Like a Herd of Gerasene Swine

How did God do it? He is a much more disciplined writer than any human author. I can’t handle when a question hangs too long, let alone if the group’s answers are rushing down a steep bank like a herd of Gerasene swine. But He held back for what seems to us like an eternity before crushing Christ and then raising Him from the grave.

The moon and stars created on the fourth day lit the stage. The first garden and the talking serpent were a set up. The ark and Babel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were all harbingers. Generations went, generations came, filling the earth, rejecting their Creator, waiting for a redeemer. God gave glimpses, foreshadowed the suffering and the salvation, yet He held the climax of a loving, glorious sacrifice under wraps even for most who read the script.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4–5)

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20–21)

The plot called for rebels, for a virgin, for a tree, for a perfect, spotless lamb. The rebels were easy to cast, but the Father had to give His only begotten Son as the substitute.

God knew from the beginning and we are still talking about how we didn’t see it coming, yet are so glad it did. The greatest chapter has been written; it is finished. But the final chapter hasn’t gone to press. The communion meal reminds us of one night when our Lord was betrayed, and it anticipates that feast coming up at a marriage supper of the Lamb. Everything is going according to the script, and the bread and cup are more than props.

Be Cheered!

Over her Christmas break from college, Katie Herrington came to our Life to Life group after one of the messages on worship. The question for discussion related to any general thoughts on our Sunday morning liturgy. Katie said that while she enjoyed having communion each week, and while she appreciated the glad attitude we bring to it, she also had a difficult time not imagining us lifting our cups toward each other and saying “Cheers!”

There are differences, to be sure, between men in a bar clinking glasses for another round, or guests at a wedding reception toasting the couple, and the ordinance of communion. The difference is that it is okay not to be truly glad in the bar or at the reception. We will be judged for being half-hearted in our joy at this Table.

We won’t start saying “Cheers!” as part of our liturgy, but can we not look around when we drink the cup that shows the price of our freedom from sin and think, “Be cheered, soul! Be cheered, neighbor! Be cheered, little Christian!”? All of our true cheer, all of our lasting happiness originates in the grace of God, and that grace radiated most clearly at the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross.

Be cheered, believer! He has accomplished Your redemption and will finish the good work He began in you. That is something to eat and drink about.

The Nature of Things

Knowing the nature of things is quite valuable and surprisingly elusive. When the church assembles on the Lord’s day and meets God in worship, confessing our sin, hearing His Word, praying and singing to Him, we are being reminded of how things really are.

Remembrance also happens at His Table, too. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today. Everything was given change orders when He walked out of the tomb, or given warning that time was running out if it would not submit to the new order.

That order is Jesus Christ as Lord. That order is forgiveness for all who eat His flesh and drink His blood. That order is the certainty of His return and he fulfillment of every one of His outstanding promises, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17–19)

He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). So even though we do not see Him now, we know the nature of things and we love Him. Though we do not see Him now, we rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. The reality is that all who believe in Jesus Christ will reign with Him on earth and that day is closer than ever.

What’s Your Problem?

Only the unrepentant are unwelcome at the Lord’s Table. Those who will not believe in and submit to Jesus do not have any part of Him. Those who profess faith but undo their profession by ongoing rebellion to His commands are disciplined away from the fellowship of this meal. But every other believer is invited. More than that, every believer is being changed by it. Take, for example, those believers that Paul categorizes in 1 Thessalonians 5:14.

Christian, are you idle? Consider the humble and exhausting service of Your Lord. He labored in life up to and through death for you, and even now prays for You. Think of the work that went into this meal and get off your rear.

Christian, are you faint-hearted? Consider the resurrection of Your Lord. He died and was buried, but He rose again on the third day just as He promised so that you would have life (1 Thessalonians 5:10). His will cannot be stopped, and no one can stop Him from loving You. Think of the faithfulness and courage that this meal represents and don’t shrink back.

Christian, are you weak? Consider the nature of Your Lord. He does not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. He partook of the same things as you, He was tempted in all ways as you are, and so He sympathizes with your weaknesses (Hebrews 2:14; 4:15). Think of His tenderness, His gentleness, His kindness to you even in this meal. You are not solo in your need.

Whatever the problem, Jesus does not leave us where we are. He knows who needs to grow and what is lacking in their faith. He is patient, just as He calls us to be patient with one another. But He is always working toward His will that we all be completely sanctified even when we eat the bread and drink the cup of communion. No believer will be left behind.

Christmas Counters

The apostle John wins for covering the Christmas story with the least amount of paper: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). What is there on earth or heaven that hasn’t been changed, or at least received orders to change, since the day our Savior took on a body?

The incarnation of the Son of God teaches us that God does not despise flesh, stuff, or material belongings. He made all things through the Word, the Logos (John 1:3). His ultimate revelation of Himself came when the Logos was born in the likeness of men (Hebrews 1:1-3; Philippians 2:7). In flesh Jesus served, making meals from loaves and fish and washing feet with a towel. In flesh Jesus suffered torture, died on the cross, and was buried in a grave. And in flesh He rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

As Christians we are still learning not to despise flesh but how to enjoy and to use more than words. We like our sentences but, while Christmas can be summarized with words, it is itself the glorious story of stuff and places and persons. The good news of Christmas come as “great syllables of words that sounded like castles” (as when Dimble spoke the Great Tongue in That Hideous Strength). The words represent more than words.

The communion table is also more than words. So should our Christmas celebrations be. Christmas counters dualism. We were born in flesh, our bodies are a gift from God. He redeemed us and saved us to work here on earth for now, in body. We should honor Him with bread and wine, and with plates of cookies and strands of lights and stuffed turkeys and Scotch tape and pine needles and sticky buns. He calls us to give, and give ourselves, to eat and drink and sing as men not just mouths.

Reached the Quota

Consider the statement Paul made about the Jews in 1 Thessalonians 2:16. He said that they opposed “all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved–so as always to fill up the measure of their sins.” They did not think that they were heaping up a pile of predefined sin. It would be too bold for Paul to claim that he knew the quantity. So who had the measuring bucket? God.

Isn’t this true for everyone? When God covenanted with Abram He said that Abram’s descendants would return to the land in 400 years for the “iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “Fill up, then, the measure of your [murdering] fathers” (Matthew 23:32). God knows the amount of sin and He knows when we’ve reached the quota.

This also means, does it not, that God knows exactly how big the bucket of sins was that He poured on Christ. That bucket included all the sins of all those who would ever believe. Each and every person who is part of the redeemed can say that wrath has been taken for them at last! The measure of all our sins was filled up and taken by the Lamb.

We are great sinners. But we Christians have confessed our sins and He has forgiven us because His bucket of grace has no quota. It never runs out. Think about how many cups, no matter the size, have been filled for sake of celebrating the Lord’s Supper by Christians since the Last Supper. We have gone through approximately 5,000 cups at our church alone in less than four years. Imagine how many more have been used by our brothers and sisters throughout the world today. Multiply that by some 1975 years or so. Not one of those cups has represented partial payment. Not one of them has been a symbol of Christ’s incomplete taking of wrath. Christ took all the wrath for us and gives to us all the grace.

Things That Stand Out

What kinds of things can be learned by imitation? Behaviors such as how to small talk can be learned, as can preferences such as how you like your meat cooked, or traditions such as what to do on holidays, or even partialities for dying or artificial Christmas trees. Maybe the better question is, what kinds of things can not be learned by imitation? We talk about many different styles of learning, but the Trinity wired us to watch and pick up on patterns and mindsets, even when those go against the words spoken or printed. Kids more often do what their parents do even when their parents tell them to do as they say.

The inevitability of imitation can be as encouraging as it is overwhelming. It means that we can make a difference with our kids, with our fellow small groupers, with our neighbors, students, co-workers, and friends. It may take time. It will take time. But consider that the Thessalonians earned quite a reputation in a short while. Entire regions knew about their imitation of the Lord within months of the start of the church. Obedience, joy, work, those are things that stand out.

Paul told the Ephesians,

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1–2, ESV)

When we come to the Lord’s Table things turn. We see what Christ did and we learn to do likewise. We also show what to do as we come. We consider His example and then become examples. This is why some of our kids want to participate. That’s how it should be. We demonstrate who saves and that our joy is in Him. Our joy demonstrates that we believe that God has provided forgiveness, not that we can earn or purchase it. We don’t come to win His grace, we come to receive it. We’ve turned from the idols of human effort to the living and true God, to the loving and sacrificing God in Jesus His Son. That sort of thing gets around.

Forsaken by God

More than David, more than Job, no man ever felt more forsaken by God than Jesus. Near the end of His time on the cross (Matthew 27:46), Jesus took a line from Psalm 22 as His own.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1a)

The next few lines of Psalm 22 also fit with His affliction.

Why are you so far from saving me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
(Psalm 22:1b–2)

We sing about when “The Father turned His face away” from the Son. Yet Jesus certainly did nothing wrong. He had no sin of His own. And He felt forsaken. We know that He wasn’t doing drama or mouthing the words.

Our righteous God cannot look at the unrighteous. But the good news is that the Father forsook His Son for a time so that He could never forsake His redeemed, adopted children.

We can be encouraged to know that the godly have such times. We can be encouraged to know that ours will never be an experience as bad as that of Jesus. And we can be thankful that Christ endured being forsaken in order to secure our eternal fellowship with God. Do you feel isolated from God? Then come, eat and drink in remembrance of Him and in fellowship with Him by faith.

Most Saturday Nights

On most Saturday nights our household makes dinner into an event. The food may be a bit more fancy as well as the decorations on the table. We get the kids involved with some quick-fire catechism type questions, we all sing the doxology, we pray, and then we feast as an appetizer for Sunday morning’s feast of worship.

One thing I usually do is poor the drinks. Everyone around the table gets a glass of wine, be it a large glass or a kid cup, and to whatever degree it is cut with seltzer water. It’s part of our celebration and my privilege to pour out the portions. Dad sets the tone by doling out the wine.

The Lord also fills cups. The wicked get the cup of fire and sulfur and scorching wind to drink as David described in Psalm 11:6. For the righteous, we can sing along with another of David’s songs,

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
(Psalm 16:5–6)

The Lord is the one who gives us our cup. He gives it to us Himself and in it He gives us Himself. He gives Himself to us now, during worship, as a taste of a forever feast.

What more proof do we need than the word that declares the goodness of the Lord’s Supper? God gave Himself for us so that He could give Himself to us. He gave His body and blood, He gives us Himself. He is our cup and the cup today is an endowment for an eternal heritage of fellowship.

Everything in Subjection

Though David wrote Psalm 8 about man as in mankind, the author of Hebrews also recognized a unique application for the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:5–9)

God gave man dominion on earth, but God gave His Son dominion over the dominion-takers, the history-makers, and even over the nay-sayers. “At present we do not see everything in subjection to him.” Sinners still live and sin and stand against the Son of Man. Men still reject their Creator and suppress the truth they know about Him.

We have not reached the final chapter, but we will see all things in subjection, we will see God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, because Christ’s dominion is not potential. It is established; He is risen from the dead.

All things, including governments and businesses and neighborhoods, will be in service to the Son because He already suffered, died, and rose again. He did it as grace. He did it as a substitute. He did it to redeem “many sons” and bring them to glory through sanctification (Hebrews 2:10).

He is helping the tempted now (Hebrews 2:17-18). He is changing us now. He is identifying with us, unashamed to call us brothers now (Hebrews 2:11), even as He invites us to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

At present we do not see everything subjected to Him. But the world ought to see us in subjection to Him as we gather at His Table.