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 accepting what is offered. The Reformers lived in a time when the works of the early church father Tertullian were recovered, and it is from Tertullian that they learned that the word sacramentum … [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 sacraments, but we are not nearly clever enough to invent them. Whenever we try to invent them, we come up God says here is the bread. Bless it, break it, eat it, and love each other. Here is the … [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, improving your baptism by faith, singing and praying, and coming to the Lord’s Table. So Christ is objectively offered here, but the only way to receive Him is through the subjective experience of trusting … [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 come together—Word, sign, and thing signified—and in order to get this we need a divine bonding agent. Only one thing can tie these three things together, and the Bible teaches that this one thing is … [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 resurrection mean. So the Lord Jesus is at the head of the Table, and the lowliest Christian seated at the foot of the Table is in full possession of all the riches of this great house. Another way of … [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, this is reversed. She begins with the fact that He possesses her, and then goes on to rejoice in the fact that He belongs to her. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine: He feedeth among the … [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 this, we are anticipating by faith. Anticipating what? We long for the day when Christ will be revealed to the entire created order as the one who has been given universal dominion. Every eye will … [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 felt presence of Christ. This is possible because the Spirit has quickened you—you are a seed, not a pebble. You are green shoot, struggling up through the soil, beginning a glorious journey for such a … [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 table, trying to figure out what is going on inside the bread or inside the wine. Faith receives the mystery into the body of Christ—you are that body—and there sees what God intends when He speaks of … [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 if we do so in genuine and sincere faith, we are partaking of that saving act. Now it is not possible to partake of that saving act—really, genuinely—without being saved. If you are in the ark, … [Read more...]

A High Table for the Low Hearted

One of the great blessings of the covenant is that when we come to the Table of the Lord, the Lord is dealing with us. We partake of Christ in a special way here, and there is no way to partake of Christ with nothing happening. Christ is present here and He deals with us. But He deals with us according to His grace, and not in a spirit of severity. This part of the service, where I say a few words just before the Supper, is called the Invitation. And it is a true invitation. Come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ is the constant theme. … [Read more...]

Unspeakable Joy and Fullness of Glory

We have not yet seen Jesus Christ in the body, and through the grace of God, this is a great blessing and glory for us. While that fact has led many into a ho-hum profession of the Christian faith, cruising along on autopilot, that is not how the Spirit intends to use the fact that we have not seen Jesus Christ. “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:” (1 Peter 1:8). God wants the fact that we have not seen Jesus with our eyes to be something that faith lifts up into unspeakable joy and fullness of glory. Ineffable joy is therefore something that is part of normal Christian living. It should be part of the baseline. This is not an over-inflamed condition of uber-saints; these are words written to ordinary Christians such as yourselves. “Joy unspeakable and full of glory” is not a private reserve for mystics. And this is what enables you, as you have gathered together in this way, coming to the Table of the Lord with that unspeakable joy, to then discern the body of the Lord Jesus in your brothers and sisters all around you. Just a few verses down, Peter says this: “Seeing ye have … [Read more...]

Eating and Drinking Their Forgiveness

One of our great responsibilities in the Lord’s Supper is to look around. By this I mean looking around metaphorically and looking around actually. We would encourage you not to stare at the bread and the wine, and we would encourage you not to curl up into a little ball of pious thoughts. Look around. Look around the world. All over this globe, the saints of God are worshiping Him, ascending into the heavenly places in the power of the Holy Spirit. A swath of worship is sweeping around the globe at a steady rate, just like sunrise and sunset do. You are together with all of them. See that by faith, and make sure you look around. Look around your town. There are many believing churches on the Palouse, and these saints are your brothers and sisters. You don’t worship together with them, but you work together with many of them in the course of the week—sometimes in ministry and sometimes in your regular jobs—and so you know them, and love them. And even though you don’t worship together with them, if you look around, you will see that you do worship together with them. Look around this room. These are the saints that are together with you in one congregation. You all live … [Read more...]

Sacramental Synecdoche

One of the great doctrines of Scripture is the doctrine of union with Christ. The phrase in Christ or related phrases occurs in Paul’s letters over 170 times. It occurs in the book of Ephesians over 30 times. Now for those who are Christ’s this union is the case all the time. But Scripture also teaches us that there are occasions when that union is realized more fully, more richly, more deeply. The Lord’s Supper is intended to be just such an occasion. You are a Christian all the time. You bear the name of Christ all the time. But to paraphrase one Puritan—in other places we have His Word, in the sacrament we have His kiss. Now when we partake of Christ this way, take care to remember that Christ is not being parceled out to you. You are receiving a little bit of bread, and a small cup of wine, that is true, but this is a sacramental synecdoche. A synecdoche is a figure of speech where we speak of the whole in terms of the parts or vice versa. For example, when we say many hands make light work, and we are referring to all the people connected to those hands, that is synecdoche. I bring this up, not as a point of grammar trivia, but so that you might know that you are … [Read more...]