An owner of a Harley Davidson recently told me that those bikes are nice to have and ride, but that they are high maintenance. So unless you have deep pockets and can pay to have the maintenance done regularly by someone else, be prepared to turn a wrench yourself, he warned. Owning a Harley has never been a dream of mine, and that sage advice snuffed out whatever sliver of a notion of Harley ownership that may have lurked deep down in my subconscious. I can think of a thousand other things I would rather do in my spare time besides doing motorcycle, car, house, or any other kind of maintenance, for that matter.
Fortunately for us all, it is not so with our Lord and Savior, because every Christian is “high maintenance”. The sacraments illustrate this truth vividly. As Sinclair Ferguson pointed out (Nov. 10 blog, below), both baptism and the Lord’s Supper point to Christ, just with different emphases on union with Him. Baptism points to a once-for-all initiation into Christ, underscoring something done to us, not something that we do ourselves. The Lord’s Supper points to communion which involves discerning the Lord’s body, examination, proclaiming the Lord’s death, and celebrating in remembrance of Christ. Both sacraments underscore a total dependence on the Lord: the epitome of high maintenance.
So let’s “ride” with this analogy for a moment. A Harley has a gas tank that can be filled so that it can at least run a while without being tethered to a gas pump. But apart from Christ, we can do nothing: there is no life, no vitality, no sustenance, nothing at all, except the vast emptiness of death. Christ alone is the bread of life. How appropriate and kind it is of our Lord in instituting the Supper to provide us with a vivid reminder of this truth, and to sustain us with spiritual food regularly through its observance.
Harley’s can have all kinds of problems. A search of the internet turns up several items (tail lights, fuel tanks, brake light and fluid, etc.). Mankind, on the other hand, only has one problem: sin. Every problem in this world ultimately falls under that category, and sin entered by the transgression of the first Adam. But life and light are found exclusively in the second Adam, Jesus Christ.
Consequently, being the high maintenance people that we all are, the only way to honor and glorify the Savior, as depicted in the sacraments, is to own our brokenness. This is the message of Psa. 116:12-14 (part of the Egyptian Hallel comprised of Psa. 113-118, used during the Passover):
“What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (ESV)
Here we see that the Lord’s goodness is first repaid by taking ever more and more of it! No other response is rooted in reality, for He alone has the words of life, and He is the only Savior. So the person with true knowledge of himself and God engages in daily “commutation” with the Lord Jesus Christ. He recognizes and confesses his sin, looking unto Christ’s righteousness in a glorious exchange, John Owen put it:
“They hearken to the voice of Christ calling them to him with their burden, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden;’ – ‘Come with your burdens; come, thou poor soul, with thy guilt of sin.’ Why? What to do? ‘Why, this is mine,’ saith Christ; ‘this agreement I made with my Father, that I should come, and take thy sins, and bear them away: they were my lot. Give me thy burden, give me all thy sins. Thou knowest not what to do with them; I know how to dispose of them well enough, so that God shall be glorified, and thy soul delivered.’” (John Owen, On Communion With God, vol. 2 of The Works of John Owen, p. 194; available online here)
Harley’s are big bikes. In the sacraments we are confronted with the enormity of our sin, but, wonder of wonders, we discover an ever larger Savior. So in the final analysis, “high maintenance Christianity” is the only authentic kind there is. Glory be to Him!
Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes: