Tag Archives: cross

The Lord’s Supper, Part I (“Sacraments” cont.)

In the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper we also easily settle for some superficial meaning and significance, although truer ones are equally obvious.  In a sentence, the Lord’s Supper is usually thought to represent Christ’s death and, secondarily, our life or salvation on account of that.  Closer to fact is the statement that it represents OUR death (in and with Christ), and his life now, in us.

If the Lord’s Supper represents primarily or only the death of Christ on the cross, it is almost superfluous, like a photo of a person who is very much alive and right beside us.  For one thing, we have the written Word with its detailed description of Christ’s death and its significance for us.  In addition to that we are surrounded by countless duplicates of the cross on which Christ gave his life, which is certainly more apt a reminder than a bit of food and drink, which connection has to carefully explained or be meaningless to the uninitiate.  (A picture should be self-evident to any viewer, and not have to be entitled or described in order to be “intelligible”, as in the case of a bunch of purple triangles with the label “Nude descending staircase.”  The fact that it takes far longer to read an explanation of the Lord’s Supper than it does to celebrate it makes one wonder as to whether our explanation is the correct one.)  The cross on which the Lord was “lifted up” has literally been lifted up around the world and in every age since his crucifixion; who can escape its testimony in the civilized world?  It is exposed to the public far more than the Lord’s Supper ever is, which is more of a testimony to oneself and fellow-Christians than to the unsaved.

And if Christ’s death is the prominent truth depicted in the Lord’s Supper, its celebration is of doubtful timeliness at, say, Christmas time, one of the most favorite times for its observance.  Good Friday or Maunday Thursday is appropriate, but a birthday anniversary is a bit incongruous for a death-memorial observance.

A sacrament, after all, is not designed merely to portray objective fact, but to communicate understanding and to elicit the observer’s participant’s involvement.  (Here is where the cross, as a symbol, just because of its very familiarity, has lost much usefulness, can even be counterproductive.  Perhaps an Old Testament comparison would be the brass serpent, a very-real type of Calvary (see John 3:15) which at one time was a God-given means of healing, but later became an an idol through whose veneration people lost their souls.  At one time the cross around a person’s necks was a reminder to the wearer rather than an attractive form of jewelry.  Also with a thousand other forms and uses, including acres of markers over the graves of blatant atheists and profane military people.)

As in the case of baptism (for the two sacraments reinforce one another by having points of similarity as well as difference in typology), the Lord’s Supper is intended to denote and to  assure ourselves of our personal participation in Christ’s death.  That is to say, not just the indisputable fact that an historical Christ, the perfect God-man, once died, (who is so stupid as to challenge that?) nor even that he died in my place (which we believe better on some days than others), but that when he died I died, with him and in him (much like I was in Adam and creation from the very beginning; God added no new molecules or genes to creation after his “rest” on the “seventh day”).  The Lord’s Supper is a picture of Gal 2:20, Romans 6:3,4; Col. 2:20; 3:3.

“As often as you do this,” said Paul in I Cor. 11, “you do show (demonstrate, exhibit) Christ’s death until he returns.”  What he means is that we exhibit, by our participation in that memorial meal, Christ’s death in us.  This is even clearer when he says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which I am crucified to the world and to me.”  To the same Galatians he also writes categorically that Christ had been displayed before them as crucified.  Paul did not mean that he drew any pictures or had celebrated the Lord’s Supper with them, but that he, though very much alive physically, was a walking demonstration of death to self, death in Christ.  It will come as a surprise to most Christians that the Bible talks more about the Christian’s crucifixion (in the number of times it uses the word) than of Christ’s, who himself repeatedly said that unless we take up our cross and follow him (to Calvary, symbolically) we cannot be his disciple.  That congregation of Christians was inspired which put the letters S E L F on the cross at the back of their pulpit.  This was no offense; we do that by adorning it with jewels and drapes, even finishing finely the crude, splintery log that the original tree must have been.  The cross is incomplete, has not performed its saving purpose, until each of us is nailed upon it.


The Practice of Typological Preaching

After this long excursus as to the NATURE of typology in Scripture, the frightening question comes to the conscientious preacher as to where he begins or ends adequate typological preaching.

First, the “sky is the limit” as to the possibilities.  Everything in Creation, as said earlier, is a type of Christ, the first-born of all creation, the archetype of redemption.  The Bible is so full of types that are not identified as such, are so “randomly” chosen, and so unexpectedly surprising sometimes (like Old Testament “prophecies” and their “fulfillment”: who would have guessed that muzzling oxen had anything to do with paying preachers? I Cor. 9:9 and repeated in Timothy!) that any mouthpiece for God, speaking by the Spirit of God, can find types where He will.

Second – and that, after all, is the purpose of any “type”, be sure that it really illuminates the point at hand.  (“Muzzled oxen” certainly does; the points of comparison are obvious.) Don’t strain to make a figure fit, as is done with the specific number of fish the disciples drew in John 21:11, etc.

Third: (converse of point 2)  Don’t draw analogies, though ever so perfectly fit, if the point at hand doesn’t need illumination or illustration.  This will do more than anything else to curb excess in this kind of preaching.  An old couplet (which comes in various formulations) says of the two testaments in Scripture:  “The New is in the Old contained, The Old is in the New explained.”  Too often preachers have delivered spell-binding  sermons on Old Testament themes in which they explain the Old Testament in the light of the New!  The pictures were intended to serve the people of their times until reality came, and they still serve us as illustrations, but who wants to spend undue time with a photograph when the person himself is physically visible? (Does it help to understand the atonement to point out that the Passover lamb was young, a male, without blemish, etc?)  This can soon end in allegorizing.

Fourth; do not make comparisons between all parts of type an application; Solomon’s temple is NOT  a model for our church-building obsession, especially as to extravagance. Joseph too was a type of Christ, but certainly not in marrying a heathen-priest’s daughter.  Hezekiah’s prayer for added life was imprudent; many troubles to self and nation followed in those years.

Fifth; Scripture changes type-and-applicaitons easily; Satan is a roaring lion; Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah; Satan is a snake; Jesus tells us to be wise as they.  The leaven in Matt. 13 (usually a symbol of evil) may in that place represent goodness.  In II Cor. 3 and 4 a “veil” represents different things.  Paul switches comparisons in Rom. 7 as to who dies; in I Cor. 14:22 his use of “sign” (or “unbeliever”) does not seem consistent.

Sixth:  Beware of confusing type and reality; the Israelites did with the brass serpent in the wilderness.  (We can do it with a cross.)  The Decalog, as we know it, is a type as to format (talking about Egypt, the 7th day Sabbath, oxen, etc.)  It is obsolete for New Testament usage.  It served Israel well in 1400 BC and was intended to be useful until Christ came.

Two Bible “stories” that have received more inadequate preaching (and other) treatment than any others are, surprisingly, the birth of our Savior and his death (and resurrection).  What makes this ironic is the fact that no Bible stories are more familiar and preached about more.  In a typical church, about one-fourth of a pastor’s available Sundays are used in Advent and Lenten series, of six weeks each. (Add to this the special occasions and such absences from the pulpit as vacations, it is a wonder that the average Christian congregation knows as much about the Bible as it does, which is meager.)  One unfortunate result of this over-emphasis is that a pastor feels forced to embellish the “inspired record” (disliking to repeat the same too-familiar facts every year), which creates in many listeners an addition to imaginative Bible fiction about Christmas and Calvary, and the confusion and ignorance is compounded. Doubly ironic, many of the important facts of Jesus’ birth and death are generally known, namely, that he did not descend from Solomon (Joseph did, but not Mary); the Wise Men did not visit him at the manger, his father Abraham was not a Jew (any more than Noah, or even Ham were black), and so on.  What Christian knows why Jesus chose Sunday on which to rise from the dead, when for his contemporaries it was the first work-day of the week?  Point is, Jesus’ birth and death (to say nothing of his resurrection) are signs, types of great importance.  In themselves, as historical events, they have great importance, of course; ( I Cor 2:1; I Cor 15.  But no facts are more universally known.  What sane person denies that Christ was born and is an historical figure, when every calendar is dated in terms of that event?  Who denies his crucifixion, when the cross is the most familiar man-made emblem or symbol in human history?  Even his resurrection is not seriously challenged, and all the preaching in the world cannot prove it to the atheist.

Nowhere are we told in Scripture to “remember” Jesus’ birth, and God took pains to see that the exact year, month, date, and day are unknown, as is true of the exact birth-spot, plus Calvary and Christ’s empty tomb.  This is what makes of limited value the “pilgrimages” to the un-Holy Land, where even the paths on which Jesus once walked are as much as seven feet below the present surface, and the water on which he once walked and boated might even now be in Lake Michigan, or our own drinking faucets.

We say all this, every Christmas and Good Friday, in reminding that Jesus’ could have been born a dozen times or even been crucified that often, and all that would mean nothing for us if he had not been raised (differently from Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter) and ascended into heaven.  But we persist in our imitation of the world and its spiritual ignorance by almost total neglect of the anniversaries of Jesus’ Ascension/Coronation and Pentecost, in which Christmas, Good Friday, and even Easter find their climax.  What is the significance of an earthly monarch’s birth, marriage, and other rites of passage, compared to his coronation?  Jesus followed his resurrection with 40 days of instruction as to its significance, and commanded his church to prepare themselves for what proved to be ten long days of waiting and watching for his return in the “Spirit”.  What a complete inversion of our customs, in which “Easter” is dropped the day afterward like a hot potato, and Ascension/Pentecost are neither prepared for or followed up, even if observed on the anniversary days themselves.  This is what Hebrews means when it says it readers major in the minors, have to be taught instead of being teachers, milk-drinkers instead of meat-eaters.  Today’s spiritual children at least have their preachers to blame for much of this ignorance.

In a sentence – for here we are pleading for typological preaching, not trying to exhaust the meaning of the atonement – Jesus was miraculously virgin-born not in order to be sinless (do we get our sinfulness from our male ancestors?), nor in order to be divine, but as a symbol of the divine nature of the new birth of every member of the new race that he fathered as the Second Adam (John 1:13).


So Great A Salvation (Part II)

Well, the result of all this (see previous post) is that God himself declares that we are perfect.  Not like a judge who says, “Well, Jim Jones, I know you are guilty but I am going to give you another chance.  I’m going to put you on probation or declare your sentence suspended,” and all that sort of thing.  Or you have heard this illustration where a judge comes down off the bench and takes off his robe and takes the place of the prisoner.  Preposterous if ever I heard it.  God doesn’t regard us as if we are perfect, He says, “You are perfect!”

A minister’s wife, a younger woman with a busy family, said to me she was contemplating suicide.  And I said to her, “Dear girl, you’re much too late.  That was done long ago.”  And she said, “What do you mean?”  And I said, “I mean simply that you died with Christ.  That old suicide prone nature of yours died with Christ.  You are a new girl.  You’re the daughter of a King!  You should act like it and live like it.”  One of the oldest ministers at one time in the Christian Reformed Church was Leonard Verduin who had been reminding us for years that the song “Rock of Ages” says “…let the water and the blood from thy wounded side which flows, be of sin the double cure, cleanse from sin and make me pure.”

That leads us to the second proposition and that is that baptism is more than washing.  What does Romans 6 say and what do all our formularies say, like baptism and communion and so on?  That our old nature was buried and is dead and gone.  It says 150 times in the New Testament that we are in Christ and that Christ is in us.  And it ransacks nature for analogies and illustrations and parables of this thing.  Jesus says on the last night of his life, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  A common sap flows through us, a common life.”  Paul, as I said before, uses the illustration of a husband and wife.  “I’m talking about a great mystery,” he says, “of how this can be true, but it is.”  Peter talks about bricks in one house.  And Paul speaks in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 about our being members of just one body, Christ and we, He is the head and we are the body.  And the very formulary says, “You have been baptized into God.”  What a grafting.

Now that that is clear to us comes the problem, what about sin?  If I’m so perfect, why do I still keep on sinning?  Is Jesus party to all that?  Do I sin or does satan make me do it?  Well, there are lots of illustrations.  Cory Ten Boom uses the illustration of the bell towers in the Netherlands where the trusted players can let the rope go and the bells will keep on ringing.    But I like the illustration, more contemporary, of an automobile where the motor “dies”.  We say, “He killed the motor.”  But the car could coast for miles if going down a long enough hill.  Or here is a medical illustration:  The Bible talks about the motions of the flesh.  I had to have a physical exam one time and I sat up on the table and the doctor took out a little hammer and he started to hit me, he hit me on the knee.  But I got even with him.  I gave him a swift kick.  And he said, “Oh, you are in good condition.”  Now I hadn’t meant to kick the man, that was just a reflex.  So I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that”  “That’s all right,” he said. “I understand completely.  That wasn’t you.”  And so there are these old motions of the flesh, these old floppy discs in our computers that are programmed wrong, and every now and then the old man that I’ve said more than once is dead and buried pushes up the ground and his hoary, cadaverous head, his skeleton looks out at me and says, “This is the way you used to be.”

I used to hate like mischief the occasions when the old me would crawl out of the grave.  If I had had a mountain top experience I was almost reluctant to live the next couple of days because I knew there would be this insane boy at the bottom of the mountain to face me, who was myself as a boy.  But I thank God, just recently I have begun to thank God, who periodically says, “Look at these old pictures in this family album.  See what you once were, what you would be today without me.”  It makes me think of Peter walking on the water.  The Bible says he looked down at the waves and got scared.  Prior to that I think he was looking over his shoulder at his fellow fishers and saying, “How am I doing?  Get a load of this! Me, walking on the water!”  And Jesus let him go down, down, down.  And he would have gurgled to his death except that he had to come to realization that he wasn’t walking on the water, but Christ was, in him.

So that is the answer to those places in the Bible where it says, “Put on the new man!”  What it is saying is, “You are a new man.  Act your age.  Be what you are.”  Hebrews 6 scolds us when it says “You act like children.  You are not children.  Don’t act like children.”  I was once trying to console an elderly widow about the Christian life who was desperately lonely and she said, “It’s hard.”  And I said, “My dear sister, it’s impossible.”  Jesus himself in John 15 when he was talking about being the vine and we the branches, said, “Without me you can do nothing.”  Nothing.  “In Him we live and move and have our being,” says Paul in Ephesians.  And in Philippians says Paul in chapter 4:13, “I can do everything through Him who is constantly infusing me with his power.”

Miracles, Part II

The big thing – not just in miracles, but in living a “life of faith” constantly, which is all that Christianity is, — is for us to discover insofar as we are able, exactly what God’s will is for our lives, and to live or walk accordingly.  This is the way Christ lived when he was visibly here upon earth, and it is that very kind of life he wants to and will live in our lives today.  This is what is meant by the statement that he was “led of the Spirit” even into temptation in the desert, etc.  He was not asking himself every five minutes, “Lord, what will you have me to do?”, though he certainly did ask that question often, spending entire nights sometimes in prayer before making big decisions, such as choosing his twelve disciples.  Rather, he was so possessed of the Holy Spirit, as we can and should be, that he intuitively, instinctively, automatically did God’s will, perfectly.

This will help explain one of the most puzzling stories in Scripture, namely, Jesus’ agony (the only occurrence of that word in the Bible) in Gethsemane.  Hebrew 7:7,8 says that his prayer was “heard”!  Was it, in the sense of being “answered”? Some say that he was not asking to be spared the cross; he told his disciples that he had to be crucified.  His horror – say they – was the possibility that that infinite sacrifice, done “willingly” enough, might be in vain, what with every “follower” of his defecting, and his work dying with him.  This, happily, didn’t happen, and perhaps the encouraging angel of Gethsemane reminded him of Isa. 53:10-12.

More possibly, Christ was literally agonizing as to whether it really was God’s will that he should die, not that it was Christ’s will (not to) versus God’s certainly that he would.  True, the Scriptures predicted it, but the same God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  Both “murders” were obviously contrary to God’s desires”, divine declarations as to what should be and what should not.  Christ’s entire life was lived with the tension between hoping against hope people would accept, receive, believe in him, and “knowing” they would not.  (Hence the tears over Jerusalem.)  Hence the tears too at Lazarus’ grave, when he could have reached Bethany before his friend died, but God’s will was that he loiter.  Jesus was “party” to the death of Jairus’ daughter when it was God’s will to have a woman with a twelve-year malady delay him.

While Jesus did prepare his disciples (and himself) for his death by predicting it, the possibility or desirability of avoiding it was always for him (to whom any death is abhorrent, especially of one completely undeserving) a real temptation.  When Peter tried to discourage him from talking about the subject, Christ called him a tool of the devil!

It might help to clarify this point if we say that Jesus’ blood-sweating anguish to discover the will of God (which had often caused him sleepless nights) was a matter of timing (not whether, but when!).  Frequently he had refused to die or let himself be killed (if that’s all there was to being our Savior), but “his hour had not yet come”.  Here now is the awful question, “Is this really it?  No more final warnings, no more opportunity to preach, no more hurting people to heal?  Father, is this your will, now?  Have I misread you and your word, who take no delight in the death of any one, much less the innocent?  Is there some wonderful way out, as in the case of Abraham with Isaac?

We know that our blessed Savior won through, prayed “through.”  An angel, a messenger from God himself, came with an answer.  Christ went to the cross confidently, composed.  And somehow it is easier to think that it was because of angelic, divine confirmation as to what God’s will was for that very moment rather than the alignment of his “natural” desire with what he clearly and certainly knew to be God’s in that unholy hour.  He had lived too long and “naturally” with such merging of two wills, in doing things sometimes humanly undesirable and seemingly un-divine, to have such hell in reconciliation of the two at this late date.