The Lord Builds

One thing to look for when reading Scripture is the order of the author’s points. For example, Peter said to put away sin for sake of hungering for the Word, and then he connected the Word to tasting that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:1-3).

Tasting His goodness seems like it would be the end, and in some sense it is. But Peter says more about those who taste and then “come to him,” that is, those who come to the Lord. He is good, of course you would come. But we don’t come alone.

We come as “living stones” who are “being built up as a spiritual house.”

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

What do we need to do for this building up, this identification to happen? We need to taste that He is good and come to Him, and then He does the work. “As you come to him…you yourselves like living stones are being built up,” the passive voice. The Lord builds.

God does command us to be of the same mind, to have the same love, to be in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:2). And He creates this fellowship by His Spirit as He builds us on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ.

Never the Same Person Twice

The Christian life is a growing life. At the same time, we are always growing in the same fields. We develop our knowledge and application of one Book–the Bible, one message–the gospel, one Lord–Jesus Christ. Growth involves greater and greater familiarity with a few great things.

But doesn’t familiarity breed contempt? It certainly can and has historically. Aren’t we putting ourselves in danger’s way by cultivating daily habits (such as Bible reading, prayer, fellowship) and weekly liturgy (such as singing, Lord’s table)?

Routine can cut deep ruts. Any man may live so close to special things that he forgets how special they are. But because we read a divine Book, believe an eternal message, and follow an immortal Savior, we can be sure that contempt or boredom on our part is a problem on our part.

In order to properly appreciate great things, grace things, we need grace. We will always need grace, and grace is always God’s to give not ours to take. We ask, we depend, we put ourselves downstream, but always we depend on God to give it.

He regularly gives grace at this Table. It is not magical, but it is supernatural. He doesn’t force-feed it into us without faith, but He will nourish and strengthen and unite believers here by His grace. It works and changes us so that we don’t eat in exactly the same way twice because we’re never the same person twice.

Now We Belong

It used to be that the carcasses of the animals whose blood was used in sacrifices on the Day of Atonement were taken outside the camp to be burned up.

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. (Hebrews 13:11)

The bodies didn’t belong at the altar. Jesus fulfilled this work for us at Calvary.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his blood. (Hebrews 13:12).

He was treated as cursed so that we could come in. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by become a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'” (Galatians 3:13).

He was accursed so that we don’t have to be, while those who continue to reject Him, wherever they think they are, are actually in the position of being accursed. Once we were separated and alienated and strangers (Ephesians 2:12), but now we belong.

At the Lord’s Supper we remember His death, the righteous for the unrighteous, that we might be brought to God. We remember His love, not for the lovely but for the unlovely, that He might renew us in His image. Our new status, our new camp, our new community, our new hope, these are all brought to us by grace. As we eat the bread and drink the wine we commemorate His grace at the cross and we anticipate the grace at His coming for us. Maranatha!

Proclaiming the Lord’s Love Until He Comes

Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, let all of it be done in love. This is a conflation of 1 Corinthians 10:31 and 16:14. I’m not rewriting the Scripture, I am connecting two ways of dealing with the same thing.

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul exhorted the church about using their theological understanding about God’s creative generosity and their liberty in Christ to love one another in what they willingly did not eat and in what they did eat with thankfulness. This is how to give God glory, because what gives God glory is how we love one another.

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul exhorted the church about their divisive and selfish eating related to their obedience to the Lord’s institution of the Lord’s Supper. Again with food, again in a context of relationships, and again we’re called not to love self but others as we follow the example of Christ.

This is part of why our communion together proclaims the Lord’s death until He comes, because this is also proclaiming the Lord’s love until He comes. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 3:9-11)

Do you want to be godly and glorify Him? Then eat and drink in praise of His love to you in Christ, and eat and drink in love for one another.

Not a Crumb of a Cardboard Cracker

How would you persuade someone that the church’s eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper should be more happy than heavy?

We believe that the bread and the wine represent the body of Christ tortured and crucified, the blood of Jesus spilled from His head, His hands, His back, His feet. We acknowledge that our sin drove the bitter nails that hung Him on that judgment tree. The murder of God’s Son is the most heinous and unjust offense committed in history, and, according to divine justice He had to be crushed for our iniquities. This is heavy truth.

And when we know Jesus Christ and Him crucified, what does the Father expect us to do next? What was the Son’s work for? What does the Spirit accomplish?

The goal of God’s saving work is our life, our joy, and our fellowship with God. That fellowship is sweet. The work of grace includes a plain, and painful, view of our disobedience. But God opens our eyes to see our sin not mainly so that He can rub our faces in it. His purpose is not to remind us in perpetuity that we do not belong, that we barely got in, and that we should never forget how painful was the price His Son paid.

We will not ever forget Christ’s death. And we will praise God’s love revealed in His atoning, substitutionary sacrifice. We will remember and rejoice because it purchased our forgiveness, our freedom, our fellowship with God and all His people.

It is one of the reasons that we started using wine in communion. Wine is given by God as a gift to gladden hearts (Psalm 104:15). We are not drinking the wine of His wrath, but the wine of His feast (think Isaiah 55). Likewise, the recipe we use for our bread includes a touch of honey, because the word is sweet (Psalm 19:10), and Jesus is the incarnate Word. He is the Bread of Life, not a crumb of a cardboard cracker.

Honey is serious business. We do not deserve salvation or any of its sweetness, and that is part of what makes it a serious gift to us from God.

What a Perishable Seed Can Do

It’s not a new observation, but it seems appropriate after such an extended amount of attention on the resurrection (in 1 Corinthians 15) to note that when Paul delivered the practice and reason for communion a few chapters earlier he did not mention the resurrection at all.

As Paul explained, Jesus gave thanks and then gave bread to His disciples and said “This is my body which is for you,” without adding “and it will be raised for you, too.” Jesus again gave thanks and then gave a cup of wine to His disciples and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” and didn’t chase that with “that guarantees you a sweeter cup in the resurrection.” And Paul’s summary of all this was:

For 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 Corinthians knew and believed that Jesus was risen. The fact that we wait “until He comes” is also a clue in the verse that He is not still dead. And yet, for as much as we could not be certain of salvation without the resurrection, our time each week at the Lord’s Table proclaims the Lord’s death.

Though we believe in the resurrection of Jesus’ body, and the continuity of His body before and after His burial, the bread and the wine remind us of His perishable seed. They remind us of Him being sown in dishonor, in weakness. And, among many things, they remind us that a seed well sown in God’s sovereignty and by His grace is not sown in vain.

Taunts of the Assembly

I tell you this, brothers, it is not a mystery: we are all going to die. Actually, we shall not all sleep, as Paul put it (1 Corinthians 15:51). He considered the return of the Lord to be imminent, and, since time on earth is linear, we have to be closer to His return now than Paul.

If the Lord tarries, as they used to say, then we will all die. But, and this is the good news for Christians, we shall all be changed. We will be raised in Christ.

The questions, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” are taunts against death. “What can you do to us now, death? You’ve lost all your teeth.” These taunts are individual, and they are also the taunts of the assembly.

Our bodies will be raised, and we as the body of Christ will be raised. In the resurrection we will have identity as Christians and as the church.

We have that identity in seed form even now. If you are a believer, you have the promise of full fellowship. If you are a believer, you have the present experience of fellowship, both with God through Christ and through the Spirit with one another.

So we share communion in celebration of victory, by faith in both the firstfruits of victory and the final victory. Together we remember Christ’s death and His triumph over death. We are mere mortals, but we will be mere immortals not long from now. We shall all be changed, thanks be to God!

So Hard Its Undoing

On the night He was betrayed, “Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body'” (Matthew 26:26). This part is familiar to us who celebrate communion.

But don’t those words sound familiar for another reason? In fact, the reason for the Second Adam saying “Take, eat” is because of what the first Adam took and ate. The serpent deceived Eve about God’s word, and when she saw that the tree was good for food and delighted the eyes and desired to make one wise, “she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6).

The “took” and the “ate” are the same vocabulary words in the Greek translation of the OT as the Greek words in Matthew 26 (from λαμβάνω and ἐσθίω respectively). Of course then Eve gave Adam the food, he ate, and he failed. And so, “By a man came death,” “in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22)

In his commentary on Genesis Derek Kidner wrote:

“She took… and ate: so simple the act, so hard its undoing. God will taste poverty and death before ‘take and eat’ become verbs of salvation.”

The Second Adam not only obeyed, He gave Himself as the bread of life. So, “by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead,” “in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22).

The serpent lied and said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” Now God says in truth, “Take, eat, for you will surely live, and you will be made like the image of My Son.”

After the Fact

On the Sunday before Jesus was raised from the dead He came into Jerusalem with His disciples. The day is usually called Palm Sunday due to the palm branches that the crowd laid on the road before Jesus.

We also refer to Jesus coming into Jerusalem as the “triumphal entry.” This is really curious for a couple reasons.

First, a Triumph parade was an event familiar throughout the Roman Empire. The Israelites weren’t geographically close to Rome, but at that time they were under Roman governance. Roman Generals had to win a significant victory on foreign soil in order to have a Triumph thrown for their honor. The procession followed a special order through the streets of Rome, including captives and spoils, the soldiers, the sacrifices, and the General himself riding in a four-horse chariot.

But while Jesus entered Jerusalem to acclaim and praise, He rode a humble donkey. His disciples were no impressive army, and there were no captives, no spoils of war. It wasn’t a capital T Triumph.

In fact, that’s the second thing that makes the triumphal entry unique: Jesus had not triumphed; it wasn’t even a lower case t triumph. He had won no war. Many called for blessing on Him who comes in the name of the Lord, but there was no actual accomplishment for a parade to celebrate.

Like we call Good Friday “good” after the fact, so we call the Triumphal Entry “triumphal” after the fact. We know by God’s Word and we receive by faith that Christ entered Jerusalem as King in order to pay the price for the sin of His subjects. Within that week He did triumph over sin and guilt and death, and leads all of us now in His train. Today we remember His triumph in body and blood spent for us.

Foolproof Resurrection

Why go through religious rituals like baptism or the Lord’s Supper? Why risk comfort and convenience for Christ? Why pursue righteousness when someone is going to give us grief about it? We do all of the above for sake of reward.

In Hebrews we read:

Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

But when do we get this reward? It is not always, and not even mainly, in this life. So Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (verse 10). Those like him “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (verse 16). Some through faith “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises,” (verse 33), and others “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (verse 34).

All these are those “of whom the world was not worthy” (verse 38).

We are called to live by faith, to endure “as seeing him who is invisible” (verse 27). We spend ourselves because of foolproof resurrection; we can mess up spending our lives for Christ but we can’t mess up our lives being resurrected in Christ. We obey because of that resurrection. We will not lose out on the reward because Jesus is risen from the dead.

So come, eat and drink. May your faith be strengthened. And may we all have more of the same mind, the same love, and be in full communion for sake of the Christ Jesus our Lord.