Lord's Day Liturgy

You Did Good

All three Synoptic Gospels include Jesus’ question of exchange. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25). It’s an economic question, though it requires a better economic understanding than many men have demonstrated. Good economics considers more than the immediate result and more than a single issue. Wealth and power, what it means to “gain the whole world,” do not equal life.

As obvious as this is to many disciples, it is only obvious by half. There are more economics in this transaction, and it’s not in the fine print, or a footnote, nor from a false teacher. Think about the verse immediately before Jesus’ question:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25)

There are two risks, but only one results in permanent loss. Jesus says you can lose early or lose eternally, but if you lose early the result is gain.

And add to this the following verse.

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:27)

When Jesus settles accounts, is He focused on punishment or on profit? Of course He will judge those who denied Him. But where would He find those to reward? He would find them among those who denied themselves and found life working for the Son. Those who gained will gain even more.

Deny yourself for something better, not something more miserable. Take up your cross, kill your greed, and then do all kinds of good that Jesus may say, “You did good. I told you I would see your work and share my inheritance with you as a reward” (Matthew 25:21; Colossians 3:23).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Seeing Red

This will be the last exhortation in this short series based on the name of our church. We are seeking a fellowship like that of the Trinity, enabled by the evangel, the gospel, of forgiveness and sacrifice, which makes us an assembly of worshippers.

I learned something about light this past week. The further away a source of light becomes the more red its light becomes; it’s called red-shifting as the wavelengths are stretched out and toward red on the spectrum. Some stars are increasing in their distance from our point of observation and it has discernible attributes. Likewise with sound, think about how the sound waves stretch as a car drives off into the distance.

A similar thing happens in an assembly. While we thank God for an obvious, and in most ways, increasing unity among our local body, we also see red-shifting from some who are not as close as they used to be. With stars it’s not as big a deal. With professing saints, it’s not just a major bummer, it’s an obligation for us to pursue.

We keep attendance. We have membership by baptism and by application. We have small groups that meet a couple times a month for further entwining of lives. We practice church discipline if we can no longer affirm the reality of someone’s heavenly citizenship.

It is all a form a accountability. Each one of us has One judge (Romans 14:4). Also, we are part of one body, so that we all suffer or we all rejoice and we all go after the one showing signs of increasing distance. It is not just about showing up, it is definitely not about control. It is about rescuing the one caught in any transgression and seeing him or her restored to the joy of salvation.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Lord's Day Liturgy

Deaden or Gladden

It is not just a future hour when God will judge those who don’t obey Him. He threatens discipline any time people take His Table for granted.

I don’t bring it up each Lord’s Day, but the word of the Lord through Paul always applies. Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27). To profane means to treat with disrespect. If we do not examine, then we may be eating and drinking judgment on ourselves (verse 30).

In Revelation 14 the “wine” that the world drinks, wine which they thought would be delightful, turned out to be a cup of judgment. In a similar way, professing Christians drink their own discipline if they try to keep sin in their mouths at the same time.

What is also to be remembered, however, is the blessing promised when we eat and drink, honestly and humbly. The Lord’s Supper is serious, but it is not a gauntlet. Bread can choke you, or feed you. Wine will deaden your heart, or gladden it. It isn’t just what we’re trying to avoid, but what we get to receive.

This meal is a reminder of what we deserved: death. But it is also a reminder of what awaits those who die in the Lord: a feast. There is rejoicing in Him. There is rest in Him. Do this in remembrance of His first coming, and until He comes again.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Always Baking, Never Buttering

If we meditate on those in Revelation 14:3 who are able to learn the new song, can you imagine if they learned it and then didn’t sing it? Can you imagine being satisfied with the memorizing of the words, maybe holding the sheet music, but never letting loose on the chorus?

The vocabulary reminds me of Paul’s letter to Timothy in which he describes some teachers who gain an audience of weak women, and both teacher and students appear to be “aways learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” I don’t think this is describing their frustration, I think it’s describing their futile satisfaction. They are compared to “Jannes and Jambres” who “opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth.” They keep learning as a cover for their corruption.

This is one of the reasons that our liturgy includes the Lord’s Table every Lord’s Day. It is good to know the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and fine to know its Latin mantra (sola fide), but it is possible to hold a confession of faith at a distance. It is like always baking and never coming to put butter on the bread right out of the oven and then taking a bite.

Jesus taught us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not because His kingdom is spiritual in an unrelated way to our lives, but because His spiritual kingdom rules our lives. Following Christ is not an out of body experience. We learn to sing so that we can sing. We pour the wine to drink. I charge you, “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom,” do this in remembrance of Him.

Lord's Day Liturgy

An Important Idea-Shelf

As with the first and middle names of our church, so with the last name there will be two parts to consider. We are Trinity Evangel Church. God has elected, and through the gospel of His Son He creates, a people for His own possession.

I used to be more difficult when others said that they were “going to church,” and, as you probably know, the Bible doesn’t refer to the church as a place but as the persons. That is a good reminder, but also there are enough other language battles in our day (like, “man” and “woman”) to spend our energy on.

The English word “church” is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, so things that are “ecclesiastical” are church things. It does not so much refer to a location for gathering as it does to the group who are gathered. William Tyndale got himself in a grave trouble because in his English translation of the NT he used the word “congregation” rather than church, and that made the institutional authorities of the Roman Catholic Church quite peeved.

One of the most important idea-shelves that we’ve tried to build is that we do not gather on Sundays in two categories but in one. We do not gather as performers and audience, we gather as an assembly. The assembly worships God, even though many look toward the west and only some look east. There are leaders in the liturgy and followers, but our liturgy calls you to attend to your part, which is more than to listen.

We are an assembly, of worshipping, maturing disciples who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord over all. We are the church of God.

Lord's Day Liturgy

No Comparison

The contrasts between the ancient serpent and the Ancient of Days continues to be edifying. So also the demands of the beast to be worshipped and the ministry of the false prophet are nothing like what the Son deserves or how the Spirit points us to the glory of Christ.

The earth-beast deceives people into doing the work to make an idol of the sea-beast to worship. He convinces them to spend and sacrifice and then threatens that any who refuse to worship the idol (which they just made) will be killed.

Jesus, on the other hand, spent Himself as the sacrifice. Rather than threatening death, He accepted His death, on a cross, in order to purchase worshippers. The Spirit gives life in the Son. He does not make a new set of burdens.

The Beast coerces and enforces; the Son is the Head in whom the whole body is united and grows. The Beast subjects and seizes; the Son is the Vine in whom every branch abides and produces fruit and knows His joy. The Beast intimidates and threatens; the Son is the Bridegroom who washes His Bride into splendor by His love. There is no comparison.

Both the Beast and the Son will be worshipped, but only one in truth, only one forever, only one who is worthy. The Lamb’s Table is a real feast, no strings attached. We come not because our lives depend on it, it’s because we depend on Him for our lives.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Good News and New Goods

The evangel is life changing. The gospel is God’s truth that raises men from the dead and gives them new and eternal life. It is also a call to be generous with our lives unto death.

We have been working our way through the parts of the name of our church, partly for those who are newer to the flock and partly because some reminders never outgrow their usefulness. That the gospel calls us to a life of dying to bring life is as useful as a heartbeat.

Last Lord’s Day I emphasized that those who are forgiven in the evangel must forgive. We are not saved because we forgive, but we forgive because we are saved. We forgive because of God’s grace to us; grace from above doesn’t turn into works-based forgivers below.

One realization requiring my repentance a number of years ago—repentance because I needed a change of mind—related to talk about incarnating or embodying the gospel. The gospel is news, how can you “do” a message? More strictly, the gospel is about the divine Logos taking on a body and spending it to death as a sacrifice for sinners. But I’m a sinner, so my death can’t redeem anyone. All of that is true.

And it is also true that God’s Word calls us to live out the gospel.

“always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (in carne nostra mortali). So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:10-12)

These are death brings life statements. We incarnate, we put flesh on, the story. It’s not redemptive, but reflective.

This explains another comment by Paul in Colossians 1:24, “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Perhaps better than any apostle, Paul knew and taught the exclusivity and effectiveness of Christ’s work on the cross. And because of that there is a life of dying that belongs to believers.

It means, among other things, that husbands sacrifice for their wives first (Ephesians 5). It means that parents don’t have kids in order to be served but to serve. It means shepherds go out front, they don’t demand commitment and sacrifice so that they don’t have to.

The evangel begets a cycle of giving with the mind of Christ, where good news leads us to do new goods for one another.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Out of Enmity

I have asked the question before, but “the book of life of the Lamb” brings it up again. If you were the lover par excellence, if you were the being in the universe who knew and expressed love above everyone else, how would you go about communicating that love to others? As a lover, the impulse to share your love and invite others in would be as natural as water runs downhill.

God is love (1 John 4:16). God sent His Son because He loved (John 3:16). Jesus is the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5). The Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5). These are things that give us hope, that enable our endurance.

John wrote about the “outsiders” in Revelation 13 who will not worship the beast. They are those whose names have been “written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, KJV). The saints take courage to believe and to bear up under the attack of the beast with this knowledge.

What do they know? Was it that their names were written in The Book before the world began, or was it that the Lamb was slain before the world began? Are we encouraged by our election to salvation, or are we encouraged that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23)?

Beloved, it is both. We are “elect…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” and Christ, the lamb, “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:1, 18-19). You who believe were chosen to know the God of love, whose love dies for sinners. He reveals His love not by loving those who already love Him, but by loving enemies out of their enmity. You were chosen to be loved, and nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lamb.

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Big As

No true church exists without the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sin destroys our fellowship with the Triune God and ruins relationships between one another. Death is separation, and spiritual death is not only separation from God but disregard for His Word and enmity toward His person.

No man can work his way to God. The wise of the world can’t philosophize their way to Him. There are no quests, no treasures, no mutilations that earn salvation from God. Dead men are, by definition, incapable of making themselves alive. The gospel, the good news, is that Jesus died, was buried, and on the third day rose again so that any who believe in Him might be forgiven of their sin, cleansed of their guilt, and reconciled to the Father.

The Latin word for gospel is evangel, from the Greek word * εὐαγγέλιον* (euaggelion). It is the message of divine, free forgiveness in Christ.

Christians, by definition, are those who believe this gospel. Christians are the forgiven. Christians, sadly, often sin by refusing to forgive others.

The Evangel in Trinity Evangel Church was largely chosen because of seeing this sort of failure to forgive from professing Christians, and committing ourselves to obedience on this front. Paul told the Colossians, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). It’s a big as. Jesus told a parable about the servant who was forgiven much who refused to forgive one who owed him little (Matthew 18:21-35). Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

We thought about being “Evangelical,” but that is too mushy a category anymore. Evangel takes just a little more effort to say, and so to think about. Forgiving just as we’ve been forgiven is supernatural, it is beyond the ability of the flesh, and it absolutely must be proclaimed and practiced by us because our sins are forgiven for His name’s sake (1 John 2:12). “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Forgive your spouse, your children, your brother, your mother, your neighbor. Forgive as you’ve been forgiven.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Biggest Poser

Other than the simple fact that they are not the same, the greatest difference between the mortal wound of the Lamb and the mortal wound of the beast (Revelation 13:3) is that the beast’s wound enabled him to deceive the nations into worshiping him for a limited time while the Lamb’s wounds purchased the salvation of a great number from all the nations into eternal life.

The beast was wounded in imitation, the Lamb was wounded for our transgressions. The beast took a hit so that he could be exalted, the Lamb was slain so that we who believe would be resurrected with Him. One is a poser, the Lamb is given the name above every name. One will deceive many into worshiping him for a time, the Lord will be acknowledged by every mouth and every knee as the truly glorious one. The beast’s authority—the dragon, killed the Lamb, but the Lamb’s authority—the Father, knew that the killing would be the dragon’s defeat. The beast copies the Lamb to his own undoing.

As people of the Lamb, we also lay down our lives in imitation. We follow in His steps. We do it not to replace Him, but as conscious reflections of Him. We make loving sacrifices to serve others, not to be served. We learn the way to true glory is not by exalting ourselves, but by exalting Him, who raises us up.

This is one of the reasons why communion is a political act. Every week when we declare our peace with God we’re saying that we don’t depend on the State to give us life. We have all that we need in Christ, and that is a threat to every earthly wannabe poser lusting for power. This Table is where the glory is, this Table feeds our faith and our obedience, this Table is where we remember the death of the Lamb, who ransomed us for God (Revelation 5:9-10).