Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"When we look at the cross we see the justice, love, wisdom and power of God. It is not easy to decide which is the most luminously revealed, whether the justice of God in judging sin, or the love of God in bearing the judgment in our place, or the wisdom of God in perfectly combining the two, or the power of God in saving those who believe. For the cross is equally an act, and therefore a demonstration, of God’s justice, love, wisdom and power. The cross assures us that this God is the reality within, behind and beyond the universe."

-John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Sunday, December 17, 2017


Lord’s Supper

On the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare for the meal. They would be the only ones who knew where the meal would take place until Jesus brought the rest of the disciples. Judas, therefore, was kept ignorant of Jesus’ movements until Jesus was ready to be taken.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrated the meal eaten by the Israelites as they waited for the passing of the angel of death and their deliverance from Egypt.

On that original occasion, each household was to take an unblemished lamb from the flock on the 10th day of the month. That month, from that time on, would be the first month of the year for the Israelites.

Then, on the 14th day of the month, all of the Israelites households were to slaughter their lambs at twilight. They were to put blood from the lamb on the doorposts and lentil to their house. They were to roast the lamb on a fire. They were to eat it that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They ate with their sandals on, staffs in hand, and their belts on their robes. In other words, they were to be ready to go. The bread was unleavened because they would not have time to make it and let it rise before cooking it.

The angel of death would pass over every house that had blood on the doorposts and not kill the firstborn. Hence the name “Passover”. This feast was to be a memorial day. Then for 7 days, they were to observe the Passover by removing leaven from their homes and eating unleavened bread. In addition, they were to have a Sabbath at the beginning and end, doing no work. You can ready about this in Exodus 12.

In Jesus’ day, Jews came from all over to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. The Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover were often referred to as one celebration called Passover. Jesus sent his most trusted disciples, Peter and John, to prepare the Feast of Unleavened Bread so that Jesus could observe it with the disciples. He sent them into the city, Jerusalem, to meet a man who had a room for them. They did this and they prepared the meal.

Likely, Peter and John went to the market and bought lamb, bread, wine, and bitter herbs, as well as anything else that might be traditionally eaten in the meal. By this time, the Jews had added elements to the meal including 4 cups of wine.

The meal is prepared before dark, as the lambs are killed before twilight. The meal is eaten at night. Since the Jewish day began at nightfall, the slaughter was on the 14th and the meal on the 15th, although they were only hours apart.

When the time arrived for the meal, Jesus and the remaining 10 disciples arrived and reclined at table. They lay on pillows on their left arms and ate with their right hands. Although Da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper” is a masterpiece, it is not historically correct since it has them sitting in chairs at a high table.

Jesus told them he “earnestly desired” to eat this Passover with them before he suffered. (15) He would not eat it again until it was completely fulfilled in the kingdom of God. (16) By that, he meant they would not celebrate Passover again. Instead, the church would celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus earnestly desired this time of fellowship. (15) He had an intense longing for it. It would be the last one before his death. He also desired to change the feast into an ordinance for the disciples to observe in his honor until his return, helping them to understand what he was about to do. That is why he said he desired to do this before he suffered.

The meal began. The meal contained ritual elements as well as ordinary eating and talking. At some point, Jesus took a cup of wine, probably the Cup of Thanksgiving. Jesus gave thanks for it. This was part of the Passover celebration, not the Lord’s Supper. He passed it to the disciples to divide among themselves. Each disciple would have poured some of the wine into his own cup.

Then, Jesus took some of the bread, broke it, and gave it to them to share. He gave thanks for it. That is why some call the Lord’s Supper the Eucharist. That name comes from the Greek word for giving thanks, which is “eucharisteo” .

Jesus gave the bread new meaning. He said “this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (19) He ate his piece and the disciples followed suit. Jesus did not mean the bread changed into his physical body. Rather, he gave the bread a sacramental identification. The bread is a symbol of his body which he gave for us. We eat it to commemorate that.

It shows us the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:5 which says he was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. The use of the word “for” also shows that Jesus’ death was substitutionary. He died “for us”.

Jesus then took the cup and said “this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (21) He drank and they drank. This cup is part of the Lord’s Supper. The wine represents Jesus’ blood poured out as a sacrifice for us.

The bread which represents Jesus’ body and the wine which represents his blood collectively represent his death as a sacrifice for our sins. 1 Corinthians 5:7 calls Jesus our Passover lamb who has been sacrificed.

Jesus’ blood was also the ratification of the new covenant. The new covenant replaced the old covenant that had been ratified with blood at Sinai. Covenants are established or ratified by the shedding of blood. When Israel confirmed the old covenant with God, Moses sacrificed animals, collected their blood, and threw it against the altar. He called it the blood of the covenant. (Exodus 24)

The old covenant was ratified by the blood of animals. But the new covenant comes in the once for all atonement for sin through the sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The new covenant is established with the blood of God.

We continue to do it today and it is important. First, it is important because Jesus instituted it. The early church observed the Lord’s Supper regularly. Some think the reference to the breaking of bread in Acts 2:42 means they observed the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul gave instructions to the church about the observance. They were already observing it, but not correctly.

Second, it is important because each time we eat the bread and drink the cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns. (1 Corinthians 11:26) We proclaim to ourselves and to each other that Jesus died for us. We remember our salvation. We remember the reason we are together, because we who participate are now his body, those who believe in him.

There is also an element of looking forward. We observe the supper until he comes, as Paul said. Jesus said he would not participate until it was fulfilled in the kingdom. We look forward to the time he comes and all is fulfilled and our fellowship with him is complete.

Sunday, December 03, 2017


The 2nd Coming of Christ

After teaching about the destruction of the temple in terms of God’s vengeance and judgment, Jesus spoke about the final expression of God’s judgment that will come with Jesus’ return.

As with the destruction of the temple, Jesus taught that there would be signs of his return. He said there would be:
signs in the sun, moon and stars;
distress of nations because of the roaring sea;
people fainting with foreboding of what is coming; and
the powers of heaven shaken.

What did Jesus mean by these signs? Are these literal events or symbols of turmoil?

Since this is apocryphal language, we expect hyperbole, or overstatement. For example, Matthew recorded Jesus saying the stars will fall from heaven. (Matthew 24:29) We know that cannot happen because the stars are bigger than the earth.

Similarly, Isaiah wrote about the destruction of Babylon in terms of God’s judgment, saying the stars will not give light, the sun will be dark and the moon will not shine. (Isaiah 13:10) While we know from history that Babylon was conquered by the Persians, and that it was a judgment of God, there is no indication that the cosmic events actually happened. From this, and other Old Testament passages, we may conclude that this language is symbolic of God’s appearance in judgment.

This language appears repeatedly in the Old Testament. For example, Joel 2:30-31 says “I (the Lord) will show wonders in the Heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes”. This was in the context of the Lord saying he will pour out his Spirit on all flesh. (Joel 2:28)

Peter interpreted this event to be fulfilled at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles. (Acts 2:15-21) Again, there was no mention of the cosmic signs occurring.

Yet, Jesus spoke of observable signs before the destruction of the temple and appears to speak of observable signs of his return. In verses 29-30, he said as you see a tree leaf out, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things taking place, you know his return is near. So, some things will evidently happen that would lead us to believe Jesus’ return is imminent.

What are cosmic signs? “Cosmic” means related to the universe, or cosmos. These would not be normally recurring events, no matter how spectacular. The passing of comets, the red moon or the “super moon”, for example, are all natural events that occur at regular, predictable intervals. They cannot, therefore, be signs. Jesus said the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (26) A cosmic sign would, therefore, be something dramatic, unique and not explainable as a normal event.

In addition, the seas will be disturbed and people will not know why. Jesus said they would be perplexed. (21:25)   A sense of fear and foreboding will come upon the people of earth because they fear that something big and bad is coming upon the world.

All of these disturbing events will culminate in Christ’s return. His return will be visible to all. Jesus said “and then they will see”. (27) They will see Jesus, the Son of Man, coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

Christ’s arrival in a cloud (27) shows his deity, as many Old Testament passages show God coming on or in a cloud. (example: Ezekiel 1) There is also likely an allusion to Daniel 7:13, where Daniel saw one like a son of man come with the clouds of heaven before the Ancient of Days to receive the kingdom. That is a picture of Christ’s ascension to heaven.

At the end of this age, this same Son of Man will descend to earth in a cloud to judge the earth and resurrect the faithful. He will come as he left, visible and with a cloud. (Acts 1)

Notice that there are two reactions to these events. First, there are people fainting with fear. Judgment on those who rejected Christ will be severe and they are rightly afraid. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-8)

But Jesus told his followers to react differently. They are to look up with hope because their redemption is drawing near. (28) Those who believe and follow Jesus will not face a fearful judgment. Rather, they will face the redemption of their bodies and eternity with Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:51-53 explains further:
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changes. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”

For believers, the return of Christ is the most blessed event. It is one for us to anticipate with hope and joy.

Verse 32 has provoked much discussion over the years. Jesus said this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Since Jesus was answering questions about the destruction of the temple, this verse likely relates to that. The temple would be destroyed in 70 A.D., within 40 years, or a generation, of Jesus’ death. Some of the apostles were still alive at that time. We know that John was. Luke is thought to have written his gospel around 80 A.D., so he would be fully aware that the temple was destroyed as Jesus said it would be.

While the temple could be destroyed and, ultimately, this world, the word of the Lord will never pass away. (33) It will stand forever because God is eternal and unchanging.

Isaiah 40:6-8 makes the same point with reference to God the Father. It says the flesh passes away, grass withers and flowers fade, but “the word of our God will stand forever”. Jesus applied that same truth to himself and his words. This is a claim to deity. Jesus is God and his word will never pass away. It will always remain and always be true. This is true because Jesus is more than a prophet. He is God and he will make it happen as he says he will happen.

This applies to everything Jesus said: his promises, his teachings, his warnings, and his commands.

The life and death of the French writer Voltaire provides an example of this. He once claimed that no one would remember Jesus in 50 years. Fifty years from that prediction, the Geneva Bible Society bought Voltaire’s home in Geneva and began printing Bibles. Each copy included the words” Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”.

The Warning

One of the problems in waiting for an event that is far off is that of losing the sense of anticipation. Humans seem incapable of keeping that sense alive and acting accordingly.

Jesus warned his disciples and us about this in regard to his return. We are to watch ourselves so that we are not weighed down with the traps of this life so that we are not prepared for his coming.

Jesus said to avoid dissipation, drunkenness and the cares of this life. (34) It is easy to get “bogged down” in the cares of life or in the parties of life. We might come to say, with the scoffers, “where is the promise of his coming? for ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the begin of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)

But we know that Jesus will come when he is not expected. Jesus said “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. (12:40)

When we think of Jesus coming unexpectedly and at any time, we more readily focus on being prepared. As Peter wrote, “the end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” (1 Peter 4:8-10)

We want to be living holy lives when Jesus returns. Jesus said “blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes”. (12:37) To do this we must “watch ourselves”. (34) That is, we are careful to live according to Christ’s commands, continuing to be faithful.

We must pray that we will have the strength to escape all these things that will happen between now and the end, remaining faithful, not giving up. We want to stand before the Son of Man, receiving reward rather than punishment.

There is much that can happen to make us lose hope if we let it. At times, the world seems out of control. When that happens, Satan tells us to doubt, to give up the faith.  But we must stand firm in faith, resisting temptation and doubt, and look forward to his coming.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus!