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Lord's Day Liturgy

Against Indulgences

When the day of Pentecost arrived, Peter preached to those gathered in Jerusalem about Jesus, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, …crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men, raised up by God, loosed from the pangs of death” (Acts 2:23-24).

Many of those who heard the message were cut to the heart and said, “What shall we do?”

Peter’s well-known response was: “Do penance.”

At least that’s how the Roman Catholic Church understood the Latin translation of Acts 2:38, Pœnitentiam agite. Penance was an imposed self-punishment, a duty assigned by a priest to show sorrow for sin, which might include paying money to the church, going on a quest to view relics, making some sort of sacrifice.

The first few arguments of Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis questioned this teaching as it related to the virtue of indulgences. He protested the selling of remission of sin.

We can be thankful for God’s use of Luther. If Luther were alive today, I believe he would protest a new sort of indulgence, forgiveness according to sadness.

Yes, we must mourn for our sin; Jesus said those who mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). But salvation is not according to our sadness, salvation is according to Jesus’ sacrifice received by faith. Communion with God is sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus. And, flock, this is freedom, this is glory, this is a cause to give up a sad focus on our sin and go toward a tasting that the Lord is good.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Blessed Forever

God is “blessed forever.” He is praised unendingly. The Lord is good.

In the middle of a brutal section about delusional and disgraceful God-deniers, Paul can’t shut his worshiping mouth. Is culture collapsing? God isn’t. Men choose the lie, but God is “the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:25)

Later in the same letter, Paul acknowledges that even the people who had the covenants, the law, the promises, the patriarchs, and even the Messiah, did not all receive Him. Paul hated their rejection, and yet, he wrote about “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:5)

In another letter, after listing his resume of suffering and weakness (including imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks, sleeplessness, hunger, cold), his boast was in “the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever” (2 Corinthians 11:31).

So maybe you don’t feel the blessing in this moment. Fine. The God you know and believe and glorify and thank has not lost any of His blessing, and He does not lose any of His blessing when He shares it.

This cup is the “cup of blessing” (1 Corinthians 10:16). You drink it not as a magic potion that adds lives to your avatar, but you do drink it in remembrance of the God who gives you eternal life. Those who believe in Him will be blessed to share in resurrection, blessed to share in the marriage supper of the Lamb, blessed as they remain steadfast (James 5:11) for the God who is blessed forever.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Can’t Help It

As often as you watch the Tube, as often as you check the news or seek entertainment, as often as you drive past stores, you are being invited to consider how discontent you probably should be. Propaganda tells you how everything around you is bad, advertisements tell you about everything you don’t have. Those who suppress the truth about God can’t help but be agitated.

There is a place of peace, in but not of this world. It’s the Table before us.

In 1 Corinthians 11:24, Jesus took bread and “when He had given thanks” (εὐχαριστέω), then “in the same way also He took the cup,” which we know from Matthew 26:27 included “when He had given thanks” (εὐχαριστέω). This is why communion is called the eucharist, the meal of thanks.

It is the Supper of God’s glory. It is not a table focused on our guilt but for our gratitude. Giving God glory and thanks is what the world will not do (Romans 1:21). Those who believe the gospel of God can’t help but praise Him.

Let Him be glorified for His righteousness, His love, His grace, His sacrifice. Let Him be thanked for gifts of repentance, faith, and fellowship. Let Him be glorified for His eternal nature and divine power, let Him be thanked for giving us eternal life by the power of the gospel. Let the Son of God be glorified for His obedience, let us give thanks for the Son of God who spent His body and shed His blood for us. Let us glorify the Spirit who points to the Son, let us give thanks for the Spirit who dwells in us as the guarantee of our inheritance. Let us glorify God who created grain and grapes, let us give thanks for the bread and the wine that remind us of our Savior.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Without Needing to Google It

Peter was explicit about his ministry of remembrance. In his second letter he said “I intend always to remind you…I think it is right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:12-13). We forget.

Paul was eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome (1:15), the same ones who were loved by God and called to be saints (1:7). You can know, and still need to re-know. Near the end of Romans Paul wrote,

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:14-16).

Paul was set apart for the gospel of God (1:1), his was priestly service of the gospel of God (15:16), and he says they knew enough about it that they could talk to about it to one another without needing to Google it. But they needed reminders.

Every week we get the reminder of the gospel, the fact of what Jesus Christ has done and the desire that God has for us in Jesus Christ: communion with Him. This is a reminder for our comfort, it is also a reminder of our calling. Jesus died and rose again as a sacrifice so that we might live for God (Romans 7:4), so that we might be sanctified and acceptable to Him.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Long Hugs and Pirate-Sounding-Song-Singing

There is a description in Titus 2 that is a regular picture in my mind. Paul tells Titus to remind the slaves that they are to be submissive to their masters, that they are to be well-pleasing and faithful, “showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9-10).

The “doctrine” or the teaching heading is God’s saving character, He is Savior; saving is His business. Salvation is His work exclusively, as in, there is no other savior. And salvation is His work exhaustively, as in, there is nothing we add to it. The truth of this is emphasized even in how Paul writes it: “in order that the doctrine – the of the savior of us of God (doctrine) – you may adorn in everything.”

The teaching is already glorious. God, our Savior, is glorious, essentially and beyond dispute. And yet, even these slaves could live by faith in such a way as to give the doctrine an attractive appearance. They could show its beauty by their work.

While this has application for every believer, not just bondservants, I think it also has application for the entire body of believers, so individual and corporate.

And, beloved, you continue to adorn the gospel. This doesn’t mean that everyone sees it. At the memorial service on Saturday, a young person was overheard expressing great thankfulness that his parent never takes him to church and makes him sing songs like that. But without question, to those with eyes to see, your heavy-joy and long hugs and tasty food and loud pirate-sounding-song-singing showed the goodness and beauty of our Savior.

Even as we come to the communion table together, as we share with one another, this is part of our proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes, and how we do it adorns the doctrine of God our Savior.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Without Remaining Charge

The gospel is the power of God to get us to stop looking at ourselves. In ourselves, we see not a thing worth celebrating, and that’s if God helps us (without His help we might see something good, but it would be because we’re deceiving ourselves). We see the desire to do what’s right, but lack of ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18). Other times we do what some other part of us didn’t want to do (Romans 7:19). God’s Word cuts down to the covetousness in our hearts that others might not even see (Romans 7:8), and what seems worse, our sin even misuses God’s Word to stoke our desire for what we aren’t supposed to want (Romans 7:9).

So, then, can you eat and drink at the Lord’s Table in a “worthy” manner? You can’t if you’re looking at you. You can, and you must, if you are looking at Christ.

One of the great crescendos is in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

The judgment coming down on us as sinners, the true sentence and just punishment we deserved, have been taken by Christ for all those who are in Him. We have been weighed and measured, and we have been found without remaining charge in Jesus.

By sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (8:3b-4)

The ordinance of communion is not when we look at what we’ve done in our flesh, but when we look at what Jesus accomplished in His flesh. Only one is gospel.

The bread and wine are gift. Receive them as symbols of your freedom from condemnation in Christ.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Gospel Salvo

For our Sunday evening series this upcoming year, we’re going to have the elders preach through First Peter. We’ve never rotated through paragraphs of the same book before, and this will cover the letter from different angles. It seems like an especially timely study, full of teaching on true submission and costly, righteous suffering.

One of my favorite verses in 1 Peter is one I have to hold off using too frequently as a reminder of forgiveness.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that me might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)

That is not actually the entire verse, let alone the entire sentence, which extends to the end of verse 20. It introduces what is probably the most difficult and debated paragraph in 1 Peter, and I volunteered to preach that passage when we get to it. But this gospel salvo is worth celebrating.

It is also what we’re doing here at the Lord’s Table. We are thinking about Christ, the promised and perfect offering. We remember His righteousness, His unjust suffering, His payment for our sins, and we remember what we get from it. Yes, we are saved, but saved for what? Saved as in brought to the Father.

We are forgiven for forgiveness’ sake, because in our guilt we needed it. We are forgiven for justice’s sake, so that God might be just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). But we are also forgiven for fellowship’s sake, because we were far away. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Peter 2:10).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Blanket of Porcupine Quills

Anxiety rages around us like a drunk two year-old, like a pounding hurricane parked right offshore. Cultural fretting is as fast and furious as our President is slow and confused. There are fights without and fears within. What we see in Afghanistan is horrific, and that is just the current focus of the camers. We have friends who are in pain, friends who are under threats and facing uncertain futures. Marriages are struggling, important projects are unfinished, big decisions need making. Anxiety is like being wrapped in a blanket of porcupine quills, as uncomfortable as it is unhelpful.

But Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). He said, “In “the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The “rule” is like that of an umpire. Take a look at the situation and then make a judgment: be at peace.

Jesus died and rose again so that you might have peace with God (Romans 5:1). The Father and Son sent their Spirit that you might know the fruit of love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22). This peace is a gift, and it is potent, like a deep river (Isaiah 48:18; 66:12). “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Something to Miss

If there was a man who took it as a great punishment to be invited to a well-prepared table with family and friends, we would say something was wrong with that man. His feeling of burden or horror might be due to the bruised trauma of a previous experience, or maybe a failure to regulate hyper-introversion, or maybe straight-up selfishness. Under normal circumstances, it should be more of a punishment to not be included.

The Lord’s Supper is a well-prepared table for the sons and daughters of the Lord, for brothers and sisters, for all those adopted by the Father, for those transferred into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love, for each individual member of the same body. Rightly received by faith, the bread reminds us of Christ’s body given for our forgiveness, and where sin abounded grace abounded much more. Rightly received by faith, the wine reminds us of Christ’s blood shed for us, and where sin disrupted our relations His blood covers and reconciles. It is a cup of blessing (1 Corinthians 10:16).

Gathering here is no burden, no punishment, no cause for anxiety. By grace, our communion as a church has been the opposite. Some of our best singing, at least in loudest volume and joyful noises, is done during this part of our liturgy. Some of the best facial expressions, at least most awake and biggest smiling, is during the walking and waiting in line. That is how it ought to be.

May God use it to give you such a taste that the Lord is good that you would never turn away from Him. May God disciple your loves that you would feel the pain of discipline if you had to miss it.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

What a Friend

To my memory I haven’t talked publicly about why I really have to work at singing “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners.” It’s not just because of the verbal association with the popular and irreverent “Jesus is my homeboy” Christian t-shirt fad that thankfully seems to have faded, along with the various contemporary Christian rock music that makes it sound like Jesus sound like my girlfriend, which is even worse.

Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is Savior. Jesus is the eternal Word. Jesus is the Firstborn from all creation, the Head of the church. Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus is the Lamb, standing as having been slain. Friend is too casual, too comfy, for a song about the King.

But I do sing the song, even though I have work to prepare to do so, because it was Jesus Himself who, without directly calling Himself our Friend, called us His friends, and showed Himself a friend in action.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one that this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. … I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:12-15)

We are His servants, yes, but He says we are more than that. Therefore we shouldn’t try to be more “spiritual” than He says. We needed His sacrifice for sake of escaping God’s wrath, but He says His sacrifice was also for sake of showing His love. He says we are His friends, and He’s prepared a table for us to share with Him.