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

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

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

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

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Recommendation Letters

I met with a pastor friend of mine on Thursday whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade. We greeted each other with a hug, not a holy kiss, and then we used words to tell each other stories about God’s work in our lives and families and ministries.

While it would have made it more difficult to ask him follow-up questions, I would have loved to have him hang out with you all for a while. That would have been all the recommendation I needed.

Paul used this language in 2 Corinthians 3. He wrote a recommendation for Phoebe (to the Romans from Corinth), but he used the letter of commendation illustration with the Corinthians.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:1–3 ESV)

The Spirit of the living God changes individuals; they have names. And the Spirit of God changes groups, families and cities and cultures. The Spirit unites us; there is one body and one Spirit. He unites us in Christ so that we work together and suffer together and fight together and stand together. We share the love of God together as we eat and drink in remembrance of Christ. He is writing us together like a letter.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Good Old News

I heard something like this recently: there is freedom that comes from reading and remembering old things. Forgetting (the good things) makes us cultists of the new.

The news is a blessing in that it informs us about recent and (possibly) important events. That information isn’t always encouraging (or true), but making informed decisions is preferable to ignorant decisions.

Of course there is a liturgy to the “breaking” news, a bias we learn to put on what is up to the minute. But there should be a balance, holding what is recent in context with what we remember.

The liturgy of the Lord’s Table helps. When Paul remembered what he had received from the Lord, and reminded the Corinthians about it, he repeats that the Lord Jesus Himself repeated the act of remembering.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23–25 ESV)

“In remembrance” is fine, it could also be understood as do this for or unto remembrance. We eat and drink not only because of what’s in mind, but the bread and wine get it into our mind. We have all we need because the Lord Jesus died and rose again for our salvation. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” (2 Timothy 2:8).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Blessings with Taste

Is communion a spiritual thing/blessing, or a material/bodily thing/blessing?

Part of the point is that it’s material; this ordinance requires the use of our mouths as much as our minds. But Sacramentalists assert that grace in the sacraments (baptism and communion) is inherently efficacious and necessary for salvation. They locate power to be present in the bread and wine regardless of whether faith is present in the eater. That’s not right.

Our kind of Spirit-and-truth Christians have been tempted to run the other way, as if blessings have no taste. If it’s not spiritual, we better make it spiritual, and what better way to do that than to ignore the material? That’s also not right.

The Word became flesh (John 1:14). His flesh and blood were given for eternal life (John 6:54). His resurrection was physical (1 Corinthians 15:4), not mystical. So also among the blessings of our salvation by faith we anticipate better bodies, immortal but not immaterial (1 Corinthians 15:53).

I think we would classify communion as a material meal of blessing that only spiritual men are truly blessed by. Our koinonia is a sharing of Christ who we do not currently see, but we share Him as part of His body, the church, who we do see. We are blessed.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Mission Communion

Not everyone is called to be a teacher, but those who are richly indwelt by the word of Christ do teach and admonish one another. Not everyone is called to be a missionary to unreached tribes, to be an Evangelist, but we are to make disciples as we’re going, wherever it is God has us going.

We need wisdom, and maturity, and love, and the right sort of burden here. If we do not love God’s name and desire God’s worship among all the peoples we do not really grasp God’s authority, or glory, or grace. And yet most Christians in the body of Christ are not called/gifted by God to be vocational missionaries, regardless of the “guilt” that has been easy for furloughing missionaries to heap on at missions conferences.

More burden for the lost to hear the good news, and more blessing for our lives because of the good news. More light and salt in our good works before men, and more encouragement of those who are given gifts and desire to GO.

Our communion at the Lord’s Table is part of this process. This meal ought not give us an excuse to be lazy, it is food for our joy in the good news. And this meal, while only celebrated by believers, is a declaration of good news to those who don’t believe.

The Supper isn’t capital E Evangelism, and yet “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Supper belongs with God’s own mission to make a people for Himself.

Lord's Day Liturgy

What Is Like Our Communion?

Who is like our God? This repeated, rhetorical question expects obvious honor for only One. And, as an implication of His glorious work, who are like the people that God is making for Himself?

God does whatever He pleases. He pleases to fulfill His Word to His covenant people, and He pleases to fulfill His Word showing mercy to those who knew no mercy so that even the Gentiles might glorify God for His great mercy (Romans 15:9). As Isaiah said, the Lord has shown Himself to those who did not ask for Him (Romans 10:20). How gracious!

We who confess that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised Him from the dead are part of the offering created by the gospel of God, a sanctified offering to be acceptable to God.

And as a local church, we affirm the work of the gospel in our members. We receive their confession of faith in Christ, their profession of faith in baptism, and their participation with us around the Lord’s Table. We commit to care for them and to urge them to use their gifts, given to them by God’s grace, for the building up of the body (Romans 12:6).

What a great privilege to be the Lord’s. What is like our communion with Him and each other?