Coming to the Lord’s Table
I love participating in Communion. As a pastor, for the last decade of my life I have had the privilege of leading our church in the Lord’s Supper. While I am honored by this opportunity, I rarely get the chance to “just” take Communion. There are times when I long to sit and enjoy the Communion service. For those who have administered Communion, you know how distracting it tends to be. There is a certain amount of attention that must be given to procedure. The whole congregation is waiting on you to move the service along and you are aware of that expectation.
I suspect though that as I find myself slightly distracted by the ceremonial duties of administering the Lord’s table, others find themselves similarly distracted. Maybe there is a mother who is trying to keep the kids quiet. A dad struggles to stay awake after a long work week. A college student’s mind is a blur of assignments that are due the next day. A family member worries about the afternoon meal they have cooking in the oven. It’s easy to get distracted. That’s why I want us to take some time to dwell on the cup of the Lord’s Table. What does it symbolize? What does it represents? What does it have to do with the fury of God?
The Cup of Wrath
In Scripture, the imagery of the cup often refers to the Lord’s wrath. Take, for example, Jeremiah 25:15,
For thus says the LORD God of Israel to me: ‘Take this wine cup of fury from my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it.’
The Book of Revelation magnifies this imagery by referring to the wine as God’s wrath and the cup as his “indignation.”
‘If anyone worship the beast and his image and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation.’
Presumably, when Jesus Christ went to the cross he drank the cup of the wrath of God on behalf of those who would believe in him. In theology, we call this imputation. The wrath, the eternal punishment due our sin, was transferred from us to Jesus Christ. For me, one of the most profound moments in the life of Christ comes in the Garden of Gethsemane when we see Jesus Christ fearful of his heavenly Father,
‘Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours be done.’ Then an angel appeared from heaven strengthening him. And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly. Then his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
As Jesus Christ comes to the end of his life, he’s not quite ready to go to the cross. He has known for some time that he would die. This was no surprise to him. The disciples of Jesus may not have believed he was going to be crucified, but Jesus Christ knew full well why he came to this earth. Still, even with all that knowledge we see him trembling before God.
As I thought about this scene, it occurred to me that Jesus Christ, up until this point, was the only person in human history who never had any reason to fear God. Jesus Christ was one with the Father. He had no need to fear God because he was perfectly righteous. In the Garden of Gethsemane, I do not believe that Jesus was fearful of dying. I don’t even think he was fearful of the excruciating pain that accompanies crucifixion. No, I believe what drove Jesus to sweat droplets of blood was the reality that he would bear the sins of all mankind. He would bear those sins before his Holy Father.
Think of it! Jesus Christ standing before a holy God, get this, condemned! Our sins ascribed to him!
Fellow Christians, if that thought doesn’t crush your inner being I don’t know what will. Jesus Christ was worthy of highest honor and praise. In his earthly ministry he was despised, rejected, beaten and crucified. It is no shocking thing for the holiest of men to be rejected by the most sinful of men. What is shocking, though, is that he had to face the holy wrath of the Father, bearing the sins of the most sinful of men.
You know what I find both fascinating and disturbing? Jesus Christ was infinitely perfect. He had never committed a sin. He had done the will of the Father. Yet, in this moment he feared God. The weight of the reality of bearing our sin begins to set in and he wants nothing to do with it. Frankly, he should have nothing to do with it. It’s not his weight to bear. Still, in this moment he decides to boldly carry an alien guilt and the thought of it causes him to tremble. What both fascinates me and disturbs me is that this sense of fear is completely lost on licentious Christians today.
Don’t misunderstand me (I’m sure many will). I’m not saying we should still bear our own guilt. Christ has borne the weight of that guilt on our behalf already. However, as I see professing Christians flippantly sinning, I can’t help but wonder if they understand the magnitude of what happened at Calvary. Do they realize the weight of their sin? He who knew no sin trembled at the mere thought of bearing our guilt. And yet we, who are fully deserving of the wrath of God, don’t seem to wink an eye as we carry on sinning gleefully. We laugh it up and give Jesus Christ a high five saying, “Thanks Bro!”
Somehow, that attitude just does not seem to fit with one who understands the cup of wrath of God which Jesus Christ chose to drink on our behalf.
The Cup of Blessing
I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the other side of imputation. Not only does Jesus Christ bear the guilt of our shame on the cross and pay the penalty due our sins, but he also transfers an incredible amount of blessing onto us who believe.
You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
As a result of the cross, we who trust in Christ are given all the rights and privileges that are due a son. The Bible tells us that we are adopted as sons and that we have been blessed with all things in heavenly places. As David declares in the Psalms, Jesus Christ fills our cup to overflowing. He has made entrance for us into heaven and we have been given the righteousness of Christ having been justified by faith in him. When we stand before God in heaven he will look on us not as enemies, or as a sinners, but as adopted sons and daughters.
As Jesus Christ drank the cup of the wrath of God for us, he also made us to drink of the cup of his blessing. As David says, our cups runneth over. We keep trying to drink it all in, but we just can’t. As we try to drink it all in he keeps pouring out more and more blessing. We’re covered in blessing as it spills over the edges of our mouths and drenches our clothes. Indeed, we find ourselves “Bathing in the Pool of Uncommon Grace.”
Back to the Lord’s Table
The next time you take Communion I want to challenge you to spend an extra few moments thinking about what the cup represents. One of the primary reasons I wrote my book was because I feel that Christians today have completely forgotten what that cup represents. All this talk of a loving and gracious God and we’ve somehow forgotten that this love came at a very high price. It came at the price of the blood of our savior and God’s Son.
Likewise he also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you.’
Every time we drink the cup we’re supposed to be reminded that the blood of Christ was spilt. We’re supposed to remember that this cup symbolizes the death of our Lord and Savior. Why? Why did he have to die? Why was his body broken and his blood spilt? Jesus Christ had to die, because we sinned. Jesus Christ chose to die on our behalf because the wages of sin is death. The wrath of God must be satisfied. The penalty for our sin had to be paid. The wine of the wrath of God poured into the cup of his indignation had to be drunk by someone. That someone should have been us.
Every time we come to the Lord’s Table, and we look into that cup of wine (or grape juice) we ought to be reminded that Jesus Christ drank the bitter cup of the wrath of God on our behalf.
In the cross of Christ, the apex of history, we see a perfect balance between God’s fierce wrath and hatred of sin, and His incredible grace, love and mercy. (Fury of God, 228)
Questions for Discussion
- Does your mind ever wander when you take the Lord’s Supper?
- Have you ever contemplated the magnitude of guilt that Christ bore on the cross?
- If we can never repay our own sin debt, how magnificent is Christ that he can pay the debt of many?
- Does Christ’s work on the cross drive you away from practicing sin?