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

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

Communion as a Community Meal

bread

Because there is one bread,
we who are many are one body,
for we all partake of the one bread.
– 1 Corinthians 10:17 –

The Lord’s Supper is a treasury of Christ-remembering, kingdom-anticipating, church-unifying, soul-stirring symbolism. As Jesus said of the bread in Luke 22, “This is my body, which is given for you” (v. 19) and of the fruit of the vine, “This cup . . . is the new covenant in my blood” (v. 20). Laden with spiritual significance, both of these statements are symbolical. The bread represents the body of Christ (and more specifically the death of Jesus); the cup represents the blood of Christ (and more specifically the promise of new covenant pardon). Together they form the two elements Christians “take” and “eat” (Matthew 26:26).

However, these edibles do not exhaust the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper. Far from it, in fact. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:17. Calling the Corinthians to flee from idolatry (10:13), he cautions them about their practices of eating from the Lord’s table and the demons’ table (v. 20). In this context, he teaches us a twofold lesson about the nature of the Lord’s Supper. 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

How the Lord’s Supper Fuels Us to Love One Another

washing feet[This article originally appeared on our church website as a Lord’s Supper meditation].

THE LORD’S SUPPER

In Luke 22 Jesus serves the Passover and calls it his new covenant meal: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (v. 20). Fulfilling the words of Jeremiah 31, Jesus as God’s priestly mediator brought an end to the old covenant and inaugurated the new when he went to the cross (see Hebrews 9:15–17). Anticipating his crucifixion on the next day, Jesus transformed the Passover from an old covenant shadow to a new covenant reality.

When we take the Lord’s Supper, we look back to the legal transaction that resulted in our pardon, and looking forward we see what Christ’s death accomplished— an international multitude gathered around God’s throne. In the immediate, this future reality is lived out in our local fellowship. As members of Christ’s body, we are unified to Christ and to one another.

For this reason, the Lord’s Supper can never be taken alone. It is the church’s meal. Regardless of what the modern elements look like, the symbolism of Jesus is unmistakable. The one loaf represents the unity of the messianic community, while the broken pieces portray the need for every member to receive Christ’s life (Luke 22:19). Likewise, the cup was “divided” such that the Upper Room communicants enjoyed the same wine (Luke 22:17).

For us, the Lord’s Supper reminds us of our partnership together in Christ. As such it marks out those who are his and those who are not. It is a regular reminder of our Savior’s atoning death and of our Savior’s decided accomplishment—the community created by his shed blood. As 1 Corinthians 11:25 says, it proclaims the death of Christ until he comes. But because it is taken by the saints made alive by his cross, it also proclaims the life given to us—a life lived one with another. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper: A Messy Meal for Messy People

traySilver trays, clean hands, fresh bread, sterile cups, and a well-ordered room may be just a few of the things that keep us from seeing how messy the Lord’s Supper is. And how the Lord’s Supper is for messy people.

Think about it. The cross of Christ was invented to be the most horrendous bodily experience known to man. It is reported that spectators sometimes vomited as they watched the crucifixion. One account describes the physical effects of the cross this way.

Naked and embarrassed, the victims would often use their remaining strength to seek revenge on the crowd of mockers who had gathered to jeer them. They would curse at their tormenters while urinating and spitting on them. Some victims would become so overwhelmed with pain that they would become incontinent, and a pool of sweat, blood, urine, and feces would gather at the base of their cross (Death by Love, 25).

In Jesus’ case, we know he did not use his remaining hours to malign his accusers. Rather, he prayed for those who killed him; he granted pardon to the thief next to him; he cared for the mother who had once caressed him; and he prayed to the God who was abandoning him. In all of these ways, Jesus’ death was wholly other. And yet, his body beaten and bleeding, lacerated and lashed to the cross, was a mess.

From what we know of crucifixions at the time, Jesus’ “cross was likely already covered in the blood of other men. Timber was so expensive that crosses were recycled; therefore, Jesus’ blood mixed with the layers of blood, sweat, and tears of countless other men who had walked that same path before him” (ibid.). All in all, Christ’s crucifixion was anything but a sanitary affair.

Pure and holy? Absolutely!

Clean and sterile? Hardly! Continue reading

How the Lord’s Supper ‘Saves’ the Church

lord's supperYou cannot care for me with no regard for her,
if you love me you will love the church.
Derek Webb –

As Derek Webb’s song (“The Church”) points out, to love Christ without the church is like loving a man and loathing his wife. Such inconsistency isn’t socially acceptable. Neither is it spiritually permissible. Those who have been born again are joined to God’s family (1 Tim 3:15) and are called to submit themselves to a local church (Heb 10:24–25; 13:17).

The opposite problem is also possible. It is very possible to love the church more than Christ. Now, when this sort of thing happens, Christ is never denied, only demoted. And typically, it doesn’t happen by conscious choice or designed effort. There is never an advertising campaign to elevate the church above Christ. It happens the way that gravity causes bodies to sag—time and spiritual lethargy work together to pull the heart away from Christ.

Leaving our first love, as Revelation 2:4 puts it, doesn’t come through a traumatic event. Instead, it is what happens when members and pastors of a church focus their energy and conversation on church business, church budgets, church activities, church methods, and church growth.

Church, church, church. If all attention is given to the bride, the bridegroom will be lost.

Even when believers champion orthodox belief and defend biblical practices, men and women will still fall in love with a church more than Christ. Because our hearts are deceitful and naturally unbelieving (Jer 17:9; Heb 3:13), even the most committed churchmen are susceptible to loving the church more than Christ. In fact, the ones most committed to church are the ones most likely to love the church more than Christ. Continue reading

Dramatizing the Gospel: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

baptimsBetter than any comedic skit or high-tech video, baptism and the Lord’s Supper dramatize the gospel. And when churches properly execute these two rites, they present in a very local, personal, and powerful way the gospel of Jesus Christ. Continuing to think about the way that the church is God’s authorized evangelistic ‘program,’ I want to show how these two ordinances display the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel

Before considering how the church displays the gospel though, it is vital to remember the gospel is a message to be believed, proclaimed, explained, and defended. It is not something we do, make, or build. It is “good news” that our Holy Creator sent his sinless Son to die on Calvary for the sins of his bride. It is a message proclaimed to all the nations, so that any and all who believe in Jesus may be saved from hell and have eternal life. This is the gospel of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul. It is the life-creating truth that saves Christians and assembles local churches.

That said, if the gospel is believed by a congregation, it will be evident in visible, practical, and tangible ways. A Spirit-filled church cannot stop talking about Christ because the gospel dwells richly in their hearts. Such gospel-centeredness does more than affect speech, however; it also shapes conduct, practice, and liturgy (i.e., the pattern of worship).

Therefore, borrowing the logic of James 2:14–17, the sincerity of a church’s faith (in the gospel) will be seen in the way they live, move, and have their being. And no place is this more apparent than in the way they carry out the ordinances of Christ—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 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