Second Reformed Church

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Community Lunch

Join us today at 12 PM for our free Community Lunch!  We look forward to seeing you then.  (And if anyone is willing to help with set-up, serving, and clean-up, it would be much appreciated!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday Worship

Join us this evening at 7 PM for our Ash Wednesday worship service.  We hope to see you then!

"What Are You Seeking?" Sermon: John 1:35-42

“What Are You Seeking?”

[John 1:35-42]

February 15, 2015 Second Reformed Church

            Last week we saw that Jesus was revealed as the Son of God and Savior by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit when He was baptized by John the Baptist.  We also saw that John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God – the fulfillment of the Sacrificial System – the Holy Lamb which causes all those who believe to be eternally right with God.  Forgiven, holy, and saved.

            We also saw that John the Baptist did not know that Jesus was the Savior – the Lamb of God – before He was revealed to Him in His baptism.  John was waiting for God to reveal Who the Savior was by the sign of the Holy Spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove.  When John saw this happen as He baptized Jesus, and heard the voice of God the Father proclaim Who Jesus is and confirm that the Father was pleased with the work the Son was doing, John confessed Jesus as God the Lamb, the Only Savior.

            This morning’s text concerns John’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ calling of His disciples:

            “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’”

            We see, first this morning, that once John knew Who Jesus was, he pointed people to Jesus and away from himself.

            John’s ministry began with his coming out of the wilderness to the Jordan River.  He stood by the river and preached about the coming of the Savior and the need for the people – even the Jews – to repent of their sin and to trust in the Savior Alone for their salvation, John baptized those who sincerely repented of their sins and promised to turn away from them and trust in the Savior Who was to come.  John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and preparation.

            Once Jesus came to be baptized by John and God revealed that Jesus is God the Savior, John refrained from calling people to himself, but pointed to Jesus and told people to follow after Jesus, because He is the One Who makes a person right – Who forgives a person and makes him holy in the eyes of God.

            So, from the day that Jesus was revealed to John and the people gathered at the Jordan, John the Baptist cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  In other words, “Look, Jesus is the One Who fulfills the Sacrificial System on behalf of all those who believe.  Jesus is the One Who takes the sins of all those Who believe on Himself, suffers the Wrath of God, paying the debt for those sins.  Jesus is the One Who lived a perfect and holy life and credits that holiness to all those who believe in Him, so we can be right with God eternally.  My ministry is ending – turn to Jesus and be saved.”

            We, now, are like John the Baptist, are we not?

            Before Jesus ascended back to the Father, He told the eleven:  “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV).

            Jesus gave them a command – which is for us as well – but He begins by backing it up by assuring them that all authority – all power – all right – in heaven and earth belonged to Him.  He has the power and the authority and right to do everything He wills, and nothing can stand against Him or raise an objection to His authority.  It is with that sure, eternal, comprehensive authority that Jesus sends the eleven – and us – with the command to make disciples of all nations.

            We are to go out, preparing the way for others, witnessing to the Gospel, proclaiming the Gospel, that others would also become disciples – followers – of what?  Of us?  Of our church?  Of our denomination?  No!  Of Jesus.

            We are right to have reasons for the church we are part of and for the denomination we are part of, but all of this is for Jesus – all of this is about Jesus – our only Hope is Jesus – we are drawing people in to turn them to Jesus and His salvation.

            John’s baptism was preparatory and announced the need of the Savior – God used it to open the eyes of many, but the end is not John’s baptism – the end is not understanding we are sinning and desiring forgiveness – the end is Jesus and His salvation – being truly, eternally, fully forgiven and made right with God.

            The best church – the best people – are not those with great speakers or programs or whatever – though none of that is wrong – but what we are looking for – what each person needs – is to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Only Hope for any person.  The best church should – in every way – point us to Jesus – Jesus – and Jesus Alone.

            The two disciples who were with John the Baptist that day understood:

            “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.”

            So, second, we see that the two disciples of John were drawn to Jesus.

            We saw last week that Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44, ESV).  Jesus explained that it was not possible for someone to come to Jesus – to truly seek Jesus, unless the Father draws them – unless the Father compels them towards Him.

            So, we see these two disciples of John seeking after Jesus, and Jesus knows they are seeking after Him, and He asks them, “What are you seeking?”

            The disciples respectfully called Jesus “Rabbi” – “teacher” – and they asked Him where He was staying.  Now, that may sound like they didn’t answer the question – but they did in this way – Jesus asked what they were seeking, and they answered that they wanted to be where He was.

            So, Jesus told them to come and see – He invited them and tested them, because it was the tenth hour – it was four o’clock in the afternoon – it was the time of the evening sacrifice – it was almost evening – it would be dark soon.  Were the disciples really drawn to Jesus with a draw that they were compelled to follow?  Would they go with Jesus, even at that late hour?  Or would they say, “No, we will come back tomorrow to hear you?”  No, they went with Jesus – they were drawn to Him.

            We don’t know at this moment in the text if they have believed on Him savingly, but they were surely being drawn to Him.  They wanted and needed to be in His presence and hear Him teach.

            One commentator talks about being drawn by the smell of your favorite pie – that when you smell it fresh out of the oven you are compelled to go find it – to seek it out – because it smells so good – and you are compelled to have some.  Similarly, the disciples were compelled to be with Jesus – filled with desire to know Him and be with Him – they wanted what they smelled (so to speak) of Him.

            If pie doesn’t do it for you, think of whatever your favorite food is – smell it strongly in your mind and consider the draw that smell has of you to the food.

            This language is used in the Scripture, as Paul describes Jesus’ sacrifice in this way:  “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2, ESV).

            Jesus’ giving of Himself in incarnating, living under God’s Law, dying for our sin, and rising from the dead – His whole life on earth, was the most pleasing – the most fragrant offering – before God.  The smell that God finds most enticing is the Sacrifice of His Son for His people.

            That is the smell we are to lead people to smell – amidst all the other smells in the world.  We are to describe the smell of the Gospel in such a way that people are prepare for God to direct them to catch the smell and receive the history of the Gospel and find themselves zealously compelled to be with Jesus and know Him and receive His salvation.

            And we have this confidence that those who are truly drawn to Jesus will never be forsaken by Him, but are eternally His, because God has given them to Him.  If our seeking Jesus is true and real – like these disciples, we will never be rejected by Jesus, but we will always believe and hold fast to Him and the salvation He gives.

            Once we have been drawn to Jesus, we believe His Gospel and receive His salvation, and He never, never, never lets us go – or completely fall away.  We have been made sons and daughters of God and we shall enter into the fullness of His Kingdom.
             John continues to record what one of the two disciples did:

“One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus.”

The third thing we see this morning is that when the disciple believed savingly in Jesus, he had to tell his family and friends.

Andrew had the way prepared by John the Baptist, and he was drawn to Jesus, and he followed Jesus home, and he received Jesus savingly – believing in the Gospel and all the promises God made about the Savior – and he got right up – with the zeal that had him follow Jesus home in the evening, and he went and got his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Savior – the Christ – the Messiah!”  And he brought Simon to Jesus.

Do we prize Jesus and His salvation?

Do we get giddy and just have to tell someone about Him?

Have you ever had something so wonderful – so exciting in your life – that you just had to tell other people about it?

Several months ago, Gene Hecht, from the Irvington Chamber of Commerce, bought himself a brand new car.  He was so excited about it, he drove all around showing it to his friends, letting them take a test drive – he was just beaming about this new car.  He wanted everyone to see it and know he had it and share in the joy he had in owning it.

Is our salvation from the Wrath of God by Jesus more exciting to us than a new car?

It’s true, our feelings wax and wane – even about the most important and wonderful things.  But if we really put our minds to it – putting sin and distraction aside, and we consider what Jesus has done on our behalf – making the Only Way of salvation – the Only Way to be right with God – David prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:12, ESV).

The first moment that the Gospel made sense – when God removed the veil from our eyes and gave us a heart of flesh – do we remember that joy?  Does it visit us from time to time?  Doesn’t it melt our hearts and make us want everyone to know the Truth, the Life, and the Way?

Of course, the devil throws out negative thoughts – people are going to think you’re a fanatic – that your nuts. 

I was talking about God’s Sovereignty in salvation this past week, and one of my friends said, “I didn’t know you were so militant.”  And I told him that I am not “militant,” but I am amazed and joyful and just bursting to tell someone when I think about what Jesus has done to save me – how the whole Almighty Trinity has worked together in history to grant me salvation when I could do nothing but sin and hate God – and He keeps me His, even though I fail Him and shake my fists at Him and rebel against Him again and again and again.

I know that on my own – in-and-of myself – I am hopeless and helpless and worthy of the full Wrath of God for my sins.  Yet, I know that the Almighty and Sovereign God – Who needs nothing! – chose to grant me salvation because it pleased Him to do so.  That’s even more exciting that the laser light my mother got me for Christmas to use to play with the cat I will be getting!

Andrew was excited to – he ran and got his brother – “We’ve found the promised Savior!  The Only Hope of all those who believe is here!  Come, meet Him, hear Him, believe in Him!”

If you don’t find Jesus and His Gospel – salvation – exciting, may I respectfully and urgently ask you to search your heart and see if you truly believe?  And if you do, pray with me that God will open our mouths and help us to put aside all sin and distraction that we will tell somebody!

Peter goes with Andrew, and we read:

“Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).”

Fourthly, we see that Jesus changes us when we believe – yet not all at once.

Paul writes, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV).

“We all” – believers – Christians. 

“With unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord” – remember, we talked about this – we see the Glory of God mediated through Jesus – through what we are told about Him in the Scripture and as He gives us His grace through the reading and preaching of the Word and through the Sacraments.

“Are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” Our justification – our being made right before God is a one-time act and declaration by God – but our sanctification – our becoming holy – our being conformed and transformed into the Image of Jesus, the Son of God – is a life-long process which God the Holy Spirit is at work in us and completes at the return of Jesus’.

So, we are being changed into what we shall become.  We are being changed into the Image of Jesus.

What about Peter?  He was being changed.  He met Jesus.  We know he believed savingly in Jesus.  Jesus said he shall be called “Peter” – right then he was “Simon,” but the day would come when he would be called, “Peter” – when he had come to a certain point in his sanctification – in his growth in the Spirit.  Do you remember it?

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ” (Matthew 16:13-20. ESV).

When God revealed to Peter that Jesus is truly the Son of God, the Promised Savior, Jesus said he was “Peter.”  (Of course Peter was not holy – he was not done growing – but he had reached a milestone.)

Do we see the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives?  Do we see that growth in our lives – that transformation – that conformity to the Image of Jesus?

Are we getting over ourselves and showing people that what is important is Jesus and His salvation?

Do we hunger after knowing Jesus more?  Do we study God’s Word and read good Christian books, and pray, and want to spend more time together with our fellow Christians talk about Jesus – singing praise to Jesus – learning all we can in this life about Who He is and how we can strive by the Spirit to be more like Him?

Are we excitedly telling others of His salvation?

If the Lord is willing, during the Sundays of Lent, we will consider more about what it means to grow into the people Christ has called us to be.

For now, honestly ask yourself what you are seeking – and if it is anything other than Jesus – Jesus – Jesus – pray that God will change your heart and draw you to Him.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, King of kings and Lord of lords, You have made us for Yourself.  You have been pleased to draw some to Yourself through Jesus, and You are causing some now to grow in the faith as the Holy Spirit makes us into the people You have called us to be.  Stir up those fires in our heart that we would long for You and seek after You and not let go for one second until You Alone are our life.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"The Lamb of God" Sermon: John 1:29-34

“The Lamb of God”

[John 1:29-34]

February 8, 2015 Second Reformed Church

            The Pharisees had sent a delegation to find out who John the Baptist was and where he got the authority to baptize Jews.  John the Baptist explained to them that God gave him the authority to baptize Jews – and that this was a baptism to show that all people are sinners and cannot be right with God unless Someone takes on the punishment for our sin and gives us the merit of His righteousness.  This One is the Savior Who was among them, though they did not recognize Him.

            “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.”’”

            Here we see, first this morning, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the sacrifice for sin.

            “Behold, the Lamb of God”

            Why did John the Baptist identify Jesus as the “lamb” of God?

            It’s not because Jesus was fuzzy and cute; he identified Jesus as the “lamb” to say that He is the fulfillment of the sacrifice for sin.  Jesus fulfills the Temple sacrifices for sin – not in the temporary way that occurred in the Temple, but fully and finally and completely.

            We see this imagery used throughout the Bible:

            In the instructions for the Passover we read:

            “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

            “’Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It 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 12:1-13, ESV).

            On the night that God delivered Israel from captivity in Egypt, the final plague was going to occur:  God sent the Angel of Death to kill the firstborn of every family of the humans and the animals – all those who did not receive the blood of the lamb as a covering for their sin by painting the blood over the entrance to their homes and participating in the flesh of the sacrificed lamb by eating his flesh.

            This was fulfilled in God sending His Son to shed His Blood on the wood of the cross as a covering for all those who will believe, and we participate in the sacrifice as we drink His Blood and eat His Flesh in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – symbolically and spiritually, of course, the bread and the cup are not the physical flesh and blood of Jesus of Nazareth.

            Again, we have similar symbolism in the feast of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – which was celebrated yearly at the Temple in Jerusalem:

            “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

            “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:15-22, ESV).

            On the Day of Atonement, we have the sacrifice of two lambs or goats – the one would be slaughtered and his blood spattered all around as a covering for sin, and the other would have the sins of Israel symbolically placed on him, and then he would be sent out into the wilderness to die.

            And so, the sins of all those who would believe were placed on Jesus and He was crucified and His blood was shed as a sacrifice, paying the debt for the sins of all those who will believe, while His blood flowed as a covering for all those who will believe.

            Jesus fulfills both the Passover and Yom Kippur by taking the sin of His people upon Himself, taking the punishment for sin upon Himself – God’s Wrath, the shedding of His Blood, and death, so all of the sins of those who will believe has been paid for and the punishment for them has been taken away from us and placed on Him – the One Holy Lamb of God.

            He is the Lamb of God, because He is the Only Eternal Sacrifice Who makes all those who believe right with Him forever – there is no need for another sacrifice.  Jesus has earned us and bought us through His life and death and resurrection.

            When John – the writer of the book of Revelation – was taken up into Heaven, he was shown a scroll that only One Who is perfect and sinless could open, and John began to weep, because he understood that all humans are sinners – no mere human was worthy to open the scroll – humans brought with them condemnation and failure.

            “And one of the elders said to [John], ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

            “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

            ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’”
(Revelation 5:5-10, ESV).

            The Lion of Judah, Who is the Root of Jesse, Who is the Lamb of God, Who is Jesus, the Only Savior, is the One and Only human, Who is also at the same time God, the One Who was slain for all those He would save, He is worthy – He opened the scroll – He brings completion to the Will of the Father.

            As the elders and the living creatures sang:  Jesus bled and ransomed a people for Himself from every people on earth.  He has paid the debt for our sins and credited us with His Righteousness, so we are right with God, and we shall inherit the earth and reign over it, as Jesus promised in the Beatitudes.

            This image of Jesus being the Lamb of God would have had immediate meaning and profound significance for the believers in Jesus’ day, because they were engaged in the sacrifices that required lambs to be slaughtered, and they knew from their history of the slaughter of lambs which lead to God’s deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt.  So, now we see that Jesus, the Lamb of God delivers all those who believe from slavery to sin, He pays the debt for our sin, He credits us with His righteous life, and thus, makes us right with God for all of eternity.

            As John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

            Let us see two other things in this statement:

            “who takes away the sin” – the expression that is used here means that all of the sins of all of those who will ever believe – past, present, and future – have be paid for by Jesus on the cross – they are taken away from us – paid for – but that does not negate the fact that we sin day by day and need to continue to come to God in repentance for our sin – and we will be forgiven, because our debt has been paid by Jesus.

            “of the world!” – we are tempted to understand this to mean that Jesus died for the sins of every person who ever lived and will ever live.  But there is a problem with that:  if Jesus died for the sins of everyone who ever lived, then the debt to God for every person’s sins has been forgiven, and everyone is saved and made right with God, and no one will go to Hell.

            It would be wonderful if no one ever went to Hell, but the Scripture is clear that people do go to Hell.  We need to understand that the word “world” does not always mean every single person who has ever lived and will ever live. 

Consider, for example, “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him’” (John 12:19, ESV).

Did the Pharisees mean that every single person in the world believed that Jesus is the Savior?  Of course not.

Similar, when John the Baptist said that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  He is saying something more radical – the Lamb of God takes away the sins, not merely of the Jews, but of every type of person in the world – the Gentiles as well.  Many had understood that the Savior was only for biological Israel, but John the Baptist is proclaiming that the Lamb of God has come to save people from every nation and tribe and tongue – Jew and Gentile.

Sadly, people do go to Hell.  Wonderfully, there is not a type of person – no heritage – no race – no gender – outside of the saving power and purpose of God.  The Sacrificed Lamb of God is for all those who will believe – anyone who will believe.

John the Baptist continues:  “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

We are likely struck by John the Baptist saying that he didn’t know Jesus – weren’t they cousins?  It is possible that they never met each other in the flesh, because Jesus was living in Nazareth, learning to be a carpenter, while John the Baptist was living in the wilderness, preparing to be the prophet who prepared the way of the Savior.

But, if John didn’t know him, then how could he see Him and proclaim that Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world?

What he is saying, second, is that there was no plot between John the Baptist and Jesus to announce Him to be the Lamb of God.

John the Baptist may have heard of Jesus of Nazareth and known that He was regarded as a prophet and a rabbi, but he did not know, prior to Jesus’ appearance at the Jordan, that He was the Lamb of God.

John did not know Who he was preparing the way for before Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized.  John was acting as a herald of the Gospel – preparing the way for the coming of the Savior and preparing people to receive Him as the Savior by baptizing.  John was baptizing to call Jews – in particular – to recognize that the sacrificial system was not enough – they were still sinners – they were still at odds with God – they were still under that Wrath of God.

And, we see, John was baptizing to reveal Who the Lamb of God – the Savior – is.  God told John that he was to baptize because God was going to use it as an epiphany – and unveiling – and enlightenment – for all those who will believe – of Who the Savior is.

So, we see again, here, that John’s baptism was from God – to convict Jews of their sins – and to reveal the Savior to Israel – that is, to all those who would believe.

We don’t have it recorded in the Gospel of John, but Jesus came the day that John the Baptist announced that Jesus is the Lamb of God to be baptized by John – and John recognizing that Jesus was more than your average “Joe” – at least a prophet – and he asked Jesus to baptize him, but Jesus explained that He had to go through all the rites of humanity to be the Sacrificial Lamb, so John baptized Him.

Do you remember what happened?

Matthew records:  “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17, ESV).

After Jesus was baptized by John the heavens opened, God the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus and empowered Him for His work – symbolically appearing as a dove – and God the Father audibly spoke from Heaven affirming the Jesus is God the Son Incarnate and that the Father was pleased with Jesus and the work He was going to accomplish.

Here’s one reason that is so important:

“And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’”

We see, third, this morning, that God revealed to John that Jesus is God the Savior, the Lamb of God.

God called John the Baptist and gave him the authority to baptize to convict Jews of their sins and to prepare the way for the Savior and to reveal Who the Savior is to John and all those in attendance at the Jordan.

John was baptizing, waiting to see the sign that God had given him that He would know Who the Savior was.  He was ashamed to baptize the prophet Jesus, but when He did, it was revealed that Jesus is the Savior – the Christ – the Messiah – the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

John the Baptist – sent and authorized by God to baptize – saw the sign that God promised – heard the voice of God the Father – and proclaim from that day forward that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior.

            What can we say about these things?

            As we considered Jesus as the Lamb – the fulfillment of the sacrifice for sin – we can point out to our Jewish friends that the sacrifices cannot possibly be enough to save a person from the Wrath of God for sin.

            We can talk with anyone about God being Holy, and how we are not holy, and how that makes an awful problem between us and God.  If we can help people to understand that they are sinners – that they are at odds with God – then the question we can ask them is how, then, can a person become right with God?  How can we escape the judgment of God for our sins, if it is not possible for us to pay the debt for them and appear righteous before God?  What are we to do?

            We can point to John the Baptist and show that the Scripture self-consciously tells us that John – and others – did not know Who Jesus was – that He is the Lamb of God.  They had to receive a divine revelation – God had to intervene and show them Who Jesus is

            Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44, ESV).

            What that means is that no one can believe unless God intercedes to make them believe.  Our salvation is completely a work of God – we cannot save ourselves – and we cannot save anyone else.

            So, when we talk with people about Jesus and their spiritual state before God, let us pray for them – pray before you go out each day that if God is so pleased as to put someone in your way that needs to hear about salvation through Jesus Alone – that God would give you the words to speak and that God would have mercy on the people we speak to and change their hearts that they would believe.  Let us pray for those we talk to after we have talked to them, asking God that He would change their hearts and cause them to receive Jesus as their Savior.

            We have been called to go out and tell others the Gospel – this history of salvation through Jesus.  And we rely upon God to change people and cause them to believe.  But let us be prepared – read to tell them – and let us be in constant prayer for those we talk to that God will cause them to believe.

            If people will admit that they sin, then the door is opened to ask them how they will be made right with God.  If they say they are good enough, then remind them that God is Holy and can only receive holy people into His Kingdom.  Ask them how they will be right with God?

            The only answer that can work is that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, lived a holy life, died for the sins of everyone who will ever believe, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne.  Everything else leaves us to face God naked and ashamed.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for sending the Son to be the Savior for all those who will ever believe.  We thank You that You have shown us that the work of salvation is Yours.  And we thank You that You have chosen to use us to spread the Gospel.  Open our mouths like John the Baptist, now that You have caused us to believe, and help us through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, to speak words that You will use to draw many people to Yourself.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Reformed Wisdom

On John 1:37 -- "When the word of the gospel is foully desipised by pigs or madly rejected by dogs, it must be preached constantly and in good hope, and it must be commended to the Father to make it effectual when and in whom it seems best to him." -- Martin Bucer in Reformation Commentary on Scripture, New Testament IV, John 1-12, 54.…/…/ref=sr_1_sc_2…

Sunday, February 01, 2015

"Who Are You?" Sermon: John 1:19-28

“Who Are You?”

[John 1:19-28]

February 1, 2015 (January 18, 2015) Second Reformed Church

            Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God – the Promised One Way of Salvation – the Revealing of God in the flesh to all who believe in Him.

            We turn to look at the forerunner of Jesus this morning – His cousin, John the Baptist.

            “And this is the testimony of John,”

            We will remember that John the Baptist was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, the high priest.  Elizabeth and Zechariah were older people, and Elizabeth was known to be barren – she did not have any children and she could not bear children.  But God sent the angel, Gabriel, to announce that God was going to open the womb of Elizabeth for a special purpose.

            “And there appeared to [Zechariah] an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared’” (Luke 1:11-17, ESV).

            God opened the womb of Elizabeth, and she bore John the Baptist.  And God said through Gabriel, that John the Baptist would be an important person who would bring joy.  He would be indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, even while he was in the womb – we will remember that when Mary went to visit Elizabeth, John jumped for joy in the womb since he was in the presence of the Savior, Who was in Mary’s womb.  John would minister in the “spirit and power of Elijah” – fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi – that Elijah would return before the Day of the Lord – and John would turn the people back to God and prepare them for the coming of God the Savior.

            John was around thirty at the time of our text, and he was baptizing Jews who were repentant of their sins.  Although there were washing ceremonies in Judaism, it was understood that only Gentiles – non-Jews – needed to be baptized as part of their conversion to Judaism.  Jews had Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – when the goats were sacrificed for the sins of Israel.

            John’s baptism was attracting hordes of Jews, and word got back to the Pharisees who wanted an explanation as to why he was baptizing Jews and as to where his authority was from.  The only explanation they could think of – which was almost right – was that he was someone from the past who had been resurrected, or that he was the Christ – the Promised Savior, or that he was entering the Levitical priesthood of his father, Zechariah.

            And so they sent a large delegation of priests and Levites to interrogate him.

            We see, first, this morning, that the delegation came with impure motives.

            “when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’”

            If the Pharisees wanted to know who John was and by what authority he was baptizing Jews, they could have sent a single person – or two or three – to interview him and report back – but they didn’t:  they sent a large delegation, from which we can infer that they did not believe that John was acting with proper authority.  He was taking people away from the Temple and the work of the Pharisees, Levites, and priests.  They came – not merely for an explanation – but to shut him down.

            This understanding is supported by the way that John reacted to their coming to the Jordan at all.  Matthew records:

            “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

            “’I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’” (Matthew 3:7-12, ESV).

            When John saw them, he was angry, and he exposed their impious motives in coming to him.  He warned them that they were teetering on divine condemnation and warned them of the work of the Savior.

            Still, they proceeded in asking him who he was – with the underlying question of, “Who gave you the authority to baptize Jews?”

            Second, the delegation came with wrong expectations.  They had in mind a very few possible reasons why what he was doing would be acceptable – they only missed the right one.

“He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’”

The delegation came to see a man of power, who was dressed in camel’s hair and ate locusts and honey.  He looked and acted like a prophet, but there hadn’t been a prophet in Israel for over four hundred years.  Their conclusion was that he must be the Christ – the Savior God promised to send.

But John denied that immediately and strongly.

We remember that in ancient Hebrew, they didn’t use words like “very” for emphasis, but repeated what they were saying to emphasize the point, and so John said, “No, absolutely not, I am not the Christ.”

 “And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’”

They knew that the prophet Malachi had prophesied the return of Elijah before the coming of the Savior, but they thought this meant that he would rise from the dead.  That is why they asked him if he was Elijah – if he was the resurrected prophet.  And again, John said, “no.”

 “’Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’”

It’s not clear whether they had a specific prophet in mind, but they were again asking if he was some other prophet resurrected from the dead.  And again, John said, “no.”

“So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’”

They were obviously aggravated by this point.  So they put it to him, “Who are you?  We have people to answer to, laws to uphold, and duties to perform.  Tell us who you are and by what authority you are baptizing, so we can tell those who sent us and decide how to deal with you.”

“He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said.’”

            “I am the voice of preparation that the prophet, Isaiah, prophesied would come.”

            Now, today, if we heard that, we might think that was an unfair answer – it doesn’t really say much, does it?  However, these were the experts in the Law of God – they knew God’s Word forwards and backwards, and they should have understood what he was saying.

            The prophet Isaiah was addressing the exiles in Babylon when he wrote:

            “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

            “A voice cries:  ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken’” (Isaiah 40:1-5, ESV).

            Isaiah was relaying God’s hope to the people in exile – that the exile was going to end, and that God was sending “the voice” – who was John the Baptist – to call the people to repentance of their sin in preparation for the coming Savior Who would reveal God to them.

            Jesus later confirmed that this is who John the Baptist was:

            “As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

            “’”Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.”

            “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear’” (Matthew 11:7-15, ESV).

            The delegation should have understood that John was authorized by God to do what he was doing as the one God prophesied would come to prepare the people for the coming of the Savior – Jesus.  But they were blinded.

            Third, the delegation had a wrong understanding of sin and baptism.

            “(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’”

            They didn’t understand the seriousness of sin.  They didn’t understand that Yom Kippur was not enough to make the people sinless, much less holy.  They were forgiven in the moment, but they still bore their sin nature, and within a moment, they sinned again, and they were back under the condemnation of God.

            They thought they could be saved by their works.  They thought if they kept the Law meticulously – and they did – it would be enough to be eternally forgiven, but it is not – for any sin is too much sin to be received by the Holy God.  God cannot stand any sin in His Presence, but banishes it from Him eternally in the end.

            They knew they were better than most people, and they thought that was good enough.  Many people feel that way today – but to say that is either to not understand the depths of the evil of sin or to not understand the heights of the Holiness of God – or both.

            They thought baptism was a ritual to bring the Gentiles – the non-Jews – into Judaism – but, as John the Baptist shows and we understand from the whole of the Scripture – baptism exposes us as sinners and symbolically portrays the only way to become clean – to be forgiven – to be right in God’s Sight.

            How is baptism administered?  Someone other than the one being baptism pours water over the person seeking to be baptized.  No one baptizes himself.  This symbolizes that salvation can only come by Someone Else making us clean – forgiving us – making us right in the Eyes of God.  Baptism does not save a person; it shows that a person must be saved by Someone Else.

            In theological language, we would say that John’s baptism mortifies – it shows the way that sin is to be put to death – by Someone Other than the person being baptized.

            They didn’t get it.

            Fourth, the delegation had a wrong understanding of the Savior.

            “John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.”

            John explained that his baptism was with water – it did not save anyone – but pointed to Someone Else Who would make those who believe right with God.

            John explained to them that there was Someone in their midst – Someone they had seen – Someone they knew – Someone they had seen in the market place and in the Temple – Someone they should have noticed! – the One Who comes after John to take up the work of baptizing – but He is greater than John – so much greater that he was not worthy to untie the filthy strap of His sandals.

            Remember – in those days, most people walked on the dirt roads, and the animals walked on the dirt roads, so people’s feet and sandals would have been covered with dirt and animal refuse.  And John said he was not worthy – it would be too high an honor for him – to untie the filthy sandal of the One Who comes after him.

            Something similar today would be to say that it would be too high an honor for you to clean someone’s toilet.  Get it?

            Earlier, we mentioned Matthew’s account of this event, and John said of Jesus – the One coming after him, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

            In theological language, we would say that Jesus’ baptism vivifies – Jesus’ baptism brings to life. 

            John’s baptism – which is one of the Sacraments – is for all people who confess that they are sinners and unable to make themselves right with God – and the Sacrament of Baptism is one of the visible signs of the Gospel approved by our God and Savior which shows that they only way to be right with God is for Someone Else to make a person right with God.

            Jesus’ baptism is received by all those who believe in Him savingly – by all those who believe the Gospel.  And His baptism has two parts – fire – it purifies a person – removing their sin from them – Jesus takes our sin and its punishment upon Himself, and the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit – Who leads us in becoming holy – in growing and perfecting faith and obedience to God – as Jesus’ perfect sinless and holy life is credited to us and we grow in it – to be fully received on the final day.

            Jesus’ baptism is a spiritual baptism in which Jesus forgives our sins through His suffering and death, and credits His Righteousness – His sinless and holy life to us – for He lived such a life and gives us its credit as our Substitute before God.

            The savior many of the Pharisees was looking for was one like themselves – a scholar-king who would keep separate from sinners and overthrow the Roman government, restoring the kingdom to Israel.

            But God’s plan was not that small.  God’s plan was to send His Son for all those who would believe in Him – to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil to provide the Enteral Kingdom for all those who believe.

            Why did you come to the worship service this morning?

            Did you come with impure motivations?

            What did you expect would happen?

            Did you come for bells and whistles and lightshows?

            Do you understand that you are a sinner and there is nothing you can do about it?

            Did you think your baptism saved you, so you can do whatever you want now?

            What savior do you believe in?

            Did you come thinking that Jesus would make you healthy and wealthy?

            Or did you come this morning to acknowledge that you have been an unprofitable servant, and there is nothing you can do to be made right with God?

            Did you come to ask God for forgiveness and to hear what He has to say in His Word, intending to receive it by faith and obey that your joy in Jesus would be full?

            Who do you think you are?

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for sending John to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus, our God and Savior.  We thank You for the Sacrament of Baptism in which we confess our sins and acknowledge that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves.  We thank You for sending Jesus that He would be the Substitute of all those who would believe in Him and His Gospel that we would be forgiven for our sins, be made right in Your Eyes, and grow in holiness under the guidance and by the Power of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us, until that final day when Jesus returns and glorifies us and brings us into the Kingdom of Life and Light.  Lord, help us not to lose sight of these things, and lead on, O King Eternal.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.