Training and Tasting

At least two things keep church discipline from being as understandable and appreciated as it could be. First, too often church discipline is driven by a motivation to punish the disobedient rather than train for obedience. The purpose for disciplining our kids should not be to prove that we are bigger, stronger, or better able to define their sin. We don’t discipline with pain as the end. We discipline to direct them back to the joy of fellowship that comes in obedience. Likewise the motivation for church discipline should be to bring the sinner back into fellowship through repentance and restoration.

A second thing that keeps church discipline from being understood and appreciated is that our communion is not a feast. When an unrepentant sinner is disciplined, what is the only thing that he is prohibited from? We do not prohibit him from attending services, though he usually won’t be interested. We do not stop him from hearing the Word preached. We do not keep him from any interaction with believers, though the nature of those interactions changes. What changes is that he is no longer welcome to have this supper of the Lord, to share the fellowship. That’s why it can also be called excommunication, ex-communion-ed.

A weekly, joyful, harmonious, celebrating time around the Lord’s Table should create quite a taste. The unrepentant should have something to miss. For that to happen, we ought not to miss our opportunity. Eating and drinking by faith is sweet today and strengthening for tomorrow. This meal both satisfies us and fits us for wanting it again. The pull of joyful communion with God through Christ and with each other in Christ should be worth repenting so that we can keep coming.

May God make our communion something that we want so badly that we’ll repent from whatever sin threatens it.

This Table Is Reserved

God is full of grace. From His fulness He overflows in good things to the undeserving. He gives many good, undeserved things to those who hate Him. Jesus said that His Father makes His sun rise on the evil and sends rain on the unjust. We call this common grace. Do you have food? Do you have sight? Do you have kids? These are all blessings that believers and unbelievers can know.

Christians know another sort of grace, a special grace, a grace not given to everyone. We call it particular grace. God gives it particularly to His elect, those for whom His Son died. Particular grace is exceptional, exclusive, reserved for His people alone.

Does this make us special? Yes. Does this mean we deserved grace? No, not in a million years, no. If grace were earned it wouldn’t be grace.

Consider what the Lord revealed through Jeremiah.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, ESV)

We don’t honor God by claiming that we deserve His blessings. We also don’t honor God by claiming that we don’t have special, particular blessings that others don’t. It is all about boasting. Everyone boasts. Many boast in self. Some boast that they prohibit boasting, which is a backward way of self-boasting. And those who know particular grace boast in Christ.

This meal of communing is a meal of particular grace. Bread is for men, but the body of Christ is for believers only. Wine is for celebration, but the cup of Christ’s blood belongs only to the people who celebrate a bloody sacrifice on the cross.

Every week we boast in something exclusive. The Lord’s Table is reserved for particular people who received particular grace. If you don’t know Christ, you are invited to Christ but not to this meal. If you do know Christ, this meal invites you to everything in Christ.

One Table, Two Bodies

The Lord’s Supper is a meal that acknowledges two bodies and the communion between them.

Our King gave His body, actual flesh and actual blood, to defeat the serpent, to deliver sinners, and to do away with our sorrows. Jesus came from heaven and won the battle of sacrifice in enemy territory. He accomplished His purpose on the cross, rose from the grave three days later, and now the Spirit calls men into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love.

We who believe not only partake of His body, we are His body. Two unions take place: believers with Christ and believers with other believers. Christ is the Head and He joins all us parts together, the church.

Communion is a celebration of His body by His body. Every Christian is invited to an embassy meeting and meal each Sunday in worship. We gather to honor the King, to encourage our fellow citizens, to attend His word.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21, ESV)

By His power He incorporates us into His body, by His power we will all individually be transformed into His glorious body. Here we are at a table for two, His body represented on the table and a representative body that comes to the table.

The Tone of His Table

What flavor should season the meal of communion? Because we know that God is a consuming fire, because our salvation from sin required the sacrifice of His only Son’s blood, because there are still enemies to be subdued as His kingdom comes, what should be our mood? The tone at the Table should be consistent with the tone during the rest of our worship.

That means that this meal should be flavored by awe. It should blow us away that we gain from His reward. “Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, my God, shoulds’t die for me?” (And Can It Be That I Should Gain?) He humbles us but doesn’t hammer us. We should be full of awe, not anxiety.

The meal should be flavored by faith. We are receiving the kingdom (Hebrews 12:28), expecting that He who did not spare His own Son will also with Him give us all things. We may not be certain when, but we are certain that.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

The meal should also be flavored by gratitude. I’ve mentioned before that full gratitude empties us. That is, selfishness and thankfulness cannot coexist. Gratitude corrects our vision and pulls us up to remember what is ours in Christ. God doesn’t force us to eat the bitter because He wants us to suffer. His Son already suffered so that we could enjoy the serious sweetness of salvation. “Tis mercy all, immense and free, For O my God, it found out me!” “And so with thankfulness and faith we rise To respond and to remember” (Behold the Lamb (The Communion Hymn)).

Blood That Speaks

On the night He was betrayed Jesus told His disciples that they were drinking the cup of the covenant. “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The author of Hebrews described Jesus as “the mediator of a new covenant” with “sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). We still drink and His blood still speaks.

Jesus’ blood speaks the cost of sin. Those who sin deserve death (Romans 6:23). Only a blood sacrifice will suffice to satisfy the just requirements of God. “Not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood” (Hebrews 9:18) because blood is the price for our rebellion.

His blood speak’s God’s promise and God’s faithfulness. The law could not forgive anyone. God gave the law to show disobedience and He also gave His word to deal with men’s sin. So by “the blood of the eternal covenant” (Hebrews 13:20), a covenant intended to cleanse from uncleanness (Ezekiel 36:25-27), God fulfills His Word.

His blood speaks forgiveness and sanctification. God’s promise was to pay the cost of sin Himself so that we would not have to die. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). So “Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood” (Hebrews 13:12). Jesus’ death purchased our justification and purification.

So His blood speaks heavenly life. The Son enables us to come into His Father’s presence, to enjoy heavenly fellowship with the festive angels, heaven’s members, the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 12:22-24). That is our hope as well, and it is due to the power in Jesus’ blood.

We Win in Him

Near the end of his first letter the apostle John utilized the overcoming language that he had heard Jesus use.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4–5, ESV)

Verse 4 is one of the first phrases I memorized in Greek: ἡ νίκη ἡ νικήσασα τὸν κόσμον, ἡ πίστις ἡμῶν. The nike that niked, the victory that victoried, the triumph that triumphed, the overcoming that overcame is our faith. When we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we win in Him.

The Lord’s Supper is a meal of overcoming. We eat and drink by faith as Jesus overcomes our hunger and thirst. He is true food and true drink, eternally filling (John 6:35, 51). We come to this table because He overcomes our sinful distance. We commune with God the Father through His Son. We eat this supper because He overcomes death. Dead men don’t eat, but resurrected men have quite an appetite.

In Jesus we have victory. He invites us to share together the symbols of His triumph, His body and blood. What we have here cannot be taken from us; we cannot be defeated. Even if they lead us like lambs to the slaughter, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. This is the power of the cross.

Sympathy and Division

Our family advent plate was full the two weeks before Christmas so I didn’t post the last two communion meditations. Here they are, combined into one post-holiday casserole. The previous weeks we considered that God, in Christ, came and manifested. He did not wait for us to get to Him, nor did He wait for us to figure Him out. He took on flesh here among us and He revealed the One who dwells in the heavens. In the incarnation, God also, in Christ, sympathized with our weakness.

Christmas time seems especially suited to expose all sorts of weaknesses. As much as we’d like world peace, we’re faced with anything but peace in the world, or in our homes let alone our hearts. We expect others to give us what we would never give them, the Christmas version of the golden reversal. We wrap envy and bitterness and impatience with holiday words.

But Jesus took on flesh. He was tempted in all ways like we are, He joined us in our sorrows, but He did not sin. He knows our weakness. He sympathized, and then He sacrificed. God did not drop sympathy cards from an unarmed drone. The incarnation demonstrates sympathy as a clear fact more than any sentence ever could.

In Jesus, God also divided men. When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for eight-day circumcision, they met a man named Simon. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he saw Israel’s Consolation, the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25-26). When Simon took Jesus in his arms he praised God. Then he told Mary,

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts for many hearts will be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)

The incarnation divided between those who rejected Him and those who received Him. Not everyone is welcome at His table. But He invited all those who believe in Him to come.

From the earliest days God in flesh revealed hearts. It’s why many hated Jesus. It’s why, by the work of the Spirit, we have come to Him. We know that we need a Savior from our sin. We sense the distance that our sin took us away from Him. So, yes, God, in Christ, divided. He also delivered His people into His kingdom where we will fellowship with Him forever. Christmas was just the start.

Merry Communion!

We are taking these four Sundays before Christmas as an opportunity for advent Lord’s Suppers. That is, we are considering how the incarnation affects our communion. Last Lord’s Day at the Table we rejoiced that God came. We can also celebrate that God, in Christ, manifested Himself.

According to John, “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). If that’s accurate, then fellowship with Him is out of the question. But, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus Christ exhibited the eternal God.

Paul, referring to the living God, said, “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16), even if not in that order. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity.”

God, in Christ, showed that God is full of grace and truth, that God is love, that God descends to take on flesh and serve and take pain for others. God puts the broken back together, He heals, He reconciles, He sets prisoners free.

Jesus reveals God. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Through Him we not only know more about what God is like, we are brought to God (1 Peter 3:18). If we’ve seen Jesus we’ve seen the Father (John 14:9) and have fellowship with Him. “Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.” With all that Christ has shown us, we can greet each other at this meal, Merry Communion!

A Holiday Challenge

When we are tempted to lose heart we go back to the gospel. When we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down we know it is nothing new. We believe, we speak, and we know “that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us…into his presence.” This is an appropriate way to envision our future because it is based on His promise. Our future resurrection doesn’t depend on a dream, it depends on Easter.

So we spend our lives for others as representatives of the Lord who died so that we might live. As Paul said, “It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.”

Here is a challenge for this holiday season. Do not be only thankful, but extend grace (by dying) so that others are made more thankful. If we are growing up in Christ then not only will we see His blessings more clearly we will also be a blessing to others more consistently.

The grace we extend, the grace we slosh from our clay pots, is grace we have been given by God lavishly. Whoever believes in Jesus, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

No Pilgrimages to Holy Places

Yesterday was the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the usual time to begin the advent countdown. It also happened to be the first day of December, so we sang a number of carols to start our recognition of the season. For our Lord’s Table meditation we considered Christ’s coming and its relation to communion, which is also the plan for the following three Lord’s Days.

How does the incarnation encourage us? First, the incarnation means that, in Christ, God came. God took on flesh and it was His idea. He initiated and He travelled. He did not wait for us to draw near to Him but He clothed Himself with frail humanity.

Our salvation is not the result of any long pilgrimage on our part to some holy place, it is the result of the Son’s sojourning among unholy people. We do not globe-trot or cross galaxies to get to God. He covered the distance. We could not reach Him, but we can also not get too far away from Him that He cannot reach us.

Eternal life draped Himself with a body so that mortal flesh could put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53). Heaven came down and glory fills our futures. “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). We give thanks for salvation and fellowship we enjoy with God because He came.