Tag: <span>communion</span>

The contrasts between the ancient serpent and the Ancient of Days continues to be edifying. So also the demands of the beast to be worshipped and the ministry of the false prophet are nothing like what the Son deserves or how the Spirit points us to the glory of Christ.

The earth-beast deceives people into doing the work to make an idol of the sea-beast to worship. He convinces them to spend and sacrifice and then threatens that any who refuse to worship the idol (which they just made) will be killed.

Jesus, on the other hand, spent Himself as the sacrifice. Rather than threatening death, He accepted His death, on a cross, in order to purchase worshippers. The Spirit gives life in the Son. He does not make a new set of burdens.

The Beast coerces and enforces; the Son is the Head in whom the whole body is united and grows. The Beast subjects and seizes; the Son is the Vine in whom every branch abides and produces fruit and knows His joy. The Beast intimidates and threatens; the Son is the Bridegroom who washes His Bride into splendor by His love. There is no comparison.

Both the Beast and the Son will be worshipped, but only one in truth, only one forever, only one who is worthy. The Lamb’s Table is a real feast, no strings attached. We come not because our lives depend on it, it’s because we depend on Him for our lives.

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I have asked the question before, but “the book of life of the Lamb” brings it up again. If you were the lover par excellence, if you were the being in the universe who knew and expressed love above everyone else, how would you go about communicating that love to others? As a lover, the impulse to share your love and invite others in would be as natural as water runs downhill.

God is love (1 John 4:16). God sent His Son because He loved (John 3:16). Jesus is the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5). The Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5). These are things that give us hope, that enable our endurance.

John wrote about the “outsiders” in Revelation 13 who will not worship the beast. They are those whose names have been “written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, KJV). The saints take courage to believe and to bear up under the attack of the beast with this knowledge.

What do they know? Was it that their names were written in The Book before the world began, or was it that the Lamb was slain before the world began? Are we encouraged by our election to salvation, or are we encouraged that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23)?

Beloved, it is both. We are “elect…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” and Christ, the lamb, “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:1, 18-19). You who believe were chosen to know the God of love, whose love dies for sinners. He reveals His love not by loving those who already love Him, but by loving enemies out of their enmity. You were chosen to be loved, and nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lamb.

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Why do we have communion every week?

The majority of us do not come from churches where communion was every Lord’s Day, and the majority of us came from churches where you probably wouldn’t want to partake in communion on an hebdomadal schedule. The Lord’s Table was set once a month, or once a quarter, and it usually involved a serious talking-to, about the dangers of unworthy eating and drinking, and how you probably could take it, but only after major effort to jackhammer your heart and take a backhoe to your sin.

Of course, and yes, it is possible to partake unworthily, so said God through Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27. But the Corinthians were in danger of selfish feasting as fellow brothers went hungry. Their “communion” was a lie.

But the selfish party attitude is not the only way to lie about communion. It is also a lie to act like joy is sin.

Jesus did not institute this Supper on the night He was betrayed, so that we could remember Him and what He did, and then go digging the depths for sake of bringing up as sad feels as we can find. He died for us and rose on the third day so that we would have a reason not to be so sad.

He gave His body for our food, and His blood for our drink, so that we might be nourished. This is not a fast. This is not where Jesus asks you to starve your soul. This is a place where He feeds your faith, as He fed the Israelites in the wilderness (John 6:31-33). It is a supernatural meal, a thanksgiving meal, a meal of peace.

Rejoicing is as much a necessary condition for communion as repentance. Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, rejoice!

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Which part of our corporate, Lord’s Day liturgy makes the devil most apoplectic? Is there some element of worship that makes him more furious than the rest?

I assume he doesn’t appreciate any of our service, starting at the start. It does him no good for us to answer God’s call to worship. The devil would much rather that, if we must worship, we worship how and when we want. Or if we do submit to the call, maybe he can get us to be satisfied with the externals.

Presumably he also has no interest in our confession of sin, though if he can’t distract us from our sin, or get us to rationalize it, he can stir up worldly grief through accusation. True confession and repentance cuts at his strength, but maybe he can get us just to be proud of how authentic we say we are.

As for consecration, that’s a part where he likes to make us lazy. It’s a lot of listening. Someone reading Scripture to us isn’t our preferred mode of input, the corporate prayer is long, and the sermon even longer. It’s not that the Word is the devil’s friend, but he knows it, and likes to twist it, or get us to ask, “Did God actually say?”

The benediction, blessing, and charge to obey is unappreciated by him, though he knows that when we leave it’s like a coal separated from the pile, easier to cool off than hot when we’re all together.

And that’s the thing. I mean, I’m asking the question during the communion meditation, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m suggesting that communion, at least when combined with the other elements, must be something that disgusts the devil.

He hates unity among brothers (Psalm 133:1). He hates harmony (Romans 15:5). He hates the patience. He hates one anothers. He hates love. And most of all, He hates that we remember Christ who died and rose again so that we might have this communion with God and each other.

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John’s vision in Revelation 12 saw Israel as a woman who brought forth the Messiah. It is a great picture of the relationship and the heritage from which Christ came.

In the New Testament, including later in Revelation, there is another corporate analogy, another great picture of our relationship and our future with Christ. The Church is His Bride.

We are in an ongoing state of premarital sanctification, of premarital beautification. Queen Vashti’s potential replacements (Esther 2:12) had nothing compared to what Jesus is doing for His Bride. He is washing us by the water of the Word (Ephesians 5:26-27). He sent His Spirit to make us blameless. There is coming a glorious marriage day.

Hallelujah!
For the Lord God almighty reigns!
Let us rejoice and exult and give Him glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready.
(Revelation 19:6-7)

So “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).

All of this has been paid for by the Groom. He chose us. He loved first. He sacrificed. He gave Himself (Ephesians 5:25), and we are His.

We eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him. It is not a rehearsal dinner, but it is getting us ready for that supper. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!'” (Revelation 22:17)

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We are citizens of Christ’s kingdom, which is a heavenly citizenship at the moment (Philippians 3:20), with implications for our time on earth, while we pray for His kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10) and for Him to reign and to reward His saints (Revelation 11:18).

There is a remaining battle, but the outcome is secure. “They will make war on the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). By His blood He ransomed us as a people for God, and has made us “a kingdom and priests to our God, and [we] shall reign on earth” with Him (Revelation 5:10).

Jesus is our King, and we anticipate the establishment of His reign at the right time. And Jesus is also our Head, which means we already are under Him, guided by Him, and connected to Him.

Our relationship to Him as King means that His authority has dignity and dominion. Our relationship to Him as Head means that His authority is natural and unforced, and also permanently attached. “The Head automatically belongs to the congregation as the mystical body. It is inseparable from it” (Kuyper, Pro Rege, 291).

God’s power was on display:

in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20–23)

We are citizens, we are members. There is no body without a head. We could not function without being joined to our Head. We remember what brought us into that supernatural and inseparable fellowship around the Lord’s Table.

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There have always been controversies around the Lord’s Table.

As early as the second century one of misunderstandings, or misrepresentations, was that Christians were cannibals, or at least that’s how CNN reported it. Eating flesh and drinking blood sounds more like Scythian warriors. Of course when Jesus instituted the Supper He was using an analogy about faith, but that doesn’t stop the slander.

In the days of the Reformers there were fights over how Christ is present in the elements. Amidst the Great Awakenings there were debates about who was allowed to participate; many were baptized into membership but not allowed to partake, which played a part in Jonathan Edwards being fired.

And in our day there is a marketing campaign of fear that would be applied to us: we are spreading germs and a deadly virus by handling food and by encouraging so many people to be so close. If you attending a “birthday party could be a death sentence” for someone else, which is what our governor said recently, then certainly our little religious ritual would be called anti-science, and selfish.

We aren’t oblivious to risks. We also aren’t oblivious to our possible selfishness. But not a single local or national or international expert, whether politician or physician or statistician, has given us reason to trust them. They certainly cannot be trusted to unite us, and they offer no salvation through safety or by sacrifice.

Our fellowship is in Christ. He is completely trustworthy, and true. We are at His table again to share all that we have in Him.

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:54–56)

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Many pastors are not good for very many things. I would definitely include myself among them. One of my favorite things to do in the world, and I think I’m fairly good at it, is line diagramming the Bible in Greek. I’m not around a lot of people who could tell me I did it wrong (ha!), and I’m not around a lot of people who could care less.

One way that many pastors justify their limited skills is by elevating their skills as the ones that please God the most, the best. Studying the Bible is not just part of their vocation, it is part of their virtue, and if you were really spiritual you would go to seminary so that you could study like that, too, or at least feel bad that you haven’t. It’s a Protestant version of sacred/secular, it’s also just a version of pride. It’s particularly ugly pride, though, because it is pride in Jesus’ name, when pride is a reason He came, a reason He came to be killed so that our pride could be buried with Him.

I’m throwing my sort to the foot of the cross because I want to remind you to do the same thing. When we commune with Christ and commune together, we do not have communion because we all care about or have skills for or devote time to the same things equally.

Spurgeon once said that if a man would harbor a lot of ships, he had to have a broad shore, meaning to care for a lot of people he must widen his heart. There is always a temptation for our hearts to become more narrow, and for our fellowship to become more exclusive. There are lines, doors, irreconcilable differences, and even cases of church discipline, sure. But as a body we don’t just patronize others because they have different responsibilities, gifts, windows for their work. We depend on them.

We need one another as much as ever, and thank God He has given us one another in Christ, “that there may be no division in the body” (1 Corinthians 12:25).

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Sometimes it’s the little things that stick out. I don’t mean face masks, but I am thinking about faces.

As we’ve asked for feedback regarding our return to worship indoors, I’ve heard from multiple people that an unscripted comment I made on our first Sunday back caught their attention. We had finished singing (the second song because getting through the line took so long) and I encouraged you all to look around at one another; these are your people. I’ve mentioned before that I try to make eye contact with many of you all around the room while we eat and drink, but I should clarify that it’s not because I think there’s special grace channeled through a minister’s sight. I am often the presiding minister at the Lord’s Table, but I am also a member of the body.

Communion is personal, yes, because we are saved one-by-one by Jesus into fellowship with Him. And yet there is a way to look around and see some more of what He bought for You. He bought you forgiveness, He bought you a clean conscience, He bought you eternity, and He bought you friends, co-laborers, brothers and sisters, fellow-members who encourage and challenge and serve and speak all in one body.

You may remember Jesus’ death with your head bowed and eyes closed, and great. You may find it awkward to look around in a formal, liturgical setting. Maybe one day we’ll assemble in a configuration that puts more persons in your periphery. But in the meantime, you’re not more spiritual because you avoid thinking about the body that Christ knit you into by His body and blood.

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John Calvin wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion to defend why some of his fellow believers were willing to be burned for the faith. The final edition is some 1400+ pages of theology, but it was life and death. It wasn’t a relaxing reflection, Calvin himself was in exile from his home country as he wrote.

He described the “sum of the Christian life” as one of self-denial. It takes a little getting used to, but with qualification, it has some helpful parts. And yet, we need to grow up in our self-denial. We need to realize that self-denial is the way for the self to be most full.

Take communion as a testing Table. Properly received, the bread and the wine are a complete rejection of ourselves. Here we admit that we need external help. We have a body, we have blood, and all that we do in the body deserves judgment. On our own, we could give our bodies to be burned for another, and it would still gain nothing outside of Christ.

To receive the Lord’s Supper is to receive a Savior and to deny our self. We deny our righteousness, our good works. We deny that we have any merit, any reason that God should accept us on our own.

And it is that self-denial that lifts our heads. It is that rejection of self that opens into rejoicing. God calls us to deny ourselves and gives us a feast.

As we learn to follow Christ as His disciples, it is appropriate at times to fast. We do not indulge the flesh, which would be love of self. And yet here is food and drink. Come with your empty hands by faith and do not deny the feast.

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