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...]

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...]