Not in Me

Pharaoh paid a great compliment to Joseph before seeing any of Joseph’s work for himself. “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” But Joseph answered, “It is not in me” (Genesis 41:16). He knew he had nothing that he had not received. For however audacious he’d been telling his own dreams to his brothers and father, he’d been humbled for the last thirteen years, sold as a slave and then serving as a prisoner. Joseph knew, at least by now if not before, that God was the source of his wisdom.

The Lord’s Table is a similar light on our interpretation of things. We could start to think that we belong here by nature of our righteousness or faithfulness or endurance. Another person could say, in a less than complimentary tone, that we think we’re so holy. But the bread and the wine remind us that salvation and redemption and righteousness are not in us.

We sing a song sometimes on Sunday mornings titled, “Not in Me.” Here are some of the key lyrics:

No list of sins I have not done,

No list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like,

Can earn myself a place with You.

No humble dress, no fervent prayer,

No lifted hands, no tearful song,

No recitation of the truth

Can justify a single wrong.

No separation from the world,

No work I do, no gift I give,

Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;

I cannot cause my soul to live.

Jesus is our life. Jesus paid our debt to death. Jesus bore our load of guilt. So “He alone can give me rest.”

As we celebrate this meal together by faith we proclaim that we’ve been lifted up from the pit of sin and guilt and death by Him alone.

Exsultamus!

Perhaps one reason why some young people in the church grow up and walk away from the faith is because they have not celebrated communion enough or because they have not celebrated it at all. This Table is a central location where the church and parents need to disciple young believers.

There is a wrong way to do right things. Observing the Lord’s Table in a way that stirs up guilt more than hope, that triggers shame more than joy, that prompts uncertainty more than peace, is dissonant with the gospel and dangerous to souls. A regular diet of doubt and fear not only doesn’t make the diet appealing, it makes faint Christians.

Infrequent celebration, or observation, is like an annual family meal, or maybe a quarterly repast. When we are around the Table we connect. We are reminded of who we are and how we’re related. We catch up and, if we mess up, we make up. We get right with one another because that’s what families do. More biblically, that’s what Jesus does for families that follow Him. It’s worth doing weekly.

Is it so surprising that young people who may never have seen joy at the Table aren’t interested in it, or who, when they saw the adults value it on a yearly basis, decided it must not have that much value after all?

We rejoice—exsultamus!—that Jesus is our Savior (Titus 3:4-6), our Lord (Romans 1:4; 10:9), our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), our firstborn Brother (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:17), and our example (1 Peter 2:21). We rejoice that He died, was buried, and rose again to defeat sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 5:21). We rejoice that we are His Body (Ephesians 1:22-23), and that He blesses all who participate in the blood of Christ and partake of the body of Christ by faith in remembrance of Him (1 Corinthians 10:16). As often as we eat this bread and drink the cup we exult in our Lord by faith (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Familiarity Breeds

Since I’m a pastor and since I am responsible for much of the Lord’s Day liturgy at our assembly’s worship, I’m often asked what our Sunday morning service looks like. When I get to the part about having weekly communion, the follow-up question is typically, “Doesn’t that make it not special after a while?”

There are short answers, which is what I usually give (don’t be too surprised). I often say, “Not yet by God’s grace.” Still, we understand where the question comes from, and yet it is surprising that Christians are so fearful.

The truism we believe is that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s catchy, and we can see how that could be used as a diagnostic to explain why we have contempt for something. Now that I think about it, I’d much rather blame “familiarity” than something in my own heart. Yet (my/your) ignorance also empowers contempt, as do (my/your) pride and (my/your) envy.

I was meditating on the assumed power in the verb: familiarity breeds. Breeding doesn’t happen by proxy, there are no breeders emeritus, you cannot sign up for distance breeding. Husbands become fathers through familiarity with their wives. Why don’t Christians ask if marital familiarity is dangerous? Maybe Christians are too spiritual to ask it out loud, maybe some do think it. But familiarity is powerful to produce fruit.

In the Bible, familiarity with God breeds panic and praise, weeping and worship, dread and joy. As it turns out, familiarity isn’t the problem, we are the problem. Dinner with the family every night could become monotonous if mom despised the work and dad despised the interruption and the kids despised being despised. But when there is familiarity with sacrificial love and intention, contempt doesn’t have a place at the table.

The Lord’s Supper doesn’t stay special because of it’s scarcity, but by our increasing in the knowledge of God that grows our affections for and gratitude to Him.

The Cup in Our Hands

There is no way that Pharaoh’s cupbearer was unable to remember what Joseph had done. Nothing could have been worse than losing his royal position as confidant to the king and nothing else other than his restoration to that position would have occupied his mind more while in prison. His dream, and Joseph’s foretelling of his deliverance, consumed him for three days until the prophecy was fulfilled. Even if the cupbearer did not want to advocate on behalf of the Hebrew who served him and gave him hope, there is no way that Joseph simply slipped his mind…for two years. He didn’t draw a blank, he blocked it out.

Joseph asked the cupbearer to “Remember me.” He appealed that the cupbearer would “mention me to Pharaoh.” Though Joseph had cared for him every day and miraculously calmed his fears, the cupbearer refused to recognize him in thanks let alone lobby for his release.

Jesus also told His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). He gave them bread to represent His body, a body given to redeem them as the bread sustained them. He wanted them to keep in mind what He had done.

When Paul explained the Supper to the Corinthians he said that, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Not before a Pharaoh, but before one another and before the world, our receiving and remembering is part of our witness.

Christ puts the cup in our hands so that we may drink it. He was lifted up on the tree and lifted up from the grave so that He might lift up our heads to share in His glory. We may not forget. We must not let it slip our minds or purpose to keep quiet. Around this Table we are aware and we appreciate and we announce that Jesus Christ died and rose again to deliver us from all our offenses.

In Remembrance of Where Christ Is

We are in a constant spiritual war and our enemies—sin, the world, and the devil—are relentless. The Lord has not left us without weapons.

Paul told the Romans to reckon themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by remembering their baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) This is one reason we don’t sprinkle, we dunk under water as if buried under it. Then, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). We’re united with Christ in death and resurrection. Sin is not our master anymore, so we don’t need to present our members to the enemy but to God as instruments of righteousness. Yield to grace.

And then feed on grace. Our baptism identifies us with the army of God, and our communion strengthen us for the fight. The bread and the wine remind us that the Lord is with us. During this part of the plan we might be in Egypt (an analogy to Joseph), we might be in prison (also analogy), but we are not alone.

The worst part about excommunication, in which an unrepentant but still professing believer is prohibited from the communion table, is that such a person is removed from the protection. He is delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5). The rest are “assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus…with the power of our Lord Jesus” (verse 4). We are not alone and hungry. We do not become prey for the enemy. We are fed for strength to succeed in our work and to resist temptation.

So eat and drink in remembrance not only of what Christ has done, eat and drink in remembrance of where Christ is, here, with us.

More Suitable for Church People

How can Jesus stand to have Tamar (see Genesis 39) in His genealogy? From the standpoint of the eternal councils, did the Son ever want to suggest an alternative plan to the Father, maybe something a little less scandalous and gross, something more suitable for church people, and the kids?!

Tamar was a Canaanite, one of the strange women the Patriarchs were eager to avoid. She was not a one man woman; she had sex with two men so sinful that the LORD executed them, and then with another man, her father-in-law, that she deceived into it by playing a prostitute.

Yet there she is, the 47th word of the New Testament, in the third verse of the book intended to show how Jesus is the Messiah. Matthew wrote the Gospel of the King, and Tamar (along with Rahab and Ruth and the wife of Uriah) is an unmistakable link, one Jesus doesn’t try to veil.

Jesus isn’t trying to cover up His past filled with sinners, nor is He looking for sinners who can cover up their past of sin. He is looking to cover our sin with His blood. Do you have sin? He has blood. Do you have great sin? He has great blood. Do you have unspeakable sin? He has blood that covers for sake of our joy unspeakable and full of glory.

We don’t manage our sin and guilt. We don’t need a public relations team to spin how the formerly shady Mr. So-and-so got in here, or to deflect attention from the nasty past of Mrs. What’s-her-name. We are here because of God’s grace, not our editing. We eat the bread and drink the wine because His love overcomes our wickedness. God didn’t kill us, He killed His Son for us. That’s why He can stand to eat at the same Table with us.

A Way of Life

Our new President has been tweeting for a while, and a few years ago he posted something for the world that continues to be born out in his behavior.

When someone attacks me, I always attack back…except 100x more. This has nothing to do with a tirade but rather, a way of life! (November 11, 2012)

He didn’t say when someone attacks my people, or my family, or even my friends, but just “me” (even though he did post it on an anniversary of 9/11). He doesn’t say that he defends himself, but that he “always attack(s).” He goes even further by multiplying the attack, “100x more.” It’s not occasional, or even frequent, but a personal manifesto for his “way of life.”

I make these distinctions because defending our loved ones, our neighbors, the helpless, is appropriate. There are times when self-defense is allowable. But as Christians we’ve learned a different way of life. If Peter had been a tweeter he might have posted this:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:21–24)

This is why Christians get our worldview, our way to walk, starting in our worship. As we step to the Table of remembrance, set with bread and wine representing the One who was attacked for sake of our salvation, we’re learning to follow one set of steps and not another.

Won to His Side

The people of Israel often had outside enemies. The genealogy of Esau in Genesis 36 records the increasing numbers and strength of the non-elect line. Chiefs and kings just a land away caused grief to God’s people even when His people were minding their own business within their borders. King David, who eventually defeated and subdued the land of Edom during his reign (2 Samuel 8:13-14), knew many battle songs. He knew what threat felt like, not just triumph.

if it had not been the LORD who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us; We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!
(Psalm 124:2–3, 7, ESV)

Hope and help is in the name of the LORD who made heaven and earth. Our call to worship reminds us of this relationship every week.

Our communion at the Lord’s Table reminds us of our redemption every week as well. Our enemy is not Canada or Mexico, Russia or Iraq, our enemy is us, our own hearts, our own sin.

If it had not been the Lord who was given as our sacrifice, when guilt rose up against us, we would have been swallowed up alive. We have been delivered like a bird from the trap of temptation, the snare of sin is broken and we have eternal life.

Our help is in the name of the Lord who made His grave with the wicked, who makes an offering for sin, who makes many to be accounted righteous, and who makes intercession for the transgressors. The bread and the wine are for those He’s won to His side.

A Principal Ornament

Our elders are continuing to read The Supper of the Lamb and, in the chapter we talked about at our last meeting, Capon described how “a husband’s hunger is one of the principal ornaments of his household.” Too big a lunch means he’s not ready to be grateful for whatever his wife has prepared. Hunger is a sauce that sweetens even bitter things.

What kid wouldn’t love coming to the table to hear his dad talk about how he’s been looking forward to this meal all day? This isn’t dad being angry if the food takes a few minutes longer in the oven or if the menu is different than what his wife originally planned. He’s satisfied in anticipation, giving thanks before any bites because he knows what’s gone into the preparation.

I am very encouraged at how many of the young kids among us—I’m thinking in particular of those who are old enough to walk and talk but who haven’t been baptized yet—those who see what’s happening, who want to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Of course they could be doing it because it looks like a fun snack. That’s not what it is. But I would rather have that mistake for a while than the mistake of them not wanting to do what we’re doing for a long time. “Look at all those miserable, fearful people. I don’t want anything to do with that.”

Fathers and mothers who come to the Lord’s Table hungry for communion with their heavenly Father and with their spiritual family are showing that this is a table of joy. We know what went into preparing it, in heaven and on earth. May another generation see our glad hunger for Christ and come to love hungering for Him too.

Outright Dependence

Prayer is an indispensable way that that we express our dependence on God during corporate worship but not the only way. We also demonstrate dependence when we attend to God’s Word, and Scripture directs our Lord’s Day service from the opening call to the final commission. There is fellowship when we hear His Word and when we respond with words of prayer. Communication renews and sustain our relationship with God week by week.

Both of these are word-based and necessary. There is at least one more act of outright dependence, and that is when we eat the bread and drink the wine.

After Jesus fed the 5,000 men with five barley loaves and two fish, the crowd followed after Him to Capernaum. In their conversation Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). But the Jews grumbled at this claim, so Jesus pressed further.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:53–56)

We do this by faith at the Lord’s Table. Is God pleased with you due to your abilities? Of course not, so come and eat Christ’s flesh. Does God forgive your sins by sacrifices you’ve made? Never, so come and drink Christ’s blood.

At this Table there is dependence on the Holy One of God. In Him alone is eternal life.