January 10, 2016
Lord’s Day Worship
Watch the video of the service.
The sermon starts at 15:17 in the audio file.
Or, Gladness of Heart in Remembrance of Him
One of the most difficult things to remember as Christians is that God is glad with us in Jesus Christ. Unbelievers don’t think about God correctly, if they think about Him at all. They are more likely to think of gladness as god, chasing happiness as the ultimate end. They are not working to remember that God is glad with them, and He isn’t anyway, because they are not in Christ.
Believers, then, are the only ones concerned with God’s attitude toward them. But we, for various reasons, do not think mostly about God’s joy in and over and with us. We’ve learned, rightly, from God’s Word that He is holy and that we have sinned and fallen short of His glory. We’ve learned that our hearts produce evil desires and that we all act according to our nature of wrath. We cannot please God on our own, we don’t even want to try. Our depravity defiles us and causes us to deserve death. This is all true, and it is bad news.
But when God’s people gather, what ought to be the tone of our worship? Don’t we meet as those who know and believe the evangel? The good news? We agree that we are sinners, but that’s not what brings us together. We assemble to worship because we believe that Jesus paid it all! Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow. We’re saved and being saved and guaranteed to be saved by grace. God’s grace is effectual not ethereal. Grace is at work, it isn’t hanging out on the pages of the great abstract library in the sky.
In worship we meet with our loving Father by the fellowshipping Spirit in the gracious Son (2 Corinthians 13:14). We are His children, redeemed from slavery and adopted into His family (Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). We are, collectively, the Bride of the Son. He is not preparing us for a wedding day of disgrace and dread (Ephesians 5:25-27). Together we are His glory to the heavenly beings. He shows us off as a display of His wisdom (Ephesians 3:10). We are His workmanship, His poiema, an exhibition of what His sovereign love can make (Ephesians 2:10). We are the dwelling place of His Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). He is not ashamed to be with us. The Trinity is turned toward us gladly.
The prophet Zephaniah went so far as to say that the Lord sings over His people.
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
This is why the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
I appreciate Robert Capon’s (pronounced CAY-pun) premise that the world is too unnecessary to God for it not to be a work of His delight (The Supper of the Lamb, 85). God continues to enjoy what He’s made as evidenced by the fact that He constantly sustains it. Sin and rebels roam free for a while, but He ultimately laughs at their futile fight against Him (Psalm 2). Our God is in the heavens and does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3). So God’s joy–His gladness, His happiness–is a first principle. He acts from His gladness. This is true about our created lives, and how much more true for those who live in Christ.
No wonder David said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD'” (Psalm 122:1). No wonder we ought to “serve the LORD in gladness” (Psalm 100:2). No wonder God expects that His people serve Him with joyfulness and gladness (Deuteronomy 28:47).
Why, then, is so much Christian “worship” not a glad celebration of His gladness with us in Christ? How has so much worship become driven by fear rather than by faith? Why does our tone of praise not match the truth of the gospel that we profess to believe?
Guilt robs happiness from some. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees that guilt cannot finally damn us but the evil one still stirs up guilt with accusations. I read an article once that referred to “guilt’s insidious stamina”; it gets into everything like smoke and has quite a lot of staying power. The Spirit is dealing with our guilt, but it isn’t an overnight deliverance.
Fear ruins rejoicing for others, whether fear of being totally dependent on God, or fear of being out of control (FOBOOC), even with joy. We’re afraid that we’ll start dancing like David and look like fools.
We may also be afraid that talking about (or pursuing) gladness in our worship turns the focus onto us. Man-centered worship is wrong. We don’t assemble to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. We have sinned and our sin cannot be ignored. But we don’t worship in order to ignore sin or to pay for our sin. We offer Him worship because He found it all and paid for it. We don’t presume that we’re justified, we believe what He said about our justification. More introspection and cultivated unhappiness does not reflect our receipt of the gift of salvation. When we bear fruit in keeping with repentance, there will be apples of delight not chaff of dread.
One of the analogies we like to use about the church is a vine. What fruit do we desire to find on the vine? Obedience, service, sacrifice, yes. But what kind of obedience? Complete with happy hearts. What kind of service? Joyful, willing, and free. What kind of praise? Delighted praise. When we worship well, the fruit of the vine will be visible in glad hearts.
In our Lord’s Day liturgy, we reach the summit of this gladness in communion. It is a meal of fellowship with God and each other. It is a remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection and His purchase of all things pertaining to our eternal life. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and stand in His grace. It is ironic at best, and really more just wrong, for communion to be in remembrance of our guilt and fear.
Guilt and fear have been like bit and bridle over communion in many places for about a century. Possibly nothing illustrates it better in our day than filling the communion cups with grape juice. When the Lord instituted a memorial meal, He used the fruit of the vine: wine.
This requires further explanation.
Trinity Evangel Church turned five yesterday. Of all the sermons I’ve taught during that time, none made me as nervous to preach as “Celebrating Glory” from John 2:1-11 when Jesus turned water into really good wine in front of His small group.
I used to pride myself in having never taken a sip of any sort of alcoholic beverage. My first mouthful of the stuff was on our honeymoon when I tried champagne–a wedding gift. I couldn’t spit it out quickly enough and dumped the rest of the bottle down the sink. My conservative Baptist upbringing and Baptist or baptistic Bible education not only called for abstinence from booze, we considered any drinker of any kind to be a bozo.
Support for this teetotalism came from a variety of Bible teachers who explained that wine in the Bible wasn’t really wine, it was more like grape-juice, or jelly, or raisin paste. But even if families in the first century cut wine with water, I came to realize that it was those preachers who were watering down the Word.
John 2 is a great example. Wine was an everyday drink, but it was so connected with festivity that failing to provide wine for one’s guests at a happy event such as a wedding was a social embarrassment. Everyone at the Cana wedding had already been drinking because the wine was almost out. If people only drank wine because the water was unsanitary, wouldn’t it have been a greater miracle for Jesus to take dirty water and make it the best filtered water ever? But He made wine, and it was the best wine–water in excelsis as Capon described it (84). It could not have been grape juice, otherwise the response from the master of the feast would make no sense. After guests had “drunk freely” was the time for the cheaper stuff, but that didn’t mean not generic juice (i.e., the Safeway brand). Grape juice doesn’t work like that. Even if they had had juice available to them, wine was part of the wedding celebration. Wine fit and furthered the glad occasion.
This is God-given gladness of heart from the fruit of the vine.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
God keeps grapes, olives, and grains growing so that men can have wine, oil, and bread. The given good for these is strength, shining, and gladness. You can eat too much bread. You can put too much oil on your face. You can drink too much wine. But to abstain in order to avoid abuse is to miss the gift and to miss the gladness. I remember the first time I read an article online called “The Christology of Wine” (which was adapted from chapter 6 in Drinking with Luther and Calvin by Jim West) which pointed out the blessings of wine and thought, “Uh oh, I might really be wrong.”
Wine even cheers the heart of God.
But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ (Judges 9:13)
Jotham was telling a parable when a personified vine asks the trees if he should take another job. No! The answer is obvious. The vine has a great and important purpose: cheering divine and human hearts. God loves to give and we are gladdened to receive.
In Deuteronomy 14 God called His people to an annual tithe, a feast to celebrate all He provided for them. He instructed them to “eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your heard and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:23). They would learn to fear in feasting, including wine. If they weren’t able to travel to the place of the feast with their resources, they were to turn their tithe into cash and then “spend the money for whatever you desire–oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household” (verse 25). The feast was required to acknowledge God’s goodness and wine was a part of that goodness.
The Lord promised to give blessings to those who honored Him including bursting vats of wine.
Honor the LORD with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.
It was such a gift that wine in the Bible symbolized the future kingdom blessings. As God secures His people in the midst of defeated nations He promises that
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
Wine is a sign of God’s blessing. Its job is to make glad and so it belongs in celebration. The gladness belongs with weddings. The gladness also belongs in worship, in particular at the Lord’s Table.
When Jesus gave the cup to His disciples (Luke 22:14-23), He gave from “the fruit of the vine,” which meant fermented grapes. You can’t keep grapes from fermenting without a lot of extra work, and first-century men couldn’t do that work anyway. The Passover meal was a spring festival and the most recent harvest was the previous fall, meaning that this “fruit of the vine” had alcoholic properties.
The typical Passover Feast involved at least four commemorative rounds of wine (West, 129). Two of the cups are mentioned in Luke’s account, and the cup that Jesus said represented the new covenant in His blood was probably round three. Obviously the tone that night was darkened by His prediction of betrayal and death. But do you think that the apostles drank the same way when He had risen? By no means!
Within a couple decades the Corinthians had taken the Lord’s Supper too far toward a party. They were in the ditch of not remembering Christ and one another by focusing on the food and wine. Paul corrects their abuse in 1 Corinthians 11. But, beloved, we are not near that ditch. We are still in the ditch of fear.
Grape juice symbolizes that fear. It was created by Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch, a Methodist minister who feared, as part of a denomination that feared, the abuse of communion wine by believers. In 1869, Dr. Welch used the pasteurization techniques developed by Louis Pasteur just four years earlier. He soon perfected a process for preserving grape juice and began marketing it with the label “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine.” He produced it with the thought of providing churches with an alternative to alcoholic potation. His son Charles said that the company was born, “out of a passion to serve God by helping His church to give communion [as] ‘the fruit of the vine’ instead of ‘the cup of devils.'”
This is a position of fear and, just as often, of self-righteousness.
Reading God’s Word convicted me that I was not drinking and enjoying and celebrating. I was convicted that I was sinning by not being gladdened by wine and that I was trying to be more spiritual than God. I had no taste for the gift of wine (or beer, which is a sort of wine made from grain instead of grapes) because I had little taste for the gift of joy.
The elders have also come to full agreement that we should be using wine in communion because that’s what the Bible says and because of what it represents: glad celebration that God is glad with us in Christ. Since we rent our meeting place, we needed permission from the SDA, and we were conscious of the fact that they are total abstainers. We wrote a letter asking for permission and they granted it to us a few months ago under certain conditions.
This message is intended to provoke discussion and feedback before we move forward. We want you to talk in Life to Life groups, at Men to Men and Titus 2, even directly with an elder.
We understand that not everyone has the same convictions and may, in fact, have vowed to the Lord never to drink. There are examples of men doing that in Scripture (like the Nazarite vow), though such vows are exceptions not the rule. If we do move to wine for communion, we will still offer cups of grape juice for those who cannot drink from faith (see Romans 14:23).
We don’t want to break Table fellowship over the way we fellowship at the Table. We’re not wanting to crush tender consciences with the way we celebrate a conscience cleansing ordinance.
I’m bringing it up, however, because we believe that it is right, not just permissible. This isn’t to express our Christian liberty, it is to receive what God says is a gift, the heart-gladdening fruit of the vine. We desire for the church body to be fruitful in gladness, and wine is part of our corporeal celebration. For what it’s worth, in heaven at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, He’s probably going to serve something stronger than grape juice.
God likes wine. He made grapes. He continues to make grapes ferment. His Son chose it as a symbol of His blood.
We drink to remember Jesus–in remembrance of Him–not to forget or drown our fear and guilt. Drunkenness (which includes a carelessness of mind) is always prohibited, as gluttony with food and fornication or adultery with women. Gladness in God’s gifts only comes when we recognize Him as the source and when we use them according to His instructions and for His ends. If you cannot drink wine in communion in joy for His name, then you ought to think about why not. It may be what’s in the cup, it may be what’s in your heart.
God gives liberally and magnificently so that His joy may be in us, and that our joy may be full. As Puritan pastor Thomas Watson put it:
His lying in the wine-press was to bring us into the wine cellar.
A little leaven leavens the lump. A little gladness gladdens the group. Imagine what sort of fermenting presence you could be, should be, and will be as God has His way with you. His aim and ability is to get you to Him with great joy. Go and celebrate His goodness to You, and your gladness will be an evidence of His glorious presence.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24–25, ESV)