Each time we gather for worship at the Lord’s Supper table, I make it a steady practice to clearly fence the table. Fencing the table is explaining who is and who is not welcome to partake of the bread and the cup when they are passed. As I often repeat here on this blog and in my sermons, doctrine matters. Think about it, Jonathan Edwards was fired because of his view of the Lord’s Supper. Puritans were burned at the stake because of their position on the Lord’s Supper. Calvin once passionately threw himself over the Lord’s Supper to protect it from flagrant sinners in Geneva. We must not casually gather for worship around the Lord’s Supper.
Sunday, as our church gathered and I was fencing the table, I made it a point to not only talk to the parents, but I also addressed the children. I wanted them to hear me explain why they were not invited to join with us in worship through the bread and cup. What follows are some basic reasons why you should talk to the children when fencing the table.
Include Children (Even When excluding Them)
In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus rebuked the disciples for turning away the children. He then intentionally included them and even used them as an object lesson to teach about the need to come in a lowly and humble manner. Jesus provided a great example of intentionally taking time for the little ones. Jesus was not too busy for the children.
Recently, in our annual “State of the Church” address, my fellow pastor, David Crowe, explained to the church why we will be handing out children’s bulletins each week beginning in 2018. The purpose of this is to include the children in a very intentional manner. Far too often, children are overlooked and bypassed in the life of the church. It would be to our best interest if we can include them, even when excluding them.
The statistics continually point to growing trends of teens who walk away from the church when they go off to college. Could it be that their church never took them seriously? Could one factor be that their church never intentionally targeted them with intentional discipleship? Could it be that their church was intentional about inviting them to the games and activities, but far less enthusiastic about talking to them about the purpose of the Lord’s Supper and other doctrinal matters? Even when excluding them from the Lord’s Supper, we should talk to them rather than talking past them or over them.
They Need to Understand
Many churches once practiced a children’s sermon that was embedded into the worship each week, and some churches continue that practice today. The idea was that children need to be addressed directly and they need to be taught to understand. One of the problems with preaching and church-life in general today is that little emphasis is placed on understanding. This is true for both adults and children.
When fencing the table, the children need to be taught to understand what the Lord’s Supper is, why we practice it, and who is invited to engage in the worship of God through the Lord’s Supper. When Israel called for Ezra the scribe to come and read and teach the Law of Moses, Ezra expected that the people would understand. That was his goal in reading and teaching. When we talk over the heads of the little ones in our church services, we assume that they cannot understand and we do little to help them understand.
Point Them to the Gospel
Unbelieving children who leave the worship of their church on the Lord’s Day need to know far more than they were barred from the Lord’s Supper table. They need to know why. More specifically, they need to know the gospel. During the fencing of the table, it would be wise to ask for the attention of the children and call for them to pay close attention to the practice and the teaching during the Lord’s Supper. The gospel of Jesus Christ should shine clearly and brightly from the Lord’s Table in such a way that it proclaims the Lord’s death with a joyful anticipation of his return.
We should not be content with unbelieving children remaining in a state of unbelief and ignorance of the gospel. Each time the Lord’s Supper is offered in the context of your local church gathering, it’s one more grand opportunity for unbelieving children to clearly see the glorious Christ put on display before them. The gospel is good news, but it’s also bad news. The explanation of the gospel, when done properly, explains who’s in and who’s out. The same clarity should be made when fencing the table for the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Intentionally point the little ones to the gospel of Christ—for Christ is their only hope. If the Lord’s Supper is observed properly, they should see a glorious picture of redemption as the redeemed eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus’ all sufficient sacrifice for hopeless sinners.
Fence the table properly, but don’t forget the children in the process. They’re watching, listening, and feeling excluded—so include them as you exclude them and help them to understand the glorious gospel.
In 1739, Charles Wesley wrote the words to a famous Christmas carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and in the song, there are a few mentions of peace that’s rooted in Jesus. In the first stanza, the Wesley writes:
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
As Wesley points to “peace on earth” and we sing out these words each Christmas season with joy, what exactly does he mean by such peace? When Jesus was on the earth in human flesh, the earth was filled with violence. In fact, the bloodthirsty Jews murdered the Son of God on a Roman cross. When we sing about peace and we hear Jesus referenced as the “Prince of Peace” what are we referring to both from a historical and theological standpoint that should make our Christmas merry?
The hope of the coming Messiah was something that the people of Israel continued to look to for encouragement. Imagine that all through the years the fathers and grandfathers would sit down with their children and tell them the story of Abraham, their forefather. They would connect the dots to Moses and go beyond to the promise of a prophet greater than Moses and a priest greater than Melchizedek to a king who would soon come to deliver them from their enemies.
The prophet Isaiah foretold of this day, as he wrote down these powerful words some 700 years before the birth of Jesus, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14). Isaiah would go on to write these words in Isaiah 9:6:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
The longing of Israel was peace. King after king through the years of Israel turned away from God and incurred the judgment of God—not just on themselves but on the entire nation. Israel found themselves in captivity, their land occupied by enemies, and their people suffering immensely through the years. They longed for the Prince of peace to come and bring them peace.
After a long dark period where the nation of Israel heard no word from God for 400 years—suddenly shepherds in the fields were stunned when angels appeared to announce the birth of Jesus. The long awaited Prince of peace had been born, but in the most unlikely of places—Bethlehem. There was no palace in Bethlehem, and the King of kings was not born in their best hotel either. He was born in a manger.
When Jesus grew to an adult, he was introduced by the forerunner John the Baptist as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. As Jesus visited cities and towns, he brought divine peace that people had never before seen. Matthew 9:35 says that “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” One time when the disciples were fearing for their lives in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus did something very strange. He spoke to the wind and waves—and they obeyed him. Jesus said, “Peace be still” (Mark 4:39). At once, there was a calm that settled on the waters. The disciples were astounded.
As Jesus ministered and preached, he brought with him a peace that could not be explained apart from his deity. Suffering from disease was cast away. Demons were sent down the hillside in a herd of pigs, and even the wind and waves obeyed him. The pain of death was turned into a celebration party when Jesus arrived at the tomb of Lazarus and raised him from the dead. Who could explain this peace that was found in Jesus?
Today, we live between the cross and the second coming of Jesus. We talk to our children about a future peace as we connect the dots from the Old Testament to the New Testament and see how everything is centered on Jesus. We know that the story is not over. We are living in the story of redemption that spans between the cross and the second coming and one day Jesus will return with a peace that never ends. Jesus will defeat all of the enemies, judge the world, and usher in his Kingdom that will have no end.
According to Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” We long for that day of eternal peace as we will dwell in the presence of the Prince of peace for all eternity. The pains, discouragements, failures, and hardships of this fallen world will be restored in the Prince of peace. As we talk to our children about that day, they ask us, “when will that day come?” We respond with gladness, “That day could come at any moment.” Just as God kept his promise regarding the birth of Jesus, he will keep his promise about his second coming as well. What better news to tell your children at Christmas?
According to the Jewish customs, women who gave birth were considered unclean for a period of 40 days. There was also a purification process and sacrifice that was part of the Law of Moses, and Mary and Jospeh obeyed this law following the birth of Jesus. It was at the very time when Mary and Joseph were coming into the temple that an old man was waiting in the temple. When Mary, Jospeh, and baby Jesus arrived, something unique happened.
Simeon was there waiting in the temple because he had been given a promise by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Christ of God. When Simeon saw baby Jesus, he praised God. Jesus, although a real baby, was God in human flesh. Jesus was the Christ—the Deliverer—the Messiah of Israel.
When Simeon saw Jesus, he praised God and in his praise he revealed some important truths about Jesus. Simeon called Jesus “salvation.” While Jesus was given the titled Immanuel (God with us), he was most literally the salvation of fallen humanity. He was the Messiah of Israel, and he was the hope of the Gentiles at the very same time. All of this came out in Simeon’s praise:
Luke 2:29-32 – “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
 for my eyes have seen your salvation
 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
In a dark world of sin, the light of the world came in the form of human flesh. The Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit, was born in a manger, and came for the purpose of saving his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). Simeon could die in peace because he had seen the promised Messiah of Israel as promised by the Holy Spirit.
Our promise is not like Simeon’s promise. However, the Holy Spirit has given us a promise too through the Word that he wrote—the Bible. In the Scriptures, we have a distinct set of promises that we too will see our Lord. If we are alive, we will see him when he returns the second time. Much like Simeon was waiting on the first coming of Jesus, we find ourselves between the cross and the second advent waiting on Jesus’ return.
If we die before Jesus’ second coming, we have the promise that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). We too will see the Lord of glory. What a day that will be when our eyes see Jesus. Unlike Simeon, our sight of Jesus will be different. He will not be a small infant baby wrapped in his mother’s care. When we see Jesus, he will be the enthroned King of glory—the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Consider how majestic is the name of Jesus and how powerful is his throne—and one day we will see him face to face.
As Revelation 21:3 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” We have this promise to cling to—one day we will be with Jesus in eternity—no longer looking to the future promises from the shadows, but dwelling with God in his presence for all of eternity.
Simeon had been given a promise and he died in peace having received the fulfillment of that truth when his eyes saw his salvation. We have been given a promise too—that all who come to God by faith will one day see Christ and dwell with him forever.
Job believed this promise as he understood that when his skin was destroyed, he would see God (Job 19:25-27). David understood that he would dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Ps. 23:6). In Psalm 118:18-24—David found joy in the fact that he would one day enter through the gates of righteousness. Paul exclaimed, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Do you have assurance that one day you will spend eternity with Christ—in the presence of his care and love? Turn to Christ today by faith and repent of your sins. Call upon the Lord today believing that he died on the cross for your sins.
Romans 10:13 – For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
In Acts 6:2, Jesus’ inner circles was known as “the twelve.” They were serving as the pastors for the early church as it was growing rapidly. However, when a problem arose among the church, servants were established to wait on the tables in order to free up these men to give their full attention to the Word of God and prayer.
The pattern of ministry all throughout the New Testament is clearly established upon a plurality of elders leading and a plurality of deacons serving. Although this is not a blemish-free ministry pattern, it does provide for the most healthy scenario for discipleship in the local church.
Deacons, Elders, and Discipleship
When pastors are free to give themselves to the Word of God, the church will benefit drastically. The pastors who put more priority on pragmatics and less priority upon the study of God’s Word cannot expect their church to rise above their leaders. Interestingly enough, in Acts 6, the early church became united through the deacon ministry and this allowed the pastors to immerse themselves in God’s Word. As the Word of God increased, souls were saved in the community. Consider this pattern over against today’s church growth pragmatism that typically downplays doctrine.
Behind every great group of pastors is a great group of deacons. When deacons serve to the glory of God in the local church, the pastors can spend necessary time in prayer for their people. A church that places little emphasis upon prayer is often a direct reflection of their leaders. Such a church marches on in the power of pragmatism rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter how much technology increases and how efficient we become with modern ministry tools—nothing can stand in the place of the power of prayer. Pastors who pray well often lead well. Pastors who spend time praying for disciples and teaching new disciples how to pray will go forward in the power of God. Prayer is essential.
Discipleship as an Intentional Goal of Ministry
Beyond the need for pastors to work in tandem with deacons for the work of discipleship, pastors must likewise plan and work with intentionality to disciple the church. It is the goal and responsibility of pastors to equip the church for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). Pastors are not entertainers or leaders of ministry events—pastors are shepherds who oversee and equip believers to live the Christian life faithfully.
One single pastor who tries with all of his heart and soul to equip the entire church on his own will fail. If the church is larger than a small group, help is required to faithfully shepherd and equip the saints. This is why God designed the church to be led by a plurality of elders who would share the burden, responsibility, and work together in the effort of equipping the church to stand strong, love passionately, and reach their community with the gospel. Intentionality in the area of teaching, conversations, and being an intentional example to the church is vitally important (1 Pet. 5:3).
The greatest single pastor will not be nearly as strong as the wisdom of a collective body of pastors who put their minds together and serve as a single unit to lead the church. The weaknesses of one pastor is strengthened by the strengths of another pastor who works alongside him in the life of the church. This provides the pastors the ability to make well rounded disciples who become strong and vibrant disciple makers who multiply year after year.
Why does a football team have multiple coaches? Why does a business have multiple layers of team members who work to make the company successful? Although we never build theology on logic alone, such logic stands firm upon the foundation of God’s Word that points out the pattern of a plurality of elders who serve in each local church throughout the Scriptures. A plural group of men investing their time and energy in making disciples will always lead to a more healthy and robust church. Mark Dever writes:
The Bible clearly models a plurality of elders in each local church. Though it never suggests a specific number of elders for a particular congregation, the New Testament refers to “elders” in the plural in local churches (e.g., Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14). When you read through Acts and the Epistles, there is always more than one elder being talked about. 
While a plurality of elders does not serve as a bullet proof defense against all church related errors, it does create a natural culture for disciple making. Be grateful for your pastors. Often a local church has a diverse group of men who lead, and this is a healthy pattern that often compliments the elders and strengthens the entire church. How is your church doing in the area of discipleship? How could you pray for your pastors as they lead in this upcoming year?
- Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 215-216.
Yesterday I preached 1 John 5:13-15 in John’s epistle in our “Know” series. After looking intently at verse 13 last week, we moved on to the next two verses and examined what John said about prayer as a Christian. If John’s agenda is to bring true believers to a place of concrete assurance and faith in Christ, he demonstrated his desire for the Christian to pray with confidence as well.
John, along with the pattern of the early church, was a man of prayer. We see Peter and John going up into the temple at the very hour of prayer in Acts 3. Certainly he understood the priority and privilege of prayer, and he desired for his fellow Christians in various cities to be people of prayer as well. Knowledge that is separated from prayer and communion with God becomes nothing more than cold and lifeless doctrine.
John desired for the Christians to know that God hears the prayers of His people. John urged the Christian community to pray with confidence. The language of “toward him” in verse 14 paints a picture of a face-to-face conversation. John is picturing prayer as a face-to-face conversation with God and what a joy it is to have this privilege as a Christian. John understood the privilege and desired for others to enjoy it as well.
While God hears the prayers of all people, there is a difference between merely hearing and hearing with a desire to care for and answer the prayers of His own people. If a group of children are calling out to a man for a favor, he may hear all of them, but he will pay close attention to the voice of his own son the group of children. God cares for His own children in a unique way. As we explore the Word of God, we see a clear pattern of prayer demonstrated from Jesus to the early church.
- Jesus prayed at His baptism in Luke 3:21.
- Jesus sought to be alone in prayer, but was often interrupted.
- Jesus would rise early in the morning for prayer as we see in Mark 1:35.
- Jesus would pray all night at times as we see in Luke 6:12.
- Jesus prayed for His people – John 17.
The Apostles Prayed
- Paul prayed for the church and for the church’s witness – praising God for it in Romans 1.
- Paul urged the Christians in Rome to be faithful in prayer – Romans 12:12.
- Paul urged the church at Rome to pray for him – Romans 15.
- Apostles prayed together in the upper room as they waited on the Holy Spirit to come – Acts 2.
- Peter and John were seen going into the temple at the hour of prayer – Acts 3.
- Peter prayed on a housetop in Acts 10:9.
- Paul and Silas prayed in prison – Acts 16:25.
- The apostles gave themselves to the Word of God and prayer as the deacons took charge of the practical needs of the church in Acts 6.
The Church Prayed
The early church is pictured in Acts 2:42 as gathered for the purpose of hearing the apostles’ teaching, engaging in fellowship, and praying together.
The Bible closes with a prayer of the church:
Revelation 22:17 – The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
God not only hears the prayers of His people, but He answers them in accordance with His will. John provides us the condition of prayer followed by the limitation of prayer. First, the condition of prayer is clearly revealed at the end of verse 14 as the “will of God.” We can’t pray code word language and expect that God will be bound by our words to give us the desires of our greed-filled hearts. We must learn to bend our will into conformity to God’s will. When we pray rightly, we don’t approach prayer out of superstition. We must learn to approach God in a way that far supersedes a rabbit’s foot. Christians pray in confidence that God hears and has the power to answer the prayer so long as we pray in accordance with God’s will.
The limitation of prayer is directly connected to the limitation of God. Our God is sovereign and big. He is strong and mighty. There is nothing too big for God, and we must learn to approach God with big weighty prayers that go well beyond the superficial weak prayers that we often pray. God can heal disease. God can provide jobs for the needy. The same God who never sleeps nor slumbers and the same God who controls the wind and the waves is the God who provides for His own people. Just as Jesus taught in Matthew 6:33, we must seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of the provisions for God’s people will be met. Jerry Bridges once said:
Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God. If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers. Our prayers would become nothing more than wishes. But while God’s sovereignty, along with His wisdom and love, is the foundation of our trust in Him, prayer is the expression of trust.
For centuries theologians have been writing and Christians have been debating the details of depravity. Augustine took his cue from Paul and Pelagius went in the opposite direction. Luther agreed with Augustine while Erasmus purported the aged idea that man was free.
Just how corrupt is the human heart? Do people have a free will to choose God or is man’s will in bondage to sin? That’s the question that has been the subject of debate for a very long time. However, when you take a step back from the debate and read Scripture, it seems clear—man is by default a slave to sin and dead to righteousness (Ps. 51:5). Therefore, God had to come to fallen man.
God Came in the Garden
When Adam and Eve fell, they hid from God in the Garden of Eden. It was God who came to man. As David makes it clear in Psalm 53, there is no one good, not even one. There is not one person who seeks after God. From the very beginning we see the pattern of God coming to man.
What did God do when He came to them after the fall? Rather than leaving them in the shame of their nakedness, God clothed them (Gen. 3:21). God has always sought broken sinners. This is God’s pattern. Sure, God rebuked and judged Adam and Eve, but there was provision made. God came with grace and treated them with mercy. From the moment of the first sin—man was not seeking God, but God was seeking man.
Emmanuel and Depravity
The prophets had written and promised that the Messiah would come to deliver His people. Israel was waiting on this kingly ruler to appear on the scene. In God’s time, God came. The second Person of the Triune God was born in the city of Bethlehem. Infinite God became a baby. God had come to his people. John Piper has defined Total Depravity as:
Our sinful corruption is so deep and so strong as to make us salves of sin and morally unable to overcome our own rebellion and blindness. This inability to save ourselves from ourselves is total. We are utterly dependent on God’s grace to overcome our rebellion, give us eyes to see, and effectively draw us to the Savior. 
Not one single person would choose to seek after God if left to his own will. David longed for the coming salvation of Israel (Ps. 53:6). The prophet Isaiah pointed to the future hope of Israel (Is. 9:1-7). Jeremiah 23:1-6 promised the descendant of David who would rule his people righteously. As we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we find Jesus coming to his own people, yet his own people did not receive him (John 1:9-11). Not only were they unable to seek God, but they were not even able to recognize him when he was there in their presence. They did not have eyes to see or ears to hear. Once again, it was not man who was seeking God, but God who came to man.
Our Hope in Jesus’ Return
Today as we celebrate Christmas, we look back at the coming of Jesus with great joy. As we consider the long awaited Messiah who came, was rejected, and ultimately paid for the sins of his people with his blood—it reminds us of the reason we sing “Peace on earth.”
Today, we stand in a different place than David in Psalm 53. We stand at a different place in history than Isaiah and Jeremiah. We have a far different vantage point than Micah or Moses. Today, we celebrate Jesus’ first coming while we await with anticipation his second coming. How will the lawless be judged? How will the brokenness of this world be restored? How will all of the wrongs be made right? It’s clear from the pages of Scripture, it will not be man going to God—but God coming to man. One day Jesus will come again and we wait patiently on his return.
When Jesus came the first time, he brought peace to his people. When Jesus comes the second time, only his people will experience peace. The rest of the world will be judged. From the very moment of Adam’s rebellion in the Garden to our present day—the need for God to come to us has not changed. With John the apostle, we say, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
- John Piper, Five Points, (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 15.