Thursday, November 13, 2003
In this understanding the Supper takes place in the mind of the person who receives it. As a result communion is negated. The only communion that can take place takes place in the mind. Perhaps you might cast a few charitable thoughts in the direction of the person sitting next to you, but this does not constitute communion. The form of 'communion' that is produced by such theology is radically individualistic, rationalistic and subjective.
It also means that theory is made to proceed reality. Only the person with the right theory can experience the reality. Anyone who fails to understand the finely honed meaning of the Lord's Supper will miss the feast. All the other denominations that do not hold to this particular doctrine of the Lord's Supper taste little of the reality, no matter how much faith they may have.
A further result of this approach is that the Lord's Supper ceases to be a mystery — a true sacrament. If your experience of the Lord's Supper rests upon your comprehension of it, you will never experience anything beyond your comprehension. Our ideas of Christ fall far short of the reality so, consequently, the whole Christ cannot be received in the Supper.
Many evangelical churches have a long prelude to the Supper in which they clearly articulate what the Supper does and does not mean, particularly emphasizing the manner in which Christ is absent. This is necessary given their doctrine of the Supper. You will only experience the Supper to the degree that you comprehend it.
A further result of this approach is the denial of the legitimacy of child participation. The argument is that the Supper is only efficacious by faith. What is meant by this is that the Supper is made efficacious by comprehension, which is wrongly identified with faith. The orthodox (with a small 'o') position is that faith is the necessary organ of reception, but adds nothing to the inherent efficacy of the sacrament.
As I have been preaching occasionally at my church on the subject of the Lord's Supper I have been wondering whether this is an issue that I should have tackled at the outset. The danger is that people will understand my sermons to be arguing that we must process all of this additional information if we are to truly experience the Supper.
It is my belief that our experience of the Supper precedes our understanding of the Supper. Our understanding of the Supper is always incomplete as it is a mystery, a sacrament offering Christ to us. Faith is the organ by which we receive the sacrament. Faith, in its mature form, should be characterized by knowledge and wisdom. This is why it is important that we preach on the meaning of the sacrament. A mature faith can gain more strength from the sacrament as it is equipped to receive it to a deeper level. Nevertheless, even the most naïve believer truly gains strength from the Supper.
Sunday, November 02, 2003
I want you to imagine that you have just received a very important looking letter through your door. On it there is an official seal and in beautiful type it declares that it has come from Buckingham Palace itself. You gingerly open it up and, lo and behold, inside there is an invitation to attend a state banquet. The Queen has personally requested the pleasure of your attendance. I am sure that you would check the address on the envelope more than once! Is this really addressed to me? Yes, it is!
You begin to prepare for the great occasion. You buy a new suit or dress. You want to ensure that you are at your very best for the banquet. You spend time practicing bowing or curtseying. You do not want to get it wrong on the day.
Finally the day arrives. You are all aquiver with nervous excitement. Before the day is through you will have eaten with the Queen! After what seems like an age you finally leave for the banquet. You are wearing your best clothes. You have showered four times, just to be sure. You have spent half an hour cleaning your teeth to make sure that they are as white as possible. You have made sure that there is not a single hair out of place.
You are ushered into a spacious dining hall where all the guests are seated at a huge table. You take your seat and wait for the meal to begin.
After you have begun your first course you notice one of the curtains moving strangely. The murmur of conversation gradually dies as the guests all look at the man who has climbed through the window. His clothes are dirty and his hair is disheveled. He is unshaven and those nearest to him are soon overcome by his unpleasing smell.
In the stunned silence the man strolls unceremoniously across the room to the very head of the table where the Queen herself sits. The waiters start to move towards him menacingly. The man waves to the Queen and shouts out, ‘Hey! How’s it going?’
You can all imagine what would happen with that man. He would be thrust out of the banquet.
This evening we have been invited to the King’s Banquet. I hope to draw our attention to how we must approach it. It is a great concern to me that many evangelicals have also shown a terrible neglect of the table of the Lord. People approach the table any old how. Brethren, the Lord Supper is not a TV meal. Our Host expects us to behave in an appropriate way.
We all know the Parable of the Wedding Feast. I am sure that you all know what happened to the man who does not have the wedding garment on. The king finds him out and expels him from the feast. We are called to prepare ourselves. We must approach the meal in an orderly manner. If we are not adequately prepared for the meal we will have no share in it.
What do we need to be sure that we will be received?
The Order of Sacrifices
I would like to begin by drawing your attention to some patterns in the worship of Leviticus that can teach us in the church today. In Leviticus we see that the Israelites were given very detailed instructions about how to approach God. They were told who was allowed to approach God, when they were allowed to approach God and exactly how they were to approach God.
There is little narrative in the book of Leviticus—it is not that type of book. One of the small historical accounts that we actually do encounter in the book concerns two sons of Aaron named Nadab and Abihu. They approach God in a way that He had not commanded. As a result they were consumed by fire from God. The New Testament also describes the God that we worship as a consuming fire—we cannot just waltz into His presence. For this reason we need to know the correct way to approach him. The pattern is clear—Confession, Consecration, Communion.
Firstly, Confession. There is one huge barrier between man and God. Whilst this barrier exists, God and man can never fellowship. This barrier is the barrier of sin. In the Old Covenant sacrificial system this barrier had to be crossed before man could ever access God’s presence.
In our theology we have often fallen into the trap of thinking of sin as a merely demanding a price to be paid, as if all that we had broken was an impersonal law. If anyone is inclined to think about it this way, I would direct you to re-examine your Bible. The law that man has broken is not an abstract moral law, but the Law of man’s Creator. It is not just a law that has been broken, it is a relationship.
The Bible teaches us that there is only one way to restore such a relationship and this is by sacrifice. A substitute must be offered. This pattern exists in Leviticus. The pattern that existed in the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the Church of Christ. Before the worshipper could approach God his sin had to be dealt with. For this reason sin and trespass offerings had to occur for the sin to be covered.
How is this fulfilled by us in our worship? If our worship is to be acceptable to God, it must be preceded by confession of sins and request for forgiveness. We cannot approach God as if there is no sin barrier. During the past week we have disobeyed God in many ways. Our sins have separated us from God. The purpose of our service on the Lord’s Day (the first day of a new week) is to renew our fellowship with God.
There are a number of stages to this. It is crucial that we begin at the right place. We must start with an offering for sin or else we are unfit to approach God. It is the blood of the sin offering that provides the way back into God’s presence for the worshipper that has been separated from Him.
When we approach God on the Lord’s Day we must begin by cleansing ourselves in the blood of the Lamb. The Bible teaches us that we have been given a forgiven status and have been cleansed. We must be washed if we are to come to the feast. Our washed status has been sealed to us by baptism. The early church used to represent this in their liturgy by clothing people who had just been baptized in white robes.
However, following baptism we all sin regularly. The Bible speaks of those who have defiled their garments (Revelation 3:4). How then do we get our garments white? The Bible gives us the answer in Revelation 7:14—by washing them in the blood of the Lamb.
In Hebrews 10:19-22 we see this pattern again. In Hebrews 9:13-14 we see the cleansing rituals of the Old and New Covenants compared. It is the blood of Christ that purges our conscience. Hebrews 10 brings this out more. How do we have confidence to approach God and be sure that He will receive us? By the blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We have assurance from God, we have our hearts sprinkled by the blood of Christ and our bodies washed with the water of baptism.
Each Lord’s Day we reapply the blood of Christ to ourselves. We call upon God once again to forgive us and to accept us. If we approach God as if sin were not an issue, He will eventually cast us out of His presence. If we habitually defile our garments and do not seek renewed cleansing we have no hope of sharing true communion at the King’s Feast.
Many people have the idea that we just have confession of sins and things like that in the prayer out of tradition. No. We pray for the forgiveness of sins because we know that only those with clean garments are welcome at the feast. Forgiveness requires a sacrifice to renew fellowship. We renew our fellowship with God by the reapplication of the blood of Christ.
We now move on to Consecration. Following the sin and trespass offerings, there were other offerings. These offerings logically followed after the offerings that directly addressed the barrier of sin. Now that the barrier of sin has been removed we wish to be drawn up into fellowship with God.
In Leviticus 1 we see the burnt offering or whole burnt offering. This offering would probably be better called the ascension offering (this is the more literal meaning). This offering was skinned, cut into separate pieces and was then completely burned. No part of this sacrifice was eaten by either the worshipper or by the priests. It was offered entirely to God.
What is the meaning of this sacrifice? There has been debate on this subject amongst Old Testament scholars. Some see it symbolic of complete destruction. Others argue that it is a sign of complete consecration. Others try and join these two together by claiming that the substitute is completely destroyed so that worshipper might be completely consecrated (e.g. Poythress).
I think that the emphasis is upon the ascension of the sacrifice into God’s presence. The dead sacrifice is transfigured and brought into a fellowship of life with God. This is seen in the emphasis on the sweet smell of the sacrifice to God. The sacrifice represents the worshipper. The worshipper consecrates himself to God and is brought up to enjoy fellowship with Him.
Leviticus also teaches us that this sacrifice served as an atoning sacrifice. The Bible does not teach us that the burnt offering was the atonement for a particular form of sins. Rather it teaches us that the burnt offering made the worshipper acceptable to God (Leviticus 1:4). For these reasons I believe that the burnt offering points to the reality of consecration. We must be consecrated if we are to enter into fellowship with God. This evening I want to focus upon this aspect in particular.
Following the Confession and the Consecration, we reach the final stage—Communion. After the barrier of sin had been removed and the worshipper had been consecrated to God, fellowship could be enjoyed. This was seen in the peace offering (I am leaving the tribute offerings for the time being). God shared a meal with the worshipper. Fellowship was seen in the context of shared food.
In Leviticus 7:11-21 we see that the regulations for the eating of the peace offering are very precise. God does not want people taking the blessing of fellowship with Him lightly. Someone who abused the peace offering could be cut off from the people altogether. This might have been by execution or by excommunication. Either way, abuse of the peace offering was not to be taken lightly.
The Lord’s Supper is our peace offering. It is the sign that fellowship has been restored between man and God by the sin offering of Jesus Christ. It is the sign that man has ascended into fellowship with God in Jesus Christ. We should not take it lightly. God would not recognize the offering if people departed from His instructions.
I want to give us all a challenge in this respect. How seriously do we take God’s instructions? Do we think that we can modify them at will? Do we despise the table of the Lord by celebrating the Lord’s Supper in a way contrary to that which Scripture has prescribed?
The Bible makes it quite clear that the Lord’s Supper is to be a communal meal. We all too often celebrate it individualistically. The Bible makes it quite clear that the Lord’s Supper is a time to rejoice. We all too often treat it as a fast.
The Bible makes it quite clear that the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated with wine. There are well over a hundred Biblical reasons for celebrating the Lord’s Supper with alcoholic wine. Only in a church culture that would deny the good gifts of God would wine be ruled out. Alcoholic wine was universally used for the first 1800 years of the church’s existence without dispute, on the basis of Christ’s clear command. Are we willing to make the Word of God of no effect by our new traditions? The Bible makes it quite clear that this is what we are to do. If we willfully ignore this, what do you think God thinks of us? I know that this is a hard word, but we deal with a precise God, we should not play fast and loose with His commandments. There was no vegetarian option at the Passover. Likewise, there should be no non-alcoholic option at the Lord’s Supper. This is not our Supper, it is the Lord’s Supper. We have no right to tinker with the menu.
Unpacking the Meaning of the Burnt Offering
When does the meal occur?
We have observed that the peace offering logically follows after the burnt offering. The meal occurs after the consecration of the worshipper to God. It is important that we observe this order. If we are not consecrated to God we cannot expect to enjoy fellowship with Him. If the Old Testament worshipper was not consecrated to God he would be severely punished if he partook of the peace offering. We must follow the same pattern. Consecration precedes communion.
The Meaning of the Burnt Offering
I would like to explore the meaning of the burnt offering a bit further at this stage. We see that the burnt offering was cut into separate parts and completely burnt. I believe that this has its New Testament fulfillment in the consecration of the believer to God. In Romans 6:13 we read: ‘And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.’
Each Christian knows that he has no spiritual life of himself. Man in his fallen state, in the flesh, is a slave to sin and is, in fact, dead in sin. What is the Christian’s response to this? Do we resign ourselves to the inevitable and presume that we must continue sinning? Certainly not! The Christian’s response is to see Himself as a dismembered body, presented to God. The dismembered body is brought to spiritual life by the power of God. The Christian becomes a burnt offering and the Christian is brought back from the dead in renewed fellowship with God. We continually sacrifice the dismembered corpse of our life in the flesh so that we would know the power of new life in the Spirit.
To offer a burnt offering it needed to be without blemish. We have just such an offering in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of His sacrificial work that our bodies can be acceptable to God. We are to reckon ourselves dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is the life of Jesus Christ that knits our dismembered bodies back together. Paul writes: ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’
If we are to approach the Lord’s Supper this evening we must be sure that we have died first. What does this all mean?
The Christian as one who has died
What is the identifying feature of the Christian in the New Testament? Many answers could be given. However, I think that there is one characteristic that particularly stands out. The Christian marked out by the symbol of death—the cross of Jesus Christ. The Christian identifies himself with this symbol in everyway imaginable. The Bible does not merely teach us that Christ died for us. Arguably, the Bible teaches more about us dying with Christ.
In the Bible the theme of our living out the death of Christ is very prominent. In Luke 9:23 we are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus as those who have been condemned to death. In Romans 8 we read that we are like lambs for the slaughter and that we must suffer with Christ if we are to be glorified with Him. In Hebrews 13:12-13 we are called to follow Jesus to the place of shame and rejection outside of the gate. In Romans 6 we see that we are baptized into His death. In 1 Corinthians we see that we proclaim the death of Christ when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The cross of Calvary is a reality lived out daily in the life of every Christian. It is the motivating principle. The death of Christ is an event that has shaped the destiny of all who follow.
The cross is a terrible symbol to be marked out by. It is the mark of someone rejected by society. It is the mark of a condemned criminal. It is the mark of the detestable nature of the one who hangs on it. It is the mark of pain, suffering and agony. It is the mark of the people of God.
Paul knew this reality himself. He lived it out daily. ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus’—Galatians 6:17. The ‘sufferings of Christ abounded in Him’—2 Corinthians 1:5. He was ‘always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake’—2 Corinthians 4:11. He always ‘carried about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus’—2 Corinthians 4:10. In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul described himself as like a ‘man condemned to death’.
The Christian participates in the suffering of Christ so that he might share in Christ’s glory. We must follow in His footsteps. Only if we are put to death can we be made alive again. Jesus said, ‘He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour’ (John 12:25-26).
If we are to come into God’s presence we must lay down our lives. We must present ourselves as a sacrifice to God. Peter, in his first epistle teaches us that Jesus was ‘put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18).’ If you want to know new life this evening in fellowship with God, you must be prepared to lay your life down. It takes courage to lay down your life. It takes faith. We must trust that God will raise it up again.
The Bible teaches us that if we live in the flesh we cannot please God. We need new life if we are to please Him. ‘For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).’ If we are to receive life from God this evening we must be prepared to lay down our lives first. We must come as those with no rights or privileges, as those despised and rejected, as outcasts and exiles and as those willing to suffer loss and persecution. Romans 12:1 teaches us that this is our reasonable service.
Are you willing to surrender control over your life? If you are unwilling, how can you expect to receive life from God?
How does this operate in the church?
How is this worked out in the church? We present our bodies as sacrifices to God. Our bodies are prepared for the sacrifice by being dismembered. The sword of the Word divides us into pieces. We lay down our old lives in sacrifice to God. We present our members to Him. They will now be wielded by His life, not ours. Only as we are offered up to God can we receive new life from Him.
We offer ourselves up to God in hope, in hope that we will receive new life in Christ. We offer ourselves in hope that our flesh will be knit back together and we will leave God’s presence as new people, animated by a life that is not natural to our flesh—the life of Christ.
On the Lord’s Day, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we lay down our lives so that we might be admitted to a new realm of life, to a life that cannot be destroyed by death, because this life has itself destroyed death.
Before we receive this life, however, we are like dismembered bodies. We proclaim that naturally we have no life to unify our bodies in one. Our members are naturally at war. Only as they are presented as sacrifices to God can they be brought into union in one body. The man without the life of Christ can never feel whole. He will always be torn apart. Only the life of Christ can bring the pieces of our lives back together. This can only happen as we offer our lives up to God.
This evening, we lay the broken pieces of our lives at Christ’s feet. We don’t know how to put them back together again. We are no better than dismembered bodies. Only God can put us back together.
This is not just an individual thing. Far from it. In fact the emphasis should be upon the corporate aspect. Attending the church we have many individuals. Naturally, by sin we are separated from God and consequently separated from each other. The barriers between human beings exist wholly as a consequence of the barrier of sin between man and his Creator. Only as the church presents itself to God can we be brought together as one body.
In Romans 12:1 we read: ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.’ Our bodies (plural) are to be offered to God as a sacrifice (singular). Only as our bodies are sacrificed to God can union be experienced, barriers broken down and peace enjoyed.
The Feast Itself
To put all of this more particularly, the point of all that I am saying is that we prepare for the feast by laying down our lives. We lay down our lives so that we can enjoy union with God and we lay down our lives so that we can enjoy union with each other.
Fellowship can only be enjoyed as a result of sacrifice. We must be prepared to offer ourselves to God so that in Christ we might be brought back together. We cannot withhold any part of our lives. We can only offer ourselves in Christ who is the perfect burnt offering. He gave His life to God so that He might receive life from God. This is what we must do as we come to the Lord’s Supper.
In the Lord’s Supper man is given new life. We all partake of the one bread and, thereby we become one body. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:17—“For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” In the Lord’s Supper we are knit into union with each other. We become one body again. We are knit back into union with ourselves as individuals also. This can only occur as we become members of Christ’s body.
In the Lord’s Supper we are, in a real sense, reconstituted as one body in Christ. We grossly neglect this by our focus upon the Supper as ‘me and Jesus’. This is to miss most of the meaning of the Supper.
After eating the bread and being reconstituted as one body, we share in the cup and are reconstituted in a common life. The life is in the blood as Leviticus teaches us. As Christ offers us His blood He offers us fellowship in His life so that we would be able to join with Paul in saying that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20).
The Lord’s Supper is the peculiar act in which the church is reconstituted as the body of Christ. The church is not a human institution. The church is permeated by the life of the God-man. Christ lives in the church by His Spirit. The church as the body of Christ is not natural. The life the church experiences is not natural. We are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God. The church’s true life is the life of Christ. The Lord’s Supper is an anticipation of the life to come in the new heavens and the new earth. Only as we die to this age can we become partakers of the age to come.
People who think that the church is merely an institution to help us in our personal religion utterly neglect the biblical teaching. Personal religion is only lived out in the bosom of the church as the body of Christ. It is in the body of Christ that we receive the life of Christ. Those who would separate themselves from the body separate themselves from life. This is why we do not neglect our meeting together. This is why the Lord’s Supper is so important. It is the expression of our new life.
In conclusion I have three brief applications to make.
Firstly, are we prepared to lay down our lives so that we might gain new life in Christ? This is the way we must prepare for the feast. We can only receive the new life that is offered by faith. This faith is not an abstract belief in propositions. No, this faith is modeled after the faith of Christ Himself. It is the faith that lays down its own life in order to receive new life from God. Are we willing to live lives marked out by death—death to old privileges and rights, death to this world and death to sin? If we are not, how do we expect to receive new life from God?
Secondly, when we partake, are we recognizing the body? If you celebrate this Supper in an individualistic manner you are denying what the Supper is about. We all offer ourselves to God so that we might receive new life together. We are one sacrifice not many. The new life we receive is a new life that is shared. The new body we become is one body, not many. Pay attention to the person sitting next to you.
Thirdly and finally, the new life we are offered in the Lord’s Supper is the life of the Spirit. This is the life by which we can live more and more as dead people. The Christian’s calling is to live on the resurrection side of Calvary, to partake in the new life of the Spirit, and not live in the old death of the flesh. It is only by the Spirit that we can put to death the deeds of the flesh. The Christian is to live as one who has come out of the tomb with Jesus Christ. He is no longer under the old master of the flesh. Our life in the flesh is to be dominated by the life of the Spirit of Christ. This is what we are offered in the Lord’s Supper—a share in the life that can destroy death.
This is how we prepare for the Lord’s feast. This is how we ensure that we will be blessed and accepted. This is how we honour His table and do not despise it.
‘And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.’—Romans 8:10-11
‘Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”’—John 6:53-58