We are continuing our series Seven Reasons Jesus Came, and today we come to our fifth reason: To Participate in the Pain of Man.
When we are going through something hard, one of the first things we want to do is find someone who has been through it before. Even if they cannot offer any particular solution or help, just having their understanding ear is valuable and comforting. A doctor is said to be a good physician if they have a bedside manner, a manner that communicates that they have at least some idea the level of suffering you are going through and respond in gentle understanding. Even if the treatment they prescribe for your condition may cause additional, though temporary suffering, you are more willing to go through with it because you know the doctor has your best in mind (illustration borrowed and adapted from Dr. Gerald Bray).
This is what we have in Jesus and what is so unique about Him from every other god. Jesus is God in the flesh. God with His divine nature, immune to pain, deprivation, weakness, sickness, and fatigue, took on human nature which was subject to all of those things. Jesus experienced fatigue so powerful, He slept through a storm on boat that was so bad, experienced fisherman thought they were going to die (Matthew 8:23-27)! Jesus experienced starvation, having not eaten in forty days and then be tempted in mighty ways to sin by the devil himself (Matthew 4:2ff). He experienced physical weakness (John 19:17 shows Jesus carrying His cross, but in all the other gospel accounts, like Luke 23:26, they found someone else to carry it. This means that he started out carrying it, but couldn’t make it the whole way due to the weakness from the beating). He experienced grief (John 11:35) and distress of soul (Matthew 26:38). He experienced betrayal by His friend (John 13:21-27), and even His own family thought He was crazy, at first (Mark 3:21).
Of course, what we remember today is the pinnacle of Jesus’ suffering: His crucifixion on the cross. He had nails driven through His hands and feet and was hung on the cross to die. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus was also bearing all the punishment for our sin on the cross! He was absorbing all of God’s righteous wrath aimed at us so that we would never have to go through that ourselves.
Then, Jesus died. There is no pain that God has not experienced. Jesus wasn’t the only one suffering that day. The Father lost His Son in that moment, too.
This brings up another reason why Jesus came to Earth. He came to experience what it is like to be human with all of its pain, coming at a time when it was likely the hardest to be a human being. He didn’t come in our time with air conditioning and modern medicine. He came at a time when creature comforts were vanishingly few. The Bible says Jesus can sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:14-15), but more than that, He can help us (Hebrews 4:16)! In Him we can find grace and mercy in our times of need! He truly is our Great Physician with a bedside manner forged in the fires of pain personally experienced.
Yes, Jesus understands us. You could say that He gets us. But more than that, He transforms us as well. He does not leave us in temptation, sin, and grief, but begins moving us away from those things in our life. We won’t see the conclusion of this process until we die, but even in death, He is with us and will shepherd us through that valley to joy. He can do this because He has already walked that path for us, and now He is the way through death to life.
So if you are going through something hard today, reach out to Jesus in prayer. Tell Him about it. Cry in front of Him if you need to. Jesus understands. And one day, Jesus will deliver you from that distress. It doesn’t happen instantly, but one day, you will be delivered comprehensively!
I remember once on a Saturday evening I was watching some nature show on the Discovery channel, when my dad came in from outside. He looked at me and said, “Oh, good, you’ll appreciate this. Come outside and see the real Discovery channel. I was intrigued, and I got up and followed him outside. In between two trees, glistening in the moonlight, was a spider’s web being carefully woven together. I watched as the spider was seemingly running on air building this incredible structure and was struck with wonder. I wasn’t thinking so much about how the spider was making the web, what kind of spider it was, or even my own personal feelings about spiders which, incidentally, are largely negative. My heart was simply captured by the wonder of this creature unfolding his web in front of me in such a way that I still think about that nearly twenty years later. My father was correct about this moment being the real Discovery channel, because I wasn’t just learning, I was discovering.
Too often we approach the Bible and important theological concepts as a set of facts merely to learn, to commit to our memories instead of seeing it as a revelation of the Person of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper, a picture of the Lord’s work and its blessing for us has so often been reduced to a set of theological precepts that don’t include beholding Christ. Now, please hear me: I’m not saying that precision in theology isn’t important. It is critical. But the reason it is critical is not because you have to pass a theological examination to get into heaven. Peter isn’t going to ask you to quote the Westminster Catechism to him. But theological precision is critical because you want to know your Lord who loves you so much as well as you can. I want to know my wife’s shoe size, or her favorite flower, or what kind of work she would do if she weren’t an artist not because I am trying to pass a test but because I want to know my wife as completely as I can. It is the same way with Jesus—we should desire to know Him for His own sake.
We have covered what our understanding of this Supper is in previous sermons. Yes, this table is a table of blessing, whereby we commune by faith with our Lord Jesus Christ in a real, spiritual way. No, this is not the literal body and blood of Christ as if Jesus needs to have His body broken again for our salvation. Jesus did the work to save us from our sin and He did it completely—it is finished. There is no more sin among the elect to be atoned for anymore. Yet that does not mean that Jesus isn’t still working for us, ministering to us. He is continuing to nourish us, support us, pray for us, and bless us with His presence as we see signified and in a way accomplished in and through this Supper. That’s why this isn’t just a memorial as if all of the important work Jesus already did and is done with us. No, He continues to feed us after He washed us. There is no more sin to pay for, no more forgiveness to grant, but there is a deeper intimacy with Jesus to be had, and that is exactly what He gives us in this supper: Himself.
Having said all of that, that’s not what I want to explore in detail tonight. I want us to focus on Jesus, as the point, the purpose of this Supper. We don’t commune with Jesus in order to get some other blessing. The communion with Jesus is the blessing, is the strengthening of our faith. It all comes back to Him, and we seek Him and love Him because of Who He is, not what He gives to us.
We can think of it this way, have you ever visited your grandparents when you were a small child, and upon seeing them you say, “What did you get me?” Have you done that? Maybe you’re on the other side of that question now! If that’s the question, then what is that visit really about? Is it about seeing your grandparents, or is it about receiving the gift? When we are young, we can excuse enthusiasm for things, because children haven’t been around long enough to know what a profound gift a person is. As you get older, that gets clearer. Suddenly, when you are a teenager, or if God so chooses, a full-grown adult with grandparents, you see the value of who they are as people. Suddenly, you just want to see them. You cherish them for who they are.
That’s where I want us to grow towards in our relationship with Jesus. So let’s talk about Jesus. Let’s use this supper that is in front of us to remind us of the Beloved. This Supper blesses us in three ways that all go back to the person and work of Jesus. This supper blesses us by reminding us of what Jesus did for us in the past, by repeating our fellowship with Jesus in the present, and by revealing to us Jesus’ return in the future.
Reminding us of what Jesus did for us in the past
The Supper is a visual picture of the Gospel which is, quite simply, Jesus died for you. He did so in the most definitive of ways. God, as God, cannot die. Nothing is more powerful than God to force Him to stop existing, and He needs nothing to sustain His life. He is neither dependant nor subservient. But the payment of sin requires death. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins, Scripture says. So the Person of the Son, at the Father’s wish, takes on humanity. He becomes human while remaining fully God. By doing this, He takes on a nature that is weak, subject to external forces, and has needs. God can now feel pain, deprivation, and displeasure. And He does it for you, while you were yet a sinner. In the tearing of the bread we are reminded of this body that He took on was broken. When we pour the fruit of the vine, we are reminded of blood that was poured out to the very bottom. His body wasn’t scratched; it was broken. Jesus didn’t just bleed. He died. The death of the Son of God! Why, it seems almost a contradiction of terms. The innocent dying for the guilty as an ultimately good thing strikes us as scandalous! Yet that is precisely what we are saying in this supper, only we make it personal. The Innocent One died for me, the Guilty One, and that Innocent One was the very Son of God. The Holy One paid my debt, what could possibly be left to pay? My sin is dead and gone, and I am free! When I taste of this supper I am reminded of the grace and love of God that is complete. There is nothing I add to it. The Lord’s Supper isn’t a potluck where we all bring something to the table, it is a royal dinner served by the King Himself. To bring your own food is an insult to the Host Who has thought of and provided everything!
Repeating our fellowship with Jesus in the present
But this isn’t just a reminder of what Jesus has done in the past, but it is a repetition of our fellowship with Jesus. Jesus didn’t just die, rise again, ascend into heaven, and is now just waiting in heaven for us to finally show up. Instead, He walks with us the whole way. In John 6, Jesus uses this metaphor of eating his flesh and drinking His blood. And this is offensive to the people he says this to, so I’ve wondered why Jesus did this. At first, I just assumed that this was a way of showing us who was committed to following Him, that even when He said something confusing, the truly committed would just keep on following Him. Maybe that is part of it, but I think there is more. John 6 comes right after Jesus feeding the five thousand. He leaves and the crowd searches around to find Him. They ask Him to reproduce this sign, you know, just one more time, and then they will believe. Of course Jesus realizes this and points out that it isn’t about free bread, but about Him. You don’t come to eat bread, because that is not where true life is found, you come to eat Jesus. It is only in Jesus, not in what Jesus gives you that you find Life. You don’t find Jesus by looking in peace. You look in Jesus and there is peace. You don’t find Jesus by finding forgiveness, you find forgiveness by finding Jesus.
So what better gift can Jesus give you in the Lord’s Supper than Himself? That is what Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. When we read the word “participation” or “partaking” the word behind that translation is the word for “fellowship.” You fellowship with Jesus in this cup of blessing. Listen to FF Bruce, “The true sustenance and refreshment of our spiritual life are to be found only in him who died that we might live. In all ways in which his people feed on him by faith – not only the Holy Table, but in reading, and hearing the word of God, or in private, or united prayer and meditation, (to mention no more) – they may fulfill the conditions which he lays down here [that of eating His flesh and drinking his blood], and receive the promised blessings (160). Do you hear what he is saying? By making use of all the means which God uses to bless us do we find Christ. But it must be said that there is something special about the Lord’s Supper.
Let’s look at the other means of grace God gives to us and see how they compare to the Lord’s Supper. The Bible promises to strengthen the believer, but it is also the means by which faith is produced in the unbeliever (Romans 10:17), so the Bible is for unbelievers, too. Prayer is the means by which we get in tune with God’s will as Christians, but it is also the means by which we cry out to God in saving faith (Acts 16:31). The Lord’s Supper, by contrast, is the only means of grace reserved for those who have already put their trust in Christ. This is something special, folks. This is dinner with the Friend of Sinners, the One who sticks closer than a brother, the Bridegroom of the Church.
I remember the rehearsal dinner for my wedding. It was such a sweet meal of fellowship with my bride-to-be in anticipation of the day to come when we would be united forever. Though, yes, there were many people there who were deeply important to me there, I only saw my bride. It wouldn’t have been a good meal without her there, in fact, if she hadn’t been there, it would have been the saddest meal of my life. But even a dinner as special as that was looking forward to something, a marriage within which all future meals would be together. And the Lord’s Supper is no different.
In this supper is a revealing of the return of Jesus. There is something very subtle in Luke 22:14. Jesus says that He isn’t going to eat of the fruit of the vine until it is fulfilled in The Kingdom of God. Jesus, on the night in which He was betrayed to His death, was already speaking of His coming victory, even beyond rising from the grave. Christ in that moment is looking forward to the time described in Revelation 19, the marriage feast. One of my favorite things about eating out is getting appetizers. It is food that promises even more food. It’s such a great experience, especially when it is good food because that promises that the main course will be even sweeter. This is one of those cases. The Lord’s supper we have here, with all of its benefits to us remind what Christ has done, repeats to us what Christ is doing, points us to what Christ is yet to do, and it is His greatest work yet! The best is yet to be, beloved. We have even more of Christ to experience.
There is a story of the theologian Thomas Aquinas. Thomas has an entire system of thought named after him due to the literal thousands of pages he wrote on philosophy, theology, and ethics, books which, while not right in everything, still have an impact nearly 800 years after his death. Yet, in the months before he died, it was said that he had a vision of Jesus during a church service. This master thinker and prolific writer suddenly stopped writing. When asked why, he said, “I can do no more. The end of my labors has come. Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life after that of my works.” Now I don’t know what he saw or if that story is even strictly true, but it does capture the point very well that there is more, so much more for us to see. God has given us so much in His Word, and what is true there will be true in heaven. Yes we should seek to know this book and study it like correspondence from a lover, but let it drive us to look forward to the day when we meet the Author Face to Face. Until then, let us fellowship with Him in this Supper.
Bruce, F.F. The Gospel of John and the Epistles
We are in the midst of a series of seven reasons why Jesus came to Earth. In this post, we are looking at the fourth reason: to Premier the New Promise of God.
What element of your church’s worship service could go missing without you realizing it? I doubt most people would forget about the sermon. I doubt even fewer would miss the absence of singing. Some might not notice the disappearance of the offering plate (but then tithing is done a lot online these days). But I’ll bet you if the Lord’s Supper didn’t make an appearance for a few months, very few would notice it. This is a phenomenon that Tim Chester poses in His book (Truth We Can Touch) about the Lord’s Supper. Yet the promise that Jesus is making here is in one way the reason that the Church exists at all. The promise made here is what Jesus sealed on the cross and was centuries in the making.
If we look back in time to Jeremiah 31:31, we see this incredible promise from God that is made in the midst of a book of judgement. Israel has had a covenant with God since father Abraham, and yet they have broken their end of the promise: to worship only God. This is a case of spiritual adultery (v32)! Yet God, forgiving God that He is, is going to make a new covenant, a covenant that is better, one that transforms the heart of the people He makes it with. This announcement is made in the midst of more good news: Israel who has been scattered in exile would be regathered again. By way of illustration, it is like a promise to a cheating spouse that they can come home, and it will be even better than when they left. It is a beautiful promise, an amazing covenant.
But there is something important to understand about Biblical covenants: they are sealed in blood. You wouldn’t make an ancient covenant without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:18-22), the slaughter of an animal. They would actually split the animal in two, and the parties of the covenant would walk between them. Why is this important? Well, this was a way of saying, “If I don’t hold up my end of the bargain, what may God make happened to this animal happen to me!” The Old Covenant was like that, and the New Covenant is no different.
There is key difference between the Old and New Covenant, however. Instead of an animal providing the blood, as is the usual procedure, Jesus does something different. He is going to be the sacrifice, the provider of blood, and the supper that He announces this is going to be the means by which we remember and proclaim Jesus’ work. When we break the bread, we remember how Jesus broke His body for us. When we pour the fruit of the vine, we remember how Jesus poured out His blood completely to death. When we eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine, we remember that Jesus is the only means of strengthening our souls in the same way that food strengthens our bodies.
That is what we celebrate on Maundy Thursday. Jesus inaugurates the New Covenant, promised all the way back in Jeremiah, but not by means of the blood of bulls and goats, but by means of his own blood. God bled for you to have salvation, and that is yet another reason why Jesus came. Without Jesus coming with a body, the possibility of bleeding was impossible for God. But when Jesus condescended to take one humanity, this possibility was opened and used just for us.
And there’s more! In this covenant, just like the Old Covenant with Abraham, God takes on both sides of the responsibility. Abraham didn’t walk between the animals in Genesis 15; God did. In the same way, Jesus has fulfilled both sides of the covenant by taking on the punishment for our unfaithfulness to God. We need only be united to Jesus by faith, and God will bless us with salvation and a changed heart and life! We will no longer desire to continue in our sin, but we will desire to be faithful to our covenant-keeping God. That is what this Last Supper inaugurates, and that is yet another reason why Jesus came.
To Propitiate God’s Wrath.
Have you ever wondered where Christians got the words “saved” from? It’s a word that we use all the time but never really define. We all just sort of understand that being saved is a good thing, but in order to really know how good it is, we should ask the question saved from what?
There are a couple good answers to this question. One possible answer is being saved from our sins. This is a good answer, as it is true that our sin is a big problem and the main source of pain and suffering in our world. Jesus died so that we could be changed into people that sin less. By doing so, we lead the lives that are more in conformity to how God designed us to live.
But is that all Jesus did? Did Jesus come to die merely to make our lives better? No. So maybe there is a better answer to this question.
Maybe the best answer is that Jesus died to save us from hell! Ah, now we are starting to get into something more profound. Hell is a place of eternal, conscious torment. It is a place separated from all good forever, a place of pain, loneliness and despair that can never be relieved. Surely, this is something that we can all be quite grateful to Jesus for, deliverance from eternal pain.
This is getting much closer to a precise question, but there is one more step, I think, that we need to take.
R.C. Sproul once asked the question we are wrestling with on this post. He did make one profound change to it. Instead of asking, “Saved from what?” he asked, “Saved from Whom?” R.C. concludes that Jesus is actually saving us from God’s wrath. It is God who saves us from God. One can base this assertion from Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (ESV, emphasis mine). Notice that Jesus doesn’t even point to fearing of destruction but fearing the one who can destroy.
Now, this might have you scratching your heads. “Wait a minute,” you may be thinking, “I thought the Bible says that God loved the world so much He sent His Son. It sounds like you are saying, ‘God hated the world so much that His Son had to save us!’”
That is a very good question. Because you are right—God does love us very much as John 3:16 rightly declares. It is also true that God sent Jesus to die for us, and that was no less an act of love for us for the Father as it was for the Son.
What makes this love so amazing is the fact that God saves us and loves us even though we have deeply offended Him. Can you imagine what it feels like to have a child of yours commit a heinous crime? At one level, there is disgust that someone you loved and raised would do something horrible, and yet at the same time they are your child and love them deeply. In fact, it is because you love them so deeply that one feels the disgust over their heinous actions all the more. To take it even a step further, imagine that you have to look at that child and be the judge in their court case? I think this might be the feeling Jesus describes in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
But unlike a human parent who can only feel the pain of a child’s sin, God does something profound with it. Instead of simply resigning all of humanity to judgement, God leaves the bench and pays the penalty Himself. He maintains His justice and His mercy all at the same time. Jesus died so that He doesn’t have to pour out His justly deserved wrath on humanity. This is what the word "propitiate" means. Jesus died and turned away God's just response to sin so that He could respond in mercy. God can't just sweep our sins under the rug—that wouldn't satisfy God's justice, His wrath against sin. But by dying, Jesus makes it possible that He would only ever have to respond in love and mercy to His elect.
Seven Reasons Jesus Came Part 2
We are in the midst of a series giving seven reasons why Jesus came to Earth. Today we cover that Jesus does this in order to fulfill prophecy.
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