Remembering Via Two Major Events
Remembering the Lord Jesus on a regular basis as often as we partake of the sacrament of communion has the effect of giving depth to our perspective on the gospel. Just think of how this works out over the months and years of the life of the church.
1) First, we get the preached gospel in perspective. It is like focusing a camera lens. Week by week in the preaching diet we may go through a book like Romans. Every chapter and every paragraph is built on Christ but He is not the theme of every chapter and paragraph. The theme may be a duty but the duty is built on Him because it is duty to Him.
Perhaps a painting will illustrate what I am saying. Christ is in every painting and He is the key to what is happening in every painting but He is not always center stage. However, when we paint the communion painting He is center stage (that is the goal in a distinct way). This has the effect of keeping all that we do week by week in preaching, teaching, reading, and learning the gospel in proper perspective. We are to remember Him.
2) Second, we get concentrated perspective on the Lord Jesus Himself. We get different perspectives on His life and work sometimes accenting this and sometimes accenting that, sometimes over viewing and sometimes detailing. The excellencies of Christ are displayed and in this way enjoyed. Thus our relationship with Him is personally deepened.
3) Third, we get different perspectives on Christ in relation to the new place that we now find ourselves in at this communion service versus communion services we attended in the past. Our lives continually change and that adjusts our perspective on the gospel. It changes our interest in various aspects of the work of Christ, it changes our openness to be taught, and it changes our willingness to obey.
This is enriching. Gaining perspective in this way is like hitting the refresh button on your computer. The screen clicks off and then comes back cleaned and up dated. Communion is a cleansing and refreshing that brings us up to date. It is for our encouragement and strengthening.
For the greatest benefit, our concentration must be fixed in a special way on Him as He said, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk. 22:19). We benefit most when we forget ourselves.
To organize our thoughts for this communion service, I want to direct attention to some major events of the life and work of Christ. As we look at these events, I want us to remember the Lord Jesus in terms stated by the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Qs 21-28). That is, I want us to remember Him in terms of His humiliation and His exaltation, through this grid, or through a prism to view its rich colors.
Christ, as our Redeemer, executes the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation (A 23).
The events I have in mind are His birth and His resurrection. The reason I look here is because of the two phrases mentioned by Paul: "He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit" (ESV, 1 Tim. 3:16).
1A. His birth
What comes to mind when you think of the birth of Christ? Do you remember Him as the virgin born son of Mary? The accent, of course, is not on Mary. We do not stress the fact that Mary is the virgin mother of Jesus. Instead, we orient our thinking to the fact that Jesus is the virgin born son of Mary. The accent is not on the mother but on the son. Thus we speak of the virgin birth of Christ without placing emphasis on the virgin. So what makes His birth special?
1) His birth is special because of who was born
People are born every day but His birth is unique because of who it is that was born. It is a special fact to say that He was "conceived … in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her." At first here, what is striking is not His virgin birth but His birth. His birth is special because He is the Son of God who became man in this manner. 1 Timothy 3:16 states that "He was manifested in the flesh." He appeared in a body. It is evident that He existed before He was born. Something remarkably unique took place when He was born. What happened in this great event is that the "eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever."
His birth involves the awesome point that God came to be with us as a man, Emanuel, God with us (He became truly man continuing as God). He in fact became one with us in our history as descendents from the first Adam. Great, indeed, is the mystery of godliness!
2) His birth is special because of how He was born
As the Shorter Catechism puts it, the Lord Jesus Christ "being the eternal Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin." He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin and He was born of her but without sin. Luke draws a conclusion from conception by the Holy Spirit without a human father: "therefore the child to be born will be called holy" (Lk. 1:35).
His birth is such by the virgin Marry the He is born without sin. He does not inherit the sin of our father Adam. He is in fact of the human family descended from Adam and Eve but without the imputation of sin that belongs to us all in the fall. He is of Mary and thus a true descendent of Abraham and Adam but without a human father. Thus, Jesus is a descendent of Adam and Eve but He is uniquely such. Great is the mystery of godliness! Great is the realization of what was promised but hidden for ages.
By birth He became a man, a human being body and soul, and part of the race that descends from the first man. By the virgin birth through the work of the Spirit the normal and natural connection to Adam and Eve was broken. If it were not broken it is hard to see how He could be without imputed sin. But being born of Mary He is uniquely connected to Adam and Eve. What is important is that the connection to the first Adam is not broken on one hand while the inheritance of imputed sin is broken on the other hand. He is not born a sinner. He is born holy. He is not born in alienation from God; He is not born with a sin nature. He is born of Mary with a perfect human nature as the perfect Son of God and thus without sin.
3) His birth is special because of why He was born
The reason for His birth and for His birth of a virgin by the special work of the Holy Spirit shows from another angle that not only is the Virgin Mary put in the background but the supernatural-virgin birth is also a secondary or subordinate fact. It is subordinate as a means that serves the greater end that the Lord Jesus Christ becomes "the Redeemer of God's elect."
His birth is His manifestation in the flesh in order to redeem sinners in the fallen race of the first Adam. But He cannot be the Redeemer of God's elect as "God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever" unless He is perfectly holy in all His fullness. He was born without sin in order to execute the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.
When we remember Him from this angle, we remember that His humiliation as a man has a profound depth and intensity because of His perfection. For example, it is His perfection that makes the temptation in the wilderness an experience of unparalleled suffering. Suffering occurs here not because He feels Himself at the brink of sin that He could commit if He so chose. It occurs in the temptation because being perfect in holiness (and therefore unable to sin) He suffers from the stench of sin from which He turns away in repugnance. Just think of what is involved in this repugnance. What is it that is so abhorrent to the Lord Jesus there in the temptation in the wilderness? He is abhorred at the temptation to disobey the Father's will that He be the Redeemer of God's elect by obedience to suffering.
In other words, the beauty of His holiness from birth is for our redemption! As man, as the holy one, He is our prophet, priest, and king. It is the excellence of Christ displaying the glory of the Father that gives us the gospel, the good news. There is a redeemer by which God's electing purpose is realized. The Redeemer of God's elect is the Lord Jesus Christ who being the eternal Son of God became man. Thus He continues to be both God and man in two distinct natures but one person and who as the holy one manifested in the flesh became the great high priest and perfect sacrifice to save us from our sins and deliver us from death and bondage.
2A. His resurrection
1) Remarkably, it is God who was raised from the dead! His death is an unparalleled thought, a thought beyond speech that God was crucified and that the blood of God purchased (redeemed) us (Acts 20:28). But this is the good news of the only way that God can uphold justice while saving sinners. As Paul says, our redemption is due to the fact that God presented Christ "as a propitiation by his blood" in order "to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:25-26).
Thus, we have to marvel at the fact that it was the eternal Son of God who became man and continues to be both God and man that was raised from the dead. Again, we have to say the refrain; "great is the mystery of godliness" when we read that He "was vindicated by the Spirit" (1 Tim. 3:16).
2) But there is another radical thought here like the thought of God being raised from the dead. It is the thought that a man is made both Lord and Christ by the resurrection. This is truly radical. It is profound and difficult to grasp what Paul means when he tells us that by the resurrection Christ was begotten as the Son of God (Acts 13:33) and what Peter means when he says that by the resurrection Jesus was made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:34).
Amazingly, it is a man that is raised to Lordship and enthronement at the right hand of God. He was in a specific sense not Lord and Christ until the resurrection. He was in an estate of true humiliation until redemption was accomplished. By His resurrection and ascension, our man in heaven, son of David, marked out as Son of God and made Lord and Christ, became our intercessor (Rom. 8: 31-39).
His prayers plead what He accomplished. History is a real nitty-gritty unfolding process and He sees His own all the way through this process to glory by His effectual prayers. His five bleeding wounds plead for me. Amazing Love, how can it be? Thus, we sing, glory to the bleeding lamb, glory to the bleeding lamb!
God speaks and then we speak
In light of the excellence of the glory of Christ that is displayed in both His humiliation and His exaltation, the question must be asked, what do you now say? And in light of the fact that He as the eternal Son of God became man permanently in order to be our elder brother and redeemer, we must respond. Hearing the voice of God we must raise our voice. And we do so in symbol by the partaking of these elements of bread and the fruit of the vine. We say at least three things in symbol and these we ought to be saying within our hearts to the Lord.
1) I need the provision represented here. I need this prophet, priest and king. 2) I appropriate this provision to myself. I own Him as my prophet, priest and king. I commit myself to learn from Him. I commit myself to obedience under His authority. I commit myself in faith to Him ever clinging to Him as my faithful high priest. 3) I appropriate the entire loaf represented. I own His family as my family.