Category: Nehemiah

Around the Table: Part 2

We’re seeing right now with the Rangers the exact same thing we saw at this point last season. They’ve smashed into the wall. They can’t hit, they can’t field, they can’t pitch. They’re flat. They’re done. And Oakland’s on a tear. The same thing happened last year at this exact same time. And we’re running out of options for turning things around. You can’t hold a players-only meeting every week. You can only call a special team meeting with the manager a couple of times a year. Now what? I wore my 1996 AL West Championship T-shirt to bed last night, trying to channel some of that magic from the first ever playoff year for the Rangers. We could use some of that Johnny Oates mojo, some of that Pudge Rodriguez intensity, some of that Will Clark leadership. We need something. This is the do-or-die weekend for Texas. If they don’t take at least two out of three from the A’s, beginning tomorrow, we’ll play Taps for the team here on Monday. Yuk.

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“They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the Lord.” ~1 Chronicles 29:22

If put on the spot, most of us would not be able to quote anything out of Leviticus. Most of us have never participated in or even seen an animal sacrifice. And a decreasingly fewer number of us have ever slaughtered an animal to eat. Anything having to do with the sacrifices prescribed by God and practiced by his people in the Hebrew Scriptures is mostly ignored by us. That was Old Testament, we like to say. That was the Law of Moses. Those are complicated rules and regulations, outdated and ineffective means of obtaining forgiveness from which New Testament Christians have been freed. We don’t know much about these sacrifices because we don’t study them. Those sacrifices are not important for us today. They’re certainly not binding.

Not so fast.

When Paul is writing to the Corinthians about what is actually happening around the Lord’s Supper, he asks them to first understand what’s happening at the Israelites’ sacrifices.

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?” ~1 Corinthians 10:18

Eat the sacrifices??? Most Christians today don’t realize that God’s people always ate the sacrifices. They made a community meal out of the meat. And Paul says this is significant for understanding the function of the Lord’s Supper. Paul doesn’t just talk about the Passover sacrifice and meal as informative, he mentions the entire sacrificial system. Paul reflects on the meaning of eating the sacrifice to help Christians better comprehend what’s happening at Christ’s table.

The fellowship offering was ordered to go alongside all sin offerings and burnt offerings. You can’t find a place in Scripture where God’s people didn’t offer the fellowship sacrifice in the course of observing the others. The word translated “fellowship,” or “peace” in some English versions, is actually shelem, from the shalom root that means “peace.” Shalom means peace, while shelem communicates a relationship of peace, a communion or fellowship between two parties. And fellowship sacrifices were always eaten together by the people.

You find God’s people offering fellowship sacrifices at the ratification of the Mosaic covenant, at the inauguration of the priesthood, and as a part of every major festival, including Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Fellowship offerings and meals were required at the end of a Nazarite vow. Fellowship offerings were the climactic moments at the inaugurations of Israel’s kings, at covenant renewal ceremonies at Shechem and Jerusalem, at the dedication of the temple, and as part of the regular corporate worship of God. You have to read most of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to get it, but sacrifice and fellowship and communion meals were a normal part of life with God and with one another in this community of faith.

The way it worked was that the fat of the animals was left on the fire to burn, while the people ate the meat together as a community. It happened at the same time. God was consuming the fat on the fire, the people were consuming the meat on their plates. God and his people were sharing a meal together, eating at the same time, around the same table. Fellowship, shelem, with God and with one another. These fellowship meals always followed the sacrifice. And they were consistently characterized by two things: the presence of God and great joy.

Exodus 18:12 – Moses, Jethro, and Aaron eat the sacrifice “in the presence of God” to celebrate their salvation from Egypt.

Exodus 24:8-11 – “they saw God, and they ate and drank.”

Deuteronomy 12:4-7 – “Eat and rejoice in the presence of the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy 12:17-18 – “Eat them before the presence of the Lord… rejoice before the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 14:23 – eat the grain and livestock offerings “in the presence of the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 14:26 – “Eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.”

Deuteronomy 15:20 – regarding the first born animals of the flocks: “eat them in the presence of the Lord.”

1 Chronicles 29:21-22 – the people ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the Lord

Deuteronomy 27:7 – at the covenant renewal in Shechem; the people ate the fellowship offerings “rejoicing in the presence of the Lord.”

2 Chronicles 7:10 – at the building of the temple; people eating the fellowship offerings were “joyful and glad in heart.”

Ezra 6:13-22 – at the re-building of the temple; the people “celebrated with joy” because the Lord had “filled them with joy.”

Nehemiah 8:1-18 – at the re-building of the city walls; “do not mourn or weep… enjoy choice food and sweet drinks… the joy of the Lord… celebrate with great joy.”

Numbers 10:10 – “at your times of rejoicing, your appointed feasts.”

I could fill up your screen with many more references. The point is that the covenant meals were always, without exception, eaten by and with the entire community, always in the presence of God, and always with great joy. The fellowship meal is a joy-filled celebration of the righteous relationship — the peace, the communion — with God that resulted from the sacrifice at the altar. You can’t find a community meal anywhere in the Old Testament in which joy was not the mood and celebration not the command. In fact, in the one place in which Israel was weeping during the meal, God rebuked them and corrected them, commanding them to “celebrate with great joy.”

Fellowship meals in the Old Testament were never intended to be moments of solemn silence or private introspection. Communion meals were not in any way individualistic. They were interactive, participatory meals in which the entire community actively engaged with one another and with God. The meals were joyful and grateful celebrations of the blessings of God. This is the understanding and the practice of Jesus himself, his disciples, and all the New Testament writers. Not just them, but their grandfathers and great-great-great-great grandfathers before them.

Paul says if you understand this, you can better understand the Lord’s Supper. As an expression of peace and communion between God and his people. As a communal act shared among the people of God. As a salvation celebration characterized by great joy and thanksgiving. Do our Lord’s Supper practices and experiences today reflect this understanding?

Someone in our class last night asked, “Why don’t we do the Lord’s Supper this way? Why do we look at the floor and get so quiet during the Lord’s Supper?”

Good question.

Shalom,

Allan

From the Lips of Children

“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.'” ~Matthew 18:2-3

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.'” ~Matthew 19:14

Why does Jesus hold up little children as the model citizens of the Kingdom? What is it about little children we’re supposed to imitate? What are we supposed to learn? What are we supposed to change? Unless you change and become like little children — forget about being the greatest in the Kingdom — you won’t even get in! What are we supposed to change?

Jesus wants to teach us through little children. Jesus wants to use little kids to show us how to live, how to act, how to trust, how to have faith. He wants to show us through the children how to enjoy all of creation, how to play, how to chill out.

Little kids know God. Little children see Jesus.

In Matthew 21 it was the children who recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah. They knew it. They saw it. And they were shouting it and singing it at the tops of their voices. The religious leaders, in their irritation, approached Jesus and demanded an explanation. Do you hear what these kids are saying? Do you hear what these children are claiming? And Jesus says, “Duh!” (That’s the Message translation.) Jesus says, in essence, “What did you expect? Don’t you know Psalm 8? From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise!”

Our kids will show us God. If we’ll only take the time to pay attention, our children will reveal Jesus to us.

We tried doing that together during our communion time this past Sunday. We had all the children stand up and raise their hands and then asked all our people to get out of their own seats to get close to a little child. Spend communion time this morning with a little kid. As we share the bread and the cup, as we remember Jesus, let’s listen to our kids. Maybe we’ll learn something from the children this morning. Maybe the kids will show us Jesus in a way we’ve never seen him before. Maybe our God will teach us something this morning he’s always wanted to teach us, but we’ve never slowed down to be with a little child long enough for it to happen. We suggested that our people ask the children a couple of questions during the Lord’s Meal: What is your favorite thing that Jesus ever did? What is your favorite thing that Jesus ever said?

Show us Jesus, kids. Lord, reveal yourself to us through the lips of these children.

I got up and walked a section over to sit right between Chloe and Creede, a brother and sister, kinda new to our congregation, whose dad was out of town on business. Perfect. Their mom and grandmother joined us. Excellent.

Creede is fourteen. All boy, through and through. The coolest thing Jesus ever did? Turning over the tables in the temple, obviously. Yes! His favorite thing Jesus ever said? Creede gave us his favorite Bible verse: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Strength. Power. Might. Control. Yeah, that’s our Jesus. Sometimes I forget how strong our Lord is. Our culture wants us to believe Jesus was some skinny, pasty, white, wimp of a guy. A nerd. Oh, no. Not our King. He’s tough. That’s the Christ of my little brother, Creede. Thank you, God, for reminding me.

Chloe is eleven. All little girl, sugar and spice and everything nice, through and through. The greatest thing Jesus ever did? Healing the blind, making those blind people happy. Her favorite Bible verse? The joy of the Lord in Nehemiah 8:10. Yes! Our Lord is a Lord of happiness and joy, of laughter and glee. Sometimes I forget how happy Jesus was and how he filled everyone who met him with such joy. He left a trail of joy behind him everywhere he went. Our culture wants us to believe Jesus was some sour guy, somber and serious, bent on making us miserable with rule-following and sin-counting. No, that is not the Jesus of the Gospels. That is not the Jesus of the apostles. Our Christ came to give us life, abundant and to the full. That’s the Christ of my little sister, Chloe. Thank you, God for reminding me.

You might try it at your own church sometime. Spend communion time with the kids, talking to the kids, listening to them. Maybe God will reveal to you during the meal, through the children, something you need to see and learn. It’s an exercise that might make us more like Christ. And it might eternally impact the kids.

Peace,

Allan

The Presence of God and the Joy of His People

I don’t believe you can find a single communal meal in the Hebrew Scriptures that is eaten in sadness. When God’s people eat together, two things are true, without exception: 1) they eat in the presence of God and 2) they eat with great joy.

Sacrificial meals and covenant meals were a regular part of daily life for God’s people. At the ratification of the Mosaic covenant, to inaugurate the priesthood, at the conclusion of vows, at the renewal of commitments, at the inauguration of kings, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought back to Jerusalem, to celebrate the end of plagues, to give thanks to God, at the dedication of the temple. The list could go on for pages.

Eat and rejoice in the presence of the Lord your God (Deut. 12:4-7), eat in the presence of the Lord…rejoice before the Lord (Deut. 17-18), eat the offerings in the presence of the Lord (Deut. 14:23), eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice (Deut. 14:26), eat in the presence of the Lord (Deut. 15:20).

At the table, God’s people were “joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done” (2 Chron. 7:10). They celebrated “with joy…because the Lord had filled them with joy” (Ezra 6:22). Nehemiah told them “Do not mourn or weep…enjoy choice food and sweet drinks…celebrate with great joy” (Neh. 8:10-12).

Sacrifices cleansed the people. The blood spilled on the altar was sprinkled on the stones, on the ground, on the people themselves, to clean them, to sanctify them, to take away their sins. Sacrifices were intended to make a place or a people holy so God could dwell there. God’s eternal covenant with his people is that he will live with them and they will be his people and he will be their God. Sacrifice made that dwelling possible. Without sacrifice, there could be no righteous relationship with God. Following the sacrifice, intimacy with God is not only possible, it’s realized and experienced.

And it’s always celebrated at the meal. At the table.

Peace. Fellowship. Communion. Koinonia with God and with one another because of the sacrifice. Now, that’s something worth celebrating with great joy. Right?

So….

Why do our Lord’s Supper observances on Sunday mornings tend to be quiet, solemn ceremonies marked by individual introspection and feelings of sadness and guilt? Why aren’t our communal meals with our God and one another characterized by interactive expressions of uncontained┬ácelebration and overflowing joy?

Have you tried singing upbeat, uptempo songs of praise and thanksgiving as you gather around the table? Instead of burying your nose in your Bible, have you ever tried sharing that special passage with the person seated next to you? A neighborly “clink” of your cups with the people on your pew and a shared “Thank you, Lord!” can express that much-needed communal joy in a simple, yet powerful, way. Try something. Try anything. I just urge you to stop “doing” the Lord’s Supper by yourself in that room full of Christian brothers and sisters and stop being so sad about it.

The Lord’s meal is shared on Sunday, not Friday! He’s not on the cross anymore, praise God! The tomb is empty, hallelujah! The Lord Jesus Christ has paid for your sins and mine! We stand today — right now and forever more! — in a righteous relationship with the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth! He has removed our sins. He doesn’t remember them or hold them against us! It’s as if we’ve been perfect from day one! Because of what Christ already did at the cross and what the Holy Spirit already did at the garden tomb, we belong to God! It is finished! We are his people and he is our God!

Seriously. How in the world are we able to eat the bread and drink the cup without breaking out into huge grins?

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I’ve updated the “Around the Table” page with tonight’s lesson outline and handouts. As you’ve already gathered, the focus tonight is on the presence of God and the joy of his people at the meal. Click on the green “Around the Table” tab in the upper right hand corner of this page to access these class materials and to find the assignment for next week’s session.

Peace,

Allan