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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

Month

August 2014

(Another Reason) Why We Practice Communion Every Week

We hear it every week here. The bread represents the broken body and the cup represents the shed blood of Jesus the Christ. Bound up in the significance of body and blood is the source of our unity as a church. Throughout the week we are tempted, like every family, to allow selfishness and pride to create schism. Pursuit of unity is one of the things we are called to as a church[i], but it is probably one of the most difficult things to maintain. We practice communion every week at Immanuel Fujairah because we believe, in part, that these symbols represent the basis of our perseverance in unity.

The bread that is broken is a reminder of the body of the Lord Jesus which was broken for his church[ii]. There is a significance here beyond the breaking, it is the fact that there was anything broken at all! Jesus Christ, God himself, stepped into time, the Word made flesh was not an apparition.[iii] He took on a body. Corruptible. Susceptible to decay. Prone to suffering. The fact that there is a body and there is God in one glorious, mysterious union shows us an important aspect of the body of Christ we visualize in the sacrament of communion. That is that “Since therefore the children [of God] share in flesh and blood, he likewise partook of the same things… he had to be made like his brothers in every respect….”[iv] Indeed his body was broken on this cross, but that body already bore the exhaustion and the scars of life. He became one of us so that he could not only suffer for us in crucifixion, but so that he could suffer for us in temptation.[v]  So that he could be a man, the only sinless man, sinless because that is what all of us should be and it is what all of us have failed to be.[vi] When we see the bread we are reminded of the totality of his righteous life for us. Our souls, starved of righteousness, depleted of virtue, weakened by impurity, look to the bread – substance of righteousness, justice, and holiness. It is extended to us to be received by faith. The bread is only significant in the breaking if we see the glory of the bread itself – the incarnation – the thirty years of perfection in the flesh for us.[vii]

We come to the table each week then, often times either feeling depressed by our failures and inability to measure up to God’s standard or we come proud with a sense that we have done well, quick therefore to be critical of others. The bread reminds both groups of people of their common source of righteousness. It reminds us of the one who became like us so that he could become sin for us and give us the very righteousness of God.[viii] This lifts the heart of the downcast and it humbles the self-righteous.

This reminder of our common righteousness reveals anew our lack of it and it highlights our sinful actions, thoughts, and motives. And it is here that we see the unifying significance of the cup. There is no sliding-scale of penance when we come each week with our various sins, there is only the blood. And in communion we are reminded of its sufficiency for sin in all of its disturbing variety. The cup is a reminder of the gory price that our sin required – small or great in our eyes.[ix] It is at the same time disturbing and comforting. Beautiful and macabre. It reminds each of us with our unique transgressions each week that all of our sin demanded the same brutal penalty before God’s tribunal. We want to think that a lesser price was paid for our pride or gossip than was paid for someone’s adultery or murder, but the cup testifies that the cleansing is the same. The cup will not allow us to tear our gaze from the bloody cross where Christ secured the cleansing of your murder and my “harmless” deceit. The cup reminds all of us as a church that there is no hierarchy of sins before the transcendent holiness of God. This unifies us. It “puts us in our place”. A place of honesty, humility, and therefore mutual understanding.

One of the reasons we take communion every week is because it reminds us that as diverse as we are we have two things in common – we need an alien righteousness that is perfect and we need a cleansing from sin that is of infinite worth. Only the unique God-Man, Jesus Christ, can provide these. Every time we gather we will be tempted to divide. We are quick to forget. Communion points us afresh to what we all have in common – common guilt, common hope. Through a common righteousness and a shared cleansing we are united to Christ and therefore we are united to each other. We need to be reminded of that every week.

[i] Eph. 4:3

[ii] i.e. 1 Cor. 11:24

[iii] 1 John 1:1-2

[iv] Heb. 2:14,17

[v] Heb. 2:18

[vi] Rom. 3:23

[vii] Phil. 2:6-11

[viii] 2 Cor. 5:21

[ix] Heb. 9:22

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Christian Ministry & The Death of Uzzah

And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:6-7 ESV)

And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. (Exodus 25:14 ESV)

And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry. (Numbers 4:15 ESV)

There is probably no story in the Bible that I have found harder to wrap my mind around than the story of the death of Uzzah. It is a display of the holiness of God that leaves us stunned and even terrified. Even though it is a story from which we may be tempted to quickly avert out eyes, it may do us good to look intently at this display of the wrath and justice of God, because in it we find important lessons for life and ministry.

The first lesson that I want us to see applies to Christian ministry. The message that sounded loud and clear from Uzzah’s lifeless form was that God’s word stands and any deviation from it, however well-intentioned, is inviting wrath and disaster. From our perspective, and apparently from David’s as well[i], this reaction of the Lord to Uzzah’s attempt to steady the Ark was a little excessive! Doesn’t God see the heart? The answer is that God does see the heart and what he saw beneath all of that good-intention in Uzzah was someone who had a cheap enough view of His holiness to regard his commandments as being open to exception.

When we hear preachers taking liberties with the Gospel many times we will defend or at least excuse them by saying say, “I think their heart is in the right place.” I can appreciate that humility and we certainly need to have grace, while also recognizing with trembling but God doesn’t see it that way. As I have meditated on Uzzah I have trembled. As someone who regularly stands in a pulpit and handles the sacred word of God, I am reminded at how much care I must take and am painfully reminded of the times when with quite good intentions I have been less than careful with God’s word.

Now, I want to recognize that we are under a new covenant now. One where in Christ we have bold access into the holy presence of God[ii], but this entrance into his presence through Christ’s blood does not diminish his holiness, but rather makes it more clear. The cross of Jesus gained us access into God’s presence, his perfect righteousness shields us from the blaze of his glory, but God himself does not change. Our right standing before God does not give us license to take less care with the Word of the Lord, rather the Gospel unfolds with greater clarity the holiness of the One to whom we as Gospel ministers will give an account.

This leads to the second and more positive thing we see in Uzzah’s execution in light of the cross. If the slightest disregard for the glory of God, the smallest deviation from the commandment, incited such wrath, how much more so our daily disobedience and defamation of God? As good-intentioned as Uzzah was, he disobeyed the Lord. He deserved judgment, just as we do. But there was one who did not deserve to be struck down – that was God himself, united to flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He always brought glory to God and always obeyed -perfectly. Yet, such was God’s love for us that he poured out his judgment on Christ – a judgment much worse that Uzzah’s. If the holiness of God seen in the story of Uzzah is severe, much more severe is the holiness seen at the cross where the sinless Son suffered for us. But if the holiness of God in the execution of Uzzah is terrifying, the holiness of God in the execution of Christ is beautiful, for it shows the depth of love he had for his people, that though we deserved the death of Uzzah, God himself satisfied the demands of his holy justice. Uzzah’s execution highlights the glory of the cross.

Therefore, in Christian ministry we should see in the cross a holiness that is even more severe than that which was seen on the threshing floor at Nacon. And it should leave us trembling as we handle the holy things of God, lest in our good intentions to see fruit or to be “successful”, or to labor well for the Lord, we be found tampering with sacred material. The execution of Uzzah should drive us to our knees and deeper into the Scriptures, taking great care in preaching and teaching, lest we treat the holy Word of God as being open to exception and manipulation.

There is never a good enough reason to tamper with or disregard the Word of the living God.

[i] 2 Samuel 6:8

[ii] Eph. 3:12, Heb 10:19-22

(One Reason) Why We Practice Communion Every Week

Last week I preached from Mark 6:1-6, where we see Jesus is held in contempt by his own kindred in Nazareth. The title of that sermon was “Familiarity Breeds Contempt.” One of the main themes in the message was that the people Jesus grew up around thought they knew him so well that they failed to see him for who he really was. They had a low view of him, therefore their hearts were full of unbelief and they were offended at his teaching.

When we get so used to something that it begins to lose value – at least in our eyes. A precious, diamond ring is often no less valuable several years down the road, diamonds are diamonds and gold is gold, but the woman wearing may indeed get to the point that she does not even notice it is on her finger. We tend to devalue the things that we are familiar with. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe, just maybe, that woman with the diamond ring does catch its glimmer on a regular basis and she is reminded of the faithfulness and care of her loving husband that it represents. You would have to kill to get that ring off of her finger. It is a sacred sign of a precious union and love that is relentless through the good and the bad.

One of the reasons that many churches do not practice communion each week is the fear that familiarity will breed contempt for the blood of Christ. I admit that this may very well happen, but it doesn’t have to and it shouldn’t stop the church from having the Lord’s Supper when they gather as the local body. Paul says in I Corinthians 11:26 that “As long as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Since, therefore, I make it may aim to proclaim the death of the Lord in word each week, why would I not also proclaim it in sacrament?

There are a number of things that should be happening when the word is preached in the assembly of the brethren each week; things which appropriately culminate in the visible “proclamation” of the death of Christ. In the preaching of the Scriptures we encounter the holy character of God, this holy character reveals to Christians our calling as those “predestined to be conformed into the image of Christ”[i], which means that we are coming face to face with our sin each week in light of who God is and what God demands.

If we are coming face to face each week with the holiness of God, the height of our calling, and the depth of our sin, we should be longing for God ordained means of being reminded of our only hope – the death of Christ. The blood of Christ, spilled, and the body of Christ, broken, secures not only my hope of pardon, but my hope of perseverance which is dependent on God’s covenant faithfulness. After a week in a fallen sinful world, we should long to gather and partake of the bread and cup, symbols of the blood and broken body which testify that we are forgiven and secure. The demand for perfect holiness has been met, both in life and death, and our future glorification is now certain in the new covenant.

We come to the table of the Lord together each week from a world full of things fighting for the preeminent place in our affections. At the table we look ahead, facing a coming week where other “suitors” will flirt and vie for our love. And like a beautiful wedding band, we look at and partake of the sacred signs and we remember the love, strength, and faithfulness of our husband – which is Christ. Each week at the table of the Lord we solemnly abandon other lovers and proclaim that Jesus Christ is more precious to us than all the fleeting treasures and pleasures of this world.

In short: if we faithfully preach the Gospel – the holiness of God, the depth of our sin, and the preciousness of the Savior – then communion never gets old. It never becomes mere ritual. Familiarity does not breed contempt. I know that even I have such a small view of my sin, but yet I can’t help but feel my need to see with fresh eyes of faith, through what Christ has ordained, what is my only hope as I face another week and eternity beyond.

[i] Romans 8:29

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