What Hath the Lord’s Supper To Do with Baptism (pt. 1)

ryan-loughlin--a8Cewc-qGQ-unsplashBut you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified
in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
– 1 Corinthians 6:11 –

 Few gospel truths are more essential than this one: there are only two kinds of people in the world—those in Christ and those in Adam, those who have believed the gospel and those who have rejected it, those who have been born from above and those who have only been born from below. Though Scripture has many ways to speak of sheep and goats, wheat and chaff, good fig and bad, the uniform testimony is that there are only two kinds of people.

For those committed to the truth of Scripture, this division leads to one of two eternal destinies—heaven or hell. There is no third way, no middle ground. And thankfully, every time a gospel preacher heralds this sifting truth, he makes clear the call of the gospel—to repent and believe and enter the kingdom.

Yet, for every clear proclamation of the gospel, there can be an unintended confusion when it comes to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In other words, when the church took up the gospel, it called believers to be baptized. Whereas Jesus proclaimed “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), Peter proclaimed “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Did Peter change Jesus’s message? Absolutely not! Rather, Peter’s invitation to baptism is a call to join God’s people—i.e. to repent of your sin, believe on Christ, and join the community of faith identified with Christ by baptism. In Acts, the pattern of baptism is always believe first then receive baptism by immersion in water (see Acts 8:12). In this way, the gospel which divided believers from unbelievers was confirmed by a community of faith set apart from the world. Continue reading

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

Bread and Wine at the Table of a Righteous King (A Meditation on the Lord’s Supper)

MelchizedekDear Church,

You have been invited to covenant meal—a table set in the midst of hostile enemies. Bread and wine are the food and drink of choice. The host is a righteous king who is lives in the holy city Jerusalem, and serves God Most High as a faithful priest.

When you look at your invitation, the RSVP calls you to renounce your idols and acknowledge the greatness of your host. This table, offered freely to you, is set for those who believe God’s promises and refuse to partner with the kings of this world. Indeed, this table does not communicate righteousness. Rather, it is for those who have been justified by faith in the promises of God Most High.

What is this invitation describing?

If you said, the Lord’s Supper, you’d be correct. And if you said Abram’s meal with Mechizedek, you’d also be right. But how can this be?  How can one description point to two events? The answer is that God ordained the Old Testament events of Genesis 14 to prepare the way for Jesus Christ and the covenant he sealed with his blood and celebrated on the night before his crucifixion.

Therefore, just as learning the history of Passover helps us appreciate and apply the Lords’ Supper today, so does learning the story of Melchizedek and his covenant meal. Continue reading

Pierced ‘That I Might’ Praise: The Worship Only Penal Substitution Creates

altar

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:21 —

For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God,
being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
— 1 Peter 3:18 —

In and around the church, there has always been a group of theologians and pastors willing to question or deny penal substitution—the evangelical doctrine that affirms Christ’s death as a payment of penalty for sinners who trust in Jesus. Like Peter objecting to Christ’s prediction of suffering and death (Matthew 16:21–23), liberal theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Schweitzer, and Adolph Von Harnack, along with modern authors like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and William Paul Young (author of The Shack) have maligned the blood of the cross.

Unfortunately, such denial of penal substitution depends upon a denial of Scripture, a defamation of biblical authors, and twisting of biblical words. At the same time, making Christ a mere model, teacher, or prophet, follows the lie of Satan (Matthew 16:23); it effectively denies the deity of Christ and God’s plan of salvation, foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. But aside from the theological considerations—which are considerable—denying penal substitution  steals glory from God’s work and praise from the believer’s heart. 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

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

How the Lord’s Table Defines Its Dinner Party

 

whoA number of years ago, as I ate dinner with friends at an outdoor café, I was wrongly identified as a famous race car driver. It was more than a little awkward, as the mistaken gentleman belted out: “Dale!! Dale Earnhardt, Jr.?!? Is that you? Awww . . . I love you, man!”

With sorrow and embarrassment, I had to say: “Sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy.” He quickly recognized his mistake and passed on, as we continued to laugh about the boisterous error.

Misidentification is common in our world. Who has never misidentified a friend in a crowd? Or drunk from the wrong glass? Or put the wrong beverage in the glass? In our fallen world harmless mistakes like this abound. But so do more serious ones.

Sin is a Case of Gross Misidentification

In 1 Corinthians Paul constantly reminds the church who they are. In chapter 3, he tells them “You are God’s field, God’s building . . . God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (vv. 9, 17). Likewise, in chapter 6 he says of them individually, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). In the context of deciding who will inherit the kingdom of God, he says that those who persist in their sin—i.e., who define themselves by their greed, drunkenness, or immorality—will not enter the kingdom. But you, beloved children, Paul says, are new creations in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). Continue reading

How the Spirit and the Word Prepare You for the Lord’s Supper

bibleWho 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 —

How do you approach the Lord’s table when your heart is uncertain of it’s spiritual condition? If you question the errors of our heart, as David did in Psalm 19 (“Who can discern his errors?”), what will compel you to confidently take the Lord’s Supper? Will you withdraw from the bread and the cup when sin plague’s your soul? Or might the Lord’s Supper be an appointed means of reconciliation via remembrance?

These are not hypothetical questions, but realities Christians face as we commune with a holy God. Paul warned that anyone who takes the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner “drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29). Therefore, he calls us to “examine” ourselves and “then . . . eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (v. 28).

But how do we do that? If our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and lead us to evil and idolatry (see Jeremiah 3:17; 13:10; 18:12) how shall we be able to examine ourselves? Thankfully, as with all aspects of salvation, God provides what he demands, and the answer comes in the working of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

By means of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit enables God’s children to rightly examine themselves and to come to the Table with fresh faith and repentance. Indeed, consider three ways the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to prepare you for the Lord’s Table. Or to put it the other way, here are three ways you should, by the Spirit, prepare your heart for communion with the Word of God. Continue reading