The Axis of Regeneration

As the Old Testament saints looked forward into the future, as Abraham did, rejoicing to see the day of Christ, they were looking forward to the times of refreshing, the times of the regeneration. But we must not think of this regeneration simply as an event, or the arrival of an era. There is a sense in which that is true, but there is another element to it all. We need more than just a line of regeneration, descending from Heaven to cross the line of history.

We need an axis of regeneration. From the perspective of the older covenant, there was a time coming when God’s intervention was going to close off the times of unregeneration, and inaugurate the times of the regeneration. This is true. A time was coming when all the bodies in Ezekiel’s boneyard were going to come to life, and were going to stand and live, in accordance with the sovereign Word of the sovereign God. Israel was going to be born again.

But there was always another line, and always will be, equally established in the will of God, a line that ran down the middle of human history, including the middle of the historical church, the covenant people of God. This also was a line of regeneration, separating the sons of Belial from the sons of Abraham.

Now when you come to this Table, you are called to come in true faith. And when you come in true evangelical faith, this Table is, for you, the point of intersection on this axis of regeneration. On the one hand, God’s purpose for all history is slicing clean through it, from top to bottom. Christ is present, here. This Table is life in the regeneration. On the other hand, the fact that you are partaking sincerely separates you from all false and hypocritical professors. The fact that we are in the regeneration does not make being a son of Belial impossible. Far from it.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

All Kernel, No Shell

Faith sees. Faith knows. Faith apprehends.

We know that without faith it is impossible to please God, and the converse is also true. Whenever genuine faith is present and active, that faith is a gift from God, and God is always pleased with His own gifts. If He stirs us up to something, then He will always take pleasure in His own work.

Faith is the gift that God gives us that enables us to see what He is up to. When we do not have that gift, we see nothing more than the skin of divine mysteries. We see the shell, the outside. If you would crack open the shell to obtain the kernel, then you must have faith.

This is important because without faith, everything presented to us presents only the shell. Preaching, attending church, singing psalms and hymns, receiving the waters of baptism, partaking of the bread and wine . . . all of it is simply the external shell.

But with faith, the metaphor becomes glorious. When faith cracks open the shell and obtains the kernel, all the bits of shell become the kernel also. Without faith, the nut is a solid shell, all the way through. With faith, the nut is nothing but kernel, all the way out.

This is why men of faith can sound like superstitious idolaters in how they speak of the sacraments – but they only sound that way to superstitious idolaters. And this is also why men of faith can sound like iconoclastic rebels, but they only sound that way to superstitious idolaters.

Bread and wine you did not require, but a humble and a contrite heart. And whoever partakes of the bread and wine is partaking of Christ Himself. How can these paradoxes be resolved? Only by faith, by faith alone, sola fide.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

You May Put Them in Your Mouth

This Supper is all about the future. This is an eschatological meal at the end of the world that we are privileged to share in now. Just as the Spirit of God escorts us all into the heavenly places so that we may partake of the living Christ there, so also the Spirit unites past, present and future in such a way as to enable every true Christian to partake of eternal life now.

The one who believes in Jesus has eternal life, and has eternal life as a present possession. “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54).

There is a mystery here because false Christians can certainly partake of the Supper in some fashion, which is why Paul says that their unbelief makes them guilty of the body and blood of (1 Cor. 11:27). You can’t defile something you have no connection with. Just as they have some sort of union with Christ (John 15:1-6), so also they have some way of trampling the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified (Heb. 10:29). There is a connection there, but it is not a life-giving connection.

But just as there are Christians and then real Christians, so also there is partaking and real partaking. Real partaking is by faith alone, and real partaking is efficacious. Going back to John 6:54, if someone eats Christ’s body and drinks His blood, what may we then say is the case? We may say that he has, right now, eternal life, and we may say that God has promised to raise him up at the last day.

Someone who is not so raised is therefore someone who never had the promise that he would be raised. God breaks all kinds of things—worlds and kingdoms, heads and hearts, princes and presidents, and constellations in the heavens. God breaks the pride of man, but He never breaks a promise. This means that someone who is not so raised is someone who never had that eternal life.

But we are convinced of much better things in your case. This meal is offered to you here as an earnest on your final inheritance. If you receive it in true evangelical faith, with a humble heart, and without blowing any smoke at God, then you may marvel at what you are being given. This bread and this wine are eternal life. They are being given to you. They are yours. You may put them in your mouth.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

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.

Continuing to Receive

When we come to this Table to receive the elements of bread and wine, we are coming here to receive Jesus Christ Himself.

We do not do this because we have not yet received Him, but rather we do this as part of our ongoing and lifelong reception of Christ. Of course, when we first received Christ, we were coming to faith, we were ushered out of darkness and into light. When we have come here to receive Him, we are not coming here to receive Him for the first time.

Where He Offers Himself

There are many aspects to this Supper, but one of them is that it is an expression of loyalty. In this meal, the Lord offers Himself to all who come to Him in faith, and all who come to Him in faith offer themselves in return, in a devout imitation.

Christ offers Himself. We may describe this doctrinally, but He does not offer us a mere doctrine. We may enact this liturgically, but He does not offer a liturgical shell. God offers us Himself. He gives Himself, and in the power of the Spirit, He gives Himself wholly.

We are to act as dearly beloved children, which means that we are to imitate Him in this. We come here to express our all-in loyalty. There are to be no double loyalties here—nothing else can be permitted to compete with the place of Christ in our hearts.

We do this fully aware of all the distractions that pull at our sleeves on a daily basis. We know of our faults and failings, and our propensity to wander. But that does not exclude us from this meal—God knows what kind of world we live in, and He knows what kinds of temptations we face. What we are dealing with is “common to man,” and God has provided us with Word and sacrament. But note that these are merely instruments by which He provides us with Himself.

If you would profit by this—and why would you not want to profit by it—then you must receive what is actually being offered. When you do this, your loyalties are aligned with His, and His Spirit equips you fully.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

A Personal Work

The sacraments are not a thing in themselves. The sacraments are what they are because they are an instrument or tool in the hand of God. And the way God wields His instrument or ministry of this Supper is through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

There is therefore no blessing here apart from a relationship between persons—the communicant and the Spirit who is using these means to build up and confirm the faith of that communicant. Everything always begins with God, so He gives us faith in the first place. In that faith, we come here, and because we come in the faith that was designed to enable us to commune with Him, He communes with us here. In meeting us here, He then uses these elements to confirm and nurture us in our faith so that we go out to live our daily lives strengthened by Him, and be better equipped to come back here in growing faith next week.

So the work that is done externally is the eating of bread and the drinking of wine. The work that is done internally, subjectively, by the Spirit, is the work of uniting us with Christ for blessing. Apart from Him doing that, there is no blessing at all.

Now the thing that causes the inside and the outside of the sacrament to line up properly is faith. Not faith in ourselves, not faith in the bread or wine, not faith in the church, and certainly not faith in our own faith. We are called to faith in our Father, who sent His Christ, and after that it is faith in the Father and the Son, who sent their Spirit.

It is not superstition to meet God where He said to meet Him. The sacraments work—when they work—the same way that sermons do. Nothing happens automatically. This Supper doesn’t contain Christ, the way the cup contains the wine. But this Supper most certainly ministers Christ. And whenever a worshiper meets with His God, everything is transformed.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Not An Escape, But a Cleansing

This meal is the Wisdom of God. But you do not come here to do things with that Wisdom, but rather so that God’s infinite Wisdom will do things to you. The Wisdom of God is infinite and personal. Only the Spirit of God can plumb the depths of that infinite Wisdom, and that is because the infinite Wisdom is the person of Christ.

When you come to this Table, you are coming to Christ, the Wisdom of God, the amen of God, the fulfillment of every yes from the Father, He whose very nature is yes.