With Eyes Open to Our Common Savior: How the Lord’s Supper Makes Visible God’s New Covenant People

priscilla-du-preez-1153851-unsplash.jpgSo Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.
— Genesis 31:53–54 —

In the Old Testament covenants were often begun or accompanied by a covenant meal. In Genesis 31 Jacob and Laban made a covenant to not do harm to one another. And importantly, this covenant was concluded with a meal. While these neighbors entered the covenant with animosity between them, they ended the meal reconciled with one another.

Again, when Israel made a covenant with God at Sinai, Moses, Aaron and his sons, as well as the elders of Israel, ate in the presence of God (Exodus 24:9–11). In this covenant-making chapter, these meal highlights the fellowship that God intended to have with his holy people. Accordingly, the people of Israel, throughout their history, were called to attend yearly festivals that included sacrifices for sin and meals to celebrate the renewal of the covenant (see Lev 23).

Even in Jesus day, the nation of Israel gathered to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Early in his life, Jesus’s whole family attended the Passover (Luke 2). And later, John recorded the events of Jesus’s ministry by reference to the various festivals Jesus celebrated (2:23; 4:45; 5:1; 6:4; etc.) Continue reading

Blessed Assurance: “Jesus Is Yours”

breadAssurance.

It is a precious gift the Lord gives his people. As 1 John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Yet, despite God’s promise of assurance, sometimes experientially our personal assurance wanes. There are many reasons for this—some caused by God’s sovereign and mysterious providence; others caused by spiritual neglect or worldly indulgence. Fortunately, salvation depends on God not our personal assurance. Nonetheless, assurance is a gift we should desire to possess and retain. Therefore, in seasons of doubt,  it is worth asking:

How can I grow in assurance?

Why have I lost assurance of salvation?

What means has God given to assure me of my salvation?

Typically, when we turn these questions over in our minds, they remain . . . in our minds. Trained in a culture of individualism and equipped with so much therapeutic self-help, we are primed to look within ourselves and ask:

What sin or pattern of sins have I committed that are robbing me of assurance?

What habits of holiness do I need to improve to increase my assurance?

When did I last have assurance, and what can I do to get it back?

To be sure, self-examination is a healthy part of a Christian’s growth. Paul says we are to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:4), and part of preparation for the Lord’s Supper includes personal reflection and confession (1 Corinthians 11:28–32). But is assurance, if it is a gift from God, meant to be wholly preserved by ourselves? What if assurance is meant to be a team effort, a gift God gives you through the local assembly of believers who know and love you?  Continue reading

Get a Rhythm with Christ and his People: Communion, Culture, and Co-Mission (pt. 2) (1 Corinthians 10:14–22)

sermon photoLast week we saw the covenantal nature of communion and how the Lord’s Table not only creates a thick relationship with Christ but also with one another. This week’s sermon furthered that discussion looking at ways we must resist the pulls of demonic-inspired idols. In an applicational message on 1 Corinthians 10:14–22, I argued

  1. Communion creates culture—for good or bad; therefore,
  2. Gospel culture reinforces communion with Christ; and
  3. Godless culture resists communion with Christ; so
  4. We resist the table of demons by taking our gospel culture public.

From these four points, we considered further how to recognize and resist modern temples, false gospels, and demonic idols. Specifically, we looked at the way iPhones function as modern-day temples with gospel promises, inviting us to make them our functional idols.

Sermon audio can be found here and sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources can be found below. Continue reading

Beholding Christ at the Lord’s Table: Penal Substitution (Old Testament)

altarAnd can it be, that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
— Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”

Substitution stands at the heart of cross—the innocent dying in place of the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous, the sinless for the sinful. English hymnody is filled with this truth, because the Bible repeats the emphasis—Jesus Christ, sinless son of God, laid down his life in the place of his beloved. But hymnody is not the only place in Christian worship where Christ’s substitution is proclaimed; when we come to the Lord’s Table we also remember his death in our place.

In recent years, there has been no little debate about this truth. More than a few books have been penned arguing against penal substitution. Negatively, some have said penal substitution posits an angry, blood-thirsty God. Others, more constructively, argue that Christ came to defeat the powers and principalities (Christus Victor) and give a moral example of love in his death. To the latter, we can whole-heartedly affirm—Jesus did come to defeat the devil (1 John 3:8) and provide an example of holy love (1 Peter 2:21). But he did so by nailing his people’s sin to the cross, disarming the devil (Colossians 2:13–15) and providing an atonement for those who would imitate him (read the context of 1 Peter 2:21, esp. v. 24).

Therefore, to pit penal substitution against any other aspect of the cross obscures the necessity and beauty of Christ’s death in our place. In fact, it is by remembering Christ’s substitution that we rightly understand God’s love (1 John 4:8–10), and how a holy, triune God reconciles sinners to himself. Therefore, when we approach the Lord’s Table, we must remember see how the meal portrays his substitution.

Today, let us consider three Old Testament passages which teach penal substitution and which prepare our hearts to worship the Son of God who gladly took our sin on his shoulders and died in our place. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper and a Biblical Theology of Feasting

mealJust as the food we eat expresses and establishes the relationships we have, so too meals in the Bible establish and express kinship relationships. Even more, a meal is often a central part of entering into a covenant. And once that covenant is established, a shared meal is one of the greatest ways our identity is formed and reinforced. Let’s follow these two strands through Scripture to see how they shine light on the Lord’s Supper.

Covenant-Making Meals

In Genesis 26:26–33, Isaac and Abimelech “cut a covenant” (v. 28); this covenant is followed by a meal: “So he made a feast, and they ate and drank” (v. 30). Likewise, when Jacob and Laban “cut a covenant” to repair the breach of trust between them (Genesis 31:43–54), a sacrifice and a meal ratified the agreement: “Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread” (v. 54). This pattern of sacrifice and feasting accompanied most covenants in the Old Testament. And we certainly see the Lord feeding his people and feasting with them throughout the Old Testament. Continue reading

How the Lord’s Supper Retrains Our Appetites

fooWhere should we eat? What should we eat? Where’s the best place to eat?

Whether we take time to think about it or not, questions about food come up every day. Wherever you live, food plays a large part in who we are. Restaurants are often associated with various countries, ethnicities, or even religious practices. Shall we eat at the Mexican grocery or the Kosher deli? Is this food on my diet? Where did it come from?

How we eat—or refuse to eat—says a lot about us. In a sense, we are all foodies—even if you prefer McDonald’s over the farmer’s market. Or to turn it around, dietary practices and table fellowship shape who we are. Studies have shown that children thrive on family dinners, while rigid commitment to veganism may result in deeper relationships with other herbivores and increased disgust with carnivores.

In these ways, food choices are ethical decisions. Eating is an undeniably moral activity. Therefore, as we sit down to “eat” the Lord’s Supper, we should ask: How does Scripture speak about food?
Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper is a Segregation-Destroying, Family-Making Meal

family

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
— Ephesians 2:13–17 —

Racism. Elitism. Sexism. Ageism. Ethnocentrism of all stripes. The world is filled with hostility. One race enslaves another, one caste condescends toward another, one generation mocks another. In every age, in every region, among every people strife marks humanity.

For all the talk about equality in our world today, there is no such thing–not if it is brokered by sinful humans. For how often do those who fight for justice become unjust when they are given a place of power? As Jesus said, the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over you (Mark 10:42), and when the Jews had power in his day, they did the same. The politicians and prophets of this age talk of world peace and equality for all, but with hearts filled with strife such promises are only societal hallucinations (Mark 7:21–23).

It won’t work. It hasn’t worked. Something more is needed to unify people.

How the Cross of Christ Makes Peace

In Ephesians 2:11–22 Paul gives the answer to what will unify people. It is not an endless search to find common ground or become colorblind; peace on earth comes from God in heaven. Only through vertical reconciliation with God, can lasting peace be found in the community created by Jesus death and resurrection. Speaking of this very reconciliation, Paul says three things about the way Jesus and his bloody cross brings peace.
Continue reading

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper: Word-Centered Examination Leads to Spirit-Filled Assurance

light

[This meditation originally posted at our church blog in preparation for the Lord’s Supper].

Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
— Psalm 19:12-14 —

The Lord’s Table presumes that sinners will come and feast at a banqueting table of grace. There are none who approach the Table without sin, but neither are there any who rightly assess their sin. Therefore, we need to ask like David did: “Who can discern his errors?” And in turn, let God speak to us through his Word to find the answer. Assurance to approach the Lord’s Table as the Word of God calls to fresh faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Continue reading

All Together at the Lord’s Table

eat[This article also appeared on our church website as a Lord’s Supper meditation]. 

In marriage a husband pledges to love and serve his wife, while the wife responds by promising to love and submit to her husband. The vows are made individually, but in context, they blend together to create a melodic harmony that binds the couple together.

Something similar can be said of our relationship with the Lord. In response to the gospel, each person must individually respond, but not in their own self-styled way. Repentance from sin and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ are the only way we enter into covenant relationship with God.

For this reason, the new covenant is singular not plural; all who find salvation enter into the same covenant. And since the new covenant has been given to the church made up of Jews and Gentiles, it is in the local church where we enjoy and experience the new covenant together. Continue reading

You Are What You Eat: A Lord’s Supper Meditation

lordsupper

 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
— Hebrews 8:8–12

“You are what you eat,” couldn’t be more true than when talking about the Lord’s Supper. When we come to the Lord’s Table we are declaring our confidence in Jesus’s body and blood as our singular hope for salvation. At the same time, we are receiving through a complex and simple sugars a taste of who we are—redeemed sinners adopted into the family of God.

Identifying the New Covenant Meal

When Jesus transformed his last supper into the Lord’s Supper, he took bread and broke it saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Then he took the cup saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:17–19). In his words and actions, Jesus was passing down a tradition that would forever recall the meaning of his death.

Jesus’s death revealed God’s judgment upon human sin, but because Jesus died for the sins of his covenant people, his death substituted for the punishment of his covenant people. Jesus spoke of his death and the Lord’s Supper in covenantal terms, because his blood inaugurated a new kind of relationship between heaven and earth.

Speaking specifically about the promises of the new covenant, Hebrews 8 teaches the believer what God has done for them in Christ. First, the new covenant moves me to delight in the law that is written on their heart. Second, it gives me saving knowledge of God through Christ. Third, it invites me into a personal relationship with God. And finally, it forgives me for all of my sins. In short, what the law could not do, weak as it was; the new covenant does by means of Christ’s perfect obedience and the Spirit he sent to us as he sat down at God’s right hand.

For this reason, we do well to take the Lord’s Supper often. Even more, when we take it we need to remember what Jesus Christ did for us and what his death says about our new-found identity in him. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper is a meal that defines a people. Since only those who have trusted in Christ are permitted to the table, it makes a visible distinction between those who partake and those who don’t.

A Meal that Identifies Us

For non-Christians who do not partake, it is a sign that they remain outside of the covenant blessings of God. Like Gentiles in Ephesians 2:11-–13, those who do not take the Lord’s Supper are strangers and aliens to the promises of God; they are without God and without hope in this world. Consequently, the Lord’s Supper invites unbelievers (children or adult) to consider their own need for grace. In a visible way, it shows them they are outside the gates of Christ, but that the invitation remains to come to dine at the table if they will but trust Christ and turn from sin.

At the same time, the covenant meal also marks out the believer. While the world defines us by our skin color, social standing, education, sexual orientation, or working profession, the Lord’s Supper defines us as blood-bought children of God. It identifies us as the Lord’s covenant people, and it calls us to stop identifying ourselves by our past history, our personal problems, or our sinful living.

Like the food eaten in any temple the Lord’s Supper offers food that identifies us with Christ. To be sure, we (Protestants) don’t believe the bread and juice become the body and blood of Jesus (as in the Catholic view of transubstantiation). However, we do believe that eating the meal identifies us with Christ, and more than that it defines our own identity.

In this way, we are what we eat. And when we take the Lord’s Supper, we are once again identified as his beloved children. Simultaneously, we are called to examine our hearts to consider whether our lives affirm or deny this identify. As an identify-shaping meal, it is vital we take the Lord’s Supper with regularity and that when we take it we understand what we are doing, and what it is doing to us!

Holy Father,
You sent your Son to identify with us,
now let us identify with him.
Forgive us for feeding on the food of this world;
Feed us on your faithfulness,
on the grace and truth found in your gospel.

 As we put bread and cup to our mouths,
may our hearts be close to you and not just our lips.
Incline our hearts to identify ourselves with you,
And may this Lord’s Supper further impress on us
A sense of your presence, your holiness, and your grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss