Lord's Day Liturgy

Jesus and Us

Because of the Trinity, One God in three Persons, we can appreciate that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Our theology proper teaches us about God’s nature, so as His image-bearers we reflect God as we love Him and one another.

Because of the Gospel, that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, we can appreciate that such a sacrifice is how “God shows His love for us” (Romans 5:8). The center of history, the death of Jesus on the cross, demonstrates God’s love, so He calls us to love one another just as He loved us (John 13:34).

Because of our Lord’s command to remember His death in the ordinance of communion (Luke 22:19), and because our weekly liturgy as a church includes the sharing of the Lord’s Supper, we regularly eat and drink in remembrance of Christ’s love.

Doctrine/truth drives our doing/obedience. We love the truth about God’s love and the truth about His love continually works on us and in us and out of us into love for one another.

So individualistic communion is ironic at best and impious at worst. Though our salvation is personal, it’s not mostly about “me and Jesus” but about “Jesus and us.”

Eat and drink the signs of love. Put on the clothes of love, it binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14). Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

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

Love Practice

Liturgy shapes how we live. The Lord’s Supper is a reminder of truth that we think about and that we practice. This practice reminds us of other ways we must hold and embody the truth.

In John 15, after the message about abiding in the vine for sake of fruitfulness, Jesus told His disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Jesus said this the night before He laid down His life, so we’re both surprised and not surprised when Jesus said in the next verse, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). What did He command? Love. What does love look like? He was about to put it all out on the table.

This is also why John 13:1 opens his record of Jesus’ last evening: “when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He took up a towel to wash their feet. Then He took up His cross to forgive their sins.

At the Lord’s Table we eat and drink in remembrance of Him. The bread and the wine are tokens of His flesh and blood, and it is a feast of love. Jude referred to “love feasts” (Jude 1:12), and while a communal meal, it is the ordinance of communion. We commune because of and in Christ’s love. There is no greater love, which shapes our liturgy and our love for one another.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Divine Love and Bad Choices

What an amazing preaching privilege I’ll have not many minutes from now to declare that nothing in all creation can separate any Christian from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). That is God’s Word to His people, as dependable as His raising of Jesus from the grave.

Though it doesn’t have divine inspiration, I was reminded of a pastoral privilege, summed up well by another pastor who put it this way, “I am a pastor, and I watch people make bad choices for a living.” He went on to say, “The trick is to be calloused and tender at the same time.”

Bad choices could come from not seeking counsel, seeking counsel but ignoring it, being immature, being quarrelsome about everything for fun (I have a lot of experience here), and of course, being sinful. A shepherd’s life involves watching sheep get themselves into trouble that they didn’t have to—repeatedly, stepping in mess they could have avoided—again and again. It is an occupational hazard.

And, bad choices and divine love go together, before and after, though it is a bad choice itself to blame a bad choice on God’s love.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). In love, the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. And in love He calls His sheep to follow Him, to obey His commands.

Because you can’t be separated from His love, be encouraged. And also, you can still make bad, sinful, ruinous, catastrophic choices. Don’t do it. Repent, and remember His love.

You are His flock, the church of God which He obtained with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Hold fast to the Word of His grace which is sanctifying you for good (Acts 20:32).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Upholding Love

In what’s called the Olivet Discourse Jesus told His disciples about the signs of His coming. There would be wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, famines and earthquakes in various places. There would also be an increased intolerance against Jesus’ disciples, alongside an increase in false prophets. After all that Jesus said: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).

Our modern teachers tell us that law and love don’t ever mix. But it is a lie that love, to be true love, must have no external restrictions, no given shape or schedule. Love, according to our false prophets, is only spontaneous and free and unhindered.

Is it really a surprise that “love” covers a multitude of sins, by which I mean love is used an excuse for lawlessness? In the name of love men do some of the worst things (breaking marriage vows because of “love,” or pursuing unnatural relationships for “love,” as just two examples). But it is neither genuine love nor is it genuine freedom.

When Jesus said that lawlessness will lead to cold hearts, to extinguished love like a fire that has gone out, He didn’t specify whether the love was love for God or love for neighbor. It is both, because the horizontal necessarily follows the vertical. And while obedience isn’t finished without love, the way to increase love isn’t by ignoring standards. There are plenty of places this applies; removing standards at home, in the classroom, in the city, is not the way to increase warm feelings between everyone.

As Christians we are justified by faith not law, but we are not a lawless people. We uphold the law (Romans 3:31), and this is good for upholding love.

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Law and Love

I’d like to make two observations about the relationship between law and love, on the way to exhorting you to confess your sin.

Because Jesus made it clear, we know that the great commandment is to love God, and the second is like it, we’re to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-39). Perhaps this surprised (at least some of) the Jews who were known as those who had received the law of God. It turns out the commandment was to love.

Twice Paul wrote about love not only as the first commandment, but as the summary commandment.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)


The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9)

So obedience to God is others-ward, and righteousness is relational. The law, God’s commands, aim at love.

The law also aims to show us that we need Christ (Romans 3:19-20; Galatians 3:24). None have obeyed all the law, which also means that none have loved perfectly. And really, not murdering my neighbor seems a lot easier than loving my neighbor.

This is why, at least in Galatians 5, Paul moves from love to walking in the Spirit, to the fruit of the Spirit, which is love et al. Love summarizes God’s law, which also is the first, or final evidence as to why we need Christ and the Spirit. If you have a lack of love, confess it to Him. If you want to love more like He commands, imitate Christ and be filled with His Spirit.

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Mathematical Baby Step

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote many books, including The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, or, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. It has also been published recently under the title, All Loves Excelling. The entire book is a forrest fire of goodness sparked by Ephesians 3:18-19.

[May he grant you] strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

In Greek, one article (precedes and) welds all four dimensions together in verse 18. Paul wasn’t thinking about four things, but the immensity, the vastness, the incalculability of one thing. But what is that something? I believe the one thing is Christ’s love, explicitly named in verse 19..

Breadth refers to area. Christ’s love covers the widest span. Length refers to distance, how far things are apart. Christ’s love reaches the farthest intervals. Depth refers to the bottom. Christ’s love descends to the lowest levels. It is unfathomable. Height refers to the top. Christ’s love soars at the summit.

His love is too large to frame, and even if it were, there isn’t a wall large enough to hold the frame. Imagine the most oversized, mega-gargantuan container you have at home; now double-it; now multiply by the next number higher than you can conceive. You’ve just taken a mathematical baby step toward comprehending Christ’s incalculable love.

I love Bunyan’s question:

Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better?

—Bunyan, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, 37

In other words, if someone asked you to describe the kind of love you hoped for, could you have imagined it this good? His love fills us, and the bread and cup remind us of His body spent in loving sacrifice for us.

Lord's Day Liturgy

No Greater Harbor

If a harbor would be home to many ships, its shore must be broad. If a man would be host to many for a meal, he must not only have a large table, he must also have a large heart. As one of your shepherds, I love you, but the head of this communion table is Jesus Christ, the one who love us and freed us from our sins. His heart is great.

God has the greatest love. His love is constant; He is love according to the apostle John, and that is always true among the three Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, from before the world began. His love is potent; He does not just love those who love Him, He loves His enemies who hated Him out of rebellion and adopts them as His own. His love is costly, nowhere shown in its worth more than at the cross where Jesus took our sin on Himself, the just for the unjust.

The apostle Paul knew that it takes God’s own Spirit to teach us about God’s love, and it will still be more than we can fathom. Paul prays that God would strengthen us in power that we would have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19a).

When preaching on this passage, John Bunyan asked,

Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better?

All Loves Excelling, 37

In other words, if you could ask to be loved, could you have asked for more? The heart of Christ is great and great with love, and He invites us to commune with Him.

Lord's Day Liturgy

All a Pitter-pattering

Is love more science or more story? Is love an historical fact or a philosophical idea? Is love a Platonic ideal, an abstract quality existing Up There, or is love an Aristotelian reality, expressed Down Here in hands and lips and bodies? Where do you learn about love best? Reading the dictionary? Reading the Bible? Hearing a story? Getting a timely hug from your dad?

As much as I love a good dictionary, dictionaries don’t inspire. Definitions are helpful and even necessary, but statements of meaning distinguish between things more than they activate affection for things.

The Greek word agape means “the quality of warm regard for and interest in another.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines love as “intense feeling of affection and attachment.” I’m sure your heart is just all a pitter-pattering now.

Again, I like a good proposition and I think a well crafted sentence of explanation is like truth gold set in syntax silver. But what informs and impels our affections are not notions of love as much as narratives of love.

The gospel is the ultimate story. In our last Omnibus Tenebras class we talked about stories and “myths” and tales and legends. Whatever word you’re comfortable with, “in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

This is an eternal and true story that tells us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. It is the ultimate, overarching story with chapters still being written by the Author of our salvation. We are not just fed our lines, we are fed bread and wine for living and participating in the saga together by God’s grace.