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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Table of Reckoning

When Jesus told His disciples to eat and drink in “remembrance of Me,” He wanted them to think especially of Him in body to death. His flesh and blood were the means by which God’s wrath was absorbed against our sin. The cross was a reckoning, a settling of accounts so that God could be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Christ. That makes the communion table a table of reckoning, a sign of Christ’s atoning substitute for all who would ever believe.

When we eat the bread and drink the cup we reckon that it’s true; Jesus died and rose again. When we come to this table we also reckon that it’s true for us. We died with Christ and have been raised in Him.

We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin….Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again. (Romans 6:6, 8-9)

We believe the truth of the gospel account, and then we believe the truth that we died and rose again in Him.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)

The translation “consider” could be “count” (NIV) or “reckon” (KJV). This is a table of reckoning. As you hold the bread and wine, hold to the reality by faith. We partake of the signs of God reckoning with sin on Christ, and as we partake we reckon that our union with Christ matters for everything.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Goat that Went Away

A scapegoat is a powerful symbol.

In the Bible it comes from Leviticus 16. On the day of atonement the Lord told Aaron to take “two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for [the scapegoat],” at least that’s how the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible translate it. The ESV translates it as “the other lot for Azazel,” unsure of the exact meaning, suggesting maybe it is the name of a place.

Yet the note of commentary in the ESVSB says:

The traditional explanation is that Azazel (Hb. ‘aza’zel) is a compound word, combining “goat” (Hb. ‘ez) with “going away” (Hb. ’azel): the word would then mean “goat that goes away” (hence the conventional “scapegoat”).

The word is used in Leviticus 16:8, 10, and 26.

As I said, the image is powerful. It is a goat, it is a goat that gets sent away into the wilderness, and it is a goat that gets sent away into the wildness carrying the sins of the people. Of the two goats, one is sacrificed and the blood covers the sins. The other goat, the scapegoat, symbolically removes sins. They are taken away.

Cultures seek scapegoats. Whole books are written to explain the motives and the methods. But none of them are effective. Jesus is. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The apostle John also wrote, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5).

Jesus died so that we might reign with Him (see 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 20:6). Who died and made us kings? Actually, Jesus did, and we’ll reign with Him.

And there we’ll find our home
Our life before the throne
We’ll honor Him in perfect song
Where we belong
He’ll wipe each tear-stained eye
As thirst and hunger die
The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King
We’ll reign with Him

(“There Is a Higher Throne” verse 2)
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Lord's Day Liturgy

Blood Speaks

Blood speaks. God made the world in such a way that the shedding of blood reverberates.

Cain killed his brother Abel in a field far away from earshot. No one knew because no one could hear Abel yell, or so Cain thought. But God said, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” The blood cry isn’t a certain pitch, like a dog whistle, that only certain ears can hear. The blood cry is an inescapable principle, even if men try to ignore it.

Life is in the blood and shedding blood is destroying the life of an image-bearer of God. God does not condone when we mar our own image or when we mar another’s man’s reflection. Blood witnesses that worship has gone wrong somewhere, even if the blood is a sacrifice of atonement for sin.

More than a deterrent against shedding blood, the principle that blood speaks is the reason that we are not pessimistic about the world. Yes, hatred and murder and abortion and other evils run rampant. But Jesus shed His blood and His blood makes a cry that will never be forgotten. This is the good news.

The author of Hebrews wrote about Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant,” and how we who worship Him have come “to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). Abel’s blood cries out for justice. Christ’s blood cries out for for justice and also for justification. God hears the blood of all murdered men, but none more loudly than the blood of His own Son.

Even as we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood by faith, the “better word,” the saving word of Jesus’ death is proclaimed until He comes.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Offerings That Please God

When it comes to offerings that please God, Abel’s was the first, but Jesus’ was the greatest.

Abel offered the first and fattest of his flock. He brought more than leftovers and whatevers like his brother. The cost of Abel’s sacrifice was great, the cost of Christ’s even greater. The offering was “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Our High Priest was “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). His own body and blood were the price of atonement.

Abel made sacrifice as worship in thankfulness. Jesus made sacrifice as substitute for unthankful sinners. Abel’s sheep expressed his obedience and communicated personal affection for God. Christ’s sacrifice redeemed the disobedient and reconciled spiritual adulterers to God.

Cain killed Abel because he was jealous that God received his brother, not him. Christ was killed because His brothers were jealous and God received that death as a sacrifice. We know that when Christ “gave himself up for us” it was “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). God not only regarded His offering but also His offspring. In Christ, the Father receives all of us who believe as justified for eternal life.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

He Has Us Covered

Even if you’ve heard it before, sometimes it’s good to cover the same ground again. When Jesus died on the cross He covered our sins.

Cover is an interesting concept. To cover the bill is not to put your salad plate on top of it, but to pay the full amount. To cover a mistake, at least in a good way and not a cover-up, is to do what it takes to fix the problem.

Cover is a way to speak about atonement as well. David sang so.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1)

The Lord covers our guilt, restores us to fellowship with Him, and overcomes many of the consequences of our sin. When Adam and Eve knew that they were naked, the LORD covered them better than they covered themselves. When we knew that we were naked in our filth, the Lord covered us with the righteousness of His own Son.

Even more than that,

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:4–5)

He will cover our mortality with eternal life. The clothing is the life of Jesus Christ. It is mercy to us even as the bread and the cup reminds us of the judgment. So the Lord’s Supper is a sober celebration that He has us covered.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Reached the Quota

Consider the statement Paul made about the Jews in 1 Thessalonians 2:16. He said that they opposed “all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved–so as always to fill up the measure of their sins.” They did not think that they were heaping up a pile of predefined sin. It would be too bold for Paul to claim that he knew the quantity. So who had the measuring bucket? God.

Isn’t this true for everyone? When God covenanted with Abram He said that Abram’s descendants would return to the land in 400 years for the “iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “Fill up, then, the measure of your [murdering] fathers” (Matthew 23:32). God knows the amount of sin and He knows when we’ve reached the quota.

This also means, does it not, that God knows exactly how big the bucket of sins was that He poured on Christ. That bucket included all the sins of all those who would ever believe. Each and every person who is part of the redeemed can say that wrath has been taken for them at last! The measure of all our sins was filled up and taken by the Lamb.

We are great sinners. But we Christians have confessed our sins and He has forgiven us because His bucket of grace has no quota. It never runs out. Think about how many cups, no matter the size, have been filled for sake of celebrating the Lord’s Supper by Christians since the Last Supper. We have gone through approximately 5,000 cups at our church alone in less than four years. Imagine how many more have been used by our brothers and sisters throughout the world today. Multiply that by some 1975 years or so. Not one of those cups has represented partial payment. Not one of them has been a symbol of Christ’s incomplete taking of wrath. Christ took all the wrath for us and gives to us all the grace.