The Lord’s Supper, Food, Nourishment, Grace, and Symbolism

There is a tendency in modern Christianity to think of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) as purely symbolic acts. I believe this tendency is largely due to an overreaction to the Catholic position of transubstantiation and baptismal regeneration. And this is unfortunate, because while clearly transubstantiation and baptismal regeneration are not scriptural, overreacting to one heresy by running away from some aspect of truth is not a good solution.

The church fathers referred to the sacraments as “means of grace”. By this they meant that the sacraments are ways in which God delivers grace to His children, the saved.

This description is most useful because it places the emphasis of the source of grace firmly upon God and not upon some innate magic in the actions of eating bread and wine or being dunked in some body of water. But the danger here is that one could infer from this description that because the sacraments are merely the means of grace it is correct to view them as purely symbolic actions.

And this is true to an extent, but it is true in the same way that it would be appropriate to refer to food as a “means of nourishment”. Think about that for a moment if you will.

The only reason that a man may eat bread or cheese or meat or fruit and receive nourishment from it, is because Jehovah, the Almighty God of Heaven has chosen to bless food with this property. And if in his good pleasure, he should choose to withhold this grace, a man could eat all day and receive no benefit to his body.

It is in this same way that baptism and communion are means of grace. It is not that they are somehow completely different acts from eating, but they are acts of obedience that God has chosen to bless.

And this is comforting. It means that in the same way that food begins to affect us before we eat it, in the same way that we take pleasure in its preparation, in its consumption, and in that feeling of fullness that follows our feasts, so communion and baptism are both physical and spiritual things. The plainness of the bread, the sweetness of the vine, the thoughts and ideas that we associate with these simple elements, and all this contrasted with the knowledge of Christ’s deity and His humanity, his beaten flesh, his bloodied head, and what his crucifixion was accomplishing for us and for the entire world, all of this is part of what we are partaking.

So communion is not ‘merely’ a symbol, except in the sense that all things are symbolic. And communion is a means of grace, in the same way that all the gifts of our Heavenly Father are means of his most tender love for us.

Think of this the next time you break the bread and drink the cup.

As always, feedback is appreciated.

Gossip and the Supper

Several Sunday’s ago our church heard the annual gossip sermon.

This is the sermon where the preacher outlined in detail the sins of each particular family as they had been related to the elders during the course of the year, and each family was called to public repentance. OK, so it was nothing so juicy as that. Instead it was a sermon that outlined, in juicy detail, the magnitude of the evil of gossip and the destructiveness of this seemingly innocuous sin. The following was the accompanying meditation on the Lord’s Supper.

One of the slogans of our church is that weekly practice of the Lord’s Supper is the first step in church discipline—this meditation is a practical application of that principle. The text was Matthew 26:57-68 (Jesus’ trial).

In the grand scheme of things, Jesus died because the world is full of sinners and thus full of sin, but if we look at the order of specific events that let up to His death (how He came to be crucified at a specific time in a specific place by specific people), we see that Christ Himself was crucified because the Jews conspired to lie about Him, and the Romans were willing to let the lie pass.

Can you see how serious the crimes of the tongue? Liars and slanderers lied and slandered to kill the most innocent of all men—to kill the God-man. Sins of the tongue are no mere trifles. Consider that when you hear that Paul tells us that we take this meal to commemorate the Lord’s death until He comes. We commemorate this most tragic of all deaths as one brought about by false witness, by gossips.

[T]he Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

If you have unconfessed sin, confess it. If you have been convicted by the sermon today, confess those sins, repent, turn away, and guard your tongue.

But, how do you guard your tongue? Look at it this way: practicing the Lord’s Supper is not just an excuse for somebody to get up and give an extra little inspirational sermon—the fact that real food and real drink is involved here is because they have real meaning. As you partake of these elements meditate on them. Taste them, I mean that, taste them and remember what they feel like on your tongue.

Then, later this week when you are tempted to sin with your tongue you can remember that your tongue had a meeting with God this morning. This particular meal is a sign of ownership. Remember that all of your body, even its smallest part, belongs to Him.

Have you been convicted today? Then remember that as we proclaim the Lord’s death we also proclaim the kind of death that He experienced: a temporary death. Jesus died, but he also rose and ascended into heaven, leaving His Spirit to sanctify you as He intercedes on your behalf before the Almighty Father.

“In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”

Turning Our Nation Around II: The War at Home

If a man would change the world, let him begin with something that is right before his eyes, let him lead his home.

My church hosted a father/son retreat this weekend, and I was fortunate enough to attend several of the sessions. I came away with a deeper appreciation for the incredible relationship that fathers and sons have and for the primal nature of that relationship. Some of the highlights that were particularly relevant to the discussion at hand are as follows:

The story of the Bible and of this world is essentially the story of a Father working through His Son, of Jehovah God, accomplishing all things through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Children, when you obey your father, you are testifying to the fact that there is a God in heaven who must be obeyed.  Father’s when you care for and discipline your children, you are testifying that there is a God who loves and chastens those who are His own.

Children, when you disobey your father, when you roll your eyes and mock his authority, you are committing high treason against heaven. Fathers, when you take too lightly your children’s rebellion, when you wink at it and let it exist unchecked, you are tolerating witchcraft in your homes.

We also spent a lot of time in Deuteronomy 6, reading the Shema Yisrael, and asking ourselves what a family would look like if it built itself around the Hebrew concept of learning, around the idea of a father walking and talking with his sons, taking them with him everywhere that he can, letting them see the world through the lens of his knowledge and experience. And not a perfect father, mind you, or perfect sons. Through all of this, we were reminded that every son is challenged by being forced to submit to and learn from an imperfect father and that every father is similarly challenged by having to lead and discipline imperfect sons.

To my mind, this is the first step in turning our nation around, that of turning our homes back to God, putting away our childishness and our love of sin and the easy life.

What do you say?

[Updated!] Could Christ Have Sinned?: The two Adams

This will be a relatively brief post, but as we’re talking about temptation and Christ and whether or not he could have sinned, I thought I would ask a question that I’ve been thinking about:

If we believe that we (or any other man or woman) would have sinned had we been in Adam’s place, then what is the difference between the first and second Adam? What is the difference between Adam and Christ?

One of issues that I had in answering this question was that I had some wrong ideas about what a perfect man would look like. You see, in my mind, before Adam sinned he was Super Adam (with capital letters, and a cape, and everything), able to leap Antediluvian trees in a single bound, with skin that could stop bullets, completely impervious to disease, unable to be killed, etc. But this just doesn’t work. Reading through Scripture, I get the impression that even a perfect man is a fairly frail thing.

And this helped unseat another false idea that I had. You see, I’ve heard pastors talk about what the end-result of glorification is going to be like, and while there is definitely some uncertainty on their part, I often get the idea that what we end up being is much like Adam was in the beginning. “Salvation begins the restoration of our relationship with God,” they say, “glorification gets things back to the way they were in the beginning.” I no longer believe this (at least not in the sense that things are just restored to where they were)

As proof, read what Paul has to say to the Corinthians about the resurrection and the nature of our glorified bodies:

But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
(1Co 15:35-58)

Or in other words, the difference between the two Adams is that the first was just a man, the second Adam was both God and man. The first Adam was a thing that could not stand on its own, the second Adam could not only stand, but could save all the rest of us as well.

Anyway, criticisms, comments? A special thanks to Randall for his thoughtful comments which helped me in thinking through this issue. If any of you are up to it, feel free to add something in the comments below or on your own blog (if you do post on your own blog and it doesn’t show up here automatically, leave me a comment with a link and I’ll put it in the body of the post)