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Can We Talk About The Lord’s Supper?
I ask us to reexamine our traditions concerning the Lord’s Supper.

A Vision For the People

A constant theme in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is summed up by a verse from proverbs,

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18)

Paul echoes this theme in Romans Chapter Ten, he expands upon the details of how one sees a vision of God, telling us it comes through His Word, and is carried by His preachers:

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:13-17)

The idea is that unless God reveals Himself, which He has done in Israel by the prophets, and now in the world through His Son Jesus Christ, and the apostles, the only life we have is our earthly life, which ends. On the other hand, life eternal is to know God and His Son, Jesus Christ,

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

God has not left us without a vision, it is in His eternal purposes that Jesus have the preeminence in all things. In part this is being accomplished through the Lord’s redemption of a people for Himself, the Church, where Israel and Gentiles are to be joined as one. Beyond God’s eternal purposes, He loves us and desires that none of us perish (2 Peter 3:9). What is more, the Lord wants us to have the comfort of knowing these things,

And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11-13)

This speaks of our redemption from condemnation and our justification wherein we are given a righteous standing with God through our faith in His Son, Jesus. But our salvation goes beyond this to an eternal life with God, adopted as His children (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:5), co-heirs with Christ (Titus 3:7; Revelations 20:6) in which we have been transformed into the likeness of Jesus (1 John 3:2), glorified with Him:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:16-17)

We remember the promise Jesus made when He said,

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1-3)

Proverbs 29:18 was given to Israel as a practical admonition. The benefits of the Covenant God made with them depended upon their keeping the Law. The Old Testament is filled with the history of Israel’s failure and resulting judgments against them. Poverty, famine, sickness, war, and being taken out of the land they had been given were the chastisements for not keeping the vision of God before them. Keeping the vision before them entailed obedience to the Law (Deuteronomy 31:19-21).

At various times Israel forgot the oracles of God, Scriptures, the written record of their prophetic vision of God given by the various prophets. At other times they recovered them. At the restoration after the Babylonian captivity, the vision was renewed. Ezra who led the renewal was moved to pray by the lack of the vision, and to confess for Israel,

And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God, And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day. And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments, Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness. (Ezra 9:5-11)

The renewal was accomplished by the reading of God’s Word,

And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. (Nehemiah 8:1-8)

Israel had direct promises of earthly prosperity. These promises depended upon their obedience. When this people were “without a vision” they perished in the many ways shown in the Old Testament. Israel, the Law, and the Old Testament have been used for the purpose of revealing God. The history of the Old Testament shows how God prepared the world for the true revelation of Himself in His only begotten Son, Jesus. It is put poetically in Isaiah, and is a prophecy of John the Baptist, but this is an excellent brief summary of God’s preparations for the coming of Christ recorded in what we call the Old Testament,

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:3-5)

Of the Law itself we read in Hebrews that it was a copy of the Heavenly pattern intended to foreshadow the eventual revelation of God in Christ,

Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. (Hebrews 8:5)

Chapters Nine and Ten of Hebrews explain how the details of the earthly copy, the things of the Old Testament, prepared our understanding for the revelation of the Heavenly pattern: our redemption by Jesus. And just as Israel lived by the vision of God, so also we in the New Testament times live by the vision of God. This vision is so elegantly said in a few words by the writer of Hebrews,

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9)

We see Jesus by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Jesus said to His disciples that they were blessed and believed because they had seen Him in the flesh. When Jesus prayed for them after the Last Supper, He also prayed for us who would believe in Him because of what the disciples would tell others. The disciples who became the apostles would put their words into writing so that they would be preserved for the ages, so that even we ourselves should be able to read their words. Jesus alluded to this in His prayer,

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; (John 17:20)

We are they “which shall believe on me (Jesus) through their (the apostles) word”. Paul said it another way in Romans 10:17. Our vision of Jesus is our vision of God, revealed to us in the Bible. Without this vision we perish, in our earthly lives and eternally. But God in His great mercy with which He has loved us has been powerful to not leave us without this vision (the Bible and the Church, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are constant witnesses to this vision. Of the Church read 1 Timothy 3:15). We stand on the promise of God, Jesus said,

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

The direct reference of that passage is to what He had just been saying in preceding verses in Matthew. But just as His words there will never pass away, neither shall any of His words.

The vision we have is given that we might not perish in the sense of eternal life. But there is an earthly aspect to this. We are called to love one another, to do works of righteousness, to care for the needs of the needy, and other practical earthly things. So in these ways eternal life (and that abundantly John 10:10) flows through our earthly life. Without that vision of Jesus there is an eternal perishing, and there is also an earthly perishing in the lack of fruit of that eternal life. God’s people are called the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13), a preservative. The world is a better place because the fruit of Christ in believers is scattered abroad. In one place we read that God gives the rain to the unjust as well as the just (Matthew 5:45), God is the giver of good gifts and the superlative gifts of salvation as they are expressed in the lives of believers fall like rain upon all. This means that our vision is not only pietistic, but practical as well. However, the world, the flesh, and all things come to an end, the Heavenly lasts, and there is to be a new Heaven and earth. So though practical, earthly, aspects such as care giving to the needy or counsel and help to the troubled are not to be despised or ignored, the pietistic (or what some may call the religious aspects of prayer and worship and communion with Jesus) has greater value. Jesus said it so well when He said,

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:32-33)

All things must work together, in balance. But in the relative importance of things, the spiritual takes precedence over the flesh. Jesus made this clear in His rebuke to Peter, when He said dying isn’t the worst that can happen,

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)

In another chapter the pattern of UP IN OUT was discussed. Isaiah had a vision of God in heaven which caused him to look within himself and see that he was a sinner. When he confessed that, God sent cleansing to him, and then Isaiah went on to serve God. (”Up, In, Out” is the title of a sermon by Steve Armfield given at Thornapple Covenant Church, June 14 2009)

If we follow the paradigm, Up refers to hearing the word of God. In means reflecting upon it in faith. Out means letting it work in our lives: responding to it.

This is the paradigm for both Israel’s and the Church’s relationship to God throughout Scriptures. Always we find God reveals Himself, and if we respond in faith He cleanses us and fits us to be His people.

Our vision is not a direct vision like Isaiah’s, instead we see our vision by the reading of Scriptures. But it is a vision nonetheless because Scripture is God’s revelation to us as surely as was the vision He gave to Isaiah. Paul said in Romans chapter 10 that God’s revelation is the source of our faith (“… faith cometh by hearing …”). Faith is the correct, and saving response to hearing this revelation, or as it were, seeing this vision of God.

Hearing is not only hearing with our ears, or merely reading , or knowing what those words are. We must effectually hear them. Jesus is recorded in the Gospels as often having said,

Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 13:9)

We find this idea stated in a number of Gospel passages: Matthew 13:9&43; Mark 4:9&23; Mark 7:16; Luke 8:8; and Luke 14:35. Effectual hearing is a matter of faith and willing obedience.

Effectual hearing is a matter of faith,

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Effectual hearing is a matter of obedience,

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (James 1:22-25)

Effectual hearing means we don’t forget what we’ve heard, Paul as well as James mentioned the importance of keeping the word of God in constant memory,

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

Effectual hearing means we accurately hear what has been said, it must be “… according to the Scriptures …”,

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: (1 Corinthians 15:3‑4)

Our vision then is the word of God, the Scriptures. And the Scriptures hold a particular vision before us. In Hebrews we have our sustaining vision summarized,

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
(Hebrews 2:9)

The vision held before us is Christ and Him crucified. Jesus, the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world. The entire purpose of the Scriptures is to lay before us the mystery of godliness,

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

Paul wrote in a few words the intent of God’s eternal plan to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, in Colossians we read,

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)

This is the common theme of the New Testament. As for God’s plan for us, it is to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus in glory, Paul explains this,

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)

Predestination in that verse means that God has decided beforehand that we shall end up being like His Son, Jesus. And note the last clause: “… that He might be the firstborn …” See how that speaks also to Jesus being preeminent.

Now this vision of Christ is seen through Scriptures, it is powerful, witness Paul in Romans 1:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

The Gospel is meant to be transformative, to change us. Now we see the vision of God in the Gospel message and in the words of Scripture. But when Christ returns, and we see Him face to face, we will be suddenly and completely transformed, changed into His likeness. John says this,

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
(1 John 3:2)

Paul also speaks of His appearing and how we will be changed,

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
(1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

Of the Lord’s return, Paul writes this,

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

But until He returns we have the sustaining vision He has given us in Scriptures. And He has given us three companions, three cognate declarations of the Good News found in the Scriptures. They are the preaching of the Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. These, along with the good works for which we have been created, are God’s plan for how witness should be carried out. It is a privilege that we should have a part to play in this. It pleased God that we should preach the Gospel, in which He exercises His power for salvation,

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:21-31)

The sustaining vision is for the whole of the Christian life. This includes our worship. The Lord’s Supper is one place, of many, where we preach that Gospel. We hold forth the vision of Christ and Him crucified, as Paul said,

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

God has been pleased that we should, in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, hold forth the sustaining vision of the mystery of godliness. As we eat of the broken bread, and drink from the cup, we present to ourselves, to any who may be visiting, to the whole world, and to principalities and powers in Heavenly places, the sustaining vision of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the Lord’s Supper we have our attention directed to Christ Jesus. There by eating of the bread and drinking of the cup we preach, proclaim, announce His death until He returns. We have no other subject or object before us than Jesus,

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
(Hebrews 2:9)

Here, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the Church, “… which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth … (1 Timothy 3:15), is fulfilling the plan and intent God in Christ set for us in His determinate counsel and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23), when He created this simple feast and gave it to us. This is His good pleasure that it should be so, and it is a reason why we say the Lord’s Supper is God’s work and that we should prefer nothing in its place.

©FH 2012

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