from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand.” “The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39).
We also trust in the name of the Lord our God. We are saved as we believe in Him.
Even though kings used chariots and horses he shouldn’t swear by them. Likewise the believing leader doesn’t believe in the means. For us, we utilize weapons in the spiritual war, but we do not trust those weapons. We “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
One of the most effective tactics of our shepherding, one that helps us to present every man complete in Christ and build up the body in part and as a whole, is to eat and drink. We do it because we believe that the Lord works, that He nourishes our faith and knits us together around His Table. Bread and wine are never so powerful as when received together in thanks, in the name of the Lord.
Bread and wine are good. They have their own, built-in sustaining properties. They are also available to enjoy at your own home around your own table, or without a table if you prefer.
What is special about the bread and wine on this table? Well, in terms of the gluten, it’s the same. The tannins have no magical properties. But while there is nothing mystical about the physical elements, there is a supernatural process at work.
The bread and wine are special because Jesus gave His Word on it. He said, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.” He said, “Drink of it…this cup is the new covenant in my blood.” God’s Word stamps the elements with new value.
John Calvin likened it to the stamp on precious metal. A lump of silver has value but the stamp turns it into coin that means something more.
Why are crude and coined silver not of the same value, though they are absolutely the same metal? The one is merely in the natural state; stamped with an official mark, it becomes a coin and receives a new valuation. And cannot God mark with his Word the things he has created, that what were previously bare elements may become sacraments? (Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 18)
The Spirit gives us a toast of joy, strengthens our faith, unites us to one another by grace through faith. This his why it’s more than a 100 calorie Sunday morning snack, it is a meal of fellowship. It is a meal that a few among us have been eager to enjoy for their first time, and since their baptism last Sunday evening we welcome them to join us.
It appears that Americans will have spent more money for Easter this year than they did for Valentine’s Day (ht: Al Mohler). When it comes to the commercialization of holidays, Easter may not be quite as marketed for money-making as Christmas, but it is multiplying like bunnies.
What most people are buying most is candy. I remember getting candy on Easter when I was a kid, and we often give candy to our kids, too.
Is this a bad thing? Is it a sign of our compromise, or worse, of our loss of respect for Christ’s bloody sacrifice for sin and miraculous, world- resurrection?
It certainly could be. Buying candy and giving it as a gift (and eating it) isn’t necessarily Christian, nor does chocolate and peanut butter obviously make one think of the cross or the empty tomb. Candy consumption could be thoughtless. It could be sacrilegious.
But what other worldview would ever make sharing sweets a cultural thing to do? Bacchus was the god of partying, and there was much feasting and drinking done in his name, but it always led to men and women losing inhibitions, and usually someone ended up dead. Serving Bacchus resulted in ecstatic rage and the shedding of blood. Materialism doesn’t offer a good basis either. Mammon is a god to many, but how did the candy company executives and advertisers and store owners convince so many consumers to buy tasty yet otherwise useless candy?
We eat sweets (and other feasting foods) to remember winter’s end, not to try to forget winter’s inevitable return. We buy and give and share candy because Christ’s resurrection has established a world of buying and giving and sharing. We don’t party before offering sacrifice, we rejoice because the sacrifice was already offered and accepted. For it even to be possible to commercialize Easter, Easter had to be effective, otherwise we would all be fearful of immanent judgment and eternal death. We should not be thoughtless, but because Jesus is risen from the dead, think about how much we have to be thankful for.
The Lord’s Table is a table of community accountability. By God’s grace, we have only removed a few persons from communion at our church due to church discipline. He has guarded our flock from gross, ongoing, unrepentant sinners. We have been able to enjoy the sweet fellowship here without too much bitterness.
This is fellowship worth preserving, worth protecting, and that means that not everyone is invited. In particular, when professing brothers refuse to repent from their sin after they have been personally, lovingly, and repeatedly pursued, they may be formally uninvited from participation.
The Lord requires one brother who sees another sinning brother to confront the sinner. The Lord instructs more people to get involved if there is not repentance and, eventually, the (local) church must acknowledge the immorality and discipline the sinner by removing him from fellowship. Those inside the church judge those inside the church. This is part of mutual accountability.
The church gets it wrong sometimes, more often than not by failing to deal with sinners. According to 1 Corinthians 11, God sometimes intervenes directly rather than through the church toward those who profane the body and blood of the Lord by unworthy participation at His Table. God is not mocked even if the church gets it wrong. Death is an even stronger statement than church discipline.
Of course, it is not much of a discipline to keep someone from something that we don’t value or enjoy. Our communion now sets the tone for later. The offender will miss out to the degree that we make much of this meal. We will give an account for how we participated, and it ought to be with righteous rejoicing.