For the Last Time

The Lord’s Table will be sweeter the last time we taste it than it was the first time. The apostle John recorded the Lord’s rebuke to the Ephesian church that they had lost their first love. But he didn’t want them to go back to the limitations of love’s beginnings, he wanted them to go back to the intensity of what was fresh.

Each week we discover fresh reasons to love. Each day brings hundreds of new graces to us, undeserved gifts. Counted by flock, or considered in the universal church, how could we calculate the new mercies of every morning for every Christian? And what about the addition of new believers into the Christ’s Body every week?

A thousand years ago in Britain they made a scarlet dye from whelks (small mollusks or sea snails), said not only not to fade as it aged in the sun and rain, but the dye became bolder and more beautiful in color. The gospel is the same. As we eat and drink today we have more reason to rejoice than last week. Think of how much fruit has grown since the first supper the night that Christ was betrayed. It may be true that familiarity breeds contempt, but it will be a long time before we’re truly familiar with the full price or final profit of the cross. Think of how many haters have been won by His conquering love. Think of how much sin in your own heart He has loved out of you. It is more now than ever and, even if hatred increases, it is because haters have more to hate by God’s grace.

The problem with eternity is that it still won’t be long enough to develop every deep hue of Christ’s loving sacrifice. But it will still be good for us to watch and we will always have fresh reasons for intense love.

Chasing with A Bigger Rake

Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4 in 1 Corinthians 2:9. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul uses Isaiah to point to the work of God’s Spirit who teaches us and helps us to understand all the things that are freely given us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12).

We enjoy a variety of endowments freely given us by God, but near the roots of His grace is our justification by faith. We celebrate Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenburg 496 years ago last Thursday, a document that lifted up the principle of sola fide, salvation by faith alone. And boy do we need that.

In the context of Isaiah 64 and all the things that God has prepared, two verses later, and the reason we usually turn to this chapter, the prophet says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (verse 6).

This affects our attitude at the Lord’s Table when we think both about what plagues us and about the things God has prepared for us. We don’t come to this table in miserable guilt. We do not work ourselves into a lather of bad feelings because our best bad feelings are like filthy rags. We cannot dig conviction deep enough to make ourselves worthy to eat and drink. We will not get our lives, like leaves, into a shapely pile with the leaf-blower of shame and keep them arranged. We couldn’t if we wanted to because the gusts of sin blow too strong.

We come to this Table remembering all the things that God has prepared for us including God-given righteousness. We come by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We come in joy because no one else has a God like this. The things He has prepared for those who love Him include His potent love which cleanses us and forgives us and frees us for eternal fellowship. He replants us and enlivens us by the cross, not by demanding that we chase down all our guilt with a bigger rake.

All God’s Fullness

What is the single most important thing you can do to grow into God’s image? Do you remember when the apostle Paul wrote about believers being “filled with all the fullness of God”? Is that even allowable? It’s an inspired description, so it must be. But how does that happen? What is the process? We’re naturally too weak to do it on our own, therefore Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they:

may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18–19, ESV)

The single most important and humanly impossible need is for us to know the love of Christ. It’s not that we need to love Him more, though we will. It’s not that we need to obey for 70 years or by strength 80, though He may enable us to do that. We will be deified–filled up with all God’s fullness–as we come to have His love wrapped around our heads.

John Bunyan wrote an entire book on these two verses, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, recently published under the title, All Loves Excelling. Near the end he asked,

Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better? (Knowledge, 37)

In other words, could you have imagined, let alone asked for, a better love than Christ’s? Satan hates for you to know this goodness. He hates for us to come to the Lord’s Table set with the symbols of Christ’s love spent for us, the body and the blood of Jesus. Christian, remember His death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection three days later. Abide in His love. Come, eat and drink it represented in this communion meal. It fills you with all God’s fullness.

A Long Thank You Note

What would our lives be like without the gospel? Only those who believe the gospel could come close to answering the question because those without the gospel live as self-deceiving slaves to darkness. They don’t know what they’re missing. Believing the gospel puts us in a better position to try not to miss all that it gives us.

Without the gospel we would be “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). We would have no idea where we came from or for what purpose we exist. We would have no peace, isolated from blessing in Christ and from righteous community. We would be gathering and collecting only to give to others. We would be busy dying for no good reason.

With the gospel we have the first-fruits of eternal life, peace with God and participation in His Triune joy. With the gospel we care about fellow image-bearers who hurt in soul and body. We know that it’s right to care for the health of the sick without filching the work of the well to pay for it. With the gospel we know why governments go crazy, why education and vocation matter forever, why dinner around the table with your family won’t burn. With the gospel we can look around and enjoy all the fruit of the Vine (John 15:5).

It is an endless task to answer what our lives would be like without the gospel. The Father sent His Son to die and rise and change everything with Him. We cannot hold all the fruit of His work in our hands but we can be thankful that we can’t. We will never complete our thank you note to God but, as we eat and drink the symbols of our life together in gratitude, He is glorified.

Fruit by Derivative

Is it necessary for Christians to bear fruit? Are we required to love God and others, obey God, have joy in God, and witness for God? Yes, we are required, but we are not capable, not on our own. This is why the good news really is so good.

God does not get glory simply because He talks about transforming us and certainly not because He talks about us transforming ourselves. He goes ahead and transforms us. He commands that we obey Him and then, as Augustine prayed, God gives what He commands. He wants more fruit, much fruit, abiding fruit. But He does not put us on the table and say, “Grow roots.” He does not lift us up in the air and say, “Produce fruit!” He says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

We know His commands and we know the first step is to believe in Him. Then He requires, He summons us, to remain in the vine. Christ doesn’t expect great works without giving great grace. He doesn’t wait until we are full to feed us. He doesn’t graft us in when we’ve produced our quota of fruit. He demands that we bear fruit by derivative. All of it flows out of our communion with Him.

Paul exhorted the Colossians, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6–7, ESV). We have been taught, we have received Christ, and so we are rooted in Him for a fruitful, thankful walk.

Cooked and Consumed

I don’t remember where I read it recently1, but someone described the scene at the temple in a way I hadn’t considered before. There was an almost constant killing of sacrificial animals. More than any other color, red must have stained the mental image for any onlooker. There was blood dripping from tables, blood sprinkled on the altar, blood spotting the priests’ garments and fingers and knives.

That’s what the scene looked like, but how did it smell? There must have been some corners where it smelled like decaying flesh, but mostly it smelled like a barbecue. The sacrifices of oxen or sheep or birds were prepared, put on the altar and burned. The burnt offering, of course, was consumed by fire. But in the peace offering, often the climactic sacrifice of worship, the meat was cooked and consumed by worshippers.

It was a meal of participation, a meal where God communicated by sharing the sacrifice with His people. It was called the peace offering because peace existed between the parties.

Jesus Christ is our peace offering and God invites us to share Him. His sacrifice was bloody, but also a sweet aroma to God and for us. The communion meal mixes peace and participation, sadness and sweetness, death and life. God blesses us as we share He has provided, accepted, and enabled us to enjoy. Now the joy of our love for Him and for each other should rise like pleasing smoke in His nostrils.


  1. If you remember reading something that sounds like this, please leave a comment. I’d love to credit the creditable.

As If It Is Real

We live by faith and “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). But because many of the things we believe are unseen by us does not mean that the same things were never seen by anyone. Our believing rests on the solid ground of those who heard, saw, and touched with their hands the word of life (1 John 1:1).

Paul told the Corinthians, “For I delivered to you what I also received,” followed by three successive components. First, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” Second, “that he was buried.” And third, “that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” There is no hidden message in this text, no deeper meaning.

Christ died, His body and soul were separated. He was buried, His body laid in the tomb. And He was raised again on Sunday. This does not mean that His Spirit rose in the heart of His disciples. It doesn’t mean that His fame rose throughout the nation. It means that His body and soul were reunited. It happened on the third day, the sort of detail that puts the resurrexit in space and time.

We believe the gospel and we live because He lives. As John wrote, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Our communion with Him is as real as His living, as real as the bread and the cup that remind us of the gospel. Let us eat, drink, and be merry as if it is real, because it is.

It Can’t Be Privatized

Paul blessed the Corinthians at the end of his second letter when he wrote, “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). Believers enjoy effectual favor from the Second Person of the Trinity, eternal affection from the First Person, and koinonia–fellowship–from the Third Person. God gave Himself for us, shares Himself with us, and brings us to Himself.

At the risk of oversimplification, all of these require relationship. Favor is given from the one to another, love lands on someone else, fellowship is shared between persons. We have communion by grace from love for fellowship, and it can’t be privatized.

The gospel drives us to do more than know about fellowship, it drives us into fellowship. Our liturgy each Sunday morning drives the same point. The call to worship is a call to delight in God’s presence. Our confession of sin deals with the hindrance to fellowship: sin. Christ was separated so that we could be reconciled. Our consecration includes asking Him for help because we know Him. We attend His Word because it helps us know Him better and makes us more like Him. Now we come to communion at the Lord’s Table where we have koinonia in the body of Christ and koinonia in the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). “We who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

As He invites us together to share His life, so we learn to invite one another to share life. He doesn’t do it because He is morally obligated. He does it because He loves us. We don’t share our lives because it is ethically necessary. We do it because He increases our love and it results in our unity.

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.