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.

The Dungeon of Chronic Grievances

We’ve been considering how to Make Easter Great Again. There are certainly things we can add into our preparation for and celebration of Christ’s resurrection, but there are also things we can give up. The most important things to give up, however, are things that Christ died for. He didn’t die so that we wouldn’t eat meat, He did die so that we wouldn’t self-righteously judge a brother who does (or doesn’t) eat meat. Give up sin, whether like gluttons, or like Pharisees.

Let me also urge you to give up grudges. We are in the spring season and all kinds of seeds are taking root and starting to grow. Don’t let bitterness be one of the seeds.

[See] that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15)

Jesus didn’t die so that you can hold on to wrongs done against you, or, for that matter, wrongs you have done against others (though we typically don’t focus on how we’ve caused trouble). Jesus rose again for our freedom from the dungeons of perpetual guilt and of chronic grievances.

This isn’t to say that you have not been sinned against. You most certainly have. But the gospel declares that in three days Jesus took care of the condemnation that was due to every believer who has sinned against us. Eagerly holding on to feelings of ill-will, resentment, envy, or suspicion is like saying that Christ needs to be punished more for that brother’s offense. If the one who sinned against you is not a believer, then Christ says He will deal with them later.

Grudges spelled backward is self-pity. But Christ has condemned sin in the flesh so that we cannot be condemned and so that we will not have regrets from condemning others.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:17–18)

Foolproof Resurrection

Why go through religious rituals like baptism or the Lord’s Supper? Why risk comfort and convenience for Christ? Why pursue righteousness when someone is going to give us grief about it? We do all of the above for sake of reward.

In Hebrews we read:

Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

But when do we get this reward? It is not always, and not even mainly, in this life. So Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (verse 10). Those like him “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (verse 16). Some through faith “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises,” (verse 33), and others “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (verse 34).

All these are those “of whom the world was not worthy” (verse 38).

We are called to live by faith, to endure “as seeing him who is invisible” (verse 27). We spend ourselves because of foolproof resurrection; we can mess up spending our lives for Christ but we can’t mess up our lives being resurrected in Christ. We obey because of that resurrection. We will not lose out on the reward because Jesus is risen from the dead.

So come, eat and drink. May your faith be strengthened. And may we all have more of the same mind, the same love, and be in full communion for sake of the Christ Jesus our Lord.

Polluted Garments on the Easter Table

We pick up with our series of exhortations with a view to Make Easter Great Again. As I mentioned last week, the only concentrated preparation for Easter encouraged on a broad scale in church circles relates to Lent, a time to give up things like meat and sex and other “indulgences.” But being tough on the body doesn’t necessarily make anyone more holy (so says Colossians 2:20-23). Instead, if you really want to give up something in order to get ready to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, give up your sin.

I would also exhort you to give up your virtues. Of all the things that keep people out of heaven, self-righteousness is as deadly as unrighteousness. The extra trouble with the self-righteous is that they think they are not in trouble.

Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). When Jesus healed the man born blind, He said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” When some Pharisees asked if they were blind, “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains'” (John 9:39-41).

Christians should obey Jesus; we should learn to obey all that He commanded. The Spirit who indwells us is holy, and we are to be holy even as He is holy. But we are still completely dependent on Him to produce any good and holy works through us. He must work and will in us (Philippians 2:13). So if you are getting ready for Easter with spiritual pride in your virtues being better than your brother’s virtues, then you might as well put a polluted garment as the centerpiece on your Easter table (Isaiah 64:6).

Give up your sin, including your self-righteous sin, in order to #mega.