Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Familiar Trees

It’s proverbial that familiarity breeds contempt. Our contempt starts with that statement itself; it’s contemptible to hear about how easily we’re made contemptuous. But our condition is one in which we get dirty and forget about it, we develop callouses and live with them, we fall down and it’s easier to stay there. We need to be washed, we need to have the hard parts cut off or filed down, and we need to get back on our feet.

So…we’re familiar with Christmas. Jesus is the reason for this season…we know…so how does He fit in our familiar celebrations? It’s hopefully more, though not less, than reading the story of His birth on Christmas morning (this year we’ll assemble as a church for worship on Christmas Sunday). For sake of scrubbing our holiday grime, let’s start with our Christmas trees. Why? What for?

For the first time in eleven advents, we had a choice for ourselves in the church’s building. Hey, we’re not Gnostics. We went for it.

And consider our pine tree configurations at home. We stand our trees in a location for maximum visibility. We place our presents under the tree for others. We hang lights and garland and other ornaments on the branches. We typically perch a star at the top most point. Which part is for Jesus? Which part is meant to honor Him?

Isn’t He pictured and honored every where? He is the focal point; our eyes are drawn to Him. He is the Father’s gift to sinful men. He is the light of the world, the Creator who decorated the universe. Not only did a star mark His birthplace for travelers, He Himself is the morning star. We can’t limit where we honor Him. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, worthy to be honored from top to bottom. He ought to be so in our Christmas celebrations.

We cannot be overly familiar with Christ, only wrongly familiar in a way that doesn’t honor Him everywhere at all times. I also plan to start an advent season sermon series next Sunday. A reminder that the Word became flesh, full of grace and truth, and has made the Father known, even as we celebrate His Supper.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Blessed Eyes

On the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper He gave thanks. We aren’t told the what for, not explicitly. It seems reasonable that it was for more than the meal itself, but for all that went into it, and for all that would come from it.

There are a few other places in the Gospels where Jesus gives thanks and where we are told what He said. Here’s one example.

At that time, Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (Matthew 11:25-26)

God reveals, but God also hides, on purpose, such that the Son thanks His Father for the hiding. Jesus goes on.

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except for the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)

Then He follows up on His sovereign prerogative with the encouragement.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Luke records a different follow up.

Then turning to the disciples, he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23-34)

What a gift. How blessed we are, to understand the Father’s gracious will, to see His salvation, and to have been drawn to the Son and His rest. He who did not spare His own Son, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

On Not Acting Like the Dead

Before the ages began, God promised eternal life (Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:9). He did so out of love for His Son, and note that the gift is eternal life, because a living gift is much better than a dead one. In order to secure this living gift, the Son had to die for the dead. Through the death of the one, the sins of the many were justly punished. Likewise, through the resurrection of the one, many were made alive. “We were buried…with him by baptism into death, in order that, 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 Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is futile and [we] are still in our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17) and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:19). That would be bad.

The angel told the women who visited Jesus’ tomb, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6). That’s good news. That also means, by faith, we need not act like the dead. We ought not. The Father purposes to conform many brothers to the image of His living Son.

Because He lives we live. As the old hymn says, because He lives we can face tomorrow. Because He lives, we eat the bread and drink the wine for nourishment as a share in New Covenant life.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Communionicating

It can be hard to communicate with another person even if you’re speaking the same language. A husband to his wife, a teacher to his students, a friend to a struggling friend, a Republican to a news reporter. We don’t always have the same definition of a word in mind, we don’t always want to do the work of patiently trying to share the idea, to give or to receive. Communication requires a kind of discipline.

But what is more intimate than husband and wife on the same page, and what is more satisfying than successfully loving a class into loving to learn the lesson, and how great the comfort are the consolations of a friend, and even Republicans want some good press if possible. There are sweet fruits to be shared.

The bread and the wine at the Lord’s Supper are shared by believers. We call it communion. The old word Greek word is koinonia, a fellowship, a participation, a sharing.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is that not a participation (koinonia) in body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

One kind of church discipline is a prohibition from sharing, there is another kind of work, sacrifice, effort, we could call it a discipline, that is a practice of sharing.

I was playing around in my mind with the words communionicating, communionication. We are receiving, we are giving, we are saying something without words, it is love shared, to and from, and with the Head to and throughout His Body.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Beware the Phishing of Philosophers

Our college Greek class has been working through Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. The whole letter argues for the preeminence of Christ. He is the firstborn of creation, He is the head of the church, He is the fullness of deity incarnated.

So beware the phishing of futile philosophers and man-made rubrics, man’s paradigms for cosmos (Colossians 2:8). There is only one way to be free from captivity, only one way to understand and groan through the futility seen: according to Christ. There is none like Him.

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…who is the head of all rule and authority (Colossians 2:9-10)

He is the head of the ἀρχῆς, usually translated as “rule” (ESV, NASB), or “principality” (KJV), but the word also refers to the first principle, the integration point where all the lines meet. He is also the head of all ἐξουσίας, “authority” or “power” to influence thought and opinion.

Earlier in the letter Paul wrote,

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Creation itself hopes for freedom from futility (Romans 8:21) because of Jesus’ blood shed for the sons of God.

Back in Colossians 2:9-10, in between describing Him as the embodied God and the head of where things meet, Paul says at the beginning of verse 10, “and you have been filled in him.” He is full and, though you are not finished, you are those He has filled.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

A Dud to Some

Eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper is for the children of God, in order to strengthen their faith which is a work of the Spirit of God, that we may overcome the world.

The victory that victories the world is our faith (1 John 5:4), and in particular our faith that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:5). The Spirit is the one who testifies that this is true, and the testimony of God is greater than the testimony of man (1 John 5:6, 9).

To the world it is a ridiculous thing to eat bread as though it were Jesus’ body and to drink wine as though it were Jesus’ blood. Some even call it scandalous. It’s gross. It’s superstitious. And it certainly can’t be more than a strategic dud. For those who don’t have the testimony, it is a dud. “What good is that?”

But all they have are idols. They are still under the power of the evil one. They do not have understanding. They do not know Him who is true. They do not have eternal life. They are outside of God’s love. They are in a system, the world, destined to lose.

By faith we hold fast to God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who is the true God and eternal life. The Spirit testifies in our faith that we are God’s children, His heirs, and co-heirs with Christ. We come to this family Table as those who have been born of God, and “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Seeking Death

Paul told the Corinthians that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Sometimes I’ve wondered why focus on the death instead of the resurrection. Of course the resurrection is included, because there is no “he comes” after the death unless He’s alive again. But the Lord’s Supper proclaims His death in particular.

The reason the Father sent the Son was to die. When Jesus told His mother that His time hadn’t come yet, He did go ahead and make some tasty wine, but it was His blood that gives us a taste of abundant life. He had no doubt about His purpose. It’s how He told others to recognize Him: when He was lifted up (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-33). It’s how He knew that forgiveness could be applied: when He bore our sins on the tree.

The gold that he was seeking was death. The primary thing that he was going to do was to die. He was going to do other things equally definite and objective; we might almost say equally external and material. But from first to last the most definite fact is that he is going to die. (G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, Location 3102)

This is why He did not use His miracle-doing power to escape His hour, the power of darkness (Luke 22:53). This hour was His goal and glory (John 12:27).

Which means that He had His mind set on death so that we could have our minds set on the things of the Spirit. He condemned sin in the flesh so that we could could live the rest of our time in the flesh un-condemned and dead to sin.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

The Right Order

Order matters. Sometimes it matters more than others.

If you pour espresso shots in followed by steamed milk it’s a latte, if you pour the shots in after the milk it’s called marking it, so a macchiato (while also sometimes true that a macchiato has less steamed milk). In general it’s the same ingredients, and the different order makes for a different name.

Certain mathematical operations require a particular order. It’s not just what’s it’s called, but the answer is different. In a string of numbers and operations, multiply within the parenthesis then add (follow the acronym PEMDAS for more). It’s not two ways of getting to the same answer, it’s wrong.

The peace offering in the Old Testament did not come first, nor was it typically held on its own. The peace offering came after some other offering, regularly the sin offering as well as the burnt offering. Sins were atoned for, the worshipper was consecrated to the Lord, then food was shared.

If we tried to start at the Lord’s Table in our Lord’s Day liturgy, we’d certainly have to come to the Supper differently. But because we have it when we do, after confession of sin and consecration by the Word, we are ready to celebrate. We are not damned. Christ damned our sin to death. Christ’s death ruined sin’s tyranny. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

The correct order is Christ’s work and then our worship. The correct order is faith and rejoicing then obedience. We do not work ourselves into the Supper, the Supper works its way into us by grace.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Communion Renewal

Paul established in Romans 6 that no one has power to resist sin or seek a new master apart from being united to Christ. Then he established in Romans 7 that the law, holy and good as it is, has no redemptive power, only a revealing work of sin. So we must be dead to the law and united to another, to Christ. The branches must abide in the vine if there is to be any fruit.

What a blessing to have a weekly time not just of remembrance, but of renewal in that communion.

By analogy, a marriage covenant is made by vows, recognized by law, and consummated in the marriage bed. The vows stand until they are broken; legal union exists between the husband and wife. The marriage bed isn’t making something true that wasn’t, but it is an experienced renewal of union and intimacy.

In Christ we are not ever out of Christ. That’s the logic of spiritual reality. And our understanding of it, our appreciation of it, and our application of it can get better and be more consistent.

We are proclaiming Christ’s death until He comes, doing it in remembrance of Him. But we are actually communing with Him, as we eat and drink by faith we are renewing our minds in the realities of our union with His body and blood.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Glad That We’re Back

In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the younger son despised his father by asking for his inheritance early, then he dishonored his father by squandering the family money and the family name. After the cash ran out and he was eating the pig slop, Jesus said “he came to himself” (verse 17), headed home, and hoped that he could work for his dad as a hired servant.

We endorse the son’s remorse; he should feel bad. We approve the son’s confession when he said, “I have sinned against heaven and before you” (verses 18 and 21). The son knew that, even if his father showed mercy, he was no longer worthy to be treated as a son but only as a servant. We relate to this true view of sin.

We have more trouble relating to this true view of the Father. The greater “scandal” was the father’s grace, his reception and celebration over the son’s return. Was the son’s sin huge and horrific? Was his confession absolutely necessary? Of course. But the father didn’t want to be proven right as much as he wanted the relationship restored. He ran and embraced and kissed his son. He called for the best robe, a ring, and shoes. He threw a party, a feast for renewed fellowship.

The Pharisees and scribes (verse 2) listening to the parable related to a holy God. They hated that God was glad to forgive and fellowship with sinners.

How do you view the heavenly Father’s response to your confession? Do you see Him disappointed that you blew it again, reluctantly letting you return as a hired servant? Or does He run to receive you? Only one of those reactions is good news. The Father declares that we were lost and now we’re feasting at His table. He’s glad to have us back.

Note: I used this communion mediation in 2012. Also, this parable is even more about Israel than individuals, but application spills over.