Lord's Day Liturgy

Like a Herd of Gerasene Swine

How did God do it? He is a much more patient writer than any human author. I can barely handle when a question hangs too long, let alone if the group’s answers are rushing down a steep bank like a herd of Gerasene swine. But He held back for what seems to us like an eternity before crushing Christ for our iniquities and then raising Him for our justification.

Generations went, generations came, filling the earth, rejecting their Creator, waiting for a redeemer. God gave glimpses, foreshadowed the suffering and the salvation, yet He held the climax of a loving, glorious sacrifice under wraps even for most who read the script.

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20–21)

The plot of this great story called for rebels, for a virgin, for a tree, for a perfect, spotless lamb. The rebels were easy to cast, but the Father had to give His only begotten Son as the substitute.

God knew from the beginning and we are still talking about how we didn’t see it coming, yet are so glad it did. The greatest chapter has been written; it is finished. But the final chapter hasn’t been enfleshed. This meal reminds us of one night when our Lord was betrayed, and it anticipates a meal coming up at a marriage supper. Everything is going according to the script/Scriptures. The bread and cup are more than props, they are reminders.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Confession 101

It may or may not be obvious to those who attend our church, but the exhortation during the corporate confession part of our Lord’s day liturgy usually connects to some thread or theme from the sermon to follow. Why plow two fields when one field plowed twice might be more fruitful? That said, sometimes I’ll trace a subject for a small series, and one of the first series I covered is almost a dozen years old now: “Confession 101.”

The first lesson in Confession 101 is that sin is bad. Here are four reminders why.

First, sin separates man from God and, by consequence, from one another. No relationship can survive sin unchecked. Sin relentlessly pounds a wedge between persons.

Second, sin blinds men from truth. Sin suffocates men with darkness. Sin scars the spiritual organ intended for insight with ignorance. We cannot be free from slavery to lies if sin be the tyrant.

Third, sin deceives men about reality. Not only are men blind, sin convinces them that they can see better. They have no need for a physician’s help because they believe themselves to be in excellent shape. Sin imagines substance out of shadows, makes messes out of molehills.

Fourth, sin kills men. It destroys the soul, spoiling a man’s today and stealing his tomorrow. Sin drives a man to work for a paycheck of death, and we’re living in a culture that hates wisdom and loves death.

As Christians, we know that in Christ, on one hand, we are already dead to sin (Romans 6:2) and that, with the other hand, Christ requires us to kill sin (Romans 8:13). Sin is bad. Either we will kill it or it will kill us. Let’s begin by confessing our sin to God.

Lord's Day Liturgy

How Long

There is a frequent cry among the prophets and psalmists asking the Lord, “How long?” God’s people see wickedness unchecked, enemies unhindered, troubles unending. “How long?” can be a complaint of faith. God Himself gives us such a question as a pattern for our prayers.

But men are not the only ones who wonder, and they are not the first. The Lord Himself asks this question to point out the unreasonable unbelief and disobedience of men.

When the LORD delivered His people from Egypt and had given them double manna on the sixth day, He told them not to collect it on the sabbath, they went out to gather anyway.

“And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?” (Exodus 16:28)

In Numbers 14 the Lord asks “How long” three times, all because of the criticisms and complaining among those who were afraid to enter the Promised Land based on the reports of the spies.

And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me?” (Numbers 14: 11, 27a)

Wondering why it seems God is quiet or inactive shouldn’t be a cover for why we are not attending to His Word already revealed and to His instructions already in front of us. It’s one thing to be impatient with God, it’s another to forget how patient He has to be with us.

Lord's Day Liturgy

What’s More Impossible

If your god can’t do something about death then he can only offer so much.

Abraham believed in the God who overcomes death.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

Faith that believes in resurrection power is at the top of the faith chart. What is more impossible than being raised from the dead? In Abraham’s case, he was prepared to act based on it. In our case, we are prepared to eat and drink based on it.

There is no “figuratively speaking” with the resurrection of Jesus because He died. He wasn’t almost sacrificed. He carried the wood of His altar, was bound by nails to it, and though God could have sent 10,000 angels to take Him off the cross, a “close to death” would only made us close to salvation. They buried His body.

But then He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. The angels told visitors to His tomb: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” This is literally/physically speaking.

When we eat the bread and drink the wine we proclaim His death but not because He’s dead. He lives! Our faith is in the resurrection and the life! May your faith be nourished by such a meal in such a powerful Savior who has overcome death for us.

Lord's Day Liturgy

No More Pivotal Day

There is no more pivotal day in history than the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (v.17). “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v.20); He is risen indeed. “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.”

50 days after the crucifixion, Peter preached about Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14ff). Many who heard his message were “cut to the heart” (v.37), and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v.38).

The resurrection celebration is for “every one,” but only each one who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Christians are those who hear the gospel, confess their sin, turn away from their sin, and trust in Christ. That’s the only way to be saved, the only path to share in the sin-forgiving death and life-giving resurrection of Christ.

Even as Christians, we continue to confess our sins because we don’t forget that the empty tomb we celebrate on Sunday is glorious because our sin caused His death on Friday.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Much More

While I wouldn’t argue that we find the central point of Romans in the center of the letter, it is the case that a central argument of the gospel is right in the middle (out of 432 total verses in the ESV, there are 216 verses from 1:1-8:30 and 216 from 8:31-16:27).

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

Believers, brothers, beloved, here is gospel logic, an argument from the greater to the lesser, but the greater is giving one Son and the lesser is giving all else.

While we were still weak, God did not spare His own Son. While we were ungodly, God did not spare His own Son. While we were still sinners, God dis not spare His own Son. While we were enemies, God did not spare His own Son.

And so “much more” shall we be saved (5:9), “much more” shall we be saved by His life (5:10). “Much more” has God’s grace abounded (5:15). “Much more” will righteousness reign in life (5:17). “Much more” will be natural branches grafted in and riches of blessings increased (11:12, 24).

What then shall we say? God is for us, God will give us all things by grace, God loves us in Christ Jesus our Lord. You can not ask for much more than that.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Partially Right

Of course there were different groups of people responding in different ways on the day we refer to as Palm Sunday. But one thing all Israel expected was a triumphant Messiah. Was that the right expectation? It was right, but only by half.

God promised an anointed Son (think Psalm 2), a King who would defeat Israel’s enemies and restore the people in a fruitful land. This was not God’s only promise. God also promised an anointed Son, a Redeemer who would bear Israel’s heart enmity and reconcile the people to God (think Isaiah 53).

The Jews were not wrong to desire political liberty and full stomachs from productive fields under the authority of the Messiah. But they were wrong to desire all of that apart from their own personal submission to the authority of the Messiah. They had sin, they needed repentance, their worship was compromised, their zeal without knowledge.

Yes, “Hosanna (praise Yahweh!) to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 27:9). And we must receive Him as Prophet-speaking truth about our sin, Priest-offering sacrifice for our sin, and King-ruling over every part of our lives. We submit to His authority not just to fix our problems without, but to restore our souls.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Resurrection Resurrection

I’m sure someone must have told this to me before because I have many Russian friends. I have so many, that I know it’s better to say I have many Slavic friends, not all of whom are actually Russian.

Anyway, I was informed, or reminded, that the Russian word for Sunday is Воскресенье (Voskresenye). The parts of that word are “up” and “again” and “to rise,” so: “resurrect.” What the Bible regularly calls the first day of the week, what I believe the apostle John did intend to name “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10), and what we call Sunday, the Russian calendar has as “Resurrection.”

We are just a couple Lord’s Days from Resurrection Sunday, but our weekly first day, Lord’s day assembling and communion remind us to start with resurrection.

  • “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4)
  • “if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:5)
  • “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Romans 6:13)

On Easter, a Russian who would say “Resurrection Sunday” would be saying “Resurrection Resurrection.”. And while that focuses on the gospel of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, it includes all of us who believe in Him.

Do you know why God is able to strength you according to the preaching of Jesus Christ? Because Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life.

May you know:

what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead

Ephesians 1:18b-20a
Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Layers of Paperwork

Seasons on social media come and go a lot faster than the weather, which has it’s own benefit: if you don’t like what people are complaining about at the moment, just swipe left to see a new mob.

It’s been “The church as institution is bad” season, and I know some of you have braved the storm without even taking an umbrella. Even in Romans 16 we’ve read about churches meeting in houses; should Christians only meet in houses? Let me remind us all of two things.

First, institutions can be a blessing, even if they are regularly not, or grow up to have bad attitudes. But a dad with an attitude problem, who can’t submit to anyone else for longer than two months, who decides to have home-church for his family and a few friends, is not going to be the big blessing either. It’s easy to argue for church as Organism vs Organization, one or the other. But a virus is an organism too, and organizations win more wars than casual coffee shop conversations.

Second, the institution is not with whom you have to do (think Hebrews 4:13). No one is saved because of membership in an institution, and no one confesses his sin to the board or president. Each of us answer to the Lord (Romans 14:12).

For that matter, one thing we will answer to the Lord about is how we interacted with His Church. When Jesus said, “I will build my church,” I do NOT think He meant adding layers of paperwork. I also don’t think He meant, “Make sure there are never more than two or three gathered together in My name.“

Don’t hide among the numbers in an institution, don’t hide at home by having no one else to listen to.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Outfitted by Blood

Communion is both a respite from conflict and a resource for engaging conflict.

The benefits we get from the covenant are all by blood; the “God of peace” sent His Son into trouble to conquer trouble. The crown of thorns and the cross of wood come before the tombstone was rolled away.

Jesus told His disciples that they would have trouble, but that they’d go into that trouble with His peace (John 14:27). The death and resurrection of Christ purchased our equipment.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21 ESV)

There’s two things here.

First, the letter to the Hebrews contrasts the temporary Mosaic Covenant of law with the eternal covenant, also called the “better” covenant (Hebrews 7:22), with better promises, and a perfect High Priest. The benefits we share in Christ because of His purchase of the New Covenant are eternal.

Second, the peace is purchased by Christ’s blood. The peace was won through conflict, through Jesus’ mockery and torture and crucifixion, and it secured what we need for the life of faith we live now. The benefits we share in Christ are enabling, outfitting us to run with endurance the race that is set before us.