“While the King Sitteth at His Table”
2 April 2000 Sermon
Text: Song of Solomon 1:12; Mark 14:1-11
I remember, as if it were yesterday, standing at the junction of the River’s Isis and the Thames in Oxford beside Christ Church Meadow looking into that confluence of waters, thinking about life, my purpose and God. It was a beautiful morning in England. I had cycled there to enjoy the splendor of sunrise and to be there alone. And I prayed. I prayed about concerns that I had as a single man, as a student facing the end of a course of studies at the university level. Where was I to go, who was I, and what was I to do next in my life? I looked into the waters as they surged and converged, I breathed in the fresh morning air, felt the moisture on my skin, I listened to the background noises of the city washed by the wind . . . it was a moment of startling, deep and glorious awareness. I left that moment alive, so full of joy I wept and yet I was filled with God’s peace. It was all grace . . . and that grace is my present theme.
And I had forgotten all about splendid morning until I read Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s “Fragrant Graces” (Sermon No. 3480) based on Song of Songs: 1:12: While the King sitteth at His Table, My Spikenard sends forth its fragrance.” Spurgeon wrote:
If you that have never had fellowship with (Jesus) Christ think that I am talking nonsense, I do not marvel. But let me tell you, if you had ever known what fellowship with Christ means, you would pawn your eyes, and barter your right arms, and give your estates away as trifles for the priceless favor. Princes would sell their crowns, and peers would renounce their dignities, to have five minutes fellowship with Christ. I will vouch for that. Why I had more joy in my Lord and Master in the space of the ticking of a clock than could be crammed into a lifetime of sensual delights, the pleasures of taste, of the fascinations of literature. There is a depth, a matchless depth in Jesus’ love. There is a luscious sweetness in the fellowship with him. You must eat, or you will never taste the flavour of it. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Behold how ready he still is to welcome sinners. Trust him and live. Feed on him and grow strong. Commune with him and be happy. May every one of you who shall sit at the table have the nearest approach to Jesus that you ever had! Like two streams that melt into one, even as Isis melts into Thames, till only one life shall flow so that the life we live in the flesh shall no more be ours but Christ that liveth in us.”
Oh, this wondrous God of ours who has gifted us with such lushness, with sensual aliveness! Oh, this luxurious God who has given us all our senses with which to delight in His Creation and to revel in His magnificence of self-disclosure. He has placed spangled evidences of His presence before our noses, ears and tastebuds. Yes, it by taste and eating that we fell from grace in Eden when Eve ate and Adam, too. And with tender irony God has so planned it that it is by taste that we should experience restoration in the Lord’s Supper which we share today! It’s grace, all grace; but not merely grace in the head but grace in the bread . . . grace in the grape juice signifying His shed, atoning blood. We do not enter His Kingdom by words alone, by propositions and persuasions as if salvation were merely in the head, cerebral and abstract. Still less are the harmonies of praise restricted to sight, or sound . . . no, they do engage the thinking and the feeling man. Praise presents the whole person, kinesthetically and rhythmically, in clapping and standing and sitting and dancing and singing. It is all of grace and so we come to the table to know Him in the breaking of the Bread. It is in the breaking and the taking that God is made manifest to those who will draw near—in all this engagement, by grace, we recognize Him, know Him and love Him. We received by grace in the past, we do so now in the present and in all our tomorrows, should they be afforded us, again He will meet us here. We come as guests invited.
Now our Passion journey begins in Mark 14. It begins realistically. The priests and the scribes, fearful of the over two million pilgrims in Jerusalem keeping the Passover, and yet full of hatred and murderous intent seek a way to take Jesus by deception and put Him to death. It is not enough to note that they resented Jesus’ pointed teaching (He knew and exposed their wicked hearts just as He does the wicked heart of mankind today). His predictions about the destruction of the Temple, though offensively unpopular, are hardly sufficient to motivate murder. The priest and scribes were jealous of His popularity as a teacher to be sure, and they were insecure about their future usefulness if what He taught turned out to be true. Only what they perceived to be blasphemy by Jesus rises to the standard of wanting Him killed. Jesus openly claimed both divinity and equality with God—He taught that He was one with the Father. Now, if these claims are true there is no blasphemy; but if Jesus’ claims to divinity are untrue, then Jesus is indeed indictable as a blasphemer. That, friends, is why so much hangs in the balance with regard to the crucifixion and resurrection—it is the resurrection that validates Jesus’ claims to be who He says He is: Son of God and the “Son of Man,” True God of true God. However, the most compelling motivation for murdering Jesus comes from a cause not at all restricted to the Jewish authorities. That cause is the wicked depravity of the human heart, which both despises and rejects the person, plan and purposes of God. The enmity of unredeemed man towards God drove the plot to betray and murder Jesus. This is ever the course of sin. It cannot flow in any other direction and no matter how small a particular sin may seem, all sin tends towards the same end: the murder of God’s Son, destruction of godliness and violation of God’s Law.
Some days prior to the hatching of this plot to murder Jesus, according to John Wesley, we find Jesus at the house of Simon the leper (vv.3-9). Perhaps the incident of the anointing is included because it served as the precipitating cause of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of the Lord Jesus. What we see is the Lord, our King seated at the table and Mary comes forward and empties an alabaster flask of spikenard upon His head. Just like the King in Song of Solomon 1:12, our King sits and the aroma of His anointing is everywhere. We smell His royal presence. We note that the Church three times anointed her Lord (once His head and twice His feet) as if the church remembered His threefold office (Prophet, Priest and King) and echoing the threefold anointing He received of the Father to confirm and strengthen Him. We cannot, the King being gone from the earth, literally follow the example of the weeping penitent and wash His feet with our tears and as she most graciously did wipe them with her hair! But we can reckon as nothing all fair adornments and all our riches if we can but serve His cause, or honor His person. We can gladly render whatever we have to further His cause, to proclaim His worthiness. We can concretely express thanksgiving through sacrifice and giving; we can pay our vows to Christ. We can adore Him on earth as a reflection of His present and perfect adoration in heaven. Yes, our hands may not be able to reach Him, our eyes cannot behold Him, but our prayers can ascend like incense into His holy presence. Our prayers can be our spikenard diffused in heaven. Thus He is reachable today, now.
And we need to announce that the day is coming when He shall sit at His table on earth again. He is coming. By faith we receive it and by hope we await it. “When the King sitteth at His table” has a past, present and future meaning. We enjoy the presence of Christ when He sitteth at the table in our hearts, in our worship and in our prayer, and it is then that our “spikenard giveth forth the smell thereof.” When we are before Him, our graces are, Spurgeon says, in “active exercise, and yield a perfume agreeable to our own soul and acceptable before God.”
Three things follow from this. The first is that every believer has grace in possession at all times. There is grace in our hearts by virtue of our saving relationship to Jesus Christ even when we cannot see it ourselves. It is not evident when the King is not present. When we are not present to the King, when doubts cover up our hope, we are like a dormant maple. There is no evidence of life in our branches, but deep in the unsearchable reaches of our being, the vitality of life remains, hidden and waiting. Once eternal life is planted in us by faith, it remains. Life may bring winter seasons, we may to all appearances look and feel dead, but we are not! Consider some of the weather conditions that may strip our branches. For one there is sin. Sin robs my Master of the glory that would be His, should be His. Sin weakens our graces. Our lives stink of sin, there is no pleasing aroma, no drawing fragrance. Unbelief supplies another chill wind, blows out the heat and extinguishes the incense that should be rising to His throne room. Thirdly, there’s resentment of spirit, a vengeful heart and bitterness from wounds. Depression takes the song out of us, lamentations replace the sweet songs of a grateful heart. And, fourthly, if through neglect or suspension of fellowship, Christ be absent, still know that grace is there . . . invisible, comfortless but . . .
And this is the second matter: Grace is not given to a Christian to be hidden, or suppressed, but it is intended that, like spikenard, it should always be in use. Christians should be leafed out, a verdant maple. Life should be obvious to all. Spikenard, if in use, makes its presence known. The slightest amount is immediately and everywhere evident. Like an aroma that announces breakfast, coffee, a dozen roses, grace announces itself! We are the light of the world, that inner spiritual illumination makes all our features visible even or especially in the dark. Resplendent love, forward forgiveness, peace, gentleness, patience and joy have a fragrance all their own. It is written, “Thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth, for thy speech betrayeth thee.” How we talk, what we talk about should all expose who we are spending time with. All our graces should be working ones: believing faith, embracing love, applied patience, knowledge that reveals truth. The outworkings of a particular grace are its perfume. We are to gaze more and more upon Him, to be more and more present to Him at the table, then as surely as day follows the night, we would be more like Him. Loving Him better, we love each other better. Living passionately for Him means that we will spend and be spent to promote His glory.
Thirdly, we must consider that: The only way that our graces can be actively used is that we must have the presence of our Master. The Hebrew of Song of Songs is emphatic: The King, the greatest of all Kings, the Lord must be absolute Master of our hearts, unrivaled in the domain of our soul, without peer in our estimation, high, and exalted. As Lord and Master, He is the one we run to obey. Unless we are swift to submit to Him, unless we have, own and honor Him as King, we shall not have His presence to revive our graces! We shall recall: it is His table, not ours! Whatever is good at this table, He put it here. He himself is what is there—flesh and body as food to us. We must have Christ. When Christ comes into our ordinance, immediately our graces are invigorated, strengthened. He comes desire, and by invitation, not by our resolution. If He comes, our dead coals shall leap to life . . . our dead and scattered bones will come back together in life. He comes because His desire is always for us. When He first manifested Himself to us, He came to in sovereignty. It was His good pleasure to seek us out. It is the constancy of His love, it is His faithfulness that secures us. Even though we may not have sought Him, even though we were ruined and vile, even though we may have despised Him, He still comes to find us, to claim and own us, to lead us homeward to His fold. So, we are to pray, “Draw me,” so we are to invite Him and soon enough we will find the power to run to Him! Your passions and powers will release you, fall back in confusion, as the King invites you into His chamber, and to His table. It is right for you to desire the richest, sweetest fellowship that any person was ever privileged to enjoy. Toss aside your cares; bring them to His feet. Place the wanderings of your heart on the altar. Place the thorn-crown on your head and be distracted no longer!
Do these things and He draws near. Rise up and welcome HIM! He presents Himself in the breaking of the bread and the passing of the cup. He is here. Toss aside your doubts, troubles and fears and flee to Him who has loved you from forever. Before the foundations of the earth were ever laid down, He knew your name. He shaped you, designed you, and wants you to attain such absolute surrender that all your thoughts, feelings and facts cannot deter you from His warm embrace. Here’s food and drink the world knows not of . . . all for you!