It may be hard to remember all the things that other people did that enable us to enjoy our time of communion. A team of people arrived early this morning and put the bread into these plates, filled the cups, and carried them upstairs to this table. Before that, someone woke up early, then made, baked, cut, and packed the bread. Before that, the same someone bought all the necessary ingredients and paid the electric bill so she they could turn on the oven. Before that, someone figured out how to beat flour and bake it into something chewy and tasty.
A moment’s reflection should help us be thankful for all the parts of the process I mentioned, let alone the thousands of other steps I didn’t. Yet in the back of our minds, we may be thinking, “Yeah, but I could do all that for myself if I needed to.” Maybe we could.
However, we could not give the Son like the Father did. We could not give our flesh for the life of others like the Son did. We could not give life to ourselves, or to anyone else, like the Spirit did. We could not give a rip about any of it without the Trinity.
We are far too easily presumptuous, giving ourselves far too much credit. We need to give thanks for what we’ve been given. We need to give God glory for His gracious gifts. We won’t even do that unless He gives us help to do so.
Those who gather around the Lord’s Table every week as we do face different temptations than those who do it once a year. A plain temptation that we face is that we would get used to it, take it for granted, fail to see it as special. Carrying out communion by copy and paste is a real danger for us.
The really real danger is that our believing might become copy and paste, that our faith might be nothing more than words copied from our Bibles to our notebooks. This is a daily temptation, not just a weekly one. So we really need to fight the temptation.
One weapon in the fight is to remember how much God wants us to have life. How eager is God for us to share life with Himself? The living Father is so eager that He sent His Son to give His flesh as true food and His blood as true drink so that those who eat and drink would live (John 6:57).
We are more in danger by not eating and drinking than by eating and drinking too often. We die if we do not believe. This weekly meal reminds us that we must keep on chewing, we must keep on believing if we want to keep on living. Consuming His flesh and blood is communing with the living God, and this meal won’t become copy and paste as long as we keep coming in living faith.
The sacrifice of Christ was voluntary and compulsory. It was voluntary in that no law required it of Him, no external source coerced Him into it. And yet His sacrifice was motivated by love and He could not not love. God is love. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. The Son loved the world and laid down His life so that we could have life. Love compelled Him to give up His life so that His people could live.
The good news is that God, in Jesus, took on flesh, fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law, died in place of sinners, and rose again to prove His triumph over sin and death. All of who believe share in that triumph.
What does that mean? What does participating in His triumph get us? We get life from and in His love. It’s what we did not have. It’s what we could not earn. We were dead, not to mention unlovely. Life is a gift of love received, a gift to be rejoiced over.
We may mourn our sin that brought the need for this Table. But even more we rejoice by faith that Christ has triumphed. We rejoice as we eat a meal in this triumph of life and love. Let’s do it together.
Not only did Jesus pray that we would be one as He and the Father are one, He also provided a meal to unite us. He Himself is the meal, His body the bread, His blood the wine, broken and poured out all for love. He gave His flesh so that we could enjoy familial fellowship as part of His household.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16–17, ESV)
When we sing songs such as Glorious Day, and as we think about Jesus our Redeemer, the suffering sacrifice who bore our sins and carries them far away, note that the day of our forgiveness isn’t the glorious day, though that day was great. The day of His coming is the glorious day. One day He’s coming, because what He did isn’t just a message of justification to be believed, He is the Beloved One meant to be known forever.
We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We live because He lives and we have eternal life because His Spirit breathed life into our souls. We rejoice in response to His initiating and effective grace.
Gospel is a one-word name for the New Covenant which is a two-word name for God’s eternal, Triune love story. From the first chapter to the last, the story is all about how He goes first. All things are from Him and then through Him and back to Him. Not only do we blow it when it is up to us, we don’t even have the brainwaves to know that we were blowing it or to care without God as antecedent.
Adam and Eve, with Adam representing all of humanity, ran and hid in shame after sinning. Adam’s sense of shame was a grace as God made man in His image; even conviction was something the pot was not entitled to. Adam did not draw near to God after he disobeyed. Adam did not seek forgiveness and reconciliation. He did not start preparing a sacrifice. Had not God gone and sought them, their bones would still be behind those bushes. God did not wait for them to cry out to Him.
Jesus did not wait for the Jews to cry out for Him. He clothed Himself with flesh to give life to the world (John 6:51), but not because the world wanted Him to. Jesus died on the cross, but not because we asked Him to. It wasn’t our idea, it wasn’t our petition. All we did was need Him to do.
The bread and the cup were prepared for us. Peter explained that Jesus was the spotless Lamb foreknown before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-20). Through Him we are believers in God, who raised Christ from the dead and gave His Son glory, so that our faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:21). He did not wait for us to draw near. The Incarnation and Redemption were planned, initiated, and executed without our interest or input. Then He let us hear His voice calling. Now He invites us to come by faith and be filled because He came to seek and save the lost.
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.