Obligated to Receive

As we learn from Tertullian, our word sacrament comes from sacramentum, a term that was used to describe the oath of enlistment that a soldier would take. This is a covenant meal, and covenants are God-given bonds and obligations. These bonds are not burdensome—His yoke is easy and His burden is light—but His bonds are in fact bonds. We are engaged to His service. When we come to this meal, we are engaging to be faithful. We have already confessed those sins and occasions where we were not faithful, and we come here in order grow in our commitments to Him. We gather here in order to cinch the knots tighter. We do this self-consciously, knowing what we do. The battles we are fighting are difficult, and we need sustenance. What happens here is that we renew our commitment to be faithful and at the same time, for those who come to it honestly, we are given grace to be faithful. We obligate ourselves to be strong, and we are given strength. The Lord is present in the person of His … [Read more...]

Seven Courses

Not only is this a covenant meal, with all the parties to the covenant alive and present, Scripture gives us another image to use with our grasp of the word testament. “For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (Heb. 9:17). Here we have the image of a reading of a will. Our elder brother has died, and we have gathered to hear what He has left for us. Now of course, these images complement each other, and we do this in the full and certain knowledge of His resurrection. But even though He is risen, we remain His heirs. That part of this image is true enough. In thinking about this, we can rely on the insights of the old Scots Reformed preacher John Willison. He points out that the executor of this will and testament in this world is the Holy Spirit. And as we have gathered to learn what we have received, we may learn it under the figure of a meal with seven dishes. This is a seven-course meal, and when you come in … [Read more...]

No Faithy Sensation

As we heard in the message today, we are called to live from faith to faith. The just shall live by faith. But living is an all-encompassing verb. Living by faith means walking by faith, singing by faith, fellowshipping by faith, eating and drinking by faith, reflecting by faith, and meditating by faith. And faith requires an object. When you believe, you are believing someone, something. Biblical faith means apprehending, grasping, holding on to what God has spoken to us. To attempt to have faith by cultivating a faithy sensation down in your heart is not dispensing with the need for an object. That is not an objectless faith; rather, it is faith trying to believe in itself. Ultimately, there are only two choices—faith in God or faith in yourself. You know from experience how reliable you are, and so the word of the gospel comes to you as sweet relief. Lay it all down. Set it down. Take off your burdens. Trust in Christ. He is set before you now. He is offered to you now. … [Read more...]

Meditation and Prayer at the Table

As we come to this weekly meal, we are to come in order to meditate and pray. And as Matthew Henry put it, meditation is conversing with yourself, and prayer is conversing with God. Both are necessary, but whenever you converse, whether with yourself or with God, it is necessarily to converse intelligently. In other words, we have a responsibility in these conversations to do more than jabber thoughtlessly, or moan and complain, or accuse. When we converse with our selves, and when we converse with God, particularly around the topic of the broken bread and poured out wine, we should be careful to speak in wisdom. In order to do this, we must hear the echoes of Scripture throughout everything we say. Only this will protect us when we come to the perilous duty of self-examination. “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). Because this duty is positively commanded, many have given themselves over to it. But the standards … [Read more...]

A Wall of Water on Each Side

We are instructed by Scripture to think of this meal in multiple ways. It is not just “one thing.” And four of the central aspects of this meal should be treasured in our hearts regularly. First, it is a commemoration. Jesus Himself established this pattern when He said that we were to observe the meal as a memorial (Luke 22:19). This memorial works in two directions—it reminds us and, like the rainbow, it reminds God. Second, it is a confession. This is not to be understood as a confession of sin, but rather as a confession of our faith. As often as we observe this meal, we proclaim the Lord’s death (1 Cor. 11:26). This meal is a confession of gospel faith. Third, it is communion. When we come to this Table in evangelical faith, we are privileged to commune with Christ, to partake of Him and of one another (1 Cor. 10:16). The word for this is koinonia, and the Lord’s Supper is how God knits us together. And last, it is a covenant. Again, the Lord taught us this when He … [Read more...]

Images We Must Have

Just as it is false to say that the tabernacle in the wilderness had no artistic representations of spiritual things, so also it is false to say that new covenant church has no portrayals in it. From blue pomegranates to cherubim covering the mercy seat, the tabernacle contained such images. But they were prohibited from making certain representations, and whenever the Israelites were faithful, they guarded that empty space above the mercy seat with a jealous and fierce love. In a similar way, new covenant worship is filled with icons—but as committed Protestants, we insist that the icons have to be given to us, assigned to us. For example, this church has hundreds of icons in it—you all are created in the image of God, and this is in fact an image of God. Moreover, Christ is faithfully portrayed in the preaching of the gospel (Gal. 3:1), or in the reading of Scripture (Rev. 1:16). Such portrayals must occur in Christian churches, which means God has decreed that the image of God in … [Read more...]

A Meal With No Biting

Let us begin by acknowledging an unfortunate reality. The apostle Paul warns Christians not to bite and devour one another (Gal. 5:15), and he does this because this is what we are sometimes tempted to do. Christians are never warned off sins that were never going to be an issue. The warning says that we are not to bite and devour because the end result will be that we are consumed. So in this sense, Paul says not to eat one another in this way. The only alternative to this kind of quarrelsome devouring is to learn how to partake of one another in love. In the verse just prior to this warning (Gal. 5:14), Paul says that the entire law is summed up in the command to love our neighbor. We must love our companions, and companions are those with whom we break bread. So Christ eats with us here, and we eat with Him. But the Bible teaches us that when we eat together with others in love, this is a covenant love, and covenants depend on what is called partaking. This is … [Read more...]

Hot Food or Cold

A popular salvation text is Rev. 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” But this is not the door of an unconverted man, deciding whether to ask Jesus in. This is, in the first instance, the door of the church at Laodicea, and then by extension, any church that has people who have drifted into a lukewarm approach to Jesus. It is not the door of a man’s heart; it is a church door. If we respond to His call, to His voice, we are responding to the one who is the Amen, the faithful Witness, and we do so in a way that strengthens and establishes us. If we do this, we are opening the door of the church. We are inviting Jesus to come in and do what? We are ushering Him in so that He will sit down, it says, and sup with that man, and that man will sup with him. We see here an exquisite balance of the individual and corporate. The faithful believer is not the one who opens … [Read more...]

All of It

When Jesus said that the cup we drink was the new covenant in His blood, He was opening up a world of wisdom to us. So many truths are set before us that it is difficult to know where to begin, or what to do with them all. Because of this we sometimes give up, and simply return time and again to two or three truths related to the Supper. Those truths are true, and so we are edified to meditate on them, but because this meal sets before us the wisdom, kindness and grace of God, we should also remember that we are being invited to know the unknowable, to grasp the ungraspable, and to enter into the height and breadth and depth of God’s purposes for us. What do we learn about covenants here? One of the things we learn is that a covenant is something you can drink. Jesus said plainly that the cup is the new covenant in His blood. And when Jesus gives it to us, He says, “Drink ye all of it” (Matt. 26:27). A covenant is something we can drink, and it is something we are summoned to … [Read more...]

So Exhibited

Even though a great deal of historic Reformed theology was written in English, our native language, we do have to take care to note certain changes in the meanings of some words. When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, the great theologian John Owen said that Christ was exhibited in it. That same word is used with regard to the baptism in the Westminster Confession, where it says that in baptism the grace promised is “not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost” (WCF 28.6). If you go to an exhibition at a modern museum, you are going to look at something behind a velvet rope. You go to an exhibition in order to see things, and then to go home. But in the seventeenth century, to exhibit meant something much stronger. To exhibit meant to hold something out in order that it might be received. It is in this older sense that Christ is exhibited here at the Table. He is offered, He is conferred, He is extended to you. Part of that exhibition is found in the … [Read more...]

He Tenders His Love, and Tenderly

An older English word for offer is the word tender. The great theologian John Owen said that in the Lord’s Supper, the Lord Jesus tenders an offer of Himself, inviting us to receive him. We have echoes of this older use of the word here and there, as in the phrase legal tender on your money. This meal consists of the shed blood and broken body of the Lord Jesus. We are proclaiming His death until He comes, the apostle says. But we are also proclaiming everything about that death. We do not proclaim His death in isolation, but rather in concert with everything the Scriptures teach us about that death. And one of those things is the love of Jesus Christ for us. “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Rev. 1:5). Any exhibition of the death of Christ is necessarily an exhibition of the love of Christ. It says here that He loved … [Read more...]

Exercising the Truth of the Gospel

When we come to the Table, we are being given the privilege of exercising ourselves in the truths of the gospel. One of the ways that God enables us to do this is through the establishment of memorials, and this memorial is one of them. When God wanted us to exercise ourselves in the truth of creation, He gave us the Sabbath day as a memorial. When God wanted the Israelites to remember their deliverance from Egypt, He gave them a memorial in the Passover feast. When God wanted us to exercise our understanding of resurrection life, He transferred the memorial of the Sabbath Day to the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day (Heb. 4:9-10; Rev. 1:10). And when He wanted us to exercise ourselves in our knowledge of the shed blood of Jesus, and of His broken body, He gave us this memorial. When we do this, we do it in remembrance of Him, but because it is a covenantal memorial we have to remember also that we are lifting it up into the presence of God so that He will remember. When … [Read more...]

Creation All Over Again

When we come to the Table, the entire congregation is proclaiming. What are we proclaiming? The apostle Paul says that we are proclaiming the death of Jesus until He comes again? Faithful observance of the Supper is therefore an evangelistic act. Even those participation in the Supper is limited to baptized Christians, the import of the Supper is for all the children of men. So when we proclaim the death of Jesus as the very center of the mighty acts of God, we are doing it context. We rejoice in our subjective experience of salvation, but we do not begin and end there. The experience of salvation is driven by the objective reality of it. God has done marvelous things in the world, and because we look at them and believe, the Spirit continues His work in us. We declare, therefore, the mighty acts of God. We declare what He has done in the creation of Heaven and earth, and we rejoice in how He delivered His people throughout the Old Testament period, doing this over and over … [Read more...]

Communion Family Style

We come to the Lord’s Table every week, but what the seating arrangements? What should our posture be, and how is the Supper laid out? In the aftermath of the Reformation, this is one of the things that came to be reformed. Previously, the people would come to the Table rarely, they would come down a long nave, and they would kneel to receive just one of the elements. That is hardly a posture of table fellowship. After the Reformation, the statement made by the seating was strikingly different. The Scots and the Dutch particularly wanted to have the statement be that of a family seated at a table together, and they went so far as to have a very large Table made, at which the congregation could sit down together. But then, as a congregation grows, you have to eat in shifts, and you are losing some aspects of that wonderful picture. Another device that developed—the one we are using here—is the device of having the congregation seated on three sides of the Table. We are gathered at … [Read more...]

Self-Examination and the Supper

When it comes to observance of the Lord’s Supper, and especially when it comes to regular, weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, there are a number of questions that we have to address and answer. One of them is what devout preparation for participation looks like. Paul teaches us that we do have a duty to examine ourselves. He uses the same word—anakrisis—in a couple of different places. “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13:5). This means that the issue is not whether preparation for the Supper consists of self-examination. Of course it does. The problem is that a great deal of confusion exists over what constitutes lawful and sane self-examination. We must take it as a given that self-examination is necessary for every approach to the Table. … [Read more...]