Grace to Burn

As we engage with the powers and principalities of this age, we do so by spiritual means, and not by carnal means. We declare the gospel, and we baptize the nations, and we offer wine and bread. But that is not all. The rest of the Great Commission says that we are called to teach obedience to everything that Christ has commanded.

When we teach this obedience, we are not teaching obedience that must be offered for a mere two hours on Sunday morning. We are teaching obedience as a lifestyle. Obedience around the dinner table, obedience in front of the television set, obedience in the bedroom, obedience as we vote, obedience as we undertake our vocational calling, obedience as we invest, and obedience as we educate our children. Christ is Lord, and this means that all other competing lords must acknowledge this—and either resign their place entirely, or take their appropriate place of subordination.

This Table is not the place where this happens. Your life is where it happens. This Table is, however, why it happens. This worship service is why it happens. Worship and covenant renewal are the engine that drives the kingdom of God. They are the root that makes the tree by the river flourish. Without the root, the leaves on the tree will not provide healing for the nations. Without the root, the twelve kinds of fruit, scattered throughout every aspect of our lives, will not be there, and we will be left to figure out what to do, and how to live, as though we were pagans without God and without hope in the world.

This Table is a means of grace. Grace strengthens you for what God has called you to do. A good breakfast is necessary if you are going to work hard in the field all day. But a good breakfast is not a substitute for working hard in the field all day. Our focus on worship is not designed to make us gluttons of grace. Grace is taken in so that it might be expended. Work out your salvation, for God is at work in you.

A Lifetime of Rehearsal

This wedding today is a small foretaste of the great consummation of all things, which will occur at the wedding supper of the Lord Jesus with His bride, the Christian Church. Human history began with a wedding in a Garden, and it will come to its ultimate fulfillment in a great wedding at the center of a Garden city. We began with a wedding, we are driven through history by weddings, and it will all culminate in the wedding.

We do not yet know how that wedding will be done, what it will be like, or how that great consummation will be accomplished. It does not yet appear what we will be like, the apostle John tells us. But we know it will be good, good beyond our greatest capacity of imagination. John tells us that it does not yet appear what we shall be, but he goes on to add that we will then become like Him for we shall see Him as He is.

The apostle Paul tells us that as we behold the glory of God, here and now, in our worship and service of God here and now, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another. It follows from this that the process of transformation, which will be completed at that great day, is a process that is in process now. What happens now affects what will happen then, and is directly related to it. This means—to expand the image to a musical one—that if the great consummation of all things is the great symphony, then what we do now is practice and rehearsal.

We had a rehearsal yesterday for this wonderful event today. We practiced what we were going to do, and we did this by doing what we were going to do. We walked through it, asking questions, working out details, and so on. Now we are in the midst of the wedding for which that rehearsal was the rehearsal. But there is another sense in which this wedding, and the marriage and family that will result from it, is, all of it, also a rehearsal. And all the other marriages represented here are also part of the billions of rehearsals that are going into what God is going to present at the end of all sinful history—and at the beginning of sinless history.

Mark and Corinne are both gifted musicians, and so I want to change the image here. Weddings have rehearsals, but so do musical performances. If all our weddings, and all our marriages, are practices and rehearsals, what is it exactly that we are practicing? Practice is undertaken so that we can listen for things that are not quite right and correct them. What is it that we are listening for? How do we sing flat or sharp? How do we get our instruments out of tune? What are we looking to correct?

We do not practice for the final consummation by working on having immortal bodies, or by other resurrection tricks. We are not there yet. Rather we practice by heeding the new commandment, which is not really a new commandment, which is that we love one another. Love, the pattern of giving of one’s self away, is not ever going to cease. God Himself was this way within His triune being before the world was created, He exhibits His character in this throughout the history of our world—preeminently on the cross—and life eternal after the consummation will be this same way.

Love is therefore harmony. Love presupposes difference, and harmony presupposes difference that blends and complements, instead of difference that collides. In order to harmonize, we have two conditions. One is that we have to have at least two completely different notes. The second is that these notes have to sound good together. In our sinful circumstances, we are tempted away from this in two different ways. One way is that of trying to put on a show of unity by getting everyone to sing in unison. Everyone must adapt to a musical lockstep conformity. This is comparatively easy to do, but it gets old quickly. This pattern is trying to act as though we worship and serve a unitarian God instead of the triune God we actually do serve. We don’t have different notes. The other sinful assumption is that every last individual has an absolute right to his or her own note, and that every last individual has an autonomous obligation to sing that note regardless of how it clanks with what the others are doing. The first option is boring conformity and the latter is musical anarchy.

We love and serve the triune God, and we are therefore called to live together in harmony. In the Church, old and young, male and female, Jew and Greek, black and white, rich and poor, are all called to sing their notes distinctively, and in such a way as to blend with and exalt the notes that others are singing, also distinctively.

But this is a wedding. This is therefore a duet. There is no way to hide in the back of the choir and mouth the words because you haven’t practiced enough. Both of you have to sing, and it will become very obvious to each of you, and to those who know you, whether or not you are singing your part, and whether you are hitting your notes. I want to speak to each of you separately in a moment about what is involved in this, but before I get there I want say something that applies to both of you together. Sometimes a great composer will match two instruments together that we would not perhaps have anticipated, but then when we follow his arrangement, practice carefully, and listen to the results we are astonished at the beauty of the combination. Whether it is guitar with cello, or piano and oboe, we listen with delight and confess that the composer knew far better than we did. We thought it was going to be like a tuba and piccolo, or a tin whistle with a pipe organ, with both of them badly played, but that is not how it turned out.

Now God has matched two instruments here, male and female. Here is a warning. There will be days when you are tempted to think that this was a really bad idea—these two instruments can’t sound good together, not for long anyway. But this is a temptation that arises in virtually all rehearsals I have ever had anything to do with—the idea that “there is no way we are going to be ready,” or “this is not going to happen.” In fact, this is why we have rehearsals, in part so we can have those moments of panic, without which many important things would never get done.

Our triune God is not only the ultimate musician; when we talk about the way He made the world, He is also the ultimate music. He knows what He is doing. The wisdom of matching these two instruments should be measured by what His word teaches, and by what we see in husbands and wives who have lived together in scriptural harmony over a period of many years. He is the one who made the decision, wrote the music, and summons us together to practice, practice, practice. We must not measure the wisdom of this by what men and women in rebellion do. There are people who have the sheet music upside down, or who smash their instruments onstage, or who don’t bother to tune their instruments at all. They are not the measure of what we are embarking on here.

Mark, you are being called, and summoned, and invited, to be a Christian husband. What line of music are you being called to sing? There are things you will do as a husband that you will presumably not do in the resurrection—take out the garbage, say. But the way you take out the garbage, in love and consideration and thoughtfulness, is one of the permanent things. When you love in trifles, love in the middling things, and love in the great things, you are living out the music of heaven. The Bible is very clear when it tells men as husbands how to sing their parts. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. Husbands, love your wives as your own bodies. Husbands, pour yourselves out for your wives—you are a libation offering. Men tend to define love as “not giving trouble” when the Bible describes it as “taking trouble.” Your vows here today are vows that thoroughly describe a man taking trouble, and you are taking these vows into your heart, and into your mouth. The grace of God enabling, as you do this, you are faithfully working on the part that God has assigned to you.

Corinne, you are called to honor Mark in response to his lead. As he loves and cares for you, as he takes the initiative, you are singing a part that answers, that complements, that harmonizes with what he is doing. In a fundamental way, your descant adorns what he is doing. The Bible says that a wife is the crown of her husband. As you respond to his initiative, you make his initiative glorious. A wise person once observed that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. You make him sound good, not because you are doing it all, but rather because of the way you respond. Your responsiveness and submission are therefore not slavish. Your honor and love for him are not an unthinking echo. You are a Christian wife, and not a parrot. Your submission to Mark is therefore not a servile cravenness, but rather an aesthetic achievement. He loves and you reciprocate. He initiates and you respond. He offers his hand, and you take it. He bows and you curtsey. In our tone deaf generation, this kind of glorious harmony is despised, and many people in their envy will even taunt it. But if they hear, even for a moment, the kind of harmony this produces, they will at some point become ashamed of themselves.

Mark, you are called this day to a lifetime of sacrificial love, a love that would gladly give anything for this woman. Corinne, you are called to receive and return this love, also with gladness. By the grace of God, the two of you are hereby charged with the responsibility to harmonize.

May God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit make all His promised blessings to descend upon this house, and to come to rest there, both now and forever. Let us give thanks for this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Simultaneously Careful and Free

We have a tendency to look at the wrong things when preparing ourselves for this meal—and of course, we should prepare ourselves for it.

The Bible contains multiple warnings against trifling with the holy things of God. He warns the unrighteous about defiling this sacramental meal. But from this warning, the righteous have drawn many erroneous conclusions. Those who look to their own righteousness are unrighteous. Those who look to the righteousness of Jesus Christ are righteous in Him, and that is the only righteousness you need to be seated here—the fact that you are looking to another.

There is a place for soul searching in your life, but that place is not here. There is a necessary place for confession of sin, but that place is not here. There is a time to be reminded that you have stumbled in your Christian walk, but that time is not now. You confessed your sin last Thursday—why bring it up again now in unbelief? God said He forgave you—do you not believe Him? You confessed your sins at the beginning of the service, did you not? Then don’t worry at it now.

All such things, however pious they might appear, are designed to keep you from looking to Jesus Christ, crucified for you. All such introspective rummagings about in the heart keep you from seeing Jesus Christ in your neighbor, your spouse, your children, your parents. Discern the Lord’s body, we are told. We are not told to discern all the different ways we fail to discern it. The point of this Supper is not our sinfulness. That is not what we memorialize. The point of this Supper is God’s glad reception of us. We urge Him, in this memorial, to remember our cleansing, remember our forgiveness, remember that we are now His holy saints.

We call upon Him to remember the covenant He has made with us. And as we know He remembers, because we have reminded Him according to His Word, we remember it too.

Turning From a World That is Ours

The Lord Jesus promised us that the meek would inherit the earth. The prophets foretold this as well, saying that the earth would be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the water covers the sea. They will not hurt or destroy in all the holy mountain. The apostle tells us that the world to come, the one we are in the process of inheriting, is subjected to man in Christ, and not to angels. So we are in the process of inheriting the world.

But the Bible also teaches that worldliness is a great sin—it is infidelity to Christ. We are commanded to obtain the world and at the same time to shun it. What does this mean?

It cannot be understood apart from the progress of the war we are in. We will obtain the world, but not in its current condition. The world as it is now is a world filled with corruption. We are not to love this world, meaning the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. At the same time, we are to long for a world that honors Christ with a feast of fat things, of wine on the lees, fat things filled with marrow, and wine on the lees well refined.

This kind of glorious feast has nothing whatever in common with the komoi of unbelievers. Their kind of reveling, carousing, partying, or moshing is offered to Dionysus, Paul explicitly indicates, and not to Christ. It does not belong to the day, but rather to the night.

Do you want to inherit the world? Then you must do what all faithful Christians do—you must forsake it, turning from it with contempt. Repent of trying to split the difference. You cannot cross a lake partly in a boat and partly in a car. Christ demands everything be surrendered in death. And then He gives it all back in resurrection. What a Savior!

Learning to Eat and Drink

You are what you eat. And what You are eating here (by faith alone) is the covenant body of Jesus Christ. You are being knit together, growing up into Him, bone of His bones, flesh of His flesh. This is a foundational meal, the one that informs and sanctifies all the other eating and drinking that you do. This is your primary meal.

Because the church in America has drifted away from faithful eating and drinking here, we have simultaneously drifted into a multitude of drinking problems and eating disorders. If any aspect of your eating and drinking life is out of kilter, then do not seek to fix that problem by yourself. You need to learn to put it right here.

Drinking problems originate because the lordship of Christ over all drinking is not properly acknowledged here. Learn to drink here, which means surrendering everything here, and you will learn from Christ elsewhere. Obsessive eaters who are gluttons need to learn from the simplicity of Christ here. There is no wantonness at His table. Obsessive eaters who are anorexic need to learn from the bounty of Christ, because the fat is the Lord’s.

Those who believe in salvation and healing through eating and drinking whatever the latest idolatrous fad is, whether vitamins, bee pollen, vegetables alone, etc. need to look to the worship of the true God alone as the place where they may find the signs and seals of their salvation. Your cupboards at home, whatever they contain, can be saved—but they are not, and can never be, a savior.

So, then, learn from Christ here. This does not mean figuring this Supper out, as though it were a math problem. It means eating and drinking in faith, asking God to apply His nourishing wisdom to your life, your eating and drinking habits, however He sees fit. He is giving to us; we are not giving to Him.

Why You Must Come

Let all the nations be glad. The Lord is God, and He is extending His reign to the uttermost parts of the earth. Since He is doing this, just as He promised, we cannot by our sins and compromises keep it from happening. But our sins and compromises can keep us from exulting in the glory of it, and participating in the blessing of it.

We cannot make the kingdom of God lose. But we can fall away from that kingdom, improving it by the apostasy. In other words, we can lose, and if we separate from the love of God in Christ, we will lose. Now for the elect, nothing can separate them—neither height, depth, power, principality, or any other created thing. But covenant members who love the world can fall away, and they do. They find the world and its baubles enticing.

You are assembled before God this morning as baptized believers in His Son. You are offering up prayers to Him. You will hear His Word declared to you. You will approach His Table, which He has graciously set for you. You are invited to sit down. But here is the dilemma.

If you are baptized, you are commanded to come. You must come. You may not shrink back or hesitate. But if you are living in unconfessed sin, you dare not approach. God is a jealous God, and does not permit you to eat from two tables at once. You cannot eat here and at the table the world sets. But, if you are baptized, you must eat here. Refraining is not an option, and is a great disobedience.

This means that there is only one thing you may do—repent of your desires for the other table. Turn away from it with loathing. Drop your sin. You must choose between the tables, and God has declared in your baptism what that choice must be. Here is bread and wine, set for you. There, at the table of the world, there is all manner of filth disguised as food. God has pointed the way for you. Come, humble yourself. Come, and eat. Come, and drink.

Sacralized Sentimentalism

“It may seem strange that Christians fell victim to the optimistic, humanistic, ‘romantic’ vision of love—so much so that its last strongholds are probably within Christian circles” (H.R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, p. 78).