Lord's Day Liturgy

No Comparison

The contrasts between the ancient serpent and the Ancient of Days continues to be edifying. So also the demands of the beast to be worshipped and the ministry of the false prophet are nothing like what the Son deserves or how the Spirit points us to the glory of Christ.

The earth-beast deceives people into doing the work to make an idol of the sea-beast to worship. He convinces them to spend and sacrifice and then threatens that any who refuse to worship the idol (which they just made) will be killed.

Jesus, on the other hand, spent Himself as the sacrifice. Rather than threatening death, He accepted His death, on a cross, in order to purchase worshippers. The Spirit gives life in the Son. He does not make a new set of burdens.

The Beast coerces and enforces; the Son is the Head in whom the whole body is united and grows. The Beast subjects and seizes; the Son is the Vine in whom every branch abides and produces fruit and knows His joy. The Beast intimidates and threatens; the Son is the Bridegroom who washes His Bride into splendor by His love. There is no comparison.

Both the Beast and the Son will be worshipped, but only one in truth, only one forever, only one who is worthy. The Lamb’s Table is a real feast, no strings attached. We come not because our lives depend on it, it’s because we depend on Him for our lives.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Out of Enmity

I have asked the question before, but “the book of life of the Lamb” brings it up again. If you were the lover par excellence, if you were the being in the universe who knew and expressed love above everyone else, how would you go about communicating that love to others? As a lover, the impulse to share your love and invite others in would be as natural as water runs downhill.

God is love (1 John 4:16). God sent His Son because He loved (John 3:16). Jesus is the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5). The Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5). These are things that give us hope, that enable our endurance.

John wrote about the “outsiders” in Revelation 13 who will not worship the beast. They are those whose names have been “written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, KJV). The saints take courage to believe and to bear up under the attack of the beast with this knowledge.

What do they know? Was it that their names were written in The Book before the world began, or was it that the Lamb was slain before the world began? Are we encouraged by our election to salvation, or are we encouraged that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23)?

Beloved, it is both. We are “elect…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” and Christ, the lamb, “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:1, 18-19). You who believe were chosen to know the God of love, whose love dies for sinners. He reveals His love not by loving those who already love Him, but by loving enemies out of their enmity. You were chosen to be loved, and nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lamb.

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Big As

No true church exists without the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sin destroys our fellowship with the Triune God and ruins relationships between one another. Death is separation, and spiritual death is not only separation from God but disregard for His Word and enmity toward His person.

No man can work his way to God. The wise of the world can’t philosophize their way to Him. There are no quests, no treasures, no mutilations that earn salvation from God. Dead men are, by definition, incapable of making themselves alive. The gospel, the good news, is that Jesus died, was buried, and on the third day rose again so that any who believe in Him might be forgiven of their sin, cleansed of their guilt, and reconciled to the Father.

The Latin word for gospel is evangel, from the Greek word * εὐαγγέλιον* (euaggelion). It is the message of divine, free forgiveness in Christ.

Christians, by definition, are those who believe this gospel. Christians are the forgiven. Christians, sadly, often sin by refusing to forgive others.

The Evangel in Trinity Evangel Church was largely chosen because of seeing this sort of failure to forgive from professing Christians, and committing ourselves to obedience on this front. Paul told the Colossians, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). It’s a big as. Jesus told a parable about the servant who was forgiven much who refused to forgive one who owed him little (Matthew 18:21-35). Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

We thought about being “Evangelical,” but that is too mushy a category anymore. Evangel takes just a little more effort to say, and so to think about. Forgiving just as we’ve been forgiven is supernatural, it is beyond the ability of the flesh, and it absolutely must be proclaimed and practiced by us because our sins are forgiven for His name’s sake (1 John 2:12). “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Forgive your spouse, your children, your brother, your mother, your neighbor. Forgive as you’ve been forgiven.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Biggest Poser

Other than the simple fact that they are not the same, the greatest difference between the mortal wound of the Lamb and the mortal wound of the beast (Revelation 13:3) is that the beast’s wound enabled him to deceive the nations into worshiping him for a limited time while the Lamb’s wounds purchased the salvation of a great number from all the nations into eternal life.

The beast was wounded in imitation, the Lamb was wounded for our transgressions. The beast took a hit so that he could be exalted, the Lamb was slain so that we who believe would be resurrected with Him. One is a poser, the Lamb is given the name above every name. One will deceive many into worshiping him for a time, the Lord will be acknowledged by every mouth and every knee as the truly glorious one. The beast’s authority—the dragon, killed the Lamb, but the Lamb’s authority—the Father, knew that the killing would be the dragon’s defeat. The beast copies the Lamb to his own undoing.

As people of the Lamb, we also lay down our lives in imitation. We follow in His steps. We do it not to replace Him, but as conscious reflections of Him. We make loving sacrifices to serve others, not to be served. We learn the way to true glory is not by exalting ourselves, but by exalting Him, who raises us up.

This is one of the reasons why communion is a political act. Every week when we declare our peace with God we’re saying that we don’t depend on the State to give us life. We have all that we need in Christ, and that is a threat to every earthly wannabe poser lusting for power. This Table is where the glory is, this Table feeds our faith and our obedience, this Table is where we remember the death of the Lamb, who ransomed us for God (Revelation 5:9-10).

Lord's Day Liturgy

An Hebdomadal Schedule

Why do we have communion every week?

The majority of us do not come from churches where communion was every Lord’s Day, and the majority of us came from churches where you probably wouldn’t want to partake in communion on an hebdomadal schedule. The Lord’s Table was set once a month, or once a quarter, and it usually involved a serious talking-to, about the dangers of unworthy eating and drinking, and how you probably could take it, but only after major effort to jackhammer your heart and take a backhoe to your sin.

Of course, and yes, it is possible to partake unworthily, so said God through Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27. But the Corinthians were in danger of selfish feasting as fellow brothers went hungry. Their “communion” was a lie.

But the selfish party attitude is not the only way to lie about communion. It is also a lie to act like joy is sin.

Jesus did not institute this Supper on the night He was betrayed, so that we could remember Him and what He did, and then go digging the depths for sake of bringing up as sad feels as we can find. He died for us and rose on the third day so that we would have a reason not to be so sad.

He gave His body for our food, and His blood for our drink, so that we might be nourished. This is not a fast. This is not where Jesus asks you to starve your soul. This is a place where He feeds your faith, as He fed the Israelites in the wilderness (John 6:31-33). It is a supernatural meal, a thanksgiving meal, a meal of peace.

Rejoicing is as much a necessary condition for communion as repentance. Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, rejoice!

Lord's Day Liturgy

Most Apoplectic

Which part of our corporate, Lord’s Day liturgy makes the devil most apoplectic? Is there some element of worship that makes him more furious than the rest?

I assume he doesn’t appreciate any of our service, starting at the start. It does him no good for us to answer God’s call to worship. The devil would much rather that, if we must worship, we worship how and when we want. Or if we do submit to the call, maybe he can get us to be satisfied with the externals.

Presumably he also has no interest in our confession of sin, though if he can’t distract us from our sin, or get us to rationalize it, he can stir up worldly grief through accusation. True confession and repentance cuts at his strength, but maybe he can get us just to be proud of how authentic we say we are.

As for consecration, that’s a part where he likes to make us lazy. It’s a lot of listening. Someone reading Scripture to us isn’t our preferred mode of input, the corporate prayer is long, and the sermon even longer. It’s not that the Word is the devil’s friend, but he knows it, and likes to twist it, or get us to ask, “Did God actually say?”

The benediction, blessing, and charge to obey is unappreciated by him, though he knows that when we leave it’s like a coal separated from the pile, easier to cool off than hot when we’re all together.

And that’s the thing. I mean, I’m asking the question during the communion meditation, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m suggesting that communion, at least when combined with the other elements, must be something that disgusts the devil.

He hates unity among brothers (Psalm 133:1). He hates harmony (Romans 15:5). He hates the patience. He hates one anothers. He hates love. And most of all, He hates that we remember Christ who died and rose again so that we might have this communion with God and each other.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Premarital Beautification

John’s vision in Revelation 12 saw Israel as a woman who brought forth the Messiah. It is a great picture of the relationship and the heritage from which Christ came.

In the New Testament, including later in Revelation, there is another corporate analogy, another great picture of our relationship and our future with Christ. The Church is His Bride.

We are in an ongoing state of premarital sanctification, of premarital beautification. Queen Vashti’s potential replacements (Esther 2:12) had nothing compared to what Jesus is doing for His Bride. He is washing us by the water of the Word (Ephesians 5:26-27). He sent His Spirit to make us blameless. There is coming a glorious marriage day.

For the Lord God almighty reigns!
Let us rejoice and exult and give Him glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready.
(Revelation 19:6-7)

So “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).

All of this has been paid for by the Groom. He chose us. He loved first. He sacrificed. He gave Himself (Ephesians 5:25), and we are His.

We eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him. It is not a rehearsal dinner, but it is getting us ready for that supper. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!'” (Revelation 22:17)

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Losing Our Head

We are citizens of Christ’s kingdom, which is a heavenly citizenship at the moment (Philippians 3:20), with implications for our time on earth, while we pray for His kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10) and for Him to reign and to reward His saints (Revelation 11:18).

There is a remaining battle, but the outcome is secure. “They will make war on the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). By His blood He ransomed us as a people for God, and has made us “a kingdom and priests to our God, and [we] shall reign on earth” with Him (Revelation 5:10).

Jesus is our King, and we anticipate the establishment of His reign at the right time. And Jesus is also our Head, which means we already are under Him, guided by Him, and connected to Him.

Our relationship to Him as King means that His authority has dignity and dominion. Our relationship to Him as Head means that His authority is natural and unforced, and also permanently attached. “The Head automatically belongs to the congregation as the mystical body. It is inseparable from it” (Kuyper, Pro Rege, 291).

God’s power was on display:

in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20–23)

We are citizens, we are members. There is no body without a head. We could not function without being joined to our Head. We remember what brought us into that supernatural and inseparable fellowship around the Lord’s Table.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Communion Criticisms

There have always been controversies around the Lord’s Table.

As early as the second century one of misunderstandings, or misrepresentations, was that Christians were cannibals, or at least that’s how CNN reported it. Eating flesh and drinking blood sounds more like Scythian warriors. Of course when Jesus instituted the Supper He was using an analogy about faith, but that doesn’t stop the slander.

In the days of the Reformers there were fights over how Christ is present in the elements. Amidst the Great Awakenings there were debates about who was allowed to participate; many were baptized into membership but not allowed to partake, which played a part in Jonathan Edwards being fired.

And in our day there is a marketing campaign of fear that would be applied to us: we are spreading germs and a deadly virus by handling food and by encouraging so many people to be so close. If you attending a “birthday party could be a death sentence” for someone else, which is what our governor said recently, then certainly our little religious ritual would be called anti-science, and selfish.

We aren’t oblivious to risks. We also aren’t oblivious to our possible selfishness. But not a single local or national or international expert, whether politician or physician or statistician, has given us reason to trust them. They certainly cannot be trusted to unite us, and they offer no salvation through safety or by sacrifice.

Our fellowship is in Christ. He is completely trustworthy, and true. We are at His table again to share all that we have in Him.

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:54–56)

Lord's Day Liturgy

To the Foot of the Cross

Many pastors are not good for very many things. I would definitely include myself among them. One of my favorite things to do in the world, and I think I’m fairly good at it, is line diagramming the Bible in Greek. I’m not around a lot of people who could tell me I did it wrong (ha!), and I’m not around a lot of people who could care less.

One way that many pastors justify their limited skills is by elevating their skills as the ones that please God the most, the best. Studying the Bible is not just part of their vocation, it is part of their virtue, and if you were really spiritual you would go to seminary so that you could study like that, too, or at least feel bad that you haven’t. It’s a Protestant version of sacred/secular, it’s also just a version of pride. It’s particularly ugly pride, though, because it is pride in Jesus’ name, when pride is a reason He came, a reason He came to be killed so that our pride could be buried with Him.

I’m throwing my sort to the foot of the cross because I want to remind you to do the same thing. When we commune with Christ and commune together, we do not have communion because we all care about or have skills for or devote time to the same things equally.

Spurgeon once said that if a man would harbor a lot of ships, he had to have a broad shore, meaning to care for a lot of people he must widen his heart. There is always a temptation for our hearts to become more narrow, and for our fellowship to become more exclusive. There are lines, doors, irreconcilable differences, and even cases of church discipline, sure. But as a body we don’t just patronize others because they have different responsibilities, gifts, windows for their work. We depend on them.

We need one another as much as ever, and thank God He has given us one another in Christ, “that there may be no division in the body” (1 Corinthians 12:25).