After the Fact

On the Sunday before Jesus was raised from the dead He came into Jerusalem with His disciples. The day is usually called Palm Sunday due to the palm branches that the crowd laid on the road before Jesus.

We also refer to Jesus coming into Jerusalem as the “triumphal entry.” This is really curious for a couple reasons.

First, a Triumph parade was an event familiar throughout the Roman Empire. The Israelites weren’t geographically close to Rome, but at that time they were under Roman governance. Roman Generals had to win a significant victory on foreign soil in order to have a Triumph thrown for their honor. The procession followed a special order through the streets of Rome, including captives and spoils, the soldiers, the sacrifices, and the General himself riding in a four-horse chariot.

But while Jesus entered Jerusalem to acclaim and praise, He rode a humble donkey. His disciples were no impressive army, and there were no captives, no spoils of war. It wasn’t a capital T Triumph.

In fact, that’s the second thing that makes the triumphal entry unique: Jesus had not triumphed; it wasn’t even a lower case t triumph. He had won no war. Many called for blessing on Him who comes in the name of the Lord, but there was no actual accomplishment for a parade to celebrate.

Like we call Good Friday “good” after the fact, so we call the Triumphal Entry “triumphal” after the fact. We know by God’s Word and we receive by faith that Christ entered Jerusalem as King in order to pay the price for the sin of His subjects. Within that week He did triumph over sin and guilt and death, and leads all of us now in His train. Today we remember His triumph in body and blood spent for us.

Foolproof Resurrection

Why go through religious rituals like baptism or the Lord’s Supper? Why risk comfort and convenience for Christ? Why pursue righteousness when someone is going to give us grief about it? We do all of the above for sake of reward.

In Hebrews we read:

Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

But when do we get this reward? It is not always, and not even mainly, in this life. So Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (verse 10). Those like him “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (verse 16). Some through faith “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises,” (verse 33), and others “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (verse 34).

All these are those “of whom the world was not worthy” (verse 38).

We are called to live by faith, to endure “as seeing him who is invisible” (verse 27). We spend ourselves because of foolproof resurrection; we can mess up spending our lives for Christ but we can’t mess up our lives being resurrected in Christ. We obey because of that resurrection. We will not lose out on the reward because Jesus is risen from the dead.

So come, eat and drink. May your faith be strengthened. And may we all have more of the same mind, the same love, and be in full communion for sake of the Christ Jesus our Lord.

All the Prepositions

All is a word that is easily taken for granted. All of us, probably, misunderstand it depending on the context. Paul told the Corinthians that at the end of the world, God would be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). This is the final restoration and consummation of all things in God.

Halfway through his letter to the Ephesians Paul urged them to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, especially to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-4). Then he reminded them of their shared reality.

There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

This is not referring to something waiting to be revealed as in Corinthians but instead to something important to be recognized now.

All of us who believe have one and the same Father. And that Father is over and through and in all. Does “all” mean the persons, or does “all” mean the universe, or does “all” refer to some other specific set of things?

It at least refers to all His children. He rules (over), He energizes (through), and He indwells (in) all of us. And that is true even though all of us are given grace for sake of doing different things (Ephesians 3:7-16).

So we all come to this one Table of communion, and we all have reasons to give thanks not just that we get to come, but also for all of our brothers and sisters in the body that are gentle, and patient, and bearing with us in love.

We Are Not Pretending

When kids pretend they talk and behave like something is real when it isn’t. Kids aren’t the only ones who pretend, but they are usually more willing to admit it. Adults are often just as active in imagining, and their imagination engines have more horsepower, but they also tend to pretend (a.k.a., lie) that they aren’t pretending, which gets more complicated.

Living by faith is not the same as living by pretend, by fantasy. The similarity between the two is that the subject can’t physically see the object. Faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), but fantasy is “an idea with no basis in reality” (New Oxford American Dictionary). In both cases there is concentration on something invisible, but faith is the non-fiction form.

In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 Paul allows an imaginative effort for sake of wondering what it would be like if Christ has not been raised. If that is true, then preaching is pretend, and faith is pretend, and forgiveness is pretend, and the hope of eternal life is pretend. And if all we have is pretend, then we are in realty the most pitiable people on the planet.

But in order for the conclusion of his argument to be true, his premises need to be true. In other words, it’s logical that our faith is pretend only if Christ being raised from the dead is pretend. But what Paul “pretends” is that Christ isn’t raised. What Paul preaches is that Christ has been raised, and so your faith and hope and life are not empty.

Take up real bread and drink real wine; our communion with God and one another in Christ is not pretend.

The Witness Proclamation Program

Numerous times during Jesus’ earthly ministry He did something miraculous for someone and then told them not to say anything about it. One leper in particular directly disobeyed.

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. (Mark 1:40–45)

Later in the gospel of Mark He healed a deaf man with a speech impediment.

Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. (Mark 7:36)

I’ve always wondered, what kind of disobedience was this? Did Jesus die on the cross for the sin of their (untimely) praise of Him?

We do know that He died on the cross for the sin of not praising Him. And every week He gives us opportunity to proclaim our faith and proclaim His death as the good news for all who believe (1 Corinthians 11:26). Let us be “guilty” of not hiding in the witness protection program, but eating and drinking with thanks in His name.

Desire for Communion as Disciples

It is exciting to welcome five new communicants to the Lord’s Table this morning. These young men were baptized based on their profession of faith last Sunday evening, and we are eager to welcome them as much as they’ve looked forward to participating.

When I asked each one why he wanted to be baptized, one answer was shared more than others. They all wanted to be baptized in obedience to Christ. They all wanted the whole church to know that they were believers in Christ. But the most common answer was that they wanted to participate with all of us in communion.

I’ve said it before that this desire, this wanting in, is a blessing more than a liability. Of course it could be abused by kids, or adults, who want a teeny snack. It’s not really that great of a snack, though. Maybe someday we’ll have fist-size chunks of bread and king-size chalices of wine, but not today.

Still, if you are suspicious of our celebration of communion in such a way that increases the desire of others to join us, then I’d push back that the biggest problem we face is that there are so many who don’t want communion enough. There is a discouraging list of a number of sheep, sheep who previously and regularly communed with us, who aren’t gathering to worship, not just with us, but with any body. The pastors don’t have names to announce for sake of discipline at this point, and we pray it won’t come to that.

So this is the thing: wanting to be part and participating in the communion of the body in worship is good, and may all of our desires for it excel still more and more.

Comfort from the Dead-raiser

We’re going to be talking about resurrection in church for the next couple months leading up to Resurrection Sunday, and, for that matter, we’re going to be talking about it forever in the resurrection. In the meantime, prior to our resurrection, God’s Word reminds us that when we think about God we should think about His resurrection power.

In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul wrote about his afflictions and then about the comfort God gave him in his afflictions. His afflictions were actually pretty bad.

“We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. (2 Corinthians 1:8)

He had just told them that he was comforted, and that his affliction was for their comfort and salvation (verse 6). But the heaviness and pain and sufferings were real. He thought he might die any moment, and it was bad enough he might have preferred death. Believing the gospel doesn’t make life more easy but it does tell us that there is more after this life.

We endure as we hope in God, and God wants us to remember who He is.

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:9)

God is the Dead-raiser. Jesus called Himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:24). He is the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), and His ability to comfort us is tied to His ability to raise the dead. Therefore, “Let us hold fast the confession our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

When Receivers Are Received

Call it “internal grammar.” Describe it as consistent, or use an expression such as turn about is fair play, or what goes around comes around.

Paul told the Corinthians that if they didn’t accept his instructions as coming from the Lord then the Lord would not accept them when they came before Him. “If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (1 Corinthians 14:38, ESV) “If anyone ignores this, they themselves will be ignored” (NIV). If you won’t know, then you won’t be known.

The argument is logically equivalent when both sides of the statement are turned to affirmations. If a man receives the things of the Lord, then the Lord receives the man. And by application, if we receive the bread and the cup at His Table the way He instructs us to, then He will receive us at His table the way the bread and the cup invite us to realize.

This will be true for us at the Supper of the Lamb. We come to commune with Christ week by week. We receive His Word and His salvation by faith, so we eat and drink in remembrance of Him. And at that great Table, He will say, “I know you. Haven’t you been here before? Welcome, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

Good Things from Three Persons

The most explicitly Trinitarian benediction in the Bible comes in the final verse of 2 Corinthians.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

All three Persons are referred to, even if we would tend to want to mention the Father first. Paul attributes something different from each Person, not because any of these gifts can be separated from God’s Triune nature, but most likely because Paul had already attached these particular blessings to a particular Person previously in the letter.

From the Lord, the Son, we receive “grace.” He who is the Master, He who is the Messiah, gives His favor, and the favor is unconditional. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 His grace to us included His becoming poor so that by His poverty we might become rich.

From God, the Father, we receive “love.” His love is more than a disembodied form somewhere up in the sky. The Father abounds in affections for His children and that love came sloshing over the edges of eternity when He the sent His Son and then His Spirit. He loves generously because, as in 2 Corinthians 13:11, He is “the God of love and peace.”

From the Holy Spirit we receive “fellowship.” We are brought into the company of the saints in light. We are made partakers of the divine nature through the Spirit, God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts through the Spirit, and we are united to the body through one Spirit. According to 2 Corinthians 5:5 the Spirit is the guarantee of our eternal life. We will share this fellowship forever.

It’s only by the Son’s grace that we know God’s love, and it is love that defines our fellowship in the Spirit.

What Other Table?

Whether we recognize it or not, whether it is obvious to others that we recognize it or not, God is really among us. In our liturgy we acknowledge the call into His presence together from the start of our service, and our aim is to share communion with Him in the Lord’s Supper. The cup of blessing is a participation in the blood of Christ. The bread is a participation on the body of Christ. If we offered ourselves to any other presence we would be provoking the Lord to jealousy.

So how should we act around His Table? How about hungry, thankful, filled, and thankful.

We are hungry for righteousness, and we couldn’t bake or buy our own. God’s Spirit disclosed the secrets of our hearts, and it wasn’t pretty. We hunger and thirst for salvation, for Him to deal with our guilt and to be His sons. When we see the bread and the cup we are reminded that Christ gave Himself for our salvation. He made this meal, and we come to eat and drink by faith with thanks. Amen? To what other table could we go?

When we eat and drink we are enacting our amen. We are convinced that Christ alone is our Savior and say amen from our mouths, and we consume His flesh and blood as another sort of amen with our mouths. He died and rose again, we with Him, let us eat. Amen? It is food and drink for our souls, thank You, Lord.

We are not imagining that God is really among us, we are imaging the reality by bringing our hunger to Him, by rejoicing in His provision, and by communing with Him together as His body, amen.