"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"
—which means, "God with us." Matthew 1:23
Each Christmas, we celebrate the amazing coming of God Incarnate – Jesus Christ – fully man, fully God. It still astounds us as we think about how the God who effortlessly spoke all the worlds into existence – came to our tiny planet as one of us and as Scripture says, “made His dwelling among us.” His first coming foreshadows His second coming and ultimately the creation of a new heaven and new earth where He will dwell with us for all eternity. “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3) God says six times in Exodus alone – I will meet with you. The God of all glory wants to meet with us – even face to face as He says in Psalm 27:8. And because of Christ’s shed blood, the Holy of Holies is open all the time so we can “draw near to God and He will draw near to us.” (James 4:8)
One of the special ways God communes with us is through The Lord’s Supper or Communion Service. As I was studying the gospels this year I came across a fresh and helpful teaching on the Lord’s Supper by Dr. Mike Wilkins in the NIV Application Commentary. He said it helps to think of this service as a schematic that represents many aspects of our relationship with the Lord and it deepens our understanding of Jesus and builds faith, hope and love.
1) LOOK BACKWARD – The first look is backward to Jesus’ historical accomplishment of salvation on the cross foreshadowed by the Passover meal the Jews celebrated for centuries. Our faith has substance and is grounded on this historical bedrock and we can rest in Jesus’ triumphal statement, “It is finished”! “It is accomplished”! Our penalty for sin has been paid in full. As we trust Christ we know we are heaven bound. This physical symbol of our Lord’s death (when the body is separate from the blood, as symbolized in the Lord’s Supper, it signifies death) points to the Reality of our forgiveness and builds our faith.
2) LOOK FORWARD – “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matt 26:29) One day we will drink with Him face to face in heaven. As Paul reminds us, in his instructions for the Lord’s Supper, "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” We must continually remember our Lord is coming again. This life is not it. The true, beautiful and good is not a fairy tale. We will live happily ever after – forever and ever. But we must keep the vision of the kingdom ever before us. “Don’t read the Times; read the eternities.” (Thoreau) Someday heaven. Just wait; keep hoping. It’s coming. He’s coming! This is not a misplaced, unfounded, fading hope. “And they lived happily ever after” is true.
3) LOOK INWARD – But we will all make a stop along the way to heaven at the Judgment seat of Christ where we as believers will be judged not for our sins but for our works done in God’s power for His glory. (See 1 Cor. 3:10-15) “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5: 10) As Paul goes on to say, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (as seen in His spiritual Presence in the Lord’s Supper and also seen in us – the body of Christ His church.) A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” (1 Cor. 11:27-31) As we confess our sins we need to remember the good news of the gospel: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Although true believers can never lose their relationship with God (salvation), confession restores our fellowship with God. Heaven itself is a gift but the Lord goes further and rewards us for works done for His glory. This was a powerful motivator for God’s people in the Bible (e.g., see Heb. 11:24-26). As the church father Tertullian said: “There is no certain work where there is no certain reward.” “Nothing is so relevant as eternity.” (Author unknown) Every wrong will be made right and every act of obedience will be rewarded for all eternity.
4) LOOK UPWARD – “Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection].” (Heb. 12:2 Amp.) “Faith is the constant gaze of the soul on a saving God.” (Tozer) This is the way Jesus lived by faith in relationship to His Father. “Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) We constantly “look” with spiritual eyes and “listen” with spiritual ears to see and hear what the Lord would have us do. This is what Paul meant when he said to pray without ceasing. But we must look to eternity for our full recompense for faith and obedience. Many Christians wrongly expect our faith to pay off fully here and now. And it does in the sense of inward spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22-23); e.g., peace in the midst of great trials. But Hebrews 11 makes it clear that a faith that pleases God is ultimately tied to those who long for Him and His reward in heaven. “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” (while on earth – see Hebrews 11:35-39)
5) LOOK AROUND – “When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.” (Matt. 26:20) Jesus called a group of men to walk with Him and to work together “to be Christ” as a group to a lost world. We can only grow spiritually in the context of honest, loving and accountable relationships. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:15-16) And we need each other for God’s Word says so in spite of what the world tells us about being a Marlboro man and going it alone.. “The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" (1 Cor. 12: 21) Remember “the wolf loves the lone sheep.” (Gordon Dalbey) Giving and receiving God’s love through Christian community is a primary source of inspiration to serve God and His people as the writer of Hebrews says: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:24-25) In other words, one way to be spurred on to love and good deeds is to meet together and encourage one another face to face.
6) LOOK OUTWARD – “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” We are to proclaim the Lord’s death for the forgiveness of sin to those outside the faith. Jesus left the ninety-nine to go after the one lost sheep. As we remember the Lord in all these different ways we can have what He promised His disciples as He prepared to go to the cross: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (John 14:27) This is the peace Jesus had as He always did the Father’s will and the peace we can have as we do likewise.
Wishing you God’s grace and peace, Len and Kristen