Over the last decade, it has been my privilege to lead many congregations of God’s people in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The format of the communion service varies from church to church but the focus, of course, is always the same: the perfect sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered to his Father for the sins of his people. We observe this sacrament because our Lord commanded us to do so: ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11:24).
Why did Jesus command us to remember him in this way? Because he knows that however far along the road we may be, we need to return continually in our mind’s eye to the place where our pilgrimage began: the foot of the cross. We may have visited the cross in repentance and faith for the very first time many years ago, but it is vital that we make regular return journeys there to keep fresh in our thoughts the atonement which Jesus made for us. Why? Because we are in constant need of reassurance that God does indeed love us.
Doubting God’s love
Christians cannot expect to be exempt from suffering while they live in this world. Suffering is part and parcel of life after the Fall. It is surely no coincidence that approximately a third of all the songs in the Psalter are psalms of lament; songs composed against a backdrop of great pain and heartache. One day, the children of God will be delivered from all this but for now, believers, as well as unbelievers, have to grapple with bereavement, ill-health, financial concerns and family problems. And when we encounter trying circumstances such as these, even the most spiritually mature of us can be tempted to question the truthfulness of God’s claim to love us.
Satan not only slanders us before God (Revelation 12:10), he also slanders God before us, and whispers words such as these into our ear, ‘If God loves you as he says he does, then why are you suffering as you are? Surely a God who loves you would have kept you from this? Surely a God who cares for you would have given you what you’ve been asking for? Don’t the trying circumstances you find yourself in only go to show that his claim to love you is empty and hollow? He may love in word or in tongue, but not in deed and in truth.’
God’s love in action
We might think that we can bat away such unbiblical statements as these, but we are all much weaker than we realise. None of us is beyond being taken in or led astray by such thoughts, especially when we are in the midst of the storm and are not able to think as clearly as we normally would. During such times we need to turn our minds toward Calvary and to fix our eyes on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for there we are presented with clear, unmistakable proof that God loves us.
The apostle John declares the cross to be the ultimate, definitive, crowning proof of God’s love for his people.
God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:8-10).
By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16).
God has not just said that he loves us. He has shown that he loves us in the most dramatic way possible, at great cost to himself. His love for us is a sacrificial love. The Father did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, and the Son submitted to having laid upon him, the iniquity of us all. God has left no room for doubt. It is beyond dispute: he loves us. His actions at Calvary demonstrate that. We may feel that we have deservedly forfeited God’s love for us because of our post-conversion sinfulness. Not so!
God demonstrates his… love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Our pre-conversion sinfulness did not prevent God from loving us and neither will our post-conversion sinfulness.
Our trials, which are difficult to bear anyway, become unbearable when we allow Satan to deceive us into believing that they prove God doesn’t love us. Calvary proves God does love us with a love which defies description, and it is through gazing at the cross and being reminded that God loves us that we are given the strength to persevere when ‘the floods lift up their waves’ (Psalm 93:3).
The love which God displayed for us then at the cross, assures us that he has not abandoned us now during our suffering, and that the trials we are enduring must be part of his gracious plan to conform us to the image of his Son. If he loves us enough to suffer for us, then it goes without saying that he will care for us now and provide us with everything we need to persevere in suffering. If we forget the cross, we deprive ourselves of the greatest source of comfort in suffering.
Look to the cross
We will never outgrow the need to meditate upon the cross. If we take our eyes off the cross for a moment, our spiritual health will inevitably suffer. When we are being buffeted by the trials and sufferings of life, a fresh look at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ can be the anchor which keeps us from being submerged in doubt and anxiety.
Praise God for the Lord’s Supper! It provides us with a priceless opportunity to remember the unsearchable love which God has for us in his Son, Jesus Christ. And there’s more we can do! It is vital that we listen to sermons which are focused on the cross, that we sing hymns which are focused on the cross, that we read books which are focused on the cross, that we contemplate the cross each day and what’s more, that we point our fellow-believers to the cross because, as the hymn writer Thomas Kelly says,
Inscribed upon the cross we see,
in shining letters, ‘God is love’.
And that’s just what we need to know when suffering comes! May we echo the prayer of Frances Jane Van Alstyne,
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
bring its scenes before me;
help me walk from day to day
with its shadow o’er me.
In the cross, in the cross,
be my glory ever,
till my raptured soul shall find
rest beyond the river.