The Plan and the Purposes of God

On March 4, 1933 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a nation facing deep depression. Unemployment was just under 25%. The nation was steeped in uncertainty and confusion. People were starving and afraid. During his campaign for president, Roosevelt was known for optimism and a fatherly tone, but in his first address to the fearful nation as President of the United States, he spoke to their grief and to their pain.  He said,

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. [1]

FDR knew that the people were afraid of their future and he wanted his first address to bring them to trust him as their leader. During times of uncertainty and trials, it is vital for people to trust their leader and his plan for the future.

This was true for the United States during the Great Depression and it was true for the disciples of Jesus Christ during their great depression. This section is the beginning of what is commonly referred to as the Passion of the Christ. Jesus has told his disciples several times that he is going to be delivered over the Gentiles, mocked and killed (Luke 18:31-34). At the beginning of his betrayal and coming death, Jesus wants to reassure his disciples to trust him and his sovereign plan. 

Trust in God’s Sovereign Plan

Luke sets the scene showing how Jesus was a faithful Jew to the end in keeping the Passover. Luke 22:7-13,

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

The end of Jesus’s life was close at hand. Soon he was going to be arrested, tried and crucified. Although Jesus knew the end was coming, he still made plans to celebrate the Passover as a pious pilgrim in the capital city.[2]

Jesus takes control of the situation giving his disciples clear instructions on how to arrange the meal. It is unclear if Jesus had pre-arranged the meal or if in his divine foreknowledge, he knew of the man to whom he sent his disciples.  Regardless of how Jesus knew of the man and the room, it is clear that Jesus is in charge. He took the initiative to send Peter and John to get the upper room ready.  These details in the Passion narrative show how Jesus was not a rebel fighting against the establishment, but a faithful, pious Jew who keeps the law. As we are moving to the end of Luke’s gospel, it is important to remember again Luke’s audience. Luke 1:1-4,

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Luke was writing an orderly account to a Roman official detailing Jesus’ life. Luke had a plan in writing this gospel to show God’s plan in salvation. The passion is not a random event, but has been set before the foundation of time.

The readers’ sensors should have been peaked when Luke described the setting.  Verse 7, “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.” This was the celebration of God’s deliverance from Egypt and their birth of a nation. Israel was in bondage for 400 years in Egypt. Their cries were heard by the Lord and he sent Moses to Pharaoh to deliver his people. God sent 9 plagues against Egypt to give them an opportunity to show mercy to Israel and each time they refused. God finally promised the 10th and final plague. God told the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb, without blemish, and spread the blood upon the doorposts of the house. God tells Moses that this,

is the LORD's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:11-13)

The timing of the coming crucifixion with the Passover was not random, but was all part of the sovereign plan of God. Even Israel’s captivity was part of God’s plan, so that He could show that He was the Lord. 

It was very hard for the disciples to understand that Jesus had to die. They believed Jesus was the Messiah, but did not fully understand the ramifications of what that meant. Luke is showing that Jesus is the Passover lamb who had to be sacrificed. John the Baptist proclaimed as he saw Jesus approaching him for his baptism, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus takes away the sin of the world through his own blood. As in the Passover, the lamb had to be killed and spread over the doorpost covering the house so when the Lord saw the blood he would pass over them and would not destroy them. The blood was the sign of their salvation. Their salvation came at the expense of another. 

This is the gospel.  We all deserve to be destroyed for our sin, but God sent Jesus to be crushed in our place. Our salvation comes at the expense of another. If you are not a Christian, how do you think about salvation? Do you need salvation? How does salvation come? Through your good works? Or through avoiding really bad sins? The Bible says that salvation can only come through judgment. Our conscience bears witness that we are all sinners and have done wrong. God, being just and holy, cannot simply turn a blind eye to sin, but has to deal with it. In order for God to “pass over” your sins, someone else’s blood had to be shed. Romans 3 summarizes this message:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)

The blood of Jesus, the Passover Lamb, was to be shed for the forgiveness of sin. And just as the Israelites had to wipe the blood on the doorposts of their houses to show their trust in this salvation, we have to wipe the blood on the doorposts of our hearts to show our trust in this message. We trust God’s sovereign plan of salvation by repenting, turning from our sins and placing our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Friend, if you are not a follower of Jesus, the promise of the blood is extended to you. You can have your life covered by placing your faith in Jesus Christ.

The backdrop of Jesus death was the predestined plan of God. Jesus wanted his disciples to trust him as he wants us to trust him. Even in our darkest moments, we can have faith that God is in control. Jesus had faith during his trial so we can have faith in ours.

A man just got married and was returning home with his wife. They were crossing a lake in a boat, when suddenly a great storm arose. The man was a warrior, but the woman became very much afraid because it seemed almost hopeless: The boat was small and the storm was really huge, and any moment they were going to be drowned. But the man sat silently, calm and quiet, as if nothing was happening.

The woman was trembling and she said, “Are you not afraid ?”. This may be our last moment of life! It doesn’t seem that we will be able to reach the other shore. Only some miracle can save us; otherwise death is certain. Are you not afraid? Are you mad or something? Are you a stone or something? The man laughed and took the sword out of its sheath. The woman was even more puzzled: What he was doing? Then he brought the naked sword close to the woman’s neck, so close that just a small gap was there, it was almost touching her neck. He said,” Are you afraid?”

She started to laugh and said,” Why should I be afraid? If the sword is in your hands, why I should be afraid? I know you love me. He put the sword back and said, This is my answer”. I know God loves me, and the storm is in His hands SO WHATSOEVER IS GOING TO HAPPEN IS GOING TO WORK FOR OUR GOOD. If we survive, good; if we don’t survive, good, because everything is in His hands and He cannot do anything wrong[3].

God’s sovereignty should not be left to the theological classroom, but should give us confidence in the midst of the storm. The disciples were entering a storm and Jesus wants to them to trust Him and the predestined plan of God.

Trust in God’s Sovereign Purposes

     We are not called only to trust in God’s sovereign plan, but to trust in his sovereign purposes. He has established certain rituals for our good and his glory. We cannot ignore them as mere suggestions, but trust God by following his ways. Luke continues,

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

Jesus begins the Passover with a reminder to his disciples that he is about to suffer, and then redefines how his people should observe the Passover.

            Jesus redefines the symbols of the bread and wine for his own body and his own blood.  As the bread is broken, so, too, will his body be broken.  As the wine is poured out, so, too, will his blood be poured out. Let me first make some comments on how the church has historically viewed the Lord’s Supper, then make some applications for how we should observe it today. First, there have been four views of what happens during the Lord’s Supper.

Transubstantiation- This view, held by Catholics, states that the bread and the wine actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus. They believe the elements maintain their appearance, but their substance changes when the priest consecrates the elements. Some Catholic opponents may view this is a re-sacrifice of Christ, but I think more accurately they view the Lord’s Supper as the perpetual sacrifice at Calvary. This means they view communion as the continued original sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Consubstantiation- This view is taken by Lutheran and refers to the idea that the real body and the real blood of Christ is mixed with the bread and wine. It is a modification of the traditional catholic position of transubstantiation, attempting to make sense of the dual presence. It is very similar to the position above.

Memorial – This view is held by most Baptists. It says that the Lord’s Supper is to be done in remembrance of the Lord’s sacrifice on the cross.  The bread and the wine are symbolic of the body and blood of Christ.

Spiritual Presence – This view is similar to the memorial view, but adds the emphasis of Christ’s spiritual presence when the Lord’s Supper is administered. The bread and wine represents Christ’s body and blood, but when it is taken the presence of Christ is there.

The church has disagreed exactly what happens during the Lord’s Supper, but they have uniformly agreed that it should only be taken by baptized believers who are actively trusting in Christ.

            Before I administer the Lord’s Supper, I practice a historic tradition called “fencing the table.” I say something like, “If you are a baptized believer and if you are a member in good standing of a church of like faith and order, you are welcome at the table, but if you are not I would ask for you to allow the elements to pass by.” I have gotten a lot of questions about this in the past, so let me explain why we do this. First, Churches practice three general views of fencing the table: Closed, Close, or Open. Closed Communion is where communion is only offered to the church membership. Open Communion is offered to all Christians present. Close Communion is offered to all Christians present who understand communion like the practicing church. I hold to Close Communion, meaning I invite all baptized believers who are members in good standing of a local church of like faith and order to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

       I believe Jesus Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper so that his people could remember his death, burial and resurrection and to proclaim his coming again.  The Lord’s Supper is for Christians because participating in the Lord’s Supper is an act of faith.  We are feeding and drinking by faith. It is a physical act of trust in the Passover lamb that was slain. Just like the Israelites who physically spread the blood on the doorposts as an act of faith, we demonstrate that we are covered by the body and blood of Christ by taking the Lord’s Supper.

            Practically then, the Lord’s Supper is how we demonstrate our trust in God’s sovereign purpose. He has given us communion for a very specific reason. It is a sign that people are in the faith and continuing in the faith. People should be baptized before they take the Lord’s Supper because this is a sign of entrance into the Christian faith. People should be members in good standing of the church before they take the Lord’s Supper because this is a sign you are in faith. The Bible has no category for believers who are not baptized or not connected to a local church. Many churches do not rightly practice the Lord’s Supper because they do not rightly understand church membership. It has always been the job of the pastor to fence the Table and to protect people from taking communion in an unworthy manner bringing judgment on themselves. Paul writes to the Corinthians,

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. (1 Corinthians 11:27-31)

We have to trust the sovereign purpose of the Lord in how we practice the Lord’s Supper. 

            Jesus commanded his disciples to “Do this in remembrance.” The Lord’s Supper is not optional for the Christian and yet many “self-professing Christians” have no concern for the Lord’s Supper because they do not make it a practice to participate in the Lord’s Supper with a local church. Should they have confidence in their salvation? Should we have confidence in their salvation? No.  (I am not referring to people who are physically unable to attend due to sickness, deteriorating health or distance, but able-bodied people who choose not to attend church). By not attending the Lord’s Supper, people are directly disobeying Jesus’ command to do this in remembrance of him.  They are in sin and must be called to repentance. Avoiding the Lord’s Supper is disobeying Jesus Christ.

            Historically the Lord’s Supper has also been used to administer church discipline. Discipline is God’s way to legitimize us as his adopted children (Hebrews 12). If people are living in unrepentant sin, the church protects their souls by keeping them from the table showing that they are in spiritual danger.

            Remember that Jesus was sharing this meal with his disciples in the shadow of the cross. He was to be crucified the next day bearing the full weight of God’s wrath on the cross for sinners.  This Jesus, whose body was broken and whose blood was spilled for sinners, invites us to the table. When we diminish the importance of the Lord’s Supper, we diminish the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Beloved, Jesus bore our sins in his body on a tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. One way we live to righteousness is by trusting God’s sovereign purpose in the Lord Supper. Jesus wants to encourage our faith and to remind us of his sacrificial death and promised return.  It is such a precious gift. It was given for our good, the good of the church and for the glory of God. Let us rejoice in it and trust God’s sovereign purpose for it.

[2] Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
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