Second Reformed Church

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Pastor is on Study Leave

The pastor is on study leave from May 23rd through May 30th.  If you would like to call Elly, you may, but remember she doesn't have thumbs.  If you are in need, please call a member of the consistory or the church office.

"Death for the Glory of God" Sermon: John 11:1-16

“Death for the Glory of God”
[John 11:1-16]
May 22, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            Jesus had explained to the Jews that He was the Christ – and, in fact, that He was God incarnate.  And when Jesus explained again to them that He is God in the flesh – that He and God the Father are the same One God, they took up stones to kill Him, but Jesus escaped.  He went to the Jordan River and crossed over to the place where John had first baptized, and while He was there, many people remembered the things John said about Jesus, and they believed in Him.
            As we begin to consider our text, let us ask ourselves, why did God create humanity?  Many people will say that God needed us – for company, to praise Him, to care for the planet – but there is an enormous problem there:  if God needs anything, God is not God.
            If we are putting a puzzle together and it is missing a piece – there is one piece we need for the puzzle to be finished, perfect, whole, complete – it is less that the most it can be – if we say that God needs humanity – if God needs us – then God is incomplete, unfinished, lacking, imperfect, and so forth – and any being that is any of those things is not God – God is Holy, complete, perfect, lacking in nothing.  Before God created humanity, God was perfectly happy with the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God needed nothing and needs nothing – and experiences perfect love with Himself.
            So, why did God create humanity?  What is the purpose of humanity?  What is the primary reason you and I exist?
            The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  The reason God created us – the primary reason we exist – is that we would glorify God – that we would show God to be God – that we would proclaim God to the whole world – all of Creation – and that we would be filled with joy in Him forever.
            In our Thursday night study, we have been discussing how we can read the Scripture and see what God has done for US – which is true – but the focus is off – or we can read the Scripture and see what GOD has done for us – which is also true, but puts the emphasis where it belongs first – on God.  It a subtle distinction, but a world-view altering one:  are we the center of the universe, or is God the center of the universe?  In either case, we are not denying God or the great things He has done for us, but we are either being God-centered – making much of God, or we are human-centered – making much of us.
            We are looking at the first part of a very well-known story in the Scripture this morning.
            Let us see, first, our lives and deaths are for the Glory of God.
            “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother, Lazarus, was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’
            We begin the history by identifying the characters:  there is a man who is ill named Lazarus.  He lives in Bethany, which is back across the Jordan, near Jerusalem.  And he has two sisters, Mary and Martha.  This Mary was the Mary who anointed Jesus with ointment, but not Mary Magdalene – we will see the history of this event in chapter 12.  And Lazarus, who was their brother was ill.
            So, Mary and Martha went to find Jesus, and they said “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
            What do we understand from this?
            We see that Jesus had friends.  And Mary and Martha and Lazarus were friends of Jesus.  They were close friends – friends who could go to Him and get access to Him quickly and expect that He would respond to their message.  Very close friends – that they could mention the one Jesus’ loved – without saying his name – knowing that Jesus would know who they meant.  Also, the wording of the request indicates that this is a dire situation – though they don’t say what, specifically, is wrong with Lazarus.
            The very close friends had come with news that Jesus’ very close friend was seriously ill, and we feel an expectation that Jesus will drop everything and go to be with him and, perhaps even heal him –
But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’”
But.  Jesus did not do what they expected.
He told them that Lazarus’ illness did not lead to death.  But we know the story.  We know that Lazarus dies.  How can Jesus say that this illness does not lead to death?
They didn’t know it then, but we can look back now and say, that this death is not death.  This death is not the final act.  This death would not be the death that keeps him until the last day.  This death was temporary.  This death was so something greater could happen.
The death of Lazarus was for the Glory of God; it was for the Glory of the Son of God!
What about your life?  What about my life?
Paul wrote, “In [Jesus] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV).
We have been predestined to the life and death we have by the One Who does everything – the One Who causes all things – to occur according to His Will.
Your life and death – my life and death – have been set according to the wise and eternal plan of God to glorify God – to glorify the Father – to glorify the Son – to glorify the Holy Spirit – and as we glorify God through all God has for us – as those who have been saved through Jesus – we have joy in Him.
Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).
In other words, everything that occurs to us and with us and through us and for us – for all of us who believe savingly in Jesus – all of these things – good, evil, and neutral – all work together for our ultimate good – our joy in Jesus.
So, God created us to glorify God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit and as we do so – as we make much of God – as we proclaim the Gospel – ultimately – through our lives and deaths – according to the Will of God – all things will work together for our joy in Jesus.
“But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’”
What did they understand?  What did the disciples and Mary and Martha understand?  It seems as we read the rest of the text that they thought that Jesus was saying that Lazarus’ illness was not as serious as they thought and he would not die.
What we understand – knowing more than they did at this point – is that the life and now the death of Lazarus was for the Glory of God.
Second, we see that God will accomplish the work He has for us.
            “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’”
            If someone you loved was ill – if you just got word that he was seriously ill – what would you do?  You would go to him or call him or try to find out what was going on – wouldn’t you? 
            But, then, we don’t have the Omniscient Mind of God.
            We are told that the first thing Jesus did in response to this news about His very close friend – whom He loved – was to stay where He was for two days.
            And our reaction tends to be to ask, “What’s wrong with you, Jesus?  This is a very close friend whom You love.  How can you hear how ill he is and not do something and even not go to see him for two days?  Don’t you understand that he might not have two days to live?  (And it was a two-day journey on top of that.)”
            The only biblical answer to this is to say that it was more glorifying to God for Jesus to wait two days, and it was to bring greater joy at the end that Jesus waited two days.
            Why do I have sarcoidosis – currently an incurable disease?  One reason, certainly, is that it is more glorifying to God that I have sarcoidosis than if I did not.  And, in the end, my having sarcoidosis will bring me greater joy that if I did not have it.
            Is that easy to believe?  Not every day.  But I believe it is the truth.  And I know God has used my illness for my good and the good of the Gospel and the good of the people He has given me.
            Now, it is good to seek to be well in every way – and God has blessed us with doctors and God heals as well.  But, in the end, whatever God has for us, we are called to trust Him: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV).
            For the glory of God and for the joy of God’s people, Jesus waited two days, and then He said to the disciples, “Now, let’s go to Judea.”  And the disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, You do remember that when we were there just a few days ago, the Jews condemned you for blasphemy and tried to stone You to death, right?  Are You sure that’s where You what to go right now?”
            Of course it was.  Bethany was in Judea.  Jesus had forgotten nothing.  But Jesus had a schedule to keep.  We remember that Jesus often said, “It is not time,” because His life and the plan of salvation was set.  There was a plan and set times and dates, just as there is for all of our lives and all of history.  God is sovereignly in control of everything that happens every moment.  God is not surprised and God does not lose control.
            So, Jesus told the disciples – speaking in rough generalities – there are twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night.  If you walk in the day when you see the light, you won’t stumble.  If you walk in the dark, and the light is not in you, you will stumble.
            What was Jesus saying?
            We may remember back in chapter nine of John: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12, ESV).
            And back in the first chapter: “In [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5, ESV).
            Jesus was using imagery to tell the disciples – and this is true for us as well – if we walk according to the Will of Jesus, we will accomplish what God has for us.  Just as the light dispels the darkness and makes it possible to walk rightly on the path, so if we follow the Will of God, we will accomplish what God has for us.
            Now, that does not mean everything with be butterscotch and roses – Jesus followed the Will of God to the cross and we are called to our own crosses.  Yet, we have the promise that all things will work together for the people of God who love God – who belong to God.  So, it is always the best plan to follow God’s plan, because that is what will happen and that is the best road for us – whatever it may be.
            And remember, even though we are able to sin against God, that sin is part of God’s plan.  God commands us not to sin, but God knows everything that will ever happen, and God, before anything was created, put all these things – even our sin – into the plan that would unfold between Creation and the end of the age.
            Paul wrote to the Christians in the church at Philippi, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV).  Those whom God has called to faith alone through Jesus Christ alone are being sanctified – being made holy – being prepared for the last day when we are received into the Kingdom – and Paul said that since salvation is God’s work, we don’t need to worry, but be certain that God will accomplish the work He began in us.
            The time of Jesus’ ministry was fixed.  What He would accomplish was fixed.  The time of His death and Resurrection were fixed, just as daylight is fixed.  We are to follow the Light and turn to submit to Him, and then we will have nothing to worry about. 
            God is sovereign over all things.  God is carrying out His plan.  Jesus had a schedule to keep, and God will bring all those who believe to the end He intends for us – even joyful entrance into His Kingdom on earth.
            God allows people to suffer and die for His Glory and our benefit.
            “After saying these things, he said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’”
            Again, Jesus used an expression that was very often used and very common in the Word of God, saying that Lazarus had fallen asleep, but the disciples didn’t get it.  They thought He had divinely known that Lazarus was napping.
            Jesus did have divine knowledge, but it was that Lazarus had died.  And Jesus told them that He was glad He wasn’t there for the sake of the disciples – that they might believe.  Jesus had waited – and then had to journey to Bethany, so they would arrive four days after Lazarus died.  And there was a purpose to that.  Jesus could have healed Lazarus, but it was the will and the plan to God that Lazarus be dead for four days before they arrived – that they would believe.  It was for the good of the disciples – and we see later  – for the Glory of God – that Jesus waited to make sure that he was dead for four days before they got there.
            Lazarus had to be dead – really, really dead – for God to get the maximum glory and those believers to get the most benefit.
            Now, let us understand, death and sickness are a result of the Fall – of our first parents’ sin.  Death and sickness are punishments given to humanity.  We should not desire them or delight in them in others; we shouldn’t want others to die or to become ill.  We ought to pray for health and healing.  We ought to seek out medical help.
            However, God can and does use sickness and death for our good and to His Glory – as we see in the full history of Lazarus – and elsewhere in the Scripture.
            I believe that God is glorifying Himself through my illness – and I believe I am a better person, Christian, and pastor for having it.  I seek to be well – even healed – but for now, I strive to submit to God and seek the good God is doing with and through me as someone with this illness.  After all, it is my loving Father Who gave it to me – Who planned for me to have it – and God gives good gifts to His children.  If God takes it away one day, that will be good.  But for now, this is good.
            It may be many years after a death or a sickness that we have some understanding of how God has been glorified and used these things to our benefit.  It may be that we never understand in this life.  But if we believe that our God is Sovereign and loves His children, shall we not strive to seek after Him and trust Him?
            So, Jesus told the disciples that it was time to go to Bethany – it’s time to go, now that Lazarus is dead – for what reason, they don’t know at this point – especially as they’re heading back into danger.
            But Thomas, the Eeyore of the disciples (if you are familiar with the “Winnie the Pooh” characters, you will understand), said, “Oh, well, we might as well go with Him and die, too.”  (Even after the Resurrection, it Thomas who says, “Oh, well, I won’t’ believe unless I can put my fingers in His wounds.”)
            And so they were off.  Not a happy bunch, but followers of Jesus who trusted what He was doing as the right thing to do – whatever the outcome might be.
            And so, we live our lives.
            Do we believe that God is Sovereign over all things?
            Do we believe that God is carrying out His eternal plan?
            Do we believe that God loves us and is working all things to the joy of believers?
            If so, in life and death, in health, and in sickness, let us make much of God.  Let us glorify Him at all times.  Let us in our rejoicing and in our mourning, life up the Name of our God and Savior and proclaim Him to be worthy of all glory – forever and ever.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, it is easy for us to be self-centered.  It is easy for us to think that everything is about us – and that we ought to be first and always happy, healthy, and wealthy.  Help us to see You rightly, to trust You for all that You have for us, to submit to Your Will and Plan and to glorify You because You are always worthy, no matter what we may be experiencing.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

100th Anniversary Letter

Second Reformed Church
132 Elmwood Ave.
Irvington, NJ 07111
            “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, ESV).
                                                                                                            May 21, 2016
Dear Members and Friends of Second Reformed Church,
            I am writing to ask that you join with us in rejoicing and giving thanks to God for Second Reformed Church, Irvington, NJ, as we celebrate our 100th anniversary of being a light of the Gospel in this township.
            Please continue to pray for us as we seek to be faithful and obedient servants and joy-filled sons and daughters as we come together to worship and spread the Gospel of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ – that Gospel, as we see it revealed in scriptures, such as the one noted above.
            I ask that you would please let your friends and families and other churches know about the events that, Lord willing, will be occurring at Second Reformed during the month of June, and we invite each one of you to join together with us and celebrate at these events:
            On Tuesday, June 7th, at 5 PM the Classis of Passaic Valley will come together in quarterly session at Second Reformed.  We will come together for dinner, worship, and then our meeting – and we ask that you please join us.  Come and share in food and fellowship and worship with fellow Christians, as well as members of Classis, and then experience what this body does.
            On Saturday, June 25th, at 4 PM, we will be having a classical fund-raising piano concert.  Paul Bolles-Beaven has agreed to donate his time and talent to lead us in thanksgiving and celebration through a classical concert.  Please come and enjoy the music and give thanks for the gifts God has given to musicians, especially the composers and Paul, himself.  And stay for hospitality afterwards.
            On Sunday, June 26th, at 10:30 AM, we will gather to worship our God.  The Rev. Dr. Gregg Mast will be our guest preacher as he delivers the Word of God to us.  Please come and worship God with us in a great representation of the church, and then join us for a celebratory luncheon afterward.
            In witness to your past faithfulness for us in prayer, and as you have prayed for me and support me as I have ministered in this place for 18 years by the Grace of God, I now appeal to you that you pray and ask God how you might help us financially.  It is our desire to renovate our upstairs kitchen and bathroom that we would be better able to provide food for the community, as well as for our fellowship times.  This project is estimated at $15,000.  We pray that God will put it on your hearts to give thanks to God for this ministry by sending a financial gift for this project.  Please send your checks to the church at the above address and mark it as “100th Anniversary.”
            I look forward to seeing you at these events, and I thank God for the way in which you will help us to accomplish all that is set before us.  And please remember:  no gift is too large.

In His Service,

Rev. Dr. Peter A. Butler, Jr., pastor