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...]

The Ultimate Pledge of Allegiance

The sun is 93 million miles away, and yet every day we enjoy its warmth and light here. The Lord Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father, yet He is present here with us, now. His warmth and presence comes to us in the person of the Holy Spirit, and so if anyone asks if we believe in the real presence of the Lord in the Supper, the answer is of course. We don’t believe in His real absence. God is present here in and through the work of the Holy Spirit. We do not look for a physical presence in the elements of bread and wine, but rather a covenantal presence of Christ, manifested in His energy and power. Christ is present in the participles—He is present in our praying, singing, breaking, eating and drinking. The catalyst for all this is our faith, and even that faith is a gift from God so that no one can boast. So the bread and wine are evangelical types. They represent God’s offer of Christ to us, and in faith, as we receive them (in the participles) we are gratefully … [Read more...]

Sacramental Changes

Because Christ is the Head of the Church, it means that He is the one presiding at this Table. He is the Head which is why He is seated at the Head. It also means that He is the one who established the ritual for us, and so this is why we keep the ceremony at the same level of simplicity as when He instituted it. There are only two elements, bread and wine. They are common elements, not exotic. We do only three things with the bread—we bless it, we break it, and we eat it together. We do two things with the wine—we bless it, and we drink it together. To over-complicate it would be to take it from the Lord’s hands, wresting it all away from Him, in order to replace it with a ceremony more to our liking. But God knows what we need, and He has provided for us exactly what we need. If Jesus required his itinerant ministers to eat whatever was set before them (Luke 10:8), then how much more should all God’s servants eat what is set before us. We are quite clever enough to observe … [Read more...]

Ground, Instrument, Means

The central point of the Lord’s Supper is union with Christ. If we want to be nourished in our understanding of this, and indeed in our experience of it, we have to distinguish between the instrument for receiving this grace, and the means of receiving it. The ground of your justification is the work of Christ on the cross, culminating in His resurrection and ascension. That is the ultimate foundation. The instrument of your justification is your faith, but which is only yours because it was granted to you as a gift by the Spirit of God. God gave you a new heart, a heart that was capable of believing Him. In fact, the new heart that He gives is incapable of not believing Him. And last, and most varied, there are various means of God’s grace to us. These are presented to us, in line with God’s Word, and if we have true, evangelical faith, we use such means to strengthen and nourish us in our union with Christ. Such means of grace would be worship, listening to sermons, … [Read more...]

With Effect

Sacraments can only be created by God Himself. A sacrament always has promises annexed to it, and they are the kind of promises that only God can make. Under the new covenant, we find that God has established two sacraments in the church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These sacraments have three elements to them. The first is the Word that accompanies them. If there is no Word declared, then all we have is water, bread or wine, and no sacrament. The second element is the sign. In order to be a sacrament, it is necessary to have a physical thing that is consecrated and set apart to a holy use. The water is a sign. The bread is a sign. The wine is a sign. The third element is the thing signified, which is Christ Himself—Christ and all His benefits, Christ and all His promises, Christ and all His grace. Now in order for the sacrament to be a blessing to us, all three of these elements must be bound together. They cannot be detached from one another and enjoyed separately. They must … [Read more...]

True Nonetheless

As a proclamation of the gospel, this meal represents the great exchange. We were dead in our sins, and in Christ God exchanges us His life for our death. We were in abject poverty, and so in Christ God exchanges us His riches for our rags. We were slaves, chained to the dungeon walls of our own selfishness and pride, and so in Christ God exchanges us His liberty for our slavery. He took our curses, and we walked away with His blessings. He took our iniquity, and we walked away with His righteousness. He took our guilt, and so we walked away with a song in our hearts and on our lips. He took our shame, and we walked away with His glory. God made the one who had never known sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. That is what this meal declares, embodies, and enacts. As often as we partake of this meal, we declare the Lord’s death until He comes, and that is what our declaration is talking about. That is what His death, burial and … [Read more...]

Community Property

We might describe the marriage between the Lord Jesus Christ and His bride, the Christian church, as a community property marriage. This way of saying it might jar us at first, but it points to an important aspect of our faith that is often neglected. What we have in this meal is a representation of koinonia, of mutual partaking. In this meal, Christ offers Himself to us. In this meal, we offer ourselves to Him. In this meal, we offer ourselves to one another in koinonia love. And last, in this meal, we offer Christ (and ourselves with Him) to an aching, lost, miserable, and sin-torn world. As often as we partake here, we proclaim Christ’s death until He comes. Our understanding of this mutual partaking is an understanding that grows over time. In the Song of Songs, the bride at first mentions how her beloved belongs to her, and follows it up with the fact that she belongs to him. “My beloved is mine, and I am his: He feedeth among the lilies.” (Song 2:16). But later in the book, … [Read more...]

Though the Devil Should Say Contrary

This is the time in our weekly worship when we come to the Supper. But the connotations might be different for us if we simply said that this is Suppertime. This is the point where the Holy Spirit of God, who is the Comforter, offers us His food, but the connotations are different when we acknowledge that it is comfort food. This is all true because Christ is here, Christ is here seeking you. As Samuel Rutherford put it, wonderfully, “”Christ seeks you in the sacrament, seek ye Him again, and though the devil should say the contrary, there shall be a meeting.” … [Read more...]

Right Handed Mercy

As we gather here, we are partaking of Christ. This is presented to us under the forms of bread and wine, representing His passion on our behalf. But we are not being presented with a momentary Christ, a Christ limited to those few days at the end of His life. No, we are presented with everything Christ is and has. We are presented with everything He has done in history, what He did for us on the cross, the glory of the moment when He left the tomb, the wonder of His ascension into Heaven and presentation before the Ancient of Days, His gracious outpouring of His Spirit, which brought His bride into union and communion with Him. Not only that, but we are united with Him in His glorious Second Coming. As we consider the world outside of Christ, we see with them the perennial desire to be free of this Jesus. They do not want Him to rule over them. But we do want that, and we bring it to pass by worshiping His Father through Him and in His name, in the power of the Spirit. As we do … [Read more...]

The Pebble and the Seed

The sun is 93 million miles away. It would be fair to say that the sun is distant. But for everyone who has eyes to see, the sun is very much present. The Lord Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is there, not here. As a true man, He is located in the heavenly places. And yet, God has established the kingdom of His Son in such a way that the radiance of the Son’s glory extends throughout that entire kingdom, which is done through the power of the Spirit. That radiance of glory is not felt equally by all. If you were to bury a pebble in your garden and a seed in your garden right next to the pebble, you would get very different results from them. The seed contains life, and so can respond to the gift presented by the distant sun now present. The pebble contains no life, and is insensible to whether the sun is distant or present. When the Word is preached to you, and when the bread and wine are presented to you, you are called to respond in faith to the … [Read more...]

True and Entire

In theological discussions of the sacrament, the distinction between sign and thing signified goes back to the great Augustine. This is a distinction that is essential for us to maintain if we are to keep ourselves out of superstition and idolatry. At the same time, we must make this distinction without dividing or separating the sign and thing signified. If we break the sign and thing signified in two, the only thing we will find ourselves holding is the mangled sign, with the reality long gone. They cannot be there together, except as God has appointed. The appointed instrument that God has given that enables us to hold sign and thing signified together is faith—the kind of faith given by Him, which means that it necessarily is vibrant, alive, receptive, eager or, to use the word that sums it all up, evangelical. Simple faith can see at a glance things which unconverted philosophers and theologians with bulging foreheads cannot figure out. Faith does not create mysteries on a … [Read more...]

Tasting a Saving Act

Our God is a Savior, and because our need of salvation is something that is expressed in history, our God is the God of saving acts. God establishes the story, the end from the beginning, but God has also written in the story in such a way that requires Him to intervene in it. When God told Noah to build an ark, and told him to retreat with his family into it, that was a saving act. When God intervened with Abraham, and pointed him to the ram in the thicket, that was a saving act. When God rained down destruction upon Egypt, and then led Israel through the cloud and the sea, that was a saving act. When God took Israel into Babylon for their sins, and brought them back to the land again, that was a saving act. All these were precursors and types of the ultimate saving act, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is that saving act that we are memorializing here as we eat the bread and drink the wine. As we do so, we are partaking of God’s great saving act through Jesus, and … [Read more...]