Totus Pravus

It is sort of funny to think about the high moral standards of the Egyptians who refused to eat with the Hebrews. In Genesis 43 it is described as a “abomination,” something that causes disgust or hatred, a thing to be avoided at all costs. Joseph and his attendants ate at a separate tables from his brothers in order to avoid the defilement and dishonor of sharing such an intimate act with the unworthy.

How much more surprising is it to think about Jesus eating with His disciples and instituting a meal of His presence at a Table with sinners. The gospel isn’t for the righteous, for the ceremonially clean, for the cultured or civilized. The gospel is for the unworthy alone, for those who are totally depraved, solus et totus pravus. How amazing is the grace that meets us at a table of communion.

The author of Hebrews wrote about Jesus:

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers (Hebrews 2:11)

And he wrote about the Father:

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)

The Lord’s Table is not the table where only the Lord sits. He does not set up two tables, one for Him and one for us, let alone one for Him, one for those who are sort of pleasing to Him, and one for those who should just be thankful that their donkey’s weren’t stolen for slaves. He eats and drinks with us, He gave His body for us to eat and His blood for us to drink. We are not an abomination to Him because Jesus atoned for us.

All Sorts of Quests

How do we know that we don’t have to live with tortured consciences? We couldn’t know it without the Bible. Men have attempted all sorts of quests to deal with their inconvenient guilt, whether trying to distract the conscience with entertainment, trying to drown the conscience with alcohol, trying to defeat the conscience with legalism, or trying to propitiate the conscience by punishing someone else. There will be a reckoning. There will be blood. Someone will die. And all of those man-made attempts will only torture the conscience more.

The only way to deal with a tortured conscience is to trust the tortured Christ. He took the reckoning for all who will ever believe. He shed His blood. As Paul wrote in Romans 3 there is redemption “in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” No sin escaped God’s notice, so no man could be free from condemnation whether he was aware of it or not. When God sent His Son, it “was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” It might have been a two-decade forbearance, or maybe two-millennia, but accounts still require a reckoning.

The ministry of the gospel brings about “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). The blood of Christ will “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). The resurrection of Christ cleanses us, as baptism represents, “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).

So we come to the Lord’s Table as the redeemed, the resurrected, the purified. He is Lord of every conscience because He died and rose again. He was afflicted so that we could have freedom from condemnation. This is the power of the cross.

Greatness Under Cover

However proud Joseph became when he dreamed that his family would bow down before him, he had no idea how truly great he would be and how completely chastened his brothers would be. God’s fixed purpose to raise Joseph to glory looks brilliant looking back. Looking forward as a seventeen year-old, Joseph’s vision of greatness was blurry. Looking around during his final teenage years and throughout his twenties, Joseph’s vision of greatness was only by faith; there was no fix in sight. Yet the decade of heavy work, and the apparently forgotten use of his skill set, and even the world-wide famine got Joseph a name above every other name but one in his day.

Jesus was never proud. Jesus had a perfect idea of His true nature, His eternal and divine glory. Yet even Jesus’s path to honor is astonishing. God’s fixed purpose to raise Jesus to glory looks brilliant looking back. But to everyone other than Jesus, looking forward from Bethlehem’s stable, Jesus’ greatness was under cover. Looking around during His family’s exile early in His life, and at the disgust and rage toward Him in His early thirties, leading to the brutal torture and murder on the cross, who would have known that this was the Lord of glory? Yet, this Jesus

though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…humbled himself by become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

The lengths God went to in order to lift up Joseph were great, but the lengths God went to in order to lift up Jesus were amazing. As we receive the meal and rejoice in the Savior, Jesus’ name is lifted up. As we eat the bread and drink the wine by faith we are lifted up in Him.

Not in Me

Pharaoh paid a great compliment to Joseph before seeing any of Joseph’s work for himself. “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” But Joseph answered, “It is not in me” (Genesis 41:16). He knew he had nothing that he had not received. For however audacious he’d been telling his own dreams to his brothers and father, he’d been humbled for the last thirteen years, sold as a slave and then serving as a prisoner. Joseph knew, at least by now if not before, that God was the source of his wisdom.

The Lord’s Table is a similar light on our interpretation of things. We could start to think that we belong here by nature of our righteousness or faithfulness or endurance. Another person could say, in a less than complimentary tone, that we think we’re so holy. But the bread and the wine remind us that salvation and redemption and righteousness are not in us.

We sing a song sometimes on Sunday mornings titled, “Not in Me.” Here are some of the key lyrics:

No list of sins I have not done,

No list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like,

Can earn myself a place with You.

No humble dress, no fervent prayer,

No lifted hands, no tearful song,

No recitation of the truth

Can justify a single wrong.

No separation from the world,

No work I do, no gift I give,

Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;

I cannot cause my soul to live.

Jesus is our life. Jesus paid our debt to death. Jesus bore our load of guilt. So “He alone can give me rest.”

As we celebrate this meal together by faith we proclaim that we’ve been lifted up from the pit of sin and guilt and death by Him alone.

Exsultamus!

Perhaps one reason why some young people in the church grow up and walk away from the faith is because they have not celebrated communion enough or because they have not celebrated it at all. This Table is a central location where the church and parents need to disciple young believers.

There is a wrong way to do right things. Observing the Lord’s Table in a way that stirs up guilt more than hope, that triggers shame more than joy, that prompts uncertainty more than peace, is dissonant with the gospel and dangerous to souls. A regular diet of doubt and fear not only doesn’t make the diet appealing, it makes faint Christians.

Infrequent celebration, or observation, is like an annual family meal, or maybe a quarterly repast. When we are around the Table we connect. We are reminded of who we are and how we’re related. We catch up and, if we mess up, we make up. We get right with one another because that’s what families do. More biblically, that’s what Jesus does for families that follow Him. It’s worth doing weekly.

Is it so surprising that young people who may never have seen joy at the Table aren’t interested in it, or who, when they saw the adults value it on a yearly basis, decided it must not have that much value after all?

We rejoice—exsultamus!—that Jesus is our Savior (Titus 3:4-6), our Lord (Romans 1:4; 10:9), our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), our firstborn Brother (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:17), and our example (1 Peter 2:21). We rejoice that He died, was buried, and rose again to defeat sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 5:21). We rejoice that we are His Body (Ephesians 1:22-23), and that He blesses all who participate in the blood of Christ and partake of the body of Christ by faith in remembrance of Him (1 Corinthians 10:16). As often as we eat this bread and drink the cup we exult in our Lord by faith (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Familiarity Breeds

Since I’m a pastor and since I am responsible for much of the Lord’s Day liturgy at our assembly’s worship, I’m often asked what our Sunday morning service looks like. When I get to the part about having weekly communion, the follow-up question is typically, “Doesn’t that make it not special after a while?”

There are short answers, which is what I usually give (don’t be too surprised). I often say, “Not yet by God’s grace.” Still, we understand where the question comes from, and yet it is surprising that Christians are so fearful.

The truism we believe is that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s catchy, and we can see how that could be used as a diagnostic to explain why we have contempt for something. Now that I think about it, I’d much rather blame “familiarity” than something in my own heart. Yet (my/your) ignorance also empowers contempt, as do (my/your) pride and (my/your) envy.

I was meditating on the assumed power in the verb: familiarity breeds. Breeding doesn’t happen by proxy, there are no breeders emeritus, you cannot sign up for distance breeding. Husbands become fathers through familiarity with their wives. Why don’t Christians ask if marital familiarity is dangerous? Maybe Christians are too spiritual to ask it out loud, maybe some do think it. But familiarity is powerful to produce fruit.

In the Bible, familiarity with God breeds panic and praise, weeping and worship, dread and joy. As it turns out, familiarity isn’t the problem, we are the problem. Dinner with the family every night could become monotonous if mom despised the work and dad despised the interruption and the kids despised being despised. But when there is familiarity with sacrificial love and intention, contempt doesn’t have a place at the table.

The Lord’s Supper doesn’t stay special because of it’s scarcity, but by our increasing in the knowledge of God that grows our affections for and gratitude to Him.

The Cup in Our Hands

There is no way that Pharaoh’s cupbearer was unable to remember what Joseph had done. Nothing could have been worse than losing his royal position as confidant to the king and nothing else other than his restoration to that position would have occupied his mind more while in prison. His dream, and Joseph’s foretelling of his deliverance, consumed him for three days until the prophecy was fulfilled. Even if the cupbearer did not want to advocate on behalf of the Hebrew who served him and gave him hope, there is no way that Joseph simply slipped his mind…for two years. He didn’t draw a blank, he blocked it out.

Joseph asked the cupbearer to “Remember me.” He appealed that the cupbearer would “mention me to Pharaoh.” Though Joseph had cared for him every day and miraculously calmed his fears, the cupbearer refused to recognize him in thanks let alone lobby for his release.

Jesus also told His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). He gave them bread to represent His body, a body given to redeem them as the bread sustained them. He wanted them to keep in mind what He had done.

When Paul explained the Supper to the Corinthians he said that, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Not before a Pharaoh, but before one another and before the world, our receiving and remembering is part of our witness.

Christ puts the cup in our hands so that we may drink it. He was lifted up on the tree and lifted up from the grave so that He might lift up our heads to share in His glory. We may not forget. We must not let it slip our minds or purpose to keep quiet. Around this Table we are aware and we appreciate and we announce that Jesus Christ died and rose again to deliver us from all our offenses.

In Remembrance of Where Christ Is

We are in a constant spiritual war and our enemies—sin, the world, and the devil—are relentless. The Lord has not left us without weapons.

Paul told the Romans to reckon themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by remembering their baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) This is one reason we don’t sprinkle, we dunk under water as if buried under it. Then, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). We’re united with Christ in death and resurrection. Sin is not our master anymore, so we don’t need to present our members to the enemy but to God as instruments of righteousness. Yield to grace.

And then feed on grace. Our baptism identifies us with the army of God, and our communion strengthen us for the fight. The bread and the wine remind us that the Lord is with us. During this part of the plan we might be in Egypt (an analogy to Joseph), we might be in prison (also analogy), but we are not alone.

The worst part about excommunication, in which an unrepentant but still professing believer is prohibited from the communion table, is that such a person is removed from the protection. He is delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5). The rest are “assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus…with the power of our Lord Jesus” (verse 4). We are not alone and hungry. We do not become prey for the enemy. We are fed for strength to succeed in our work and to resist temptation.

So eat and drink in remembrance not only of what Christ has done, eat and drink in remembrance of where Christ is, here, with us.

More Suitable for Church People

How can Jesus stand to have Tamar (see Genesis 39) in His genealogy? From the standpoint of the eternal councils, did the Son ever want to suggest an alternative plan to the Father, maybe something a little less scandalous and gross, something more suitable for church people, and the kids?!

Tamar was a Canaanite, one of the strange women the Patriarchs were eager to avoid. She was not a one man woman; she had sex with two men so sinful that the LORD executed them, and then with another man, her father-in-law, that she deceived into it by playing a prostitute.

Yet there she is, the 47th word of the New Testament, in the third verse of the book intended to show how Jesus is the Messiah. Matthew wrote the Gospel of the King, and Tamar (along with Rahab and Ruth and the wife of Uriah) is an unmistakable link, one Jesus doesn’t try to veil.

Jesus isn’t trying to cover up His past filled with sinners, nor is He looking for sinners who can cover up their past of sin. He is looking to cover our sin with His blood. Do you have sin? He has blood. Do you have great sin? He has great blood. Do you have unspeakable sin? He has blood that covers for sake of our joy unspeakable and full of glory.

We don’t manage our sin and guilt. We don’t need a public relations team to spin how the formerly shady Mr. So-and-so got in here, or to deflect attention from the nasty past of Mrs. What’s-her-name. We are here because of God’s grace, not our editing. We eat the bread and drink the wine because His love overcomes our wickedness. God didn’t kill us, He killed His Son for us. That’s why He can stand to eat at the same Table with us.

A Way of Life

Our new President has been tweeting for a while, and a few years ago he posted something for the world that continues to be born out in his behavior.

When someone attacks me, I always attack back…except 100x more. This has nothing to do with a tirade but rather, a way of life! (November 11, 2012)

He didn’t say when someone attacks my people, or my family, or even my friends, but just “me” (even though he did post it on an anniversary of 9/11). He doesn’t say that he defends himself, but that he “always attack(s).” He goes even further by multiplying the attack, “100x more.” It’s not occasional, or even frequent, but a personal manifesto for his “way of life.”

I make these distinctions because defending our loved ones, our neighbors, the helpless, is appropriate. There are times when self-defense is allowable. But as Christians we’ve learned a different way of life. If Peter had been a tweeter he might have posted this:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:21–24)

This is why Christians get our worldview, our way to walk, starting in our worship. As we step to the Table of remembrance, set with bread and wine representing the One who was attacked for sake of our salvation, we’re learning to follow one set of steps and not another.