Divine Smack Talk

Even though He offers them no redemption, God is, perhaps surprisingly to us, interested in teaching the angels.

For much of the Old Testament, prophets searched and inquired their own prophecies about the grace that would come through the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. All of this good news, which Peter said had been preached to his elect readers, were “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

On the cross Jesus died for those who were dead in their trespasses. He canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” This is Christ’s work for us. But in doing so He also “disarmed the rulers and authorities, and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:13-15). At the cross God taught the angels a lesson.

There is another lesson still going on. God is bringing to light for everyone what is the mystery of His plan. This “God who created all things” continues working “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9-10). Angels learn lessons as God builds His church.

This demonstrating work goes all the way back to Eden. God told the dragon, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed,” and you are going to lose. We usually don’t describe God’s revelation as “smack talk,” but this is divine insult to the serpent. The woman’s seed wins.

For generations God has been talking this way to rebel angels and He continues to make His point by uniting the church in the Dragon-Slayer, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

No More Intended Evil

The sovereignty of God and the suffering of men is not an academic exercise. Theodicy—a good God’s control over man’s evil (and nature’s destructive force that hurts men)—confronts us every day. If we say He can stop it, why doesn’t He? If we say He can not stop it, where can we go for help?

I’ve always found it helpful to remember that the most evil thing that has ever happened in the world was planned by God before He created the world. No torture has ever been more unjust than what the soldiers did to Jesus, and by those wounds we are healed. No State sanctioned capital punishment has ever been more malicious or murderous in intent, and by Christ’s death we know God’s loving intent. God used the most heinous sin of man to purchase the salvation of man.

The apostles recognized God’s hand in the crucifixion. Peter preached on Pentecost:

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)

The believers prayed in light of predestination:

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27–28)

God not only can use the evil of men, He meant to. He invites us to remember the glory of the cross–where He designed the ultimate display of glory–as we eat the bread and drink the wine together.

The Patriarch’s Prophetic Blessing

Jacob blessed his sons on his deathbed with a vision of the future he could only see by faith. He prophesied that a ruler would come from Judah’s line (Genesis 49:9-10), and he probably would have been impressed if he’d seen David and Solomon in their day. We know, though, that another and greater King came from Judah.

The apostle John saw a vision around a throne in heaven, and an elder said there was no reason to weep because the “Lion of the tribe of Judah…has conquered” (Revelation 5:5). The Lion was something to “behold.” He was worthy to open the scroll, and all eyes were on Him.

But this Lion didn’t look like a lion. Between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders John saw a “Lamb, standing as though it had been slain” (verse 6). Jacob didn’t see this. He didn’t see how the tribute of the peoples would start flowing. It was because the Lamb purchased them. The saints were singing a new song:

“you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (verses 9-10)

Men from every tribe, not just Israel’s Twelve, are ransomed. The Lion-Lamb purchased their salvation, their freedom, their obedience, and their praise. We who believe in Christ are in that number. We are part of the patriarch’s prophetic blessing some 4,000 years ago. We are redeemed servants and saints of the slain and risen Lamb, glad servants of the ruling Lion from whom the scepter shall never depart.

We gather around the communion Table together in the name of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, in the name of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Locating Trust

In Psalm 20 David has us sing,

Some trust in chariots and some in horses
but we trust in the name of the LORD our GOD. (verse 7)

The verse before (6) and the verse after (8) connect this song to battle. Verse 1 talks about “the day of trouble” and verse 9 includes a shout out for the king. Men are always tempted under fire to trust their strengths, their strategies and supplies, to trust what they can see. This is true especially for those out front.

What wins, though, is the Lord. “He will answer from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand.” “The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39).

We also trust in the name of the Lord our God. We are saved as we believe in Him.

Even though kings used chariots and horses he shouldn’t swear by them. Likewise the believing leader doesn’t believe in the means. For us, we utilize weapons in the spiritual war, but we do not trust those weapons. We “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

One of the most effective tactics of our shepherding, one that helps us to present every man complete in Christ and build up the body in part and as a whole, is to eat and drink. We do it because we believe that the Lord works, that He nourishes our faith and knits us together around His Table. Bread and wine are never so powerful as when received together in thanks, in the name of the Lord.

Stamped with New Value

Bread and wine are good. They have their own, built-in sustaining properties. They are also available to enjoy at your own home around your own table, or without a table if you prefer.

What is special about the bread and wine on this table? Well, in terms of the gluten, it’s the same. The tannins have no magical properties. But while there is nothing mystical about the physical elements, there is a supernatural process at work.

The bread and wine are special because Jesus gave His Word on it. He said, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.” He said, “Drink of it…this cup is the new covenant in my blood.” God’s Word stamps the elements with new value.

John Calvin likened it to the stamp on precious metal. A lump of silver has value but the stamp turns it into coin that means something more.

Why are crude and coined silver not of the same value, though they are absolutely the same metal? The one is merely in the natural state; stamped with an official mark, it becomes a coin and receives a new valuation. And cannot God mark with his Word the things he has created, that what were previously bare elements may become sacraments? (Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 18)

The Spirit gives us a toast of joy, strengthens our faith, unites us to one another by grace through faith. This his why it’s more than a 100 calorie Sunday morning snack, it is a meal of fellowship. It is a meal that a few among us have been eager to enjoy for their first time, and since their baptism last Sunday evening we welcome them to join us.

Easter Had to Be Effective

It appears that Americans will have spent more money for Easter this year than they did for Valentine’s Day (ht: Al Mohler). When it comes to the commercialization of holidays, Easter may not be quite as marketed for money-making as Christmas, but it is multiplying like bunnies.

What most people are buying most is candy. I remember getting candy on Easter when I was a kid, and we often give candy to our kids, too.

Is this a bad thing? Is it a sign of our compromise, or worse, of our loss of respect for Christ’s bloody sacrifice for sin and miraculous, world- resurrection?

It certainly could be. Buying candy and giving it as a gift (and eating it) isn’t necessarily Christian, nor does chocolate and peanut butter obviously make one think of the cross or the empty tomb. Candy consumption could be thoughtless. It could be sacrilegious.

But what other worldview would ever make sharing sweets a cultural thing to do? Bacchus was the god of partying, and there was much feasting and drinking done in his name, but it always led to men and women losing inhibitions, and usually someone ended up dead. Serving Bacchus resulted in ecstatic rage and the shedding of blood. Materialism doesn’t offer a good basis either. Mammon is a god to many, but how did the candy company executives and advertisers and store owners convince so many consumers to buy tasty yet otherwise useless candy?

We eat sweets (and other feasting foods) to remember winter’s end, not to try to forget winter’s inevitable return. We buy and give and share candy because Christ’s resurrection has established a world of buying and giving and sharing. We don’t party before offering sacrifice, we rejoice because the sacrifice was already offered and accepted. For it even to be possible to commercialize Easter, Easter had to be effective, otherwise we would all be fearful of immanent judgment and eternal death. We should not be thoughtless, but because Jesus is risen from the dead, think about how much we have to be thankful for.

Accounting for Participation

The Lord’s Table is a table of community accountability. By God’s grace, we have only removed a few persons from communion at our church due to church discipline. He has guarded our flock from gross, ongoing, unrepentant sinners. We have been able to enjoy the sweet fellowship here without too much bitterness.

This is fellowship worth preserving, worth protecting, and that means that not everyone is invited. In particular, when professing brothers refuse to repent from their sin after they have been personally, lovingly, and repeatedly pursued, they may be formally uninvited from participation.

The Lord requires one brother who sees another sinning brother to confront the sinner. The Lord instructs more people to get involved if there is not repentance and, eventually, the (local) church must acknowledge the immorality and discipline the sinner by removing him from fellowship. Those inside the church judge those inside the church. This is part of mutual accountability.

The church gets it wrong sometimes, more often than not by failing to deal with sinners. According to 1 Corinthians 11, God sometimes intervenes directly rather than through the church toward those who profane the body and blood of the Lord by unworthy participation at His Table. God is not mocked even if the church gets it wrong. Death is an even stronger statement than church discipline.

Of course, it is not much of a discipline to keep someone from something that we don’t value or enjoy. Our communion now sets the tone for later. The offender will miss out to the degree that we make much of this meal. We will give an account for how we participated, and it ought to be with righteous rejoicing.

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.