The Father is Seeking Worshipers

June 18, 2017 in Bible - NT - John, Communion, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Sovereignty of God, Worship

John 4:23–24 (NKJV)
23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”

Last week we observed that Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman explained some of the changes in worship from the old to the new covenant. While old covenant worship was centralized in Jerusalem, new covenant worship has been spread throughout the earth; and while old covenant worship was simply monotheistic, new covenant worship is Trinitarian, gloriously monotheistic. Today I’d like us to meditate on Jesus’ remark that the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

In the history of Christianity, one of the names used to identify the weekly corporate gathering of the congregation is the Divine Service or the Lord’s Service. Unfortunately, we rarely use this term any longer, almost exclusively using the word “worship” to label our weekly gathering.

On one level, of course, using the label “worship” is entirely fitting. To worship God is to ascribe worth to Him – it is to announce that He is the Lord and Creator of all and is therefore worthy of all honor and glory and power. Each Lord’s Day we gather to worship the High and Exalted One, the One who has created us from nothing and who has redeemed us from destruction. As Jesus says in our text today, we gather to worship God the Father in the Name of His Son and by the power of His Spirit. Worship is a great term.

But the term “worship” can obscure a fundamental reality to which Jesus points us in our text: The Father is seeking such to worship Him. Jesus declares that when we come to worship the Lord, the reason that we have come is because God in His mercy has sought us out. Our worship, in other words, is a response to God’s action. Why are you here today? Because God sought you out, God summoned you here, God brought you here. We love because He first loved us. We serve God in worship because God first served us by bringing us here.

And this is why the title the “Lord’s Service” is so helpful. The title is intentionally ambiguous – is the “Lord’s Service” our service of the Lord – worshiping Him, honoring Him, and praising Him – or is it the Lord’s Service of His people – calling us together, comforting us from His Word, and feeding us at His Table? Biblically our gathering each Lord’s Day is both. He serves us and we serve Him. And whose service is primary? Whose service comes first? The Lord’s. For if He did not serve us by calling us here then we would not serve Him by worshiping Him.

Ought we not, therefore, to begin each Lord’s Day with gratitude and thankfulness? God has called us here; summoned us to enter His presence and worship Him in Spirit and Truth. So how have you responded to His summons? Are you here with an eager heart and mind? Or are you here cloudy and disinterested, so worn from the cares of the week that you cannot serve Him well?

Reminded that God has sought us out and served us in order that we might serve Him, let us confess that we often respond to His work with ingratitude and indifference rather than joy and delight. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why use leavened bread in the Supper?

April 2, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Communion, Lord's Day, Meditations, Postmillennialism
Luke 13:20–21 (NKJV)
20 And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
For several weeks, we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Last week we touched upon our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly; this week let us consider our practice of using leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper. Why use yeast? Why leavened bread?
Given that the Lord’s Supper has parallels with the old covenant rite of Passover, some have argued that Christians should use unleavened bread in the Supper. Passover was the last day in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, given to celebrate the exodus from Egypt. Since the Lord’s Supper was inaugurated during that feast, some have argued that we should use unleavened bread in our celebration. What should we think of this?
Let us say, first, that there is nothing wrong with a church deciding to use unleavened bread in its celebration of the Supper. “The kingdom of God is not in eating and drinking but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). Further, Paul exhorts us in Corinthians, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8). Unleavened bread can be used to convey such an exhortation and there is nothing wrong in its use.
That said, throughout Scripture both leavened and unleavened bread were used in sacred rites. While unleavened bread was used at Passover, leavened bread was used for the peace offerings (Lev 7:13) as well as for the celebration of Pentecost (Lev 23:16-17). Given that the Lord’s Supper is the new covenant feast that centers all these rites in Christ’s death and resurrection, it is important to recall why unleavened bread was used at Passover to determine if that rationale applies to the Lord’s Supper.

According to Exodus 12, unleavened bread highlighted the “haste” with which our fathers were to leave Egypt. God wanted them to leave quickly and so they didn’t have time for the yeast to rise. This sense of haste was confirmed by their dress – they were to eat the meal prepared to travel. “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waste, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste” (Ex 12:11).
So does the Lord’s Supper commemorate this same sense of “haste”? I don’t think so. The only haste seen at the Last Supper is that of Judas who is told, “What you have to do, do quickly!” That is hardly the type of haste we want to imitate! So what does the bread of the Lord’s Supper commemorate? It commemorates the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and the commencement of His kingdom. At the Supper Jesus took bread and broke it; He then shared it among his disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is My body.” The bread points not to haste but to Christ.
And this brings us back to the parable I read earlier. And again [Jesus] said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” Jesus uses leaven to illustrate the pervasive influence of His kingdom, His rule. His kingdom shall operate in the world like leaven, slowly, organically permeating the world until the entire earth is leavened. And it is this characteristic of Christ’s rule that we are attempting to emphasize by using leavened bread: Jesus’ kingdom is like leaven. Slowly, organically the reality symbolized by this bread will become realized throughout the world. Jesus will spread His rule throughout the nations of the earth.

The use of leavened bread, therefore, summons us to be like leaven, to be instruments of God’s work in our families, communities, and workplaces. We are so to live and labor that the entire loaf becomes leavened. Reminded that God has called us to be leaven; to live so that through our witness Christ’s rule on earth is established; let us confess that we often fail to live in this leavening fashion. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why use wine in the Lord’s Supper?

March 27, 2017 in Bible - NT - John, Bible - NT - Mark, Bible - NT - Matthew, Communion, Meditations, Politics
Matthew 26:26–30 (NKJV)
26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
For several weeks, we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Last week we touched upon our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly; this week let us consider our practice of using wine in the Lord’s Supper. Why wine?
This is not merely an academic question. As your pastor, I know that many of you are tempted by alcohol; a number who have a history of alcohol abuse in your families or in your own life. Our use of wine in communion is for some of you a personal challenge.
Further, we are part of a broader evangelical subculture which has a history of opposing alcohol. While Lutherans and Roman Catholics were almost uniformly critical of the prohibitionist movement in America, many of our evangelical forefathers jumped on the wagon. “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t chew; and don’t go with girls that do!”
So given these personal and historical factors, why do our elders persist in using wine? One of the questions that we evangelicals are known for asking is, “What would Jesus do?” In the matter of wine, the way to answer that question is to ask first, “What did Jesus do?” And the NT answers that question clearly: Jesus made wine, Jesus drank wine, and Jesus used wine to commemorate God’s salvation.
First, Jesus made wine. The first miracle that Jesus performed was turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. And, as the question that the master of the feast asks the groom makes plain, this wasn’t grape juice. “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” (Jn 2:10) Jesus made excellent wine.
Second, Jesus drank wine. Jesus contrasts His ministry with that of John the Baptist in this way, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Mt 11:18-19). Jesus came drinking – and many accused Him of being a winebibber, a drunkard. Such an accusation would hardly stick were Jesus known as a teetotaler. Jesus drank wine.
Finally, Jesus used wine to commemorate God’s salvation. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He used the fruit of the vine as a symbol of His shed blood. Refrigeration was not common in the ancient world. When the Bible references “the fruit of the vine”, therefore, it refers almost exclusively to wine. And if Jesus used wine to celebrate the Supper, why wouldn’t we?
So what did Jesus do? He made wine, drank wine, and used wine to commemorate God’s salvation. And here’s a very important point: Jesus did all this within a cultural context in which drunkenness was a common problem; He established this for His Church knowing that many of His disciples would be tempted by alcohol. So why did He do it? Why didn’t He just use water like the Mormons do?
Because in using wine within the context of the Supper, Jesus declared that wine is good in itself. The problem with humanity is not there in the cup; the problem is here in our heart. Drunkenness proceeds out of the heart (Mk 7:20-23). Communion puts the use of wine in a holy, a sacred context. By giving me wine for communion, Jesus is teaching me that it is possible for me to use and not abuse this gift to the glory of my Creator.
So what of you? Have you thanked God for the gift of wine? Further, have you been using that gift to His glory or have you been abusing it to your own shame? Reminded that God has given us wine to use to the honor of His Name and that we often deny or abuse His good gifts because our hearts are corrupt, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why Celebrate the Lord’s Supper Weekly?

March 19, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Communion, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Meditations
1 Corinthians 11:17–22 (NKJV)
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
As we read the New Testament, it is evident that Paul was deeply disappointed by the errors that emerged in the Corinthian church. Yet, in God’s Providence, Paul’s correction of these errors has served to lead, guide, and protect all churches since. The instructions that Paul gave them enable us to evaluate our churches in light of apostolic teaching. So, from our vantage point, we give thanks to God for the challenges in the Corinthian congregation.
As we see in our text, one of these challenges centered around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. For several weeks, we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Today we consider our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly in our service of worship. While the Lord’s Supper historically has been a regular part of Christian worship, many Protestant churches now share communion monthly or quarterly or even annually. So why have we chosen to observe it weekly?
As we see in our text, Paul insists that the point of the Supper is to highlight our unity as the people of God. By sharing in the body and blood of Christ, we declare that what unites us together is not our race, nor our sex, nor our economic status, nor our age, nor our intellectual capacity, but the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are one in Christ.
So in our text Paul is highlighting the way in which the Corinthians’ worship practices undermined this unity. When they came together as the Church, when they (literally) “synagogued” together – notice the focus on public worship – when they came together as the Church and then partook of the Lord’s Supper in such a way that highlighted their divisions with one another rather than their unity, were they celebrating the Supper? No! Paul writes in v. 20, “when you come together in one place (i.e., when you synagogue), it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” The whole point of the Supper is that we are one body. The Corinthians were eating bread and drinking wine, alright, but what they weren’t doing is celebrating the Supper – even though they called it that.
But note that Paul’s very rebuke of their malpractice highlights the reason they were gathering together. When they came together as the Church, it was not to eat the Lord’s Supper, but it should have been! Celebrating the Supper, in other words, was to be one of the purposes of their gathering. When we come together as the Church, we do so to worship the Lord, to hear from His Word, and to act out our unity in Christ. And how do we symbolize, how do we ritualize, how do we illustrate that unity? By sharing communion together. As Paul writes in 1 Cor 10:17, “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” Even as there is one loaf, so there is one Christ and one body, of which we all are partakers.
So why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly? Because it is through this Supper that God reminds us that we are not a social club; we are not a men’s gathering nor a women’s gathering; we are not an age segregated community; we are not a white collar nor blue collar association; we are not an Arminian nor Calvinist theological society. We are the Church of God, united together in Christ, through His death and resurrection, as one people.

So reminded that the Supper emphasizes our unity with Christ and one another weekly, let us confess that we are often divided from one another. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Word and Ritual, Proclamation and Sacrifice

June 9, 2016 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Communion, Liturgy, Quotations, Word of God, Worship

“Therefore, beginning with Genesis 4:26 and continuing through the history of the faith, true believers have proclaimed their faith to the world through their worship. With the call of Abraham to begin the covenant program of bringing blessing to the world, that proclamation became clearer, richer, and more powerful… proclamation has ever since been an integral part of worship. Now in the worship of the new covenant the preaching of Christ crucified is the necessary correlative to celebrating Holy Communion. Whenever proclamation has been lost to worship, worship loses its way and becomes empty ritual. Both the drama of the ritual and the interpretation by the proclamation are necessary for the full worship of God. The Word gives the ritual meaning, and the ritual gives visible form to the Word.”

Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, p. 146.

Suspension from the Supper

September 29, 2008 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Communion, Discipline

Meditation for the Supper
September 28, 2008

This morning we face an unusual and grievous circumstance as we approach the Supper of the Lord. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:

1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (NKJV)27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

In this text, we are told that it is our duty as the people of God, when coming to the Supper, to discern the body rightly. What does this mean? Throughout 1 Corinthians Paul has insisted that discerning the body rightly means recognizing all the members of the Church and their relationship to me. It means waiting for others before pigging out on the Supper. It means acknowledging that Billy over there really is my brother in Christ even though we find it hard to get along. It means acknowledging that those sinful men over there who compose the Session of elders really do have authority in the Church. To recognize the body is to look outward, around the room, and make sure that we are at peace with our brothers and sisters in the Lord and filling our proper role in the body.

If we fail to do this, then Paul tells us, we shall be judged. Indeed, he notes that this was already happening in the Corinthian church. As a result of their failure to judge themselves, the Lord intervened and starting judging on His own. It is to avoid just such a scenario that we are bringing a matter before you this morning.

Today we face the heavy task of suspending a member from participation in the Supper of the Lord. This morning we announce the public suspension of —— from the table of the Lord for scandalous conduct unbefitting a disciple of Christ. Simultaneously our mother church in Spokane is announcing the suspension of ——. We do not do this lightly or frivolously. This is a sober moment. Suspension means that —— is living in a way that does not become a follower of Christ and that informal, private confrontation has failed to turn him from the error of his ways. We are now bringing the matter to you in accordance with Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18. What can you do?

First and foremost pray for him and for ——. Beseech our Heavenly Father, the giver of all good gifts, to grant him the gift of repentance, that his eyes would be open to see his own unbelief and that he would return to Jesus.

Second, the mailing address of —— and —— will be made available to the members of the congregation. We would ask you to consider writing him or her or both of them separately a letter. But let me give guidance. The letters are not to be shrill; not to be harsh. Rather, remind them of your love for them, insist that you are praying for them, and encourage them to reconsider the path they have chosen – to choose life and not death. We would ask that all members of the congregation consider doing this – from the smallest to the biggest, youngest to the oldest.

Third, pray that our Lord would protect the purity and peace of His Church. Details substantiating the course the elders have chosen will be presented in the appropriate time and place. Meanwhile, ask our Lord to bless His Church and pray for us as we work through these details.