Not a Crumb of a Cardboard Cracker

How would you persuade someone that the church’s eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper should be more happy than heavy?

We believe that the bread and the wine represent the body of Christ tortured and crucified, the blood of Jesus spilled from His head, His hands, His back, His feet. We acknowledge that our sin drove the bitter nails that hung Him on that judgment tree. The murder of God’s Son is the most heinous and unjust offense committed in history, and, according to divine justice He had to be crushed for our iniquities. This is heavy truth.

And when we know Jesus Christ and Him crucified, what does the Father expect us to do next? What was the Son’s work for? What does the Spirit accomplish?

The goal of God’s saving work is our life, our joy, and our fellowship with God. That fellowship is sweet. The work of grace includes a plain, and painful, view of our disobedience. But God opens our eyes to see our sin not mainly so that He can rub our faces in it. His purpose is not to remind us in perpetuity that we do not belong, that we barely got in, and that we should never forget how painful was the price His Son paid.

We will not ever forget Christ’s death. And we will praise God’s love revealed in His atoning, substitutionary sacrifice. We will remember and rejoice because it purchased our forgiveness, our freedom, our fellowship with God and all His people.

It is one of the reasons that we started using wine in communion. Wine is given by God as a gift to gladden hearts (Psalm 104:15). We are not drinking the wine of His wrath, but the wine of His feast (think Isaiah 55). Likewise, the recipe we use for our bread includes a touch of honey, because the word is sweet (Psalm 19:10), and Jesus is the incarnate Word. He is the Bread of Life, not a crumb of a cardboard cracker.

Honey is serious business. We do not deserve salvation or any of its sweetness, and that is part of what makes it a serious gift to us from God.

Where It Wafts

Sometimes Christians are able to take obedience and make it ugly; it’s one of our specialties.

In 1 Corinthians 16:5-8 Paul wrote about his plans to visit Corinth, but also acknowledged that the Lord must permit the visit or it wouldn’t happen. Paul wasn’t expecting an approved itinerary handed down to him by an angel from heaven, but he would recognize by providence if God allowed it.

Solomon wrote that “the heart of man plans his ways, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Only the LORD does “whatever” He pleases (Psalm 135:6); we are not the Lord.

Most Christians are probably familiar with James’ teaching about this perspective on providence.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit,” … instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13, 15)

With all that in mind, in order to obey, do you need to say “if the Lord wills” before every stated intention or plan? Or, do you need to correct your brother or sister if they use a future tense verb without including the “Lord willing” qualifier?

James says that boasting in our self-determination is arrogant (James 4:16). It can also be arrogant to boast over a fellow-believer’s sentence structure. If he isn’t living in light of God’s control, then it might be good to bring it up, which is what James is doing. But Pharisees pay more attention to the proper use of formulas; what we need most is to live by faith.

How can you know if you are living James 4:15? You hold your schedule loosely. You respond to interruptions and changes with patience and contentment (which is harder than tagging sentences with Deo volente). You remember that “we have not even a moment in our power” (John Calvin, commentary on 1 Corinthians 16:7). You remember that your life is a mist, and that the Lord wills where it wafts and for how long.

To Be Clear about Hell

A few things happened over the last year or so that have caused the elders to propose an addition to our What We Believe statement of faith. We have been in different conversations about the reality of eternal death and, specifically, the existence of hell. When reviewing the doctrinal statement as part of our annual elder affirmation process, Jonathan suggested that we add something more specific.

Currently we only have a couple references to what happens after physical death to those who reject Christ. In 4.3, which is actually about Satan and the fallen angels, we believe that they will be “eternally judged in the lake of fire”; and in 14.2, under eschatology, we have “those who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness will be consigned to everlasting conscious misery” with a number of proof texts.

Those don’t need to be changed. Also, we have not changed our minds about this; we have always believed the Bible’s teaching about hell, but we all agreed that we could be more clear.

So we propose adding a point 4 to section 5 under “Man’s Sin and Fall from Fellowship with God”:

“We believe that because of Adam’s sin God judged mankind with death, immediate spiritual death, eventual physical death, and ultimately eternal death in hell. Every man who does not believe in Christ for salvation will face God’s righteous wrath and be separated from His presence in darkness and fire with weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Romans 2:5; Ephesians 5:6; Matthew 5:29, 10:28, 13:40-43; 2 Peter 2:4-10)

Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). The one to fear is God Himself. Jesus also said that at the end of the age the Son of Man will send angels to gather “all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42).

We all deserve hell and the everlasting lake of fire apart from Christ. And as Christians we confess that we are saved in Jesus Christ because He bore the Father’s wrath on our behalf. This is the good news we believe.

What a Perishable Seed Can Do

It’s not a new observation, but it seems appropriate after such an extended amount of attention on the resurrection (in 1 Corinthians 15) to note that when Paul delivered the practice and reason for communion a few chapters earlier he did not mention the resurrection at all.

As Paul explained, Jesus gave thanks and then gave bread to His disciples and said “This is my body which is for you,” without adding “and it will be raised for you, too.” Jesus again gave thanks and then gave a cup of wine to His disciples and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” and didn’t chase that with “that guarantees you a sweeter cup in the resurrection.” And Paul’s summary of all this was:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

The Corinthians knew and believed that Jesus was risen. The fact that we wait “until He comes” is also a clue in the verse that He is not still dead. And yet, for as much as we could not be certain of salvation without the resurrection, our time each week at the Lord’s Table proclaims the Lord’s death.

Though we believe in the resurrection of Jesus’ body, and the continuity of His body before and after His burial, the bread and the wine remind us of His perishable seed. They remind us of Him being sown in dishonor, in weakness. And, among many things, they remind us that a seed well sown in God’s sovereignty and by His grace is not sown in vain.

Is It a Sin to Be Weak?

If the Bible commands us to be steadfast, as it does in 1 Corinthians 15:58, then is it a sin to be unsteady? If God desires us to be immovable, same verse as above, is everyone who is erratic in disobedience? In other words, is it a sin to be weak?

It could be, depending on the type of weakness and reason for weakness.

Our physical bodies are in a state of weakness, certainly compared to our bodies when raised in power (1 Corinthians 15:43), and that corruption isn’t moral. Getting old isn’t sinful, being born blind isn’t sinful, many other diseases and sicknesses aren’t due to disobedience; think Job. But, if your body is weak because of your gluttony, or because of your drunkenness, or because you’re addicted to laziness, your weakness is at least a symptom of sin.

There are other types of weakness than physical, and even the exhortation to steadfastness is not a call to join a gym for sake of better physical fitness. We can be weak in faith, weak in heart, weak in conviction and commitment. Is that kind of weakness sin?

Again, it could be. Are you weak in heart because you’re a baby Christian who’s learning the faith, or because you’re an old (not necessarily mature) Christian who doesn’t want to do the work of paying attention to the teaching of Scripture? Are you weak in faith because it’s being tested, and you feel weak and cry to God to help you believe more? Or are you weak in faith because you’ve decided that drinking milk is easier than constantly distinguishing between good and evil (Hebrews 5:13-14)?

What type of weakness do you have and why are you weak? What do you do with the weakness? Recognizing weakness while obeying is one thing, claiming weakness as an excuse to disobey is another. There is a weakness that leads to even greater loss.

The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for the murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolators, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:7-8)

Taunts of the Assembly

I tell you this, brothers, it is not a mystery: we are all going to die. Actually, we shall not all sleep, as Paul put it (1 Corinthians 15:51). He considered the return of the Lord to be imminent, and, since time on earth is linear, we have to be closer to His return now than Paul.

If the Lord tarries, as they used to say, then we will all die. But, and this is the good news for Christians, we shall all be changed. We will be raised in Christ.

The questions, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” are taunts against death. “What can you do to us now, death? You’ve lost all your teeth.” These taunts are individual, and they are also the taunts of the assembly.

Our bodies will be raised, and we as the body of Christ will be raised. In the resurrection we will have identity as Christians and as the church.

We have that identity in seed form even now. If you are a believer, you have the promise of full fellowship. If you are a believer, you have the present experience of fellowship, both with God through Christ and through the Spirit with one another.

So we share communion in celebration of victory, by faith in both the firstfruits of victory and the final victory. Together we remember Christ’s death and His triumph over death. We are mere mortals, but we will be mere immortals not long from now. We shall all be changed, thanks be to God!

A Small Snail Named Apollyon

In an initial draft of The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan wrote about Christian’s encounter with a small snail named Apollyon. It was an epic battle, and Christian won, but some of Bunyan’s friends thought it didn’t really work. One of them named Mr. Plot-be-bold said, “The battle part fits in the story of struggle, but fighting a snail doesn’t seem like anything special.” So Bunyan changed Apollyon into the large dragon-bear-human-fish monster we know about.

The previous paragraph was typed with my tongue in my cheek; there’s no edition where Christian fights a snail. My point is to say, you are not a better Christian because your battles are small. Of course, you are not a better Christian when you lose to a bigger enemy either.

We are in a spiritual battle, with actual enemies, within and without. If it’s not an ad on a web page, or your neighbor, it’s your own heart that tempts you so disobey. The more spiritually mature you are, the more sensitive you become to the danger of the temptations, and the more spiritually mature you are, the bigger the temptations are likely to be. Resist the devil and he will flee, but he’s going to come at you hard before that.

What is tempting you? How severely are you being tempted? Is it not just irritation but a seething anger? Is it not just wishful thinking but consuming envy? Is it not just a passing glance, but slavery to lustful thoughts?

The point is not to beat yourself up when the temptation is big, the point is to beat big temptations when they come at you. You can really lose, but you also have a high priest who Himself “suffered when tempted” so that “He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). He did more than defeat a dust bunny.

So Hard Its Undoing

On the night He was betrayed, “Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body'” (Matthew 26:26). This part is familiar to us who celebrate communion.

But don’t those words sound familiar for another reason? In fact, the reason for the Second Adam saying “Take, eat” is because of what the first Adam took and ate. The serpent deceived Eve about God’s word, and when she saw that the tree was good for food and delighted the eyes and desired to make one wise, “she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6).

The “took” and the “ate” are the same vocabulary words in the Greek translation of the OT as the Greek words in Matthew 26 (from λαμβάνω and ἐσθίω respectively). Of course then Eve gave Adam the food, he ate, and he failed. And so, “By a man came death,” “in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22)

In his commentary on Genesis Derek Kidner wrote:

“She took… and ate: so simple the act, so hard its undoing. God will taste poverty and death before ‘take and eat’ become verbs of salvation.”

The Second Adam not only obeyed, He gave Himself as the bread of life. So, “by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead,” “in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22).

The serpent lied and said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” Now God says in truth, “Take, eat, for you will surely live, and you will be made like the image of My Son.”

Not As I Will

Jesus is risen from the dead just as He said. His resurrection is the first of its kind and all of us who believe in Him will be raised when He returns. While we sing in thanks and praise and hope, how else can we celebrate the significance of this great news? In other words, how can we make Easter great again?

We can, and should, give up our sins for which Christ died. We can, and should, give up trying to make our self-righteousness look acceptable to Him. We can, and should, give up our grudges toward those for whom Christ bore condemnation already. And, following Christ’s example, if we want to make Easter great again, we should give up our own wills.

In Gethsemane, sorrowful and troubled, falling on His face and praying, Jesus said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). After returning to His sleeping disciples Jesus went away a second time and prayed, “Your will be done” (verse 42). And after that, “he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again” (verse 44).

It’s not a surprise for Him to pray this way. He told others, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). What is surprising is how we think we’re going to get fruit by saving our seed (John 12:24). But Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).

Give up your self-sufficiency. Give up your schedule to glory. Give up your arrogant plans (James 4:13-17). Give up looking to your own interests (Philippians 2:4). “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Have the mind of Christ, and give up your will for Easter.

After the Fact

On the Sunday before Jesus was raised from the dead He came into Jerusalem with His disciples. The day is usually called Palm Sunday due to the palm branches that the crowd laid on the road before Jesus.

We also refer to Jesus coming into Jerusalem as the “triumphal entry.” This is really curious for a couple reasons.

First, a Triumph parade was an event familiar throughout the Roman Empire. The Israelites weren’t geographically close to Rome, but at that time they were under Roman governance. Roman Generals had to win a significant victory on foreign soil in order to have a Triumph thrown for their honor. The procession followed a special order through the streets of Rome, including captives and spoils, the soldiers, the sacrifices, and the General himself riding in a four-horse chariot.

But while Jesus entered Jerusalem to acclaim and praise, He rode a humble donkey. His disciples were no impressive army, and there were no captives, no spoils of war. It wasn’t a capital T Triumph.

In fact, that’s the second thing that makes the triumphal entry unique: Jesus had not triumphed; it wasn’t even a lower case t triumph. He had won no war. Many called for blessing on Him who comes in the name of the Lord, but there was no actual accomplishment for a parade to celebrate.

Like we call Good Friday “good” after the fact, so we call the Triumphal Entry “triumphal” after the fact. We know by God’s Word and we receive by faith that Christ entered Jerusalem as King in order to pay the price for the sin of His subjects. Within that week He did triumph over sin and guilt and death, and leads all of us now in His train. Today we remember His triumph in body and blood spent for us.