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Lord's Day Liturgy

When It Gets Bad

One reason, among legion, why our liturgy includes weekly communion at the Lord’s Table with a bias toward a rejoicing attitude is because it reminds us that love-driven suffering unites us. Christ’s love-driven sacrifice unites us, of course, and in Him we are burdened and then comforted to share that with each other.

This is not merely an apostolic or pastoral work, though such men should be examples.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

It can actually get pretty bad. “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

Paul does not say that you must experience exactly what someone else has experienced in order to have something to say. He says we are all being taught to rely on God who raises the dead. We do it as believers, we do it as Christ’s body.

At the Table we do not rely on our righteousness, we rely on Christ’s. We do not rely on our strength, we rely on God’s. We do not do it alone, we share in and share out comfort. It is because God has show His love to us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

See also this communion meditation from last week.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Together in Affection

The Lord is not making His people nice. He makes some pagans nice. He crucified His Son to make us new. That may include transforming angry, rude men into men with kindness who know how to pursue peace when appropriate, but it’s more. We may not all be John Knox flame-throwers, but we all are the light of the world, and light makes darkness edgy.

You have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13). In baptism you’ve been united to the Son, buried/dead and raised/made alive (Romans 6:5). You are in Christ (Colossians 1:2), and the life you now live you live to God because Christ lives in you (Galatians 2:20). Christ is the hope of glory, and Christ is in you (Colossians 1:27).

He has also give you His Spirit. The Spirit caused you to be born again (John 3:6). The Spirit testifies of God’s truth directly (1 John 5:6). The Spirit pours God’s love in your heart (Romans 5:5). The Spirit seals you for eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14).

I’m reminding you of these realities because in them we rejoice even if now, for a little while, we are in heaviness through manifold trials (1 Peter 1:6). We are, to varying degrees, afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair (2 Corinthians 4:8). We do not lose heart, we live on unseen things (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

We sing and celebrate our communion with God and with Christ’s body not as a denial of or distraction from our problems and pains, but because we have been given hope that our sufferings are God-appointed to make us salty, to make us sharp, to make us ready for His return, to make us one in love.

“why doth the Lord bring his people together in affliction, but to bring them together in affection.”

—Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture
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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

A Season to Be Made More Sturdy

We believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit God’s Son became incarnate from the virgin Mary. We believe that He is now recognized in two natures, truly God and truly man, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. There is no one like Him.

We confess that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3). Not only so, we remember that Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). And what did He do in the flesh? Among all the normal human things such as eating and drinking and sleeping and walking and working, He suffered.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2).

Peter’s previous paragraph talked about Christ the righteous suffering for the unrighteous. He was “put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18) for us. It is amazing that God became man. It is more amazing that God came to suffer.

It is an annual temptation to forget the suffering part, His and ours in imitation of Him. Christmastime is not a time to get out of suffering, it’s a time to remember the God who wrote Himself into the suffering story with us and for us. Christmastime may include sweet things to eat and a sense of security, but those are only possible because others sacrificed, and in some cases died, to give us what we have.

We receive cards that use soft colors to portray calm, warm evenings by a fire with lots of presents under a decorated tree. Such sentimental sketches don’t keep anyone from sin, they often stimulate false expectations and holiday idols. The same is true with so many “seasonal” songs; they are superficial and saccharine and don’t make us more sturdy. But Christ came in the flesh and suffered in the flesh so that we also would live for the will of God, and that includes our sanctified suffering, even on and around Christmas.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Made Limp in order to Lean

We will probably not wrestle God in flesh (like Israel did in Genesis 32). We will, all of us, be touched by God in a way that changes how we walk, that stops us from relying on ourselves. We will prevail only by struggling on the mat of suffering that compels us to be comforted by God.

Paul blessed “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” as he penned what we know as his second letter to the Corinthians. He blessed God “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.” He reasoned: “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” This is not the removal of pain, it is comfort for patient endurance.

Do we want to be comforted or comfortable? Being comfortable doesn’t require anything special or supernatural. God will wrestle us, make us limp in various ways, until we, like Paul, are “so utterly burdened beyond our strength what we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” How could it get worse? What else could be added? “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, 8-9).

The Lord’s Table reminds us of His death, but we also rejoice that He is risen as He said. God—the merciful, comforting God—is sovereign and powerful over life and death. He would have us rely on Him. He has no needs. We eat and drink in total dependence on Him, the only God who raises the dead.

Be comforted, Christian, that He heals the broken. He puts to flight death’s dark shadows. He bids envy, strive, and quarrels cease. You are beyond your capacity, not beyond His.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Close to Home

God will test our faith. The apostle Peter wrote that various trials cause heaviness:

so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)

Solid faith, not faith-leaf—like gold leaf, a thin layer of faith hammered around the outside—solid faith now will result in our being esteemed and rewarded by God when we see Jesus Christ and will no longer need faith.

In the meantime the “various trials” that do this testing are manifold. One could translate the Greek adjective “multi-colored.” The trials come in different shapes and sizes. They also come in different degrees of importance to us.

God tests our faith through national elections, but that doesn’t hit quite as close to home as, say, losing your home. Or if He’s given you a job, you know it was by His grace that you got the job, and now He appears to be taking that job away by requiring you to stand up for righteousness. Or if a child or a spouse gets very sick. Or if the plans you had, plans to be productive and minister for Him, get interrupted. These and more will test your trust in God.

I’ve heard it said, “Put your Isaacs on the altar.” If God wants you to surrender something you think is important, even crucial, for His mission, then You must trust Him that He will bless you as He takes it away. This is a test of faith, a purifying of faith, and a strengthening of faith. We need it. And if we fail a test, we don’t have to wait a certain amount of time before we try again, we just need to repent and turn back to Him in trust.

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A Shot of Encouragement

No Undiscovered Lurking-places

On God’s call to Abram (Genesis 12:1) to leave and seek what he could not see:

[I]t is not to be supposed, that God takes a cruel pleasure in the trouble of his servants; but he thus tries all their affections, that he may not leave any lurking-places undiscovered in their hearts.

—John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis