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Lord's Day Liturgy

Born This Way

As sons of Adam we have his sin. We don’t need to learn sin. As one of our poets, Lady Gaga, has said better than she knows, we are born this way. Being born this way, where every intention of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually, is not an excuse for sin, like the pseudo Lady intended, but it is the reason we need a savior from sin.

When God saves us He doesn’t just pull up the weeds. He brings in new soil. Because He died and rose again He both forgives us and makes us different.

In 1 John 1:9 God forgives our sins, a plural noun, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness, or “wrongdoing,” which is singular. The plural refers to the acts of active and passive rebellion. There are many weeds to deal with.

But the singular unrighteousness refers to our nature. He is cleansing the soil, treating it so that less weeds and moss will grow. He really is making us different people, and this internal work must be done otherwise we can only ever deal with the surface.

When we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table we do it in remembrance of Him. We remember Christ’s obedience, His love, His death and resurrection. We also should remember His aim, to save and sanctify a people for His own possession. As Christians, we have been crucified with Christ, we no longer live. When we remember what He has done, we remember that we also died and rose again in Him by faith.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

When It Gets Bad

One reason, among legion, why our liturgy includes weekly communion at the Lord’s Table with a bias toward a rejoicing attitude is because it reminds us that love-driven suffering unites us. Christ’s love-driven sacrifice unites us, of course, and in Him we are burdened and then comforted to share that with each other.

This is not merely an apostolic or pastoral work, though such men should be examples.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

It can actually get pretty bad. “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

Paul does not say that you must experience exactly what someone else has experienced in order to have something to say. He says we are all being taught to rely on God who raises the dead. We do it as believers, we do it as Christ’s body.

At the Table we do not rely on our righteousness, we rely on Christ’s. We do not rely on our strength, we rely on God’s. We do not do it alone, we share in and share out comfort. It is because God has show His love to us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

See also this communion meditation from last week.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Together in Affection

The Lord is not making His people nice. He makes some pagans nice. He crucified His Son to make us new. That may include transforming angry, rude men into men with kindness who know how to pursue peace when appropriate, but it’s more. We may not all be John Knox flame-throwers, but we all are the light of the world, and light makes darkness edgy.

You have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13). In baptism you’ve been united to the Son, buried/dead and raised/made alive (Romans 6:5). You are in Christ (Colossians 1:2), and the life you now live you live to God because Christ lives in you (Galatians 2:20). Christ is the hope of glory, and Christ is in you (Colossians 1:27).

He has also give you His Spirit. The Spirit caused you to be born again (John 3:6). The Spirit testifies of God’s truth directly (1 John 5:6). The Spirit pours God’s love in your heart (Romans 5:5). The Spirit seals you for eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14).

I’m reminding you of these realities because in them we rejoice even if now, for a little while, we are in heaviness through manifold trials (1 Peter 1:6). We are, to varying degrees, afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair (2 Corinthians 4:8). We do not lose heart, we live on unseen things (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

We sing and celebrate our communion with God and with Christ’s body not as a denial of or distraction from our problems and pains, but because we have been given hope that our sufferings are God-appointed to make us salty, to make us sharp, to make us ready for His return, to make us one in love.

“why doth the Lord bring his people together in affliction, but to bring them together in affection.”

—Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture
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Lord's Day Liturgy

Out of Bounds

What if I told you that peace with God isn’t only something that we can have, it is something we must obey.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15, ESV)

A βραβεῖον was a prize awarded in contests, and is the substantive cognate with the imperative “let…rule.” It was given by the judge, the umpire. Think of Aeneas presiding over and awarding prizes for the funeral games after his fleet fled Carthage (though he did it in Latin).

Paul commanded God’s chosen ones, the ones who were to be bearing with one another, loving one another, even forgiving each other if one had a complaint against another, to let Christ’s peace be the umpire. The NASB says, “Let the peace of Christ rule,” with a footnote of, “act as arbiter.” The NET Bible translates, “Let the peace of Christ be in control.”

When there is a temptation “in your heart” to anxiety, and especially when there is temptation to resentment or bitterness against another, peace whistles when you’re out of bounds. “You were called in one body,” so, beloved, stop yelling at the other players, let complaining at the umpire. Peace is the referee, and peace always calls for peace.

What if you don’t feel the peace? Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. What if you don’t understand how it’s all going to work out? That’s okay, God’s peace surpasses our understanding, and it will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). There are many members but in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13). So we share one bread, in grace and peace (1 Corinthians 10:17).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Forefeast

Hear the prophet Isaiah:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make 
      for all peoples a feast of rich food, 
   a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, 
   of aged wine  well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain 
   the covering that is cast over all peoples, 
   the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, 
   and the reproach of his people he will take away
      from all the earth, 
   for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day, 
   “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him,
      that he might save us. 
   This is the LORD; we have waited for him; 
   let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” 
(Isaiah 25:6–9, ESV)

This communion meal on Resurrection Sunday is a foretaste, a forefeast.

We eat today while we wait for that day. We can eat it while rejoicing, but often still in heaviness (1 Peter 1:6).

The sorrows are real. My dad died sixteen years ago today. My sister professed faith six years ago on Easter, and died less than a year later. My dad didn’t get to meet his only grandson, and neither of them got to meet our new grandson. Just this past year, some of you have lost a husband, a son, a brother-in-law, a brother-in-Christ, friends, some old and some so young. In addition you have born griefs from the world, you have carried concerns about your responsibilities.

But, beloved, your faith and labor are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20, 58). Jesus is risen from the dead.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne
will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
(Revelation 7:17, ESV)

That will be a glorious day.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Triumphal Prophecy

What do you think about Palm Sunday, not just as the Sunday before Christ’s resurrection, but as the day of Christ’s triumphal entry? The “palm” part comes from the palm branches laid on the road in front of Jesus (John 12:13). The Sunday part comes from the day of the week, sure. The entry part comes with Him entering Jerusalem. But, knowing what happened the following Friday, where do we get off calling it triumphal? I’ll give two reasons.

It performs triumphal prophecy. Matthew and John made that connection clear (Matthew 21:5; John 12:15) when they quoted Zechariah.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9:9, ESV)

The king of David (Mark 11:10) was promised as “one shepherd” over His people (Ezekiel 37:25-25), and here is the Righteous One (Acts 3:14).

It provides triumphal prophecy. On their way in, Jesus gave word to His disciples about what was going to happen.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:33–34, ESV)

This is at least the third time Jesus foretold that He would be delivered over and that He would be raised (Mark 8:31; 9:31; and see Romans 4:25). He was in full control.

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (John 10:18, ESV)

The crucifixion of the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8) and His resurrection is His triumph, and this Table is one of victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57, ESV)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

We Must Be Hatched

A few years ago I began to talk about #MEGA, Make Easter Great Again, not because it ever stopped being great, but in order to remind us of how great it really is.

It’s not the day per se, and it’s not limited to the doctrine. The resurrection itself declares that God received the sacrifice of His Son and vindicated all the Son’s claims. He “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4, ESV). The resurrection, as objective and historical truth, did it.

If Jesus is resurrected, then God is pleased with you who believe in Jesus because you’ve been raised with Him. If Jesus is raised from the dead, then your account with God has been settled. It is finished.

And also He is not finished with us. He will be, and we can share Paul’s confidence. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). But at the present time God is willing and working in us (Philippians 2:13), and our perfect heavenly Father wants the same for His sons: perfection.

C. S. Lewis put it this way:

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. (Mere Christianity, Location 2504)

“You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3, ESV). The realities of Easter remind you that He is making you a new self and renewing you through the knowledge of the living Christ (Colossians 3:10).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

What is a Christian?

Sometimes I think that we should never pay attention to things posted on the internet <irony>This is being posted on the internet</irony>. A couple weeks ago I followed a thread about how the terminology of “identity in Christ” is unhelpful, worldly—psychological and self-centered, and wrong. And I mean, I guess I can imagine someone using that terminology with no clue about identity and no reference to Christ. I can also imagine a lot of ways to abuse a lot of good things.

Identity refers to the characteristics determining what a thing is, or who a person is. For example, a “woman” is a female who is post-puberty. A woman is an adult human with two X chromosomes. A woman is the kind of human who can get pregnant and give birth. One woman and one man in covenant make a marriage. I am not a biologist, but I do have a Bible. And eyes.

As Christians, there are characteristics that determine who we are. Among an abundance of characteristics given in God’s Word, Christians are those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, so that means we were baptized into His death, buried with Him, and “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

Stated differently,

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 ESV)

It should be as obvious that you are a Christian as it is that you are a woman, or a man. Your baptism is a sign, and so is your communion at the Lord’s Supper. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54 ESV). What is a Christian? A person who identifies with, and has their identity in, Jesus Christ.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Before We Mess It Up

The only sure way to never mess up communion would be to never have communion. There’s an old pastor’s joke that relates to this. When a young man says he wants to get hired to pastor a church where there aren’t any problems, he’s exhorted that if he finds such a church, he shouldn’t go there, because he will be the problem. But here we are, limitations and weaknesses and unfinished parts and all, and here is where we’re instructed to eat bread and drink wine together in the Lord’s name.

Unlike with manna, we don’t go out on Sunday mornings and find the elements sent from heaven like dew on the ground. We have a rotation of servants who bake the bread, we have a rotation of teams who prepare the containers, we have a guy who supplies all the wine. Last Sunday our baker accidentally used sugar instead of salt in the bread. We’ve also had days when grape juice inadvertently went in the wine trays and vice surprisa when people drank their cup. Occasionally a baker forgets it’s her day, has to run back home and miss the beginning of the service to be a servant and provide for the Supper.

We’ve got people who have to walk up stairs, we’ve got spills of wine on the carpet or fabric, we’ve got all sorts of things that might make you wonder why we don’t just have a moment of silence instead. “Let us remember Jesus, quickly and quietly, before we mess it up.”

But that would really be messing it up. Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Before us is “the cup of blessing” and the bread is a “participation in the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16). We eat and drink, and deal with inconveniences and accidents, by faith, in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Lord of the Table Is One

It may be unexpected, and yet it is an obvious argument for justification by faith that God is one (Romans 3:30). Monotheism isn’t merely a guard against idolatry, it is also a guard against self-righteousness. Self-righteousness might be seen in man’s attempted defense before God, self-righteousness can be seen in man’s ethnic hatred and divisions. But God is one, His way of counting righteousness is one: by faith, and so no one can boast his way into separation from others.

Our communion as God’s people is monotheistic. That means that there is only one God, that we have peace with that God, and that we give our worship and thanks to no other.

Our communion as a church is also trinitarian. We worship one God in three Persons. We are baptized into the “name,” singular, “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This fits with the reality that God is love (1 John 4:16), and that different persons can share equal status and not share every attribute equally. The Father never took on flesh, nor did the Spirit. The Son made propitiation, and it was His Father’s plan.

We share the same God. We share the same way of peace with God. We are not welcome at the Lord’s Table differently, due to our different works, because then we might boast. But we are also welcome at the Lord’s Table as different persons, in love, united as different members of one body (Romans 12:4-5).