Many who love to profess their love of God’s sovereignty struggle to profess their love of God’s love. Perhaps that’s because it is easier to be proud about knowing that He’s sovereign, which is quite an ugly cacophony if you think about it. Nevertheless, if He acts for His own name (and He does), if He seeks His own glory (and He does), then how could He be for us? How can we know He loves us?
Yes, God controls everything. Yes, God punishes those who will not praise His infinite excellencies. But the same God who told us that He is omnipotent also told us that He is love. The creation story reveals God’s love for His image-bearers as He couldn’t wait to show them all He’d made for them. The Incarnation puts love into flesh and bones. The Word came who into the world because He loved the Father and those the Father was giving Him.
How do we know it was done by love? Look at the Lord’s Table. The Son gave His flesh, gave His life so that we who believe might share His life and know His love. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The bread and the cup represent life laid down and that represents love.
God is autonomous; He has no need for others. His glory is untouchable; we cannot steal it away from Him. And yet the Father sent His only Son as a sacrifice to save and secure all those given to Him. Here is love vast as the ocean. Here is life in Jesus. Come to Him and commune with Him and He will raise you up on the last day.
There are many sign seekers today. “If only God would show something miraculous to me, then I would believe. If only He would prove the truth to me, then I would trust Him. If only He would answer all my questions, then I would follow Christ.”
The first problem with sign-seeking is that it makes doubting men those who administer a test that God must take. But God did not enroll in our lab class so that we could grade His performance and believability. He has graciously revealed Himself as the standard, He has not submitted Himself to our standards.
The second problem with sign-seeking is that signs don’t trump the Word. Abraham told the rich man in Hades that “If they (your five brothers) do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31) “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” and we must “pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19).
The third problem with sign-seeking is that He has already shown Himself. The crowd in Capernaum asked Jesus for another sign after they had already eaten the bread and fish until their bellies were full (John 6:30). We have better; we have the risen Son of God. Jesus died for our sins according to Scripture, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. We have all the proof we need though it must be received by faith.
As Christians, when we come to the Lord’s Table, we do not come seeking signs. We come, instructed by the Word, to eat and to drink the symbols of His death and life for us. He is the food that endures to eternal life and He offers Himself to all who believe.
The more I think about it the more I believe that the most powerful weapon God gives His people to fight dualism, entitlement, and hypocrisy is thanks.
Consider the apostle John’s transition from the story of Jesus feeding the five-thousand (John 6:1-15) to Jesus’ offer of Himself as the bread of life (John 6:22-34). Tucked into John’s description of the crowd’s movement from the “other side of the sea” back to Capernaum is a key repetition. John does not repeat the miracle Jesus performed, He repeats the thanks Jesus gave. “Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks” (John 6:23, see verse 11 for the first mention of Jesus giving thanks).
Thinking back over the story, as far as we’re told, Jesus is the only one who expressed thanks. The disciples don’t. The crowd doesn’t. The crowds follow Him because they wanted more bread, not because they wanted to express gratitude. They wanted to make Him King so that He could give them security not so that they could give Him appreciation.
The bread by itself wasn’t the problem. Jesus was glad to provide bread of both kinds, imperishable and perishable. He didn’t make them a meal in order to make them feel guilty on full stomachs. Thanks keeps the imperishable in mind while enjoying the perishable. Thanks fights dualism which says only the spiritual matters. But the crowd couldn’t recognize the distinction or receive the full benefits of either bread as evidenced by their lack of thanks.
Thanks also fights entitlement. The crowd didn’t get bread because they were great or because they deserved it or because He was obligated to meet their expectations. For us, thanks enables us to receive what He gives, even to seek provision from Him with a dependency that honors Him rather than with an self-referential expectancy. It is hard to be grateful and demanding at the same time. Pride buys entitlement a drink and sits down to commiserate. Thanks punches entitlement in the face (in the right way).
Thanks also fights hypocrisy. Take communion as one example. The point of this ordinance is not half-hearted, let alone hardhearted, participation. We fight against externalism, Pharisee-ism, going-through-the-motions-ism by stirring up and starting with thanks. And how much life, here and forever, we have to be thankful for at this Table.
Observing the Lord’s Supper softens the hearts for all those with faith. For those without faith, their participation will harden their hearts more. They eat and drink judgment on themselves (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-28). “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Believers in Christ meet with God over a meal He’s provided. We commune with the Father and the Son by the Spirit. We fellowship in God’s presence, we fellowship with the Triune God. It is His presence that softens our hearts more than anything else.
At this Table, the Lord is proclaimed by the Word and pictured in the sacrament. We remember the gospel Word by which we are being saved: the Lord’s death for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, His burial, and resurrection on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). We also eat and drink His body and blood. As we do, He melts our hearts by His gospel, His grace, His love, His sacrifice, His promises, His own self given for us.
The weekly feast helps our hearts. It deals with our hardening hearts by establishing peaceful thanks. In dark and stormy weeks, He comes to us in a sign of His presence, a sign of His joyful sacrifice on the cross for us. He invites all who hunger for Him to keep feeding on Him, all who trust Him to keep trusting Him. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
After the familiar story of Jesus feeding the five-thousand in John six there is much about how Jesus is the bread of life and about how His disciples must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to live. Though Jesus doesn’t institute the Lord’s Supper at that time, our communion with Him is connected to our provision from Him.
Paul also connects communion with provision in 1 Corinthians 10. In the first part of the chapter Paul demonstrates from the Old Testament that it is dangerous to receive God’s blessings but not actually obey God (verses 1-12). In verse 13 he states famously:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)
Immediately after that Paul moves into a discussion about the anti-idolatry meal–the cup of blessing and the bread. In other words, our participation in the blood of Christ and in the body of Christ is part of God’s provision to escape temptation. God provides a way to endure. He provides grace. He provides nourishment. He provides help. And as with the loaves and fishes, there is more than enough.
The Lord’s Supper is a meal of soul-provision and of faith strengthening for sake of sin-fighting as we commune with Christ and with each other. We need it and He graciously provides. It’s a familiar story.
The Lord’s Table is a table of glory. God invites boasters to eat and drink with Him, boasters who have repented of boasting in themselves and who now boast in Christ alone.
We offer nothing to a self-sufficient God or His Son. In fact, God calls the low, the despised, the foolish, and the weak of this world for Himself. This was “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29). But He doesn’t call us and then leave us empty. “Because of [God] we are in in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). Paul is quoting the prophet Jeremiah.
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24)
We are, all of us, glory seekers (think John 5:44). As Christians, we seek the glory spread before us on the Table. We boast, and our boasting is in the Lord, in His death for us and in His resurrection for us. The eternal Dignitary, the infinitely excellent Majesty invites us to share in His glory. He offers His glory, His very self to us at this Table by faith. By grace through faith we find Him in the place His glory dwells. One day in His glorious presence is better than a thousand praises of men.
Every Lord’s day we gather as Christians to celebrate Christ’s historical, bodily resurrection. If He has not risen, if His resurrection is a myth or a scam, our faith is in vain and we are still in our sins. Unless He lives, we cannot face tomorrow, let alone eternity.
In Psalm 16:10, David looks forward to the glad security that the Savior’s flesh would not see corruption. His soul would not be abandoned to Sheol, to death. The next verse brings us home, too.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalm 16:11, ESV)
Though David may not have connected all the dots, we can. The “path of life” is Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way…no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus brings us into life. He is “the life.” He brings us into God’s presence (1 Peter 3:18) and with God there is “fullness of joy.” At God’s “right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
The Communion Table is spread with the symbols of Jesus’ body and blood, with His own life given for our lives. The Lord’s Table is spread with joy because when we eat and drink with each other, we are communing with God in heaven through Christ. This is a foretaste of the ultimate banquet of fellowship. guarantee of forever pleasures because Christ is risen from the dead.
Israel rejoiced in John the Baptist’s lamp-light for a while (John 5:35). Many Jews saw the straight path from Baptist’s ministry to the Messiah’s coming. They were anticipating the Messiah’s arrival, expecting Him to defeat their enemies and to share His kingdom with them. They couldn’t wait for the Messiah to change their lives. But John lost his luster when he kept talking about the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
A few years later, Jesus entered Jerusalem to pageantry and praise. On the day we call Palm Sunday, the crowd was eager to crown their King. They cried out, “Hosanna!” “Save us, we pray!” They laid their clothes and palm branches on the road in front of Him. He was their Messiah, but not the One they wanted. He offered them life, but not the one they wanted. He came to defeat their greatest enemy, their death-deserving sin, and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. They wanted Him to defeat the Romans. Within a week they asked the Romans to crucify Him.
Jesus does promise life. He promises an eternal inheritance in His kingdom for all who follow Him. He promises to share His glory with His servants. He promises communion with Himself and with His Father.
But life comes on certain terms, namely, it only comes by His death. He will be exalted, given the name above every name, but that lifting came after being humbled, by being obedient even to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8-11).
We who believe should look forward to His final victory. We should look forward to obtaining the guaranteed inheritance. We ought to anticipate the day when all our enemies are defeated. But the way to life is the way of dying. The Lord’s Table reminds us of what we have in Christ, now and forever. It also reminds us how He purchased it, once and for all.
The apostles John and Peter were in the temple when a man, lame from birth, asked for them alms. Instead of silver or gold, Peter told the him to rise up and walk in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Acts 3:6). The man was healed and began walking, leaping, and praising God, which earned Peter and John an attentive audience.
Peter began to preach and, among other things, told the Jews that they “killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:15). It is an interesting word, “Author” (or “Prince” KJV and NASB, “source” HCSB, elsewhere defined as “originator”), ἀρχηγὸν in Greek. It is used four times in the New Testament and only about Jesus. Here Jesus is the Author of life. In Hebrews 2:10 Jesus is the Author (NASB, “founder” in ESV) of salvation. In Hebrews 12:2 Jesus is the Author (NASB, “founder” in ESV) and Perfecter of our faith.
He is the Author of life, salvation, and faith. In order to secure those things for us He was killed (Acts 3:15), He suffered (Hebrews 2:10), and He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). When we come to the meal of peace, there is no question about who sits at the Head of the Table: the Lord Jesus Christ. There are no doubts about how we were invited: Jesus died and rose as our substitute. There is no uncertainty about what we get at this Table: nourished faith, salvation to glory, and eternal life. The Author writes us into His story, He shares His very own life with us. So come and commune with Him.
We emphasize that the Lord’s Table is a banquet, a feast, a celebration. We emphasize the joy of communion, God’s joy over us and our corporate joy with Him. Jesus made peace by the blood of His cross and reconciled us in His body of flesh by His death in order to present us holy and blameless and above reproach before Him (Colossians 1:20-22). Christ’s finished sacrifice is a reason to rejoice.
It is also a reason to examine ourselves. The Table celebration is for sinners who boast in the Savior not for sinners who boast in their sin. We must not be sinless before we eat but we also must not be careless about our sin. Paul said,
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)
Sin affects the body. Not all effects on the body result from our personal sin but some do. Weakness, illness, and even death may come to those who deliberately ignore the sin Christ died for.
Weekly celebration of the Lord’s Table nourishes those with faith and endangers those who participate without faith, those who love sin and don’t seek His strength to fight sin. He desires communion with us and He will discipline those who come for communion with disregard the sacrifice of His Son.
At this meal we meet with the Father through the work of His Son. Let us enjoy that fellowship with Him as we discern His saving work in us.