Lord's Day Liturgy

How Our God Is Not

Sometimes it’s helpful to think about what is not in order to appreciate what is. For example, what if God was power, only or primarily? God is all-powerful, but what if His omnipotence was the attribute He desired to demonstrate above all? As image-bearers, certainly as fallen ones, our existence would be a constant struggle for more power. Life would revolve around protecting our power and taking power from others.

Or what if God was justice primarily? Our existence would be a constant regard for standards, a constant policing of policies. Our own unrighteousness would require hiding (if we could) and unrighteousness in others would warrant list-making and quick exposure and hard-nose discipline. Life would revolve around rules and consequences.

What if God was anger primarily? What if He created us to reflect His own bitter existence among the persons of the Trinity? He and His Son simply could not get along, so how about creating a people with whom to share the frustration? Misery loves (creating) company. Life would revolve around bickering and fights and division.

These are only a few examples of how the world is not because of how our God is not. Our is powerful and just and righteously anger and God is love. His power serves His love and multiplies it. He is righteous, and because He loves, He shows mercy; He invites the unrighteous to Himself rather than humiliate them. He is angry toward sin but, for those who believe, His Son took the wrath against unrighteousness.

Our God loves, first within the Triune Godhead and then His creation. The world runs on God’s love, and those who commune with God in Christ through faith will never be separated from His love (Romans 8:38-39).

Lord's Day Liturgy

No Holy Hierarchy by Office

On the day we affirm our church’s elders and deacons, we recognize those men with responsibilities without creating a division in the body. In our salvation and worship there is no “us/them,” but we all. There is no holy hierarchy by office, even if there is an authority with higher accountability for those holding office.

Shepherds are to shepherd the flock of God they are among; it’s not remote work. While they exercise oversight, they must not be “domineering over those in (their) charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-4). Shepherds have a “chief Shepherd,” He who is the head of the Body, to whom they will give an account and from whom they will receive a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4) (or not, 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, 4:5).

At times in church history shepherds have kept away the sheep from full participation at the Lord’s Supper, often by giving bread but not wine, sometimes giving neither but eating and drinking in front of those who were deemed less worthy. Some shepherds have elevated themselves as the important Christians, as “clergy.” But we acknowledge the priesthood of all believers.

We are all witnesses to the sufferings of Christ, through the faith once for all delivered to the saints not just the pastors. So we all are charged to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:6). The humble share His joy, and He lifts up their heads at the proper time.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Speckled, Spotted, and Strong

How can shepherds work to increase the jealousbility of their flock?

I was thinking about Jacob’s third deal with Laban, in which Laban agreed to give all the speckled and spotted sheep and goats (and black lambs) to his son-in-law (Genesis 30:32-33). Laban, deceiving the deceiver, took away the speckled and spotted (Genesis 30:35). But as Jacob shepherded, he set up peeled sticks at the watering places, and “the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted” (Genesis 30:39). Then he started only laying the sticks in front of the stronger sheep, “so the feebler would be Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s” (Genesis 30:42). (For an interesting take on why this worked, check out this journal article.)

That story does not have deeper/spiritual meaning, but I do think it’s interesting as an illustration for another principle.

We, as sheep of the Chief Shepherd, come to behold Him by faith week by week in worship and especially at the Lord’s Table. We are transformed by beholding His glory (2 Corinthians 3:18), including the glory of His love and sacrifice on the cross. So we are made strong, Scripture by Scripture, song by song, prayer by prayer, communion by communion.

The Shepherd of the sheep is kind to give us life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Supper Specifics

On the night Jesus was betrayed,

(And) he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-20)

The same event is described in Matthew 26:26-28 and Mark 14:22-25, but only Luke uses the specific word “new” (καινὴ) to describe the covenant. Jesus instituted the first observance of the Lord’s Supper as a new covenant celebration, and Paul repeats this narrative in 1 Corinthians 11:25 about the cup of the new covenant in His blood as he instructs the church in Corinth about observing the Lord’s Supper.

There is more about the New Covenant in the New Testament as well. Paul also described his own work as a minister of a new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6). The author of Hebrews says that Jesus is the mediator of this New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15; 12:14) and the coming of the New Covenant makes the first one, the Old one obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).

The New Covenant is unconditional, that is, it is a promise made by God, kept by God, and for God (see Jeremiah 31:31-4, and also Ezekiel 36:22-38). The fulfillment of the New Covenant is not based on what the Jews do or don’t do. In fact, the fulfillment of the New Covenant will be when God does in the Jews what they have definitely not done and could not do on their own.

To say, then, that the promises of the New Covenant are fulfilled in the church is to be sloppy with all the specific Old Testament promises. Parts of it are, but not the whole, not yet.

The better answer is that Jesus inaugurated and ratified the New Covenant. There is currently a Jewish remnant who are beneficiaries of the soul-saving elements of the New Covenant. There is currently an extension in salvation blessings of the New Covenant to the Gentiles. But the full/final fulfillment of the New Covenant has not yet happened. The Lord’s Table, especially this cup, remind us that all has been purchased, and to look forward to the accomplishment of all His Word.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Reconciled to Life

Forgiveness deals with our guilty conscience as well as with the consequences of our sins. Reconciliation leaves no doubt that the forgiveness is personal. Sin violates God’s standards, and those who ignore or disobey His law are not merely law-breakers but enemies.

The gospel reconciles us to God. Because Israel rejected Jesus the gospel went to the Gentiles for “the reconciliation of the world” (Romans 11:15). Remember back to earlier in the letter.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:10–11 ESV)

The relationship was broken, the Lord Jesus restores, reconnects, reestablishes us in peace with the Father. We are being saved by His life for life. It is a life of rejoicing.

To the Corinthians Paul clarified that

The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; (2 Corinthians 5:17–18 ESV)

Paul magnified his ministry, glorified his reconciling efforts. All of it is from God who has made us new creations in Christ. Our communion with the Lord and with His body is life from the dead.

Lord's Day Liturgy

All the Offerings

Our liturgy should be quite the jealous-making provocation to the Jews. The “riches for the world” aren’t limited to worship services, and without a verse that requires a particular order of praise we recognize some flexibility in worship practices. But think about how our focus on Jesus fulfills their sacrificial system (as Yahweh intended).

Israel had the sin offering. An animal was killed, its blood shed and thrown on the altar to cover sin. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). And and what’s more, “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27).

They had the burnt offering. An animal was killed, its parts arranged on the altar, and the fire consumed all of it. The entirety of the animal represented the entire consecration of the worshipper. Jesus is our righteousness and sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30).

They had the peace offering. An animal was killed, its parts arranged on the altar over fire, but it was cooked not consumed, and the roasted meat shared in fellowship as a symbol of the peace between parties.

Jesus is all the offerings! His blood covers our sins, we are justified. In Him we are set apart, sanctified for His service. Through Him we come to the Father, we share fellowship, and remember His death around the Lord’s Table. These are represented and celebrated in our service with: Confession – Consecration – Communion.

We confess that Jesus is Lord, the Lamb slain and the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Credit to the Teaching

Since we’re talking about making things look good, I can’t help but think about Paul’s exhortation to slaves to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” It’s at the end of a list of characters in Titus 2 so that Titus could “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (verse 1). There were qualities for older men (verse 2), older women (verse 3), young women (verse 5), younger men (verse 6), Titus himself (verses 7-8), and then slaves (verses 9-10). Here’s what correct teaching looks like:

Slaves are to be subject to their own masters in everything, to do what is wanted and not talk back, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, in order to bring credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything. (Titus 2:9-10 NET)

They show off all good faith and then show the beauty of God’s saving truth in all things. They “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (ESV).

The word “adorn” (KJV, NASB, ESV) is from kosmeo, to “cause something to have an attractive appearance through decoration” (BAGD), to order into beauty. Cosmology is the study of God’s ordering and adorning of the planets. Cosmetology is the study and application of beauty treatments. And so when it comes to the teaching of our Savior God, Christian κοσμῶσιν ἐν πᾶσιν means we’re to make it look good. We’re not adding value, we’re showing off the value.

Slaves could do it while submitting to their masters. Certainly we can do it while eating and drinking the Lord’s supper until He comes.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Four Unworthy Ways at the Lord’s Supper

Where two or three are gathered in His name there are bound to be problems. The Corinthians had problems. In 1 Corinthians 11, the chapter where Paul wrote most about communion, there were problems, factions among the people. The Corinthians were having such obvious problems at the Table that Paul said it couldn’t really be called the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 11:20).

There is a legendary phrase in 1 Corinthians 11:27 about eating the bread or drinking the cup of the Lord “in an unworthy manner.” The unworthy participant “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (verse 29), which could result in weakness, illness, and death (verse 30). Some pastors have turned “unworthy manner” into the focus and driven humble believers away from communion, which is also a problem.

Generally in our weekly liturgy we come to the Table in the attitude of the feast that it is. The Lord died so that we don’t face death. We come in thanks for salvation, not fear of judgment.

But obviously the instruction and warning needs to be given. “Unworthy” participation means that it doesn’t fit, it’s not a match with what’s happening. In brief, here are four unworthy ways.

  1. Unbelieving. The Lord Jesus Christ instituted the meal as a reminder of His body and blood, of His death for the sin of His sheep. It is a meal for those who actually believe what they are remembering.
  2. Unrepentant. It doesn’t fit to be in an ongoing pattern of doing what the Lord had to die to forgive. Communion isn’t for perfect people, but it is not for those who refuse to acknowledge their sin. That applies to non-Christians, to Christians out of fellowship, and in the extreme case for every person in 4th stage church discipline.
  3. Unbaptized. Believe/repent and be baptized, that’s the proper order (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; also examples in Acts 8:12-13, 18:8). Baptism is the first commandment for a disciple. While often reversed in ignorance, the right order is first, public identification with Christ in the water of baptism and then second, public sharing of the feast around the Lord’s table.
  4. Unwelcoming. I thought about mentioning this first, because it’s actually the problem in 1 Corinthians 11. There were divisions among the church, and some were humiliating others. The practicals of our practice make that harder, but you can still “despise the church” who drink wine, or eat gluten, or walk too slowly in front of you. This is a particular version of being unrepentant, but worth singling out as the actual opposite of communion.

Examine yourselves. Parents, teach your kids about this. If you’ve got family or friends visiting, talk to them beforehand.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Hands Out

When Isaiah said that the Lord had His hands held out all day long to a disobedient and contrary people (Isaiah 65:2) he was speaking anthropomorphically. It’s a figure of speech, taking something a man would do and attributing that visible, understandable gesture to God’s attitude. A man with his hands out communicates a tender invite, shows an openness to welcome and a readiness to receive.

Isaiah must rejoice that his prophecy did not remain on the anthropological level but descended to the incarnational level. The Lord took on flesh, He took on His own hands, and His hands are proof of His readiness to receive the redeemed.

When Jesus showed up among His disciples in the locked room on the Sunday of His resurrection, He showed them His hands. When the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, he said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my had into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later Jesus came again among them and said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands.” (John 20:20, 25, 27).

The scars proved it was Himself risen from the dead, the marks are reminders of His sacrifice. His love is not only a gesture. The body language communicates more than a sentiment, it accomplished our salvation.

Every Lord’s Day we come to the Lord’s Table at the Lord’s invitation. He welcomes His people with open, and scarred, hands.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Lamp of the Lamb

In his vision the apostle John “saw a Lamb standing, as thought it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6).

Those whose names have been “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8) have been redeemed by the Lamb, they will dwell forever with the Lamb, they are called “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9). And in the heavenly Jerusalem John saw the lighting situation:

the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, (Revelation 21:23–24 ESV)

The lamp of the Lamb will be so bright and consistent that “There will be no night there” (Revelation 21:25). “Night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

The Lord’s Table is a reminder of the work of the Lamb, and of our future with Him. “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! (Revelation 5:12)

The bite and the sip are but tastes of the eternal feast, our communion here just a spark of the eternal light and fellowship we will share. Our Lord, the Lamb, come!