On Our Side

Eating at the Lord’s table week by week ought to feed, foster, and fortify our faith that God is on our side.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)

In a series of rhetorical questions, God, through Paul, lifts up our hearts to trust Him. We need not fear tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, or slaughter (verses 35b-36). These things cannot separate us from His love in Christ Jesus (verse 35a). These things can’t stop His Spirit from leading us as adopted sons (verses 12-17). These things can’t cancel His guarantee to glorify those He predestined, called, and justified (verse 30). No suffering hinders our future glory (verse 18). No weakness can keep us from conquering through Him who loved us (verses 26, 37).

Why? Because the Father gave His Son for us. The Lord’s supper is our remembrance and proclamation of the Lord’s death, of the Son being given for us. Just as Jesus gave His disciples bread and the cup, He gave His body and poured out His blood so that we might hope in God.

Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)

Christ died for us, He rose for us, now He intercedes for us. This meal celebrates that He is our help, our life, for all time. He is on our side.

Too Close for Some

The Lord’s supper is a meal of peace and provision. Not only do we commune by eating His food, we must eat His flesh to live. Jesus said,

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48–51)

This connection is so close that it’s disagreeable.

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:52–53)

But,

As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:57–58)

The imagery is God’s miraculous supply of manna to the Israelites. Of course, the imagery also fits with the peace offering. The sacrifice was killed, cut, cooked, then consumed. Jesus Himself prophecies that He would be killed and that He must be consumed. Without identifying with Him by consuming Him we have no life.

That’s how serious God is about being with us. He sent His own Son to take on flesh so that we could live forever with the living Father, with the Son who lives (6:57), and with the Spirit who gives life (6:63). God wants fellowship with us, so we must eat Christ’s body and drink His blood. That’s true life and true communion.

In a Dining Hall

The Trinity intends to share their life with men. Eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3), it is sharing loving fellowship with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. At the center of this life-giving work is the cross. The one sacrifice of Christ satisfies the death penalty our sin deserved, His sacrifice purifies us, and it enables us to share a meal with God. His offering brings peace.

The end of the sacrifice is not forgiveness, the goal is fellowship. The cross brings peace, participation, communion. It can’t happen without rebellion being defeated, without righteousness being declared. But the cross, and our remembrance of it, does not end on the battlefield or in a courtroom, but in a dining hall.

We would not know how to handle the Old Testament peace offering. “What? We get to eat as worship? We get to enjoy a meal together with God?” We’re more comfortable with a theological dictionary then a loaf of bread. So, alright, let’s look at that dictionary and select a big word.

What does “atonement” mean? It is an early 16th century word that describes repair work done for a damaged relationship, in particular, the reconciliation of God and men through the death of Jesus. Atonement brings us together, we have at-one-ment (-ment as the resulting state of being at one).

In many ways, communion is the pinnacle of our worship. It is the final offering, a fellowship feast of peace with God. Those who are forgiven in Christ, who are devoted to serve Him, are invited to eat with Him.

More Like a Segregation

In his first letter to them, Paul admonished the Corinthian church about their failure to commune at communion. They were eating and drinking, they were in the same place as one another, but they were still disconnected from each other.

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:20–22)

Their Lord’s table liturgy also involved a meal of fellowship, which was fine, except that there was no fellowship. Honoring the sacrifice of Christ requires relationship, it requires us to consider one another, serve one another, love one another, because Christ did. Their worship looked more like a segregation than a congregation.

Together we eat and drink symbols of Christ’s sacrifice and this cannot be done rightly without sacrificing ourselves to God and for one another. Small sacrifices may include waiting patiently for someone else in front of you. It may look like getting the elements for someone else. It may look like watching another’s kids while they’re up front. It may look like singing your guts out in a song you don’t particularly care for.

It includes being thankful even when your last week was brutal and the upcoming week looks no better. It includes not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought, but realizing that each one of us is just a stone in the temple wall. When we eat the Lord’s supper, we fellowship with the other living stones as God builds us as a spiritual house.

So here we go, all together now.

The Meat of the Meal

When you sit down to dinner, when does the nutrition start to work? When do you feel most connected to those around the table? When is the best part of the meal; what part do you enjoy the most?

Some of the benefits come after the meal. The body digests the food, turning it into energy and (depending on what you’ve eaten) muscle. We look back and remember the conversation and the laughs shared. There are benefits, but we wouldn’t say that the best part is after.

Other positives come prior to the meal. We anticipate the food and the fellowship. We stir up eagerness as we prepare. But while getting ready is good–in fact, without any preparation things may go badly–we wouldn’t say that the best part is before.

The before and after have what in common? Neither is central. The meat of the meal, so to speak, is the meal. The meal is the end of the preparation and the start of nourishment. The eating and drinking, the chewing and swallowing, the talking and eye-contacting, are the climax, what we looked forward to and the taste we take with us.

The best part, the central part, is the meal. Something happens during that time. Not everything, but things necessary for everything else. The common turns into communion, just like for us around the Lord’s table.

Our communion is both an end of preparation and also a different sort of preparation, but all focused on our participation. We get ready for communion. We go out with the taste of communion. But this IS communion. God is, right here right now, uniting us in one body, in Christ, by grace through faith.

Too Much Life

For 51 weeks our church has communed together at the Lord’s table. We’ve taken a distinct approach, or at least one that is different than most of us are used to, by practicing communion as a time for joy, not misery. Excessive, let alone morbid, introspection misses the point of the table. None of us are worthy for communion, not even the most mournful among us. The table reminds us that Jesus is worthy and that He invites sinners who believe in Him to share His life. We should confess sin, including the sin of acting like this is a funeral.

There was a death. Death by itself is not good news. There was a death and then a resurrection that defeated death! We get the forgiveness His atonement authorizes and we get the life that His life enables.

Perhaps our weekly meal could become an empty, external, motions-only observance. But I know very few people who complain about the emptiness of true feasts, of genuine fellowship, of eternal life. “Oh, we have too much life. We should have less life in order to reminds us how important life is.”

We are 51 weeks stronger in faith, 51 weeks more nourished in soul, 51 weeks more united in Christ, 51 weeks more knit together as a body. Christ changes us by the bread and the cup as we believe in Him. May we look forward to more rejoicing as we eat and drink together, proclaiming the Lord’s salvation until He comes.

Seasonal Sound Bites

Printed on Christmas cards for generations, Luke 2:14 remains one of our favorite seasonal sound bites. We’re probably most familiar with the King James Version, starting in verse 13:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:13–14)

This is a great statement. The incarnation demonstrates God’s love for the world, His intention to bring peace.

But perhaps you’ve heard someone point out that “peace, good will toward men” does not come from the earliest/best manuscripts. Maybe you’ve noticed the difference yourself, especially if you’re reading the NAS or ESV.

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
(Luke 2:14)

This is quite a different statement. “Good will toward men” sounds indiscriminate. “Peace among men with whom he is pleased” sounds limiting, much more narrow. The NIV makes it sound even more specific: “Peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Manuscript issues aside, we know that peace between God and men comes because of Christ’s work on the cross. The incarnation was stage one of His earthly work, and His faultless life, sacrificial death, and resurrection were necessary in order to bring peace. According to Colossians 1:20, He “made peace through the blood of His cross.” We can only be reconciled to God by the death of His Son and now that we are reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:10).

God is only pleased with those for whom Christ died, those who are justified by faith (Romans 5:1). The incarnation was absolutely necessary part of the peace plan. We rejoice that God sent His Son to take our judgment. But we do not rest in Christmas card theology. We rejoice in the cross and the empty tomb. That is why Christmas and Easter go together. That is why we commune together around this table.

Word and Sacrament

Gospel ministers are sometimes referred to as ministers of the Word and sacrament. There’s no need to freak out over the word sacrament; here it means the same thing as ordinance. Not only in reference to the work of ministers, but all Reformed definitions of a church require these two elements as well, often including the third element of church discipline, which actually is hard to disentangle from the Word and sacrament.

Why both, Word and sacrament? Isn’t the Word enough? Many in the truth-tube camp–our camp–only look out one side of the car. We have trouble tripping too many steps outside our minds, usually for fear of falling into the material. For example, we gladly affirm the miracles of Jesus. We’re perhaps even more glad that we don’t have to fit miracles on our shelves today. Surely we’ll all turn into Benny Hinn healers or Joel Osteen prosperers if we think that Jesus might actually do something we could see.

Visible things didn’t make Jesus nervous. He did many wonderful works that confirmed His word. His word prepared the way for His works to be understood and the works gave the words gravity.

The same is true with this meal. It is real, and the physical nature of the bread and cup do not make them lesser class citizens. God loves the tangible, He made it and He became it, with body and blood and stuff. Without the Word to explain it, we would be ignorant in our eating and drinking. But when we receive the Word, we aren’t just going through the motions at this table until we can get our super spiritual Casper capes.

The Word became flesh. Do we believe in the actual incarnation? He died and rose so that we might live. He is food for us. This meal confirms and builds our belief in His Word. Let us not despise what God has put together, Word and sacrament, faith and food.

Two Days with Jesus

How did the town of Sychar change after two days with Jesus (Johh 4:39-42)? Many of the townspeople believed in Him and knew that He was the Savior of the world. What type of transformations took place? In a small community, when a good number of people get their worship fixed, how could that not radically altar their day to day interactions?

We don’t know everything that Jesus explained to them. We don’t know how much He told them about His own future. Based on the fact that He didn’t tell His own disciples all the details about His death until later on, and that they didn’t understand it anyway, it seems unlikely that He went into too many particulars about being nailed to a cross.

So I wonder, after having their lives changed forever by the Savior, how did they react almost three years later when the news arrived in Sychar that Jesus was dead? Certainly they’d been following His ministry from afar, but to learn that He was crucified as a criminal, what sorrow must have overtaken them?

But then, can you imagine the response later on Sunday when reports trickled in that some women saw Jesus alive? Would it have been even more joyful than those days when He was among them?

Jesus changes persons and peoples. He offers living water to the broken outcasts. He sows and reaps eternal life, and in that is great rejoicing. He did the will of Him who sent Him, accomplishing His work. He died to atone for our sins. He rose again to resurrect us to eternal life. He is the Savior of the world and we proclaim Him as such when we eat and drink at His table. As we do, we’ll never be the same.

A Gluten Free Option

Jesus told the woman at the well that true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and truth. He didn’t say anything about hymns and Christmas carols. He didn’t collect an offering or read Scripture. He prepared no prayers, no liturgy, no Lord’s day service plans. And He mentioned nothing about table fellowship.

Perhaps, then, we have missed the mark and corrupted the simplicity of “spirit and truth” worship. Maybe all our liturgical efforts are heavy trappings, vain repetitions no better than the gnat-straining Pharisees and white hat-wearing Popes. But, hey, at least we have a gluten free option.

Let’s not let acquit ourselves too quickly. It is possible to attend services every week, sing Psalms and hear sermons straight out of Scripture, give sacrificially, even chew and drink these religious symbols and yet still be dead in spirit and without knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ.

Yet worship “in spirit and truth” tells us the nature of true worship, the realm of worship, not the activities of it. The How? we should do it doesn’t answer the What? we do.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the sacrifices that He called sometimes called abominable. His problem was first with the how of the heart and then the He wanted the what of worship obeyed as well. For that matter, Jesus Himself instituted the supper (Matthew 26:26-28). Paul received from the Lord the instructions he delivered (1 Corinthians 11:23).

We come in obedience to this ordinance, this divine order, to celebrate and proclaim salvation in the Lord’s death and resurrection. By faith, we come with living spirits, “in spirit.” We eat and drink because He made us alive and this meal nourishes our souls. Likewise, we come “in truth.” The substitutionary sacrifice of the Lamb is good news, the imperishable seed of truth. Jesus is the truth, the revelation of God in bodily form. Believers eat and drink at this spirit and truth table and, when they do, it is true worship.