A Table, and No Altar

We have before us a Table, and not an altar. The distinction is not a slight one. We have gathered to offer a sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice of thanksgiving—not a sacrifice of propitiation. Propitiation is accomplished on an altar, and in God’s purposes that altar was the altar of the cross—prefigured throughout the Old Testament by the altars upon which sacrificial animals were slain. A different kind of sacrifice is offered up from tables—sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.

A moment’s reflection should show us that offering up true thanksgiving is not even a possibility unless propitiation has already been accomplished elsewhere and applied to us. Having been set free by the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross, we are invited to sit down at this Table and lift up a liberated sacrifice, gratitude and harmony together. This is the spiritual sacrifice that is the consequence of all that has gone before.

As a spiritual sacrifice, it supplants some of the tangible helps that our Old Covenant brothers and sisters used to employ. But even they looked forward to the time of our liberation. “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Ps. 141:2). Prayer replaces incense, and lifted hands replace the blood. Song fills all the space that used to be occupied by bloody altars. “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”” (Ps. 50:23, ESV). We are privileged to live in the day when we may without a qualm offer thanksgiving as our sacrifice. And that is what eucharist means—thanksgiving, not propitiation, thanksgiving because of the propitiation.

A sacrifice of true propitiation, by definition, can only happen once, and it did happen, outside Jerusalem, two thousand years ago. This means that it has to be a definitive sacrifice. As such, it provides a sure foundation for a continual sacrifice of another kind. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15).

And this is why I am no priest, offering up a victim. I, and the men here with me, are set apart to the privilege of being table waiters. We come to you in joy, bearing joy, and we call upon you to respond in joy.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

The Actual Inconsistency

God tells us in His Word that as His people we are to come out from the world, and to be separate from it. This separation, this distinction, is what holiness means. To be holy is to be set apart.

The fundamental point of holiness is to have God make a distinction in His people between righteous living, and lives of corruption. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17).

We can also make something holy by setting it apart from common use—we wouldn’t use a communion tray as a cake platter at a church potluck, for example. But even this kind of thing is simply an audio-visual help, enabling us to understand the difference between sin and righteousness. David ate the showbread, and it would be lawful and right for us to use the communion trays in some sort of comparable emergency.

Just as the altar sanctifies the gold, and not the other way around, so also, the physical accoutrements of worship are sanctified by our actual worship, proceeding from our actual realization of a humble and contrite heart. All of this applies most forcefully, most centrally, when we are contemplating the construction of a sanctuary.

We want a place that reminds us of the inconsistency between a house of worship Sunday morning, and a time of loose living Saturday night. That loose living can take many forms—raunchy movies, corrupt friends, ungodly parties, envious snark and complaining, and all the rest of that unsightly crew. So when our sanctuary is built, we want you to come into it prepared to reason in a “how much more” fashion. As this place seems inconsistent with the movie I watched last night, how much more is it inconsistent with the presence of Christ’s Holy Spirit in my heart, hands, mouth and life?

So let the stones cry out.

Chedorlaomer, UT Alum

The Sword of Abram just arrived in the warehouse yesterday, and are just sitting there, ready for shipping. The illustrations are fantastic, and though the thing is too big for a stocking, it is not too big to set the stocking on. Here is Chedorlaomer, disgruntled about something that happens in the story. To find out what that is, however, you will have to . . .

Sword of Abram

A Grab Bag of Observations About Torture

And because this is a grab bag, we will just rummage through it for now. Maybe later we can unpack it. If you would like to read more, a couple of good articles from opposing corners can be found here and here.

That said, here are some thoughts of my very own.

1. You can be morally serious without being morally grounded. The fact that you feel the pressure and the weight of the responsibility you have to protect American lives does not mean you have an ethical system able to bear the weight that situations like this will place on you. Morally serious is not the same thing as moral. Relativists can be anguished, and frequently are.

2. Consequentialism is not a biblical ethical system. There are times when it seems to turn up a no-brainer answer to your question — if we could prevent a nuclear bomb from going off in Baltimore by slapping Khalid Sheikh Muhammed a couple of times, why wouldn’t you do that? That seems reasonable. But without an ultimate anchor, the little dingy of secular smart people can drift a long way out to sea. Now suppose you can prevent the Baltimore nuke by having a dark ops team rape KSM’s mother, sisters, and daughters. Suppose the threat of that prospect would break him sooner than waterboarding would? At some point, pretty soon in the process, you will need more ethical light than horrendous consequences of not doing “something” can ever give you.