Recent studies suggest an anti-malarial drug called ‘chloroquine’ may possibly fight the coronavirus. Disclaimer: Much testing remains to be done. Still, some claim this medicine promises good.
That simple recommendation was good enough for an Arizona man and his wife. They already had available some chloroquine tablets. So, they mixed it with some soda and drank it. Within 20-minutes both fell terribly ill. By the time the husband reached the hospital he was dead. The wife arrived in critical condition, but appears on track to a full recovery. The recommendation also spread in Nigeria. Soon, hospitals experienced an increase in chloroquine poisonings. The medicine was good, but what went wrong?
There remains a debate about chloroquine’s effectiveness against coronavirus. All debating aside, the harm still could have been prevented. On the pill bottle is a warning label. That warning label clearly reads: ‘Use only as directed.’
Those who created the drug have specific instructions for its use. Some chose to ignore those instructions. As result, the abuse of the medication killed. The Arizona couple actually self-medicated with a fish tank cleaner that contained chloroquine. (https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/03/arizona-man-dies-chloroquine-trump-coronavirus-advice.html) Several Nigerians became severely ill after ‘mass consumption’ of the drug. (https://nypost.com/2020/03/22/nigeria-reports-poisonings-from-possible-coronavirus-drug-chloroquine/) Chloroquine promises good. But consume it for the wrong purpose, in the wrong manner and you do not get better. You get harmed.
During this season of Lent you (and I) have met opponents of truth. People like Caiaphas. Pilate’s wife. The Jewish Sanhedrin. Judas Iscariot. Pilate’s soldiers. Crowds at the cross. All confront undeniable truth. They recognize Jesus fits the mold of Old Testament prophecies. Strange dreams and mighty miracles demonstrate might. His moral purity stands out against the backdrop of shady courtrooms. The truth is clear: Jesus is the Son of God and he carries divine authority.
Still, a very powerful, very personal foe challenges that truth: our own human Reason. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gives clear instructions and a clear purpose for his special Supper. Yet, human Reason loves changing those instructions with some very sly words: ‘It Is the Lord’s Table.’
That is a true statement. ‘The Lord’s Table’ is another name for the Lord’s Supper. Yet, study the phrase a little closer. The use of that name ‘Lord’ tells you something about the ‘table’ (or the ‘supper’). It belongs to Jesus, it’s his possession. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. He set it up. He starts it.
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus reclines at a table in an upper room, celebrating the annual Passover festival. His disciples also recline around the table. Before them sits bitter herbs, bread made without yeast, wine, and roasted lamb. This meal repeated how God rescued Old Testament Israel from physical slavery in Egypt and would soon rescue them from spiritual slavery.
Central to the celebration is the Passover lamb. The Israelites slaughtered the lamb and smeared its blood over the doorframe of their houses. That night God would ‘pass over’ Egypt. Death struck every house without the blood. Judgment ‘passed over’ the homes covered in blood. On Maundy Thursday Jesus makes clear: He is the Passover Lamb (read John 1:29; Hebrews 9:26-28). In a matter of hours he would be slaughtered and his blood used to cover the doorframes of our hearts— and God’s divine judgment would ‘pass over’ us.
The ‘old’ Passover reached fulfillment. It always pointed to Jesus. Now a ‘new’ covenant, a new promise takes effect. The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
The Lord sets his table. He instructs how his body and blood come to you together with the bread and the wine. He attaches forgiveness of sins and life in his supper. ‘It Is the Lord’s Table.’
A congregation in Corinth ignored that truth. You see, when the congregation came together for worship, they quickly broke into groups. There was a group of the rich and influential, a group of the elderly and the forgettable, another group of the poor and scruffy. Really, the congregation played favorites. During worship the congregation celebrated ‘love feasts’ (much like today’s potlucks). Bonds of fellowship could tighten. Instead, the influential ate most of the food, the rich got drunk, and the forgettables were forgotten. That carried into celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Instead of a congregation already bound to Christ binding closer with each other, they catered to favorite groups. So when they knelt at the Lord’s Table, they did not receive the forgiveness Jesus offers. (1 Corinthians 11:20-21) They had changed Jesus’ instructions.
The instructions are clear: [W]henever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Scripture makes clear that the Lord’s Supper exists for a reason. You proclaim that (1) you need a Savior and (2) you have a Savior.
Human Reason brushes that instruction aside and then creates its own views of the Lord’s Supper. [It claims:] That this is an action you perform to please God; by receiving the Lord’s Supper, you earn God’s favor. That the Lord’s Table is simply an outward show that all humanity really believes the same thing; God never intended offering spiritual benefits. That the bread and the wine are merely symbols; Jesus does not attach his body and blood. Human Reason does not listen to God. Instead, it wants God to listen to ‘you.’ Human Reason claims that you can treat the Lord’s Supper however you wish.
Does it matter how you use that drug chloroquine? Can you self-medicate by the handful? What about consuming chloroquine for fish? Does that matter? Of course it does! Pharmacists own the drug. They give clear instructions for your benefit. Ignore those instructions and something happens: You invite harm!
Jesus attaches a warning to his Supper: Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
It Is the Lord’s Table, that is, the Lord owns it. If our own Reason feels privileged to approach the Lord’s Table in a careless manner, you will not receive blessing. You receive God’s judgment. It Is the Lord’s Table and the Lord, who owns it, holds the unworthy guilty
That’s why Jesus attaches instructions. He does not want anyone to fall under judgment. The intention for the Lord’s Supper is blessing. It Is the Lord’s Table and the Lord makes clear: He pardons those examined.
So Jesus instructs: A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. There, at the Lord’s Table, you proclaim the Lord’s death. So, you examine yourself, either privately in your mind or privately with the pastor.
Before receiving the Lord’s Supper, God wants you to know why you need it. (1) Ask yourself: ‘Am I sorry for my sins?’ The Ten Commandments God carved into stone and etched into our hearts lay bare his expectations. Love him with all our heart and love others as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Have you done that? Have you shown respect to authority? Have you loved God that you stood up for what is right without ever regretting that you did? Have you taken words and actions in the kindest possible way? Have you obeyed God always? His Commandments soften the heart to see its brokenness and need for a Savior.
When you stand at the Lord’s Table, (2) ask yourself: ‘What am I receiving?’ Jesus clearly says that his body and blood are truly present in the Lord’s Supper. ‘Take and eat; this is my body… Take and drink, this is my blood’ (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:29). He never uses the word ‘symbolizes.’ He simply tells you (and me) that in a supernatural way he gives his body with the bread and his blood with the wine.
Human Reason challenges that truth. It claims that Jesus cannot give his body and blood because it just does not make sense. Therefore, Jesus cannot being serious. (Reason will even go so far as to Jesus’ words and meaning.)
Yet, Jesus is serious. He is serious when allows thorns to pierce his head, nails to pierce his hands and feet, a Roman spear to pierce his side. He is serious when his lifeblood spills from his veins and life departs from his body. Jesus is serious about bringing you (and me) into a state of peace with God that he gives his body and blood into our death, our punishment.
(3) Ask yourself: ‘Why do I receive this?’ Kneeling at the Lord’s Table is not some great act you do to please God. Instead, God comes to you. Your Lord comes to you with his body and blood together with the bread and the wine to personally assure you that you are pardoned. You stand at peace with God. Eternal life is yours.
As you depart, (4) finally ask: ‘What impact does this leave on me?’ Jesus has dropped your crimes! No longer do I stand condemned for pride. If pride condemned me, then why would I want to return to it? Instead, I live different, I live opposite! Love that pardons an eternal debt leaves an impact. Forgiven much, we do not seek to sin much. Instead forgiven much we live as those forgiven—with joy, peace, and a desire to keep taking God’s Word to heart. It Is the Lord’s Table. There, The Lord pardons those examined.
Human Reason has always claimed a right to change the things of God. Even when Jesus gives clear instructions for his table, Reason tries changing those intentions for its own personal use. Regardless of what the heart wants, Jesus’ words stand firm. Receive the Lord’s Supper for the wrong purpose, in the wrong manner and you do not get better. You get harmed. The Lord holds the unworthy guilty.
That is what you (and I) once were: Unworthy. Jesus gave his life once for all time to pardon our crimes. He still comes to you in a special way with that special pardon for your benefit, to strengthen your faith, to equip you for a God-pleasing life. ‘It Is the Lord’s Table.’ Not mine to change as I see fit. The Supper belongs to the Lord. Receive the benefits as Jesus intends. The Lord pardons the examined.