A Successful Catastrophe

This was a helpful rundown from the military perspective, Can America win a war in Syria? From what I understand, the Assad regime has chemical weaponry and President Obama is considering a “limited” strike, perhaps shooting missiles but sending no men on the ground.

The article above argued the high probability that such an attack would be a success; we could indeed target and destroy the weapons. Such a success, however, would also be a catastrophe. There is no way to explode explosive chemicals without an explosion of those chemicals. Or, we could destroy the storage facilities without destroying the weapons, but without troops to contain them, the weapons could be seized by other enemies, resulting in a different kind of catastrophe. To destroy the weapons without releasing the gas or the weapons themselves, we would need to occupy Syria for some time. That could give countries such as Russia and China a reason to ally against us, a conflict we don’t have the money for. Any of these three paths to “success” would be catastrophic.

The death of Christ, on the other hand, was a successful catastrophe. As the Nicene Creed affirms, the “Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.” That Lord was crucified by men He created. The perfectly righteous One was condemned. The God of life laid down His life. It was a universal shock. The rocks cry out at the injustice. No other event in history was such a disaster.

But His catastrophic death was a success, accomplishing every objective against the serpent and sin. Christ fully propitiated God’s wrath against sinful men. He paid the price in full. He shut the mouth of the accuser. In Christ, we are declared righteous. In Christ, we are reconciled to God. In Christ, the dead are resurrected to eternal life. As we eat and drink at His Table, we remember the catastrophe and rejoice in the victory.

Glossing the Skids

I taught John 14:6 a couple Sundays ago and thought that a great communion meditation that day would be to focus on the exclusivity of Jesus as the one way, one truth, one life. Or, put in Reformation sola sort of terms, Christ is the only way, the only truth, the only life. I know enough Latin to look up words in a dictionary, so I thought about attaching the “way,” “truth” and “life” to sola, or una (the Latin word for “one”). As I made progress I found a pattern: way is via, truth is veritas, and life is vita. There you go: una via, una veritas, una vita. The whole thing took me quite a long time, and then I decided to look up John 14:6 in Latin.

“Ego sum via, et veritas, et vita.”

Maybe I should have started there.

Even though Jerome already glossed the skids centuries ago, every week when we come to the Lord’s Table we affirm and celebrate that Jesus is all three: the way, the truth, and the life. We affirm that He is the way, the only route to the Father, our one access to God. In particular, His death was the way, represented by the bread and the cup. It took a perfect sacrifice to satisfy God’s judgment against unrighteousness and there is only one that works: the sacrifice of His Son. Una via.

We affirm that He is the truth. Generations of unbelievers have sought multiple roads and told many lies to nurture their idolatries. Men wouldn’t and couldn’t come up with the gospel by themselves. Jesus embodies the only truth, the truth about judgment and deliverance of wrath and love and hope. Jesus reveals our true condition and the one true solution. Una veritas.

We affirm that He is the life. When the first Adam sinned, he died. His death meant separation. Adam lost life, he lost fellowship with God (and with his wife). If death means separation, then life is relationship, life is fellowship, life is communion. So Jesus, the Second Adam, described Himself as the life then immediately descries how He reveals the Father to disciples and brings them to Him. Jesus fixed what Adam broke. Una vita.

We have communion with God through Jesus. We have fellowship with each other through Jesus. We enjoy the freedom of one, the freedom in Christ alone that comes by grace alone through faith alone.

We Can’t Be Silent

Men proclaim their loves in a variety of ways and one of those ways involves words. There are many non-verbal forms of communication, too. A man may only invest in clothes stiched with a certain logo. He may enthrone a television that takes up half a wall. He may stock his pockets with mini-computers made by only one company. He may cross his arms left hand up to keep his wedding ring finger out from under his right armpit. He may besiege every weed every week from his yard with military rigidity. There are many ways that we show what we love.

Showing what we love is inescapable whether or not we post it on Facebook. The words we use are not unimportant but they are only part of our expression.

As Christians we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes by opening our mouths to eat and drink (1 Corinthians 11:26), not only to preach. As creation speaks God’s glory without words, so communion speaks our faith and fellowship with God and each other. We don’t just talk about unity, we walk together to the same table. We don’t just say that Christ is our life, we eat His body and drink His blood as our food.

All men will know we are Christians by our love for one another. As we celebrate this Supper all men will know that we only love one another only because He loved us first. We proclaim that He loved us, that He gave Himself for us in love, and that our love for others is derivative from His divine love. Sharing this meal may not require many words, but it cannot remain silent when we participate by faith.

Called to a Common Commandment

It’s been said that there are some sights only visible in the valley. Likewise, some glories only shine on earth, not in heaven. The love of God in Christ is perfect, but not pristine. Jesus washed dirty feet because He loved His disciples. He was betrayed, then beaten bloody because He loved His own. His love changes sinners, it doesn’t avoid them.

To measure the quantity, the volume of God’s love would break our calculators. To measure the power, the energy of His love would fry our testers. But we can see His love in action. We see Jesus loving His disciples to the end, and we see the community created as a result of their love for one another. That community has brought the gospel to us.

We are a Christian community. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism. We hold a Savior in common, a Book in common, an inheritance in common. We also a called to submit to a common commandment: to love one another as Jesus loved us. We will only be as distinct as we love each other into growth, not when we love each other because we’ve arrived at perfect maturity.

The glory we share around the Lord’s Table knits us together in love. The Table reminds us that our acceptance with God cleanses us, not that we must clean ourselves up in order to get accepted. We accept each other because He accepts us. So also we do not have unity because none of us does anything annoying anymore. We seek unity with other sinners because it is right.

The world won’t know what to do with an entire community obeying Christ’s commandment. Christ is the key who causes all the tumblers in the lock to be clicked into place. Christ opens the way for us to know God’s love for us and for His disciples to love one another. Here is God’s love on the ground, and it is glorious.

They Didn’t Know

When Satan provoked Judas to betray Jesus he played into Jesus’ plan. Satan fulfilled his part in God’s eternal story and Judas obeyed Jesus even as he despised Him. The enemies of Christ did not know that they were working toward their own destruction.

Paul told the Corinthians that he and his fellow representatives of Christ imparted a “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” It is a wisdom that the world doesn’t get. In fact, “none of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). The jealous Jewish authorities, the ignorant Roman officials, the spiritual forces of evil could not see their own defeat in the death of Jesus.

It all happened according to God’s wisdom, under His direction, for our glory. Those who are spiritual, those who are mature, see by faith great ends to traumatic trouble.

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him.
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

Without God’s Spirit in us we too would see Judas as a rogue character, Satan as having the upper hand, the cross as the enemies of Jesus defeating Him not the means of Jesus defeating His enemies. The world doesn’t know–and wouldn’t appreciate it if they did–how they are fulfilling God’s purposes even when it looks to them like they are winning. We believers are a people who see a glorious future out of impossibly ugly loss. That’s how God works.

Pair-a-Bowla

One of my earliest sermons while in seminary was on Philippians 2:1-11. Paul urges the believers: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (verse 3). The basis for humility is Jesus’ humility. The Philippians were to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself” (verses 5-7). Jesus didn’t grab at position, He grabbed a towel (think John 13:1-17). Christ humbled Himself through the lowest levels of servant-hood and obedience and even to death on a cross. Paul concludes: “Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name” (verse 9).

In my study for that sermon I read a great commentary with a killer illustration. The author described a u-shaped curve and how Jesus, being God, was at the top, then descended to the lowest part through death, and then was exalted by God to the top again on the other side. I spoke through the whole sermon talking about the great “pair-a-bowla” of Christ. A friend mentioned to me afterward that it sounded a lot like the word parabola.

Mispronunciation or not, remember that Christ’s descent was for you and I. He came down to get us. That’s not because we were great. Then He would have needed to come up. He came down, but He takes us back with Him. There is happiness in humility, and also honor. God sees to it that those who follow the example of Christ get encouragement in Christ.

A Good Washing

Paul provides well-known instruction in 1 Corinthians 6 that Christians shouldn’t take other Christians to court. It ruins our witness before those who have no standing in the church (verse 4) and it doesn’t make sense since we’re to judge angels (verse 3). In other words, we should be wise enough in Christ to handle our disagreements. Even more, we should be mature enough in Christ to “suffer wrong” and “be defrauded” by a brother (verse 7). Unrighteous men give place to their grievances against others. Righteous men don’t.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, ESV)

We’ve been bathed in Christ. We are saints. We will inherit a common kingdom. We will judge angels. We can enjoy communion together and the basis is the washing of our sin in Christ, a washing that all of us needed and that none of us deserved.

Being washed changes our eternity destiny, yes, and it severs our ties to temporal things in the world. It also changes our relationships with one another now. Being washed shapes what we expect from each other. Being washed influences how we resolve our disputes. We’ve been washed and our grievances against one another should go down the drain with the rest of the dirt.

Make It Look Good

In Titus 2:9-10, Paul instructs slaves about being submissive to their masters in everything. He ends his counsel to them as follows: slaves should be “showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

Adorn is clearly the key word. To adorn means to put something in order, to decorate it, make it look good. In this case, slaves don’t make the doctrine good; the doctrine is good. But they can and should live in such a way as to make it look good. If slaves live by faith, they show the beauty of the truth about God our Savior.

What does adorning the doctrine do? It makes it look good. But why does that matter? Because we want other people to want it. Showing that something is attractive should attract. An appealing life draws others in.

By way of application, our worship of God the Savior should be attractive as well. The way we sing should make others pay attention. The way we feast from a good meal of God’s Word should make them hungry. The way we fellowship around the Lord’s Table should make them want in. This is a built-in feature when we worship well.

Getting up from the Table

A lot of things happened when the sun went down Thursday evening of Passion Week. Too much, in fact, for the disciples to process until after the resurrection. They were caught in the whirlwind. Yet Jesus planted an unmistakable reference point when He wrapped a towel around Himself in John 13.

We don’t believe that foot-washing is an ordinance such as baptism or communion. Jesus commanded His disciples to follow His example to serve one another and washing the Twelve’s feet was an illustration, not the institution of a formal ceremony. Yet we rarely consider that the context of the Lord’s Table is when the Lord got up from the table to do the servant’s work.

When we eat and drink, part of us should object, just as Peter initially objected to the Lord washing his feet. It’s not right for the Lord to die for us. That’s not His place. He’s too good for that. We’re right in one way, and yet we’re called to live and die and serve and love others just as He did.

While He lived, the Lord served those He loved. When He died, the Lord loved those He served. He condescended to our weakness. He overcame our pride by His humility. He spent His mortality to purchase our eternal life. Though He is the only-begotten Son of God, He wasn’t grabby about His position, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, in order to bring many sons to glory.

We’re part of His family now, so we must use all that He has given us to serve others. Sharing the Lord’s Supper together reminds us how to do it.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18, ESV)

The Lard from a Nickel

My dad’s dad and mom lived during the depression. My granddad (who I never met) used to say about my dad’s mom that she was so tight with money that she’d “skin a nickel to get the lard out of it.” In a similar way we ought to squeeze thankfulness out of any and every situation, even when the situation seems anything but fat for gratitude.

In what circumstances did the Lord institute His supper of communion? The night before He was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23). Yet when Jesus took the bread and the cup, what did He do? He gave thanks.

I’ve mentioned before that the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist. In our day, usually only the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to this ordinance by that name. That’s too bad we have so much vocabulary baggage to carry around with us. The word eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo which means, “I give thanks,” the word found in Matthew 26:26-27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:19-20, and the passage from 1 Corinthians mentioned above. The noun form, eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.” Eucharist is a great word; communion is a thanks-meal.

I’m thankful that God has grown our congregation into giving thanks at communion rather than giving up, that we eat and drink with more gratitude than guilt. In fact, guilt makes the focus wrong. Gratitude is the only way to have Christ as the centerpiece. We come to this table not so that we can be more fastidious in finding sin but rather so that we can be more faithful in giving thanks to our Savior.