We Are Not Pretending

When kids pretend they talk and behave like something is real when it isn’t. Kids aren’t the only ones who pretend, but they are usually more willing to admit it. Adults are often just as active in imagining, and their imagination engines have more horsepower, but they also tend to pretend (a.k.a., lie) that they aren’t pretending, which gets more complicated.

Living by faith is not the same as living by pretend, by fantasy. The similarity between the two is that the subject can’t physically see the object. Faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), but fantasy is “an idea with no basis in reality” (New Oxford American Dictionary). In both cases there is concentration on something invisible, but faith is the non-fiction form.

In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 Paul allows an imaginative effort for sake of wondering what it would be like if Christ has not been raised. If that is true, then preaching is pretend, and faith is pretend, and forgiveness is pretend, and the hope of eternal life is pretend. And if all we have is pretend, then we are in realty the most pitiable people on the planet.

But in order for the conclusion of his argument to be true, his premises need to be true. In other words, it’s logical that our faith is pretend only if Christ being raised from the dead is pretend. But what Paul “pretends” is that Christ isn’t raised. What Paul preaches is that Christ has been raised, and so your faith and hope and life are not empty.

Take up real bread and drink real wine; our communion with God and one another in Christ is not pretend.

The Witness Proclamation Program

Numerous times during Jesus’ earthly ministry He did something miraculous for someone and then told them not to say anything about it. One leper in particular directly disobeyed.

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. (Mark 1:40–45)

Later in the gospel of Mark He healed a deaf man with a speech impediment.

Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. (Mark 7:36)

I’ve always wondered, what kind of disobedience was this? Did Jesus die on the cross for the sin of their (untimely) praise of Him?

We do know that He died on the cross for the sin of not praising Him. And every week He gives us opportunity to proclaim our faith and proclaim His death as the good news for all who believe (1 Corinthians 11:26). Let us be “guilty” of not hiding in the witness protection program, but eating and drinking with thanks in His name.

Desire for Communion as Disciples

It is exciting to welcome five new communicants to the Lord’s Table this morning. These young men were baptized based on their profession of faith last Sunday evening, and we are eager to welcome them as much as they’ve looked forward to participating.

When I asked each one why he wanted to be baptized, one answer was shared more than others. They all wanted to be baptized in obedience to Christ. They all wanted the whole church to know that they were believers in Christ. But the most common answer was that they wanted to participate with all of us in communion.

I’ve said it before that this desire, this wanting in, is a blessing more than a liability. Of course it could be abused by kids, or adults, who want a teeny snack. It’s not really that great of a snack, though. Maybe someday we’ll have fist-size chunks of bread and king-size chalices of wine, but not today.

Still, if you are suspicious of our celebration of communion in such a way that increases the desire of others to join us, then I’d push back that the biggest problem we face is that there are so many who don’t want communion enough. There is a discouraging list of a number of sheep, sheep who previously and regularly communed with us, who aren’t gathering to worship, not just with us, but with any body. The pastors don’t have names to announce for sake of discipline at this point, and we pray it won’t come to that.

So this is the thing: wanting to be part and participating in the communion of the body in worship is good, and may all of our desires for it excel still more and more.

Comfort from the Dead-raiser

We’re going to be talking about resurrection in church for the next couple months leading up to Resurrection Sunday, and, for that matter, we’re going to be talking about it forever in the resurrection. In the meantime, prior to our resurrection, God’s Word reminds us that when we think about God we should think about His resurrection power.

In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul wrote about his afflictions and then about the comfort God gave him in his afflictions. His afflictions were actually pretty bad.

“We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. (2 Corinthians 1:8)

He had just told them that he was comforted, and that his affliction was for their comfort and salvation (verse 6). But the heaviness and pain and sufferings were real. He thought he might die any moment, and it was bad enough he might have preferred death. Believing the gospel doesn’t make life more easy but it does tell us that there is more after this life.

We endure as we hope in God, and God wants us to remember who He is.

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 1:9)

God is the Dead-raiser. Jesus called Himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:24). He is the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), and His ability to comfort us is tied to His ability to raise the dead. Therefore, “Let us hold fast the confession our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

When Receivers Are Received

Call it “internal grammar.” Describe it as consistent, or use an expression such as turn about is fair play, or what goes around comes around.

Paul told the Corinthians that if they didn’t accept his instructions as coming from the Lord then the Lord would not accept them when they came before Him. “If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (1 Corinthians 14:38, ESV) “If anyone ignores this, they themselves will be ignored” (NIV). If you won’t know, then you won’t be known.

The argument is logically equivalent when both sides of the statement are turned to affirmations. If a man receives the things of the Lord, then the Lord receives the man. And by application, if we receive the bread and the cup at His Table the way He instructs us to, then He will receive us at His table the way the bread and the cup invite us to realize.

This will be true for us at the Supper of the Lamb. We come to commune with Christ week by week. We receive His Word and His salvation by faith, so we eat and drink in remembrance of Him. And at that great Table, He will say, “I know you. Haven’t you been here before? Welcome, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

Good Things from Three Persons

The most explicitly Trinitarian benediction in the Bible comes in the final verse of 2 Corinthians.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

All three Persons are referred to, even if we would tend to want to mention the Father first. Paul attributes something different from each Person, not because any of these gifts can be separated from God’s Triune nature, but most likely because Paul had already attached these particular blessings to a particular Person previously in the letter.

From the Lord, the Son, we receive “grace.” He who is the Master, He who is the Messiah, gives His favor, and the favor is unconditional. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 His grace to us included His becoming poor so that by His poverty we might become rich.

From God, the Father, we receive “love.” His love is more than a disembodied form somewhere up in the sky. The Father abounds in affections for His children and that love came sloshing over the edges of eternity when He the sent His Son and then His Spirit. He loves generously because, as in 2 Corinthians 13:11, He is “the God of love and peace.”

From the Holy Spirit we receive “fellowship.” We are brought into the company of the saints in light. We are made partakers of the divine nature through the Spirit, God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts through the Spirit, and we are united to the body through one Spirit. According to 2 Corinthians 5:5 the Spirit is the guarantee of our eternal life. We will share this fellowship forever.

It’s only by the Son’s grace that we know God’s love, and it is love that defines our fellowship in the Spirit.

What Other Table?

Whether we recognize it or not, whether it is obvious to others that we recognize it or not, God is really among us. In our liturgy we acknowledge the call into His presence together from the start of our service, and our aim is to share communion with Him in the Lord’s Supper. The cup of blessing is a participation in the blood of Christ. The bread is a participation on the body of Christ. If we offered ourselves to any other presence we would be provoking the Lord to jealousy.

So how should we act around His Table? How about hungry, thankful, filled, and thankful.

We are hungry for righteousness, and we couldn’t bake or buy our own. God’s Spirit disclosed the secrets of our hearts, and it wasn’t pretty. We hunger and thirst for salvation, for Him to deal with our guilt and to be His sons. When we see the bread and the cup we are reminded that Christ gave Himself for our salvation. He made this meal, and we come to eat and drink by faith with thanks. Amen? To what other table could we go?

When we eat and drink we are enacting our amen. We are convinced that Christ alone is our Savior and say amen from our mouths, and we consume His flesh and blood as another sort of amen with our mouths. He died and rose again, we with Him, let us eat. Amen? It is food and drink for our souls, thank You, Lord.

We are not imagining that God is really among us, we are imaging the reality by bringing our hunger to Him, by rejoicing in His provision, and by communing with Him together as His body, amen.

No Lesser Bread

One of the things Paul valued about clarity was how it brings “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). When the Spirit gives words to His people for the good of the body it brings comfort.

Communion is also a consolation, a comfort. The Lord’s Supper is not a consolation prize, mostly because it isn’t a prize, and also because we aren’t competing to get it. Communion is a grace from God. He gives communion and comfort to those who need it but not to those who deserve it or try to earn it. There isn’t bread for the winner, but lesser bread for the runner-ups.

But God does alleviate our pain by reminding us that Jesus endured anguish and affliction on our behalf (Isaiah 53:4, 7, 11), by reminding us that pain can only last so long (this life)(2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 1:6), and by reminding us that pain can only take so much (not our salvation)(Matthew 10:28). Communion also comforts us with gospel truths that we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Because of Christ the cornerstone “in him…[we] are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (verse 21).

Are you feeling isolated? Afflicted? Perplexed? Do you see a lot of problems? Do have a lot of problems? Don’t lose heart! We are being renewed day by day. “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us…into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Communion at His Table is a no small consolation.

Open Communion, Closed Membership

We love celebrating weekly communion at our church, and it is having multiple desired effects. It proclaims the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26). It unites the body as we participate in the blood and body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). It encourages us to keep short accounts (1 Corinthians 11:28). And it makes people ask questions, including our kids, who wonder when they will get to share in communion.

This is a feature, it doesn’t have to be a frustration. Just as the liturgy of various offerings in the Old Testament provided opportunities for parents to tell their kids about God’s redeeming work, so we want our liturgy to cause others to want it, especially our kids. If we had to choose between abusing the Table by making them dread it due to our anxiousness, or abusing the Table by making them desire it due to our joyfulness, is that hard to answer?

One question that is a bit harder, at least on a personal level, is, Who is welcome at the Table? We practice what has historically been called “open” communion. That means that you do not need to be a member of our local body to be invited to eat and drink. You do need to believe in Christ, and, in most cases, you should already be baptized in public identification with Christ. We typically discourage parents from having their young people partake until they’ve been baptized.

One additional challenge for us involves those who sincerely believe that infant baptism is a valid expression of the ordinance. As a church we do not believe that, and so we have what is called “closed” membership. We believe (in brief) that “disciples obey the Lord in baptism” and so, as a credo-baptist church, we do not affirm paedo-baptized members.

But, desiring to be charitable to those who profess with both lips and lives their belief in and love for Christ, we will encourage them to partake at the open Table though we won’t affirm them as official members. This is a compromise we are comfortable with. Currently, the most significant limitation is that such a person could not hold a church office (that is, be an elder or deacon), though in every other way they would receive the care of the shepherds.

We gladly welcome the Lord’s disciples to the Lord’s Table, even when we believe there is more to teach them to observe that He’s commanded, which is, of course, true for all of us in some way or another this side of glorification.

All a Pitter-pattering

Is love more science or more story? Is love an historical fact or a philosophical idea? Is love a Platonic ideal, an abstract quality existing Up There, or is love an Aristotelian reality, expressed Down Here in hands and lips and bodies? Where do you learn about love best? Reading the dictionary? Reading the Bible? Hearing a story? Getting a timely hug from your dad?

As much as I love a good dictionary, dictionaries don’t inspire. Definitions are helpful and even necessary, but statements of meaning distinguish between things more than they activate affection for things.

The Greek word agape means “the quality of warm regard for and interest in another.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines love as “intense feeling of affection and attachment.” I’m sure your heart is just all a pitter-pattering now.

Again, I like a good proposition and I think a well crafted sentence of explanation is like truth gold set in syntax silver. But what informs and impels our affections are not notions of love as much as narratives of love.

The gospel is the ultimate story. In our last Omnibus Tenebras class we talked about stories and “myths” and tales and legends. Whatever word you’re comfortable with, “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” (1 John 4:9).

This is an eternal and true story that tells us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. It is the ultimate, overarching story with chapters still being written by the Author of our salvation. We are not just fed our lines, we are fed bread and wine for living and participating in the saga together by God’s grace.