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 greater things under the form of the lesser.

What is offered here, in words and actions, is the body of Jesus, the blood of Jesus. But what is actually being offered is totus Christus, all of Christ, the entire Jesus. This is all about union with Christ, and remember that union with Christ is only effectual when received by faith, and it is not possible for a true faith to receive a partial Christ.

In a similar way, these emblems, these elements, are received by you with your hands and your mouth. But your hands and your mouth also represent something. They are also a lesser thing that represents, necessarily, much more. They represent all of you—body, soul, and spirit—and they represent you resting in Christ forever and ever, world without end.

So true faith receives the true and entire Christ into the true and new humanity, being grown up into the perfect man. So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

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, you are not drowning. If you are on the far side of the Red Sea, then you are not under the Red Sea.

Our intent here is not to partake of a little ceremony. Our intent is to gather, as a people overflowing with faith, in order to partake in the salvation of the world. When you chew and swallow the bread, that is what the salvation of the world tastes like. When you take a drink of the wine, what you are tasting is God’s kindness to sinners.

So we do not call God our Savior because that is a Bible word. We call Him Savior because He saves. We call Him that because we have gathered here to the salvation of mankind.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

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.

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 purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Pet. 1:22–23).

When there is an unfeigned love for the brethren, when we love one another from the heart fervently, this is the Spirit’s seal upon us. It means that our joy unspeakable is not a sham, not a front, not a super-spiritual substitute for actually loving other people.

You have not seen Jesus Christ—joy unspeakable, full of glory. You have seen Jesus Christ in your brothers and sisters—unfeigned love, fervent love.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

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 together, worship together, educate your kids together, car pool together, and work together. What this means that you have, with regard to those closest to you, the most opportunities for both gratitude and complaining. Isn’t it odd that in the place where God has given us the most, and so we should be most thankful, we tend in that place to do most of our complaining? So as you look around the room, think of the offenses against you. Then look on the bread and wine, and realize that you are privileged to eat and drink their forgiveness.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

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 being presented with the whole Christ. You are not receiving a fraction of Christ here. You are in communion with Jesus Christ Himself. He is a person, and when He engages with you, He is engaged with you. When you partake of Him, you are partaking of Him.

And of course, you cannot be united to the whole Christ without being united to His people. His people are the body of Christ; they are part of the whole Christ. This is why we are called to partake of this sacred meal in faith, hope, and love—but love mostly.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Room and Board

When Nicolas Ridley was Bishop of London, he undertook the important reform of “stripping the altars.” Churches then had multiple altars, in the front of the church and in many side alcoves. Ridley ordered these all be removed, and replaced with a wooden table, a “decent table.”

He referred to this as the “Lord’s board,” taking that language from the translation of 1 Cor. 10:21 found in the Geneva Bible. Where our translations say the “Lord’s table,” the Geneva rendered it as board. We still have forms of this usage in expressions like “room and board,” or “boarders.” But whatever expression is used, the point was to replace an instrument for sacrificing with an instrument for eating.

In the times of the Old Testament, men of God built altars on the earth, and they were right to do so. They built altars because the altar had not yet been established. In the times of the new covenant, the earth itself has become an altar (Rom. 12:1-2), such that anything we do is to be offered up as a living sacrifice. Because Christ died once for all, the building of altars is no longer necessary, and, more than that, building altars is forbidden. We are summoned to come, take our place, in order to eat and drink.

So you are adopted into the family of God. You have every right to be here. God has given you His Spirit, the Spirit who calls out Abba, Father. This means that, unlike a renter, you may simply sit down to eat and drink. The costs are completely covered. No one would say of their toddler, except as a joke, that we decided to “give him room and board.” But the reason we wouldn’t say that is not because it isn’t true. He is being given room and board. But grace is so much a part of everyone’s thinking that the idea of making him pay for it never enters anyone’s head.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

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.