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.

All the Prepositions

All is a word that is easily taken for granted. All of us, probably, misunderstand it depending on the context. Paul told the Corinthians that at the end of the world, God would be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). This is the final restoration and consummation of all things in God.

Halfway through his letter to the Ephesians Paul urged them to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, especially to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-4). Then he reminded them of their shared reality.

There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

This is not referring to something waiting to be revealed as in Corinthians but instead to something important to be recognized now.

All of us who believe have one and the same Father. And that Father is over and through and in all. Does “all” mean the persons, or does “all” mean the universe, or does “all” refer to some other specific set of things?

It at least refers to all His children. He rules (over), He energizes (through), and He indwells (in) all of us. And that is true even though all of us are given grace for sake of doing different things (Ephesians 3:7-16).

So we all come to this one Table of communion, and we all have reasons to give thanks not just that we get to come, but also for all of our brothers and sisters in the body that are gentle, and patient, and bearing with us in love.

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.