Israel rejoiced in John the Baptist’s lamp-light for a while (John 5:35). Many Jews saw the straight path from Baptist’s ministry to the Messiah’s coming. They were anticipating the Messiah’s arrival, expecting Him to defeat their enemies and to share His kingdom with them. They couldn’t wait for the Messiah to change their lives. But John lost his luster when he kept talking about the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
A few years later, Jesus entered Jerusalem to pageantry and praise. On the day we call Palm Sunday, the crowd was eager to crown their King. They cried out, “Hosanna!” “Save us, we pray!” They laid their clothes and palm branches on the road in front of Him. He was their Messiah, but not the One they wanted. He offered them life, but not the one they wanted. He came to defeat their greatest enemy, their death-deserving sin, and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. They wanted Him to defeat the Romans. Within a week they asked the Romans to crucify Him.
Jesus does promise life. He promises an eternal inheritance in His kingdom for all who follow Him. He promises to share His glory with His servants. He promises communion with Himself and with His Father.
But life comes on certain terms, namely, it only comes by His death. He will be exalted, given the name above every name, but that lifting came after being humbled, by being obedient even to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8-11).
We who believe should look forward to His final victory. We should look forward to obtaining the guaranteed inheritance. We ought to anticipate the day when all our enemies are defeated. But the way to life is the way of dying. The Lord’s Table reminds us of what we have in Christ, now and forever. It also reminds us how He purchased it, once and for all.
The apostles John and Peter were in the temple when a man, lame from birth, asked for them alms. Instead of silver or gold, Peter told the him to rise up and walk in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Acts 3:6). The man was healed and began walking, leaping, and praising God, which earned Peter and John an attentive audience.
Peter began to preach and, among other things, told the Jews that they “killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:15). It is an interesting word, “Author” (or “Prince” KJV and NASB, “source” HCSB, elsewhere defined as “originator”), ἀρχηγὸν in Greek. It is used four times in the New Testament and only about Jesus. Here Jesus is the Author of life. In Hebrews 2:10 Jesus is the Author (NASB, “founder” in ESV) of salvation. In Hebrews 12:2 Jesus is the Author (NASB, “founder” in ESV) and Perfecter of our faith.
He is the Author of life, salvation, and faith. In order to secure those things for us He was killed (Acts 3:15), He suffered (Hebrews 2:10), and He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). When we come to the meal of peace, there is no question about who sits at the Head of the Table: the Lord Jesus Christ. There are no doubts about how we were invited: Jesus died and rose as our substitute. There is no uncertainty about what we get at this Table: nourished faith, salvation to glory, and eternal life. The Author writes us into His story, He shares His very own life with us. So come and commune with Him.
We emphasize that the Lord’s Table is a banquet, a feast, a celebration. We emphasize the joy of communion, God’s joy over us and our corporate joy with Him. Jesus made peace by the blood of His cross and reconciled us in His body of flesh by His death in order to present us holy and blameless and above reproach before Him (Colossians 1:20-22). Christ’s finished sacrifice is a reason to rejoice.
It is also a reason to examine ourselves. The Table celebration is for sinners who boast in the Savior not for sinners who boast in their sin. We must not be sinless before we eat but we also must not be careless about our sin. Paul said,
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)
Sin affects the body. Not all effects on the body result from our personal sin but some do. Weakness, illness, and even death may come to those who deliberately ignore the sin Christ died for.
Weekly celebration of the Lord’s Table nourishes those with faith and endangers those who participate without faith, those who love sin and don’t seek His strength to fight sin. He desires communion with us and He will discipline those who come for communion with disregard the sacrifice of His Son.
At this meal we meet with the Father through the work of His Son. Let us enjoy that fellowship with Him as we discern His saving work in us.
If you sat down at a dinner table, what might cause you to get up after a while unsatisfied? There might be nothing on the table, no food to eat. There might be no one else at the table, no fellowship to enjoy. There might be a family tradition passed down for generations that strictly forbids anyone from eating, the food is for display purposes only. Or, there may be no reason to eat because you ruined your appetite with junk an hour earlier.
These may be reasons why the communion Table doesn’t satisfy as well. Working backwards through the list of four above, those who come to a Table of grace full of their own works, who come to a Table of righteousness whose stomachs are full of selfishness, will not be nourished. Not only that, they may be judged by the Lord of the Table for unworthy participation.
Those who come to the communion Table believing that the table is for show, a picture to be seen, not a meal for participation, will not enjoy it. Celebration doesn’t fit their understanding of proper Table dimensions.
Those who come to the communion Table lost in the recesses of individualism will get something, but they won’t get communion; they won’t be sharing anything with the body. They may write about the goodness of fellowship in their journals but they won’t taste it.
And those who come to an empty table are going to some other table than the communion Table. The Lord’s Table is never empty and His portions are never scarce. The Son gave His life for us and all things are ours with Him. God’s grace and love know no bounds and fill up all who come to receive by faith.
Our fellowship with God comes on very specific terms. Peace must be established between two parties that were previously enemies. In our case, the defiance was entirely with us. Our enmity must be defeated and our rebellion accounted for. Communion also requires a certain likeness between parties. In our case, we must walk in the light as He is in the light in order to enjoy fellowship. God’s Word, therefore, is crucial if we’re to know the terms, if we’re to respond to follow the light, if we’re to understand the sacrifice of Christ that establishes the peace.
But peace isn’t only on paper, nor is it found in an out of reach place. Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us, He did not merely think about it. His death and resurrection are recorded in a Book, but that Book gets us more than a contract in thin air. Through the Word we learn about communion with God and He established a Supper for our bodies to actually commune with God in worship. We receive His Word and partake in His ordinance. He requires both, He gifts us with both, working hand in hand, to reveal the terms of peace and to share a meal of peace.
Without the Word we could not understand what eating and drinking are good for. Without eating and drinking, we do not understand what the Word is good for. The Word of the Lord declares peace for all who believe, at the Lord’s Table we digest it by faith.
God is compassionate and He knows our frame. He knows that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14) and yet, dust sure does have a lot of problems. Even as His children we are easily discouraged, hungry, tired, and fearful. That is why He invites us to share a meal of communion with Him and it is why sharing this meal as an assembly every week is so valuable.
Many of us have trouble. We are not under the threat of torture or death, but we have affliction nonetheless. Our plans didn’t work out, we’re not sure if we’ll be able to pay the grocery bill next week, the alarm clock rings early and our heads hit the pillow late, and we doubt that we’ll be able to make it through.
God has not promised to make His people comfortable, to give us more than daily bread, to fill our physical sails with fitness, or to reveal how it will all work out in the short term. But He has promised that there is always an overabundance of grace. He hasn’t promised that we won’t have need, He has promised to help in those times.
Only by the death and resurrection of Jesus can we come for grace with confidence. Our High Priest sympathizes with our weaknesses, especially when we are tempted to doubt and fear. He was tempted, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). So we draw near to the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). We eat around the table of grace. We find grace to help, and there is more than enough.
The sons of Korah wrote eleven songs that were recognized into the canon of Israel’s worship including Psalm 84.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
The song celebrates God’s “dwelling place,” His “courts.” In other words, the Psalm expresses delight over God welcoming His people into His presence. For Israel, God’s house was the temple in Jerusalem. So this song exalts how great it is to be with God, to meet the “living God” as “heart and flesh sing for joy” to Him.
Later in the song, the sons of Korah put their desires into perspective.
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
This is extreme by both chronological and occupational standards. There is no better way to spend time than appearing before God. Similarly, it doesn’t matter how lowly a position one takes as long as he can be in the presence of God.
We sing a popular version of this Psalm today and it applies in a brand new way. In His Son, Jesus Christ, we are invited into the place His glory dwells. We are satisfied and our souls are made wet by the Spirit as we see and taste His beauty. And around the Lord’s table, He invites His people for a meal of communion, a meal of blessing, and He holds nothing back.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
This promise is certain because He has already given us His Son. One meal of peace with the King is better than a thousand elsewhere.
Eating at the Lord’s table week by week ought to feed, foster, and fortify our faith that God is on our side.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)
In a series of rhetorical questions, God, through Paul, lifts up our hearts to trust Him. We need not fear tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, or slaughter (verses 35b-36). These things cannot separate us from His love in Christ Jesus (verse 35a). These things can’t stop His Spirit from leading us as adopted sons (verses 12-17). These things can’t cancel His guarantee to glorify those He predestined, called, and justified (verse 30). No suffering hinders our future glory (verse 18). No weakness can keep us from conquering through Him who loved us (verses 26, 37).
Why? Because the Father gave His Son for us. The Lord’s supper is our remembrance and proclamation of the Lord’s death, of the Son being given for us. Just as Jesus gave His disciples bread and the cup, He gave His body and poured out His blood so that we might hope in God.
Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)
Christ died for us, He rose for us, now He intercedes for us. This meal celebrates that He is our help, our life, for all time. He is on our side.
The Lord’s supper is a meal of peace and provision. Not only do we commune by eating His food, we must eat His flesh to live. Jesus said,
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48–51)
This connection is so close that it’s disagreeable.
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:52–53)
As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:57–58)
The imagery is God’s miraculous supply of manna to the Israelites. Of course, the imagery also fits with the peace offering. The sacrifice was killed, cut, cooked, then consumed. Jesus Himself prophecies that He would be killed and that He must be consumed. Without identifying with Him by consuming Him we have no life.
That’s how serious God is about being with us. He sent His own Son to take on flesh so that we could live forever with the living Father, with the Son who lives (6:57), and with the Spirit who gives life (6:63). God wants fellowship with us, so we must eat Christ’s body and drink His blood. That’s true life and true communion.
The Trinity intends to share their life with men. Eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3), it is sharing loving fellowship with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. At the center of this life-giving work is the cross. The one sacrifice of Christ satisfies the death penalty our sin deserved, His sacrifice purifies us, and it enables us to share a meal with God. His offering brings peace.
The end of the sacrifice is not forgiveness, the goal is fellowship. The cross brings peace, participation, communion. It can’t happen without rebellion being defeated, without righteousness being declared. But the cross, and our remembrance of it, does not end on the battlefield or in a courtroom, but in a dining hall.
We would not know how to handle the Old Testament peace offering. “What? We get to eat as worship? We get to enjoy a meal together with God?” We’re more comfortable with a theological dictionary then a loaf of bread. So, alright, let’s look at that dictionary and select a big word.
What does “atonement” mean? It is an early 16th century word that describes repair work done for a damaged relationship, in particular, the reconciliation of God and men through the death of Jesus. Atonement brings us together, we have at-one-ment (-ment as the resulting state of being at one).
In many ways, communion is the pinnacle of our worship. It is the final offering, a fellowship feast of peace with God. Those who are forgiven in Christ, who are devoted to serve Him, are invited to eat with Him.