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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Price of Passion

It is good to remember where certain things come from.

The week between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday is often called Passion Week. It’s called passion because of Latin, and in many copies of God’s Word in the first few centuries of the church pastors would preach about Jesus’ passionem, a Latin word meaning suffering.

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering/passionem of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)

While most English speakers today think of passion as an intense desire, it originally referred to painful endurance. Jesus taught His disciples about it before it happened.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer (a verbal form of passionem) many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21)

That’s the background of the word passion. But this passion, this suffering, is the background for Jesus’ glory. It was due to His humble death on a cross that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9). It is because of Jesus’ suffering that He is “crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2:9).

And Jesus’ passion is the background for our joy.

Jesus loves you, and suffered to bring You to the Father (1 Peter 3:18). God loves Your sanctification, and His Son suffered to make it secure (Hebrews 13:12). God loves to share His joy with you. God sent His Son to suffer, die, and rise again to show it. How will He not with Him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Beautifying Stage

Being loved into greater loveliness is a gospel canon.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25–27)

This is the loving sacrifice of the Bridegroom. It is the standard for husbands with their wives, and in fact, husbands and wives were made for sake of modeling in miniature the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32). It really is profound.

Christ gave Himself up, He gave Himself out of love, He gave Himself in order to nourish and cherish the church into loveliness.

It’s sort of like the months of beautifying for King Ahasuerus: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women (Esther 2:12). In a spiritual sense, the church is in the beautifying stage. What’s more, we are not being adorned with uncertainty about who will be chosen as was the case with Ahasuerus, we are being adorned because we have been chosen.

And more than given skin treatments, we are being fattened up, not starved. The sacrifice which Jesus made, which Jesus gave a meal to remind us of, is the sacrifice that makes our invitation to the great wedding meal effective. We are also being clothed, and the “righteous deeds” that belong with our garment (Revelation 19:8) include our obediences, our obediences includes rejoicings, and our rejoicings include proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes in communion.

We are given a supper (1 Corinthians 11:25) in anticipation of a supper (Revelation 19:9).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

His Doom Is Sure

When Scripture describes our salvation it does so with all three tenses: past, present, and future. According to the Father’s eternal plan Jesus saved us by delivering us from the penalty of sin when He died and rose again (2 Timothy 1:9), Jesus is saving us by delivering us from the power of sin as His Spirit makes us more holy (Romans 6:13-14), and Jesus will save us by delivering us from the presence of sin, bringing us into the Father’s presence blameless and with great joy (1 Peter 1:5; Jude 24).

Did you know that Scripture also describes our enemy’s defeat in all three tenses?

Jesus cut off our adversary’s reign when He died and rose again. “(God) disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in (Christ)” (Colossians 2:15). Jesus continues to cripple our adversary’s efforts when we pray for Him to deliver us from the “evil one” (Matthew 6:13; 1 John 5:18). And because of the Lamb our adversary will be finally cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). As Paul told the Romans, “The God of peace will soon crush satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).

This is not to say that we aren’t being hunted. The devil is like a roaring lion seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). One of the ways he threatens is by causing division, even as Paul told the Corinthians that he was forgiving others, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

So “in all circumstances take up the shield of faith, which which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). “The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.” This hope comes from the death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Word Then Wine

I noticed something last Saturday for the first time while reading Nehemiah 8 for the Bible Reading Challenge. Nehemiah 8 is classic passage about preaching. Ezra “brought the Law before the assembly” (verse 2). “He read from it from early morning until midday,” “and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (verse 3). Ezra “stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose” (verse 4). He “opened the book in the sight of all the people” (verse 5), he “blessed the LORD, the great God” (verse 6). “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that people understood the reading” (verse 8).

As a preacher I’ve gone to numerous preaching conferences where other preachers preach about preaching. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this paragraph of Nehemiah preached. Preachers who love the Book, who own the stewardship “to make the word of fully known” (Colossians 1:25), who do not “shrink from declaring…the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), point out the priority of reading the Word and explaining the Word.

What I cannot remember ever hearing are any comments about the next paragraph in Nehemiah 8, about the application that Nehemiah and Ezra expected of the people who had heard the Word. Those who “taught the people said to all the people”:

“This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Nehemiah 8:9–12)

When God’s people hear God’s Word they are tempted to make holiness glum, to mourn and weep. They are tempted to act as if they must reject taste in order to prove they’re taking it seriously. But if we read and understand the Word, that is not to be the required response of those who understand the Word.

The joy of the Lord is your strength. Eat the fat and drink the sweet wine. Share portions and make great rejoicing. Though Nehemiah 8 obviously isn’t a reference to the Lord’s Table, it does provide a pattern for us: Word then wine, big portions, generously shared.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Weepless Future

It struck me going through Revelation 18:9-20 how much weeping there is. The kings wept (verse 9), the merchants wept (verses 11, 15), and the seafaring men wept (verse 19). They wept over their loss, over the fall of their lover, Babylon “the great.”

That got me thinking about the last time we heard God’s people weeping in the Apocalypse. For many chapters of Revelation now believers have been marginalized, then persecuted, even to the point of death. They have seen the rise of the antichrist, the rise of man’s rebellion against God, and the rise of immorality all around them. Certainly many of them will grieve to the point of tears. But the emphasis in Revelation is on the weeping of the unbelievers.

The last time a believer wept was in Revelation 5 when John said, “I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (verse 4). But that was immediately followed by one of the elders who said to him, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (verse 5).

This is not to say that Christians know no heaviness or sorrow. It is to say though, that heaviness and sorrow are not the emphasis for those who conquer by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11). Those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life are headed to a weepless future.

> “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
 and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Flaking Out

On Palm Sunday Jesus rode a young beast of burden into Jerusalem to applauding cheers. The crowds cried out, “Hosanna!” (Matthew 21:9) Five days later the crowds cried out, “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:22)

It has been popular for preachers in the past to identify the crowds as the same, a lesson about the fickleness of men and mobs. It has become popular these days for more preachers to distance themselves from such a simple platitude, as if it was silly even to suggest the crowds were the same.

There’s no need to throw the baby out with the palm branches, so to speak. We don’t have to say that every single person who praised Jesus on Sunday then cursed Jesus on Friday. We also don’t have to say that no single person who praised Jesus then cursed Him, which requires proving a negative. What’s more, Jesus’ own teaching, and Jesus’ own disciples, point toward the possibility of flaking out.

In His parable of the sower one type of person heard the seed of the word and received it with joy and then at some point later, the story doesn’t stipulate the amount of time, the same person got tired of troubles associated with that word and fell away (Matthew 13:20). Why couldn’t a mob be rocky soil? A mob could be overwhelmed with hate after being overwhelmed with joy. And every one of Jesus’ disciples, those who had been following Him for three years, abandoned Him, at least temporarily, when their shepherd was struck (Matthew 26:31, 56).

A couple things: First, as a church we have affirmed the faith and joy of some who then turn against Christ. We baptized them as believers, and sadly, some have later denied that profession and have fallen away. We pursue their repentance according to Matthew 18, and yet some must be removed from being under the spiritual protection of the church (1 Corinthians 5:4-5) and are no longer welcome to share the Lord’s Table with us. It is always sad, even if it isn’t surprising.

Second, the problem with the crowd on Palm Sunday was not their praise, the problem with the rocky soil was not the joy in the word, the problem is not with professions of faith. The problem was not living by faith. So, Christian, keep praising, keep receiving the word with joy, and keep feeding on the true bread of life and drinking the true drink of Jesus’ blood. Keep abiding in Him and you will live forever (John 6:52-58).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Binding Agent

I know the following is a reminder, but the Lord’s Table is a supper of remembrance, so it fits.

The communion we have is in Christ. That prepositional phrase was one of the apostle Paul’s favorites. Our faith is “in Christ” (Acts 24:24; Galatians 2:16), meaning that we trust Him, but there is more to it.

Our redemption is in Christ (Romans 3:24), our eternal life is in Christ (Romans 6:23). There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1), so we are free from sin and death in Christ (Romans 8:2). We are sanctified in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2), we are established by God in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:21). We are sons of God in Christ (Galatians 3:26), all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28), and blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).

“So we, though many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5).

Jesus Christ himself can be established as the binding agent of the fellowship of the church. He in fact must be the lively center of the whole organism of the church; he is like the hub of the wheel, by whose rotations and circular motions the entire effort of the church receives its impulse and is moved. He is that splendid sun, whose shining radiance glitteringly illuminates the whole church body, by whose glowing heat the heart of the whole church is warmed and inflamed.”

—Abraham Kuyper, On the Church, 23

He is the Great Shepherd who laid down His life for His flock, He is the Vine who holds and who gives strength to all the branches. The cup and the bread a participation in the body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). All this is God’s grace to us in Christ.