Second Reformed Church

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Community Lunch

Due to the Easter weekend, we are not having our Community Lunch today (the 3rd Saturday of the month) as we usually would.  The lunch is rescheduled for next Saturday, April 26th, at 12 PM, D.V.  Please plan to join us then.

"You Saved My Life" Sermon: Psalm 116:1-8

“You Saved My Life”

[Psalm 116:1-8]

April 18, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Today is called, “Good Friday.”  It’s the day that we remember that Jesus was unjustly arrested, illegally tried in three courts, tortured, and crucified – and died.   Why do we call this day “good”?

            We are looking at the first half of Psalm 116 – the author is unnamed.

            We see in the first half of this psalm:

            The Lord answers the prayers of His people.

            The Lord listens when His people cry out to Him in distress.

            The Lord is our salvation in life.

            The Lord is our salvation in death.

            “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.  Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.”

            The psalmist tells us that he loves the Lord because the Lord heard his voice.

            The psalmist tells us that he loves the Lord because the Lord had mercy on Him – the psalmist loves the Lord because He showed him unmerited favor.

            The psalmist tells us that he loves the Lord because the Lord inclined His ear to him.

            The Lord answered the prayer of the psalmist.  When the psalmist was in distress – even to the point of death, as we shall see – he prayed to God, and God answered Him, and showed Him mercy, and delivered him from whatever it was that put his life in such distress and danger.

            So, the psalmist tells us that he will call on the Lord as long as he lives.  Since the Lord answered him and inflamed his love for the Lord through answering his prayer, the psalmist turned to prayer when he needed the mercy of God.

            The same is true for us, is it not?  Jesus taught us how to pray and the author of Hebrews reminds us that we can come boldly into the throne room of God to ask of Him as His children.

            Jesus certainly prayed – we read of His praying throughout the Gospels – going off by Himself to spent time in prayer with His Father.  In those last hours on the cross, we find two prayers recorded:

            “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (Luke 23:34a, ESV).

            “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46, ESV).

            The Lord listens when His people cry out to Him in distress:

            “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.  Then I called on the name of the LORD:  ‘O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!’”

            The psalmist tells us that he was trapped in the “snares of death” – he was overwhelmed by the feeling that he was unable to escape from the death that was upon him – he saw no reason to believe that he would be able to survive whatever was occurring.

            The psalmist tells us that “the pangs of Sheol” grabbed him – the pain of the grave grabbed him – he could feel his life descending into the grave.

            The psalmist tells us that he suffered distress and anguish – it surely looked like the end for him – and then he called on the Lord to deliver him.

            Our Father is waiting for us to call to Him in our distress.  He is with us and walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death, and we are comforted by His rod and His staff.  Even if the answer He gives us is “wait” or “no.”

            Crucifixion is still considered one of the most horrifying and painful ways to die.

            As Jesus hung on the cross, He was trapped in the “snares of death.”  He felt the pain of the pull of the grave on Him as His Blood flowed out of His wounds and it became more difficult to keep breathing.  And He cried out:

            “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’…” (John 19:30a, ESV).

            “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46, ESV).

            We need to remember that these were cries of victory – even though death was upon Him – He had won.  Jesus had endured the Wrath of God for the sins of everyone who would ever believe – ending with His physical death.

            The Lord is our salvation in life.

            “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.  The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.  Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.”

            Unlike Jesus, the psalmist did not have to endure death at this point in his life.  No, God heard his prayer and saved Him.  God showed how gracious He is in extending the salvation of the life of the psalmist to him.  The Lord showed that He is righteous in dealing with the psalmist as He did saving him in this life according to His good and holy will.  And the Lord showed His mercy is not bringing the psalmist to death in that moment.

            The psalmist tells us that the Lord preserves the simple – the Lord preserves those who are humble about their circumstances – even though it be great peril.  For none of us deserves salvation.  All that we receive from the Hand of God is a gift.  So, when the psalmist was brought low – even near to the grave, God saved him and restored him to his life – a gift of salvation.

            The psalmist tells us that He was restored such that his soul could rest.  He was no longer shaken – looking into the grave – by his circumstances, but God heard his prayer and in His Righteousness – in grace and mercy – God chose to deliver him in this life – to deal bountifully with him – as He has with us all, has He not?

            Has God short-changed any one of us?  Has God neglected to give us some good thing that we deserve?  Or have we received so much more than we could possibly have imagined, given our sin, that we can rest and be satisfied in all that God has done for us?  Has not God even delivered us from disastrous situations in this life?

            The Lord is our salvation in death.

            “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;”

            The psalmist tells us that he was delivered from death – whatever it was that was upon him, God mercifully removed and let him live.

            The psalmist tells us that his eyes were delivered from tears.

            The psalmist tells us that his feet were delivered – God kept him stumbling – either in his feet or into sin in that moment.

            He was saved, and we may think of the final salvation, remembering these words, “[The Lord GOD] will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.  It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.  This is the LORD; we have waited for him;    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’” (Isaiah 25:8-9, ESV).

            The Lord answers the prayers of His people.

            The Lord listens when His people cry out to Him in distress.

            The Lord is our salvation in life.

            The Lord is our salvation in death.

            Why do we call this day “good”?

            Paul explains in one of his benedictions:  “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:11-14, ESV).

            This day is called, “good,” – and we do well to give everlasting thanks to God – because through Jesus’ Death, Jesus completed part of the gracious work that He set out to do to deliver us from the reign of Satan over us.  We were slaves to the prince of lies, and we have been saved from his dominion over us through Christ suffering and dying for our sins.

            Not only that, we have been transferred from slavery in the devil’s domain to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son of God, through Whom we are redeemed.  Christ’s Life and Death were traded in to God that we would be brought back to God – reconciled – made right with Him – as sons and daughters – our sins have been forgive through Jesus and we are now, through the imputation of Christ’s Righteousness – through the crediting to our accounts of Jesus’ perfecting keeping of the Law of God – also seen as holy.  We are living this life now, striving for holiness, and looking forward to His Kingdom coming in all its fullness.

            On this day, we rejoice that the Lord saved the psalmist in this life and in the life to come and that He will do the same for all those who believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, help us to see and receive the Work of Christ for our salvation.  Let us call out to You and cry to You for our daily needs and distresses and for all the hopes of our future – in this life, and in the Kingdom.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Worship

Join us this evening at 7 PM, D.V., for our Good Friday worship service.

"Love One Another" Sermon: John 13:1-17; 31b-35

“Love One Another”

[John 13:1-17; 31b-35]

April 17, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Tonight, we remember the night when Jesus gathered with His disciples for the Last Supper and, among other things, He commanded His disciples to love one another.  We call this day, “Maundy Thursday.”  The word, “Maundy” is Latin for “commandment.”  This is the day we remember that Jesus gave His disciples a “new commandment” – the commandment to love one another.

            We will all notice that the date of Easter moves around on the calendar – that is due to the fact that the date of Easter is set based on the date of Passover, which is set based on the cycle of the moon – as are all Jewish holidays.  The Church officially set the rubrics of Holy Week at the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. – though it seems they were followed earlier than that.

            What we see in the Scripture is that Jesus rose on the first day of the week – which is Sunday.  He was crucified and had to be taken down from the cross because it was the “day of preparation” for the Sabbath – so Jesus was crucified on Friday and couldn’t be left on the cross Saturday, which is the Jewish Sabbath.  Thus, the day before the crucifixion – the day that the Last Supper was celebrated – the day that Jesus gave the “new commandment” – was Thursday.

            So, in the year that Jesus was crucified, Passover began on a Thursday evening.  That evening, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, gave them the “new commandment,” and then celebrated the first night of the Passover with them and instituted the Lord’s Supper.  Then He went out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, was arrested, and, on Friday, was crucified, buried, and rose Sunday morning.

            I point this out, not just for your cocktail party discussion, but because Marla brought to my attention that a Jehovah’s Witness that she talked with told her we should be celebrating on Monday of this week, since Passover began – this year – on Monday evening.  While the Jehovah’s Witness is right in the sense that the start of Passover moves around on the calendar, we celebrate and remember the day of the week that these things actually, historically occurred.  Since Passover and Easter move around on the calendar, we may be celebrating them in the historically wrong month or week, but we celebrate them on the biblically recorded, historical day.  In Church history, it was decided that remembering the correct day of the week was more importance than remembering the correct week or month.

            Hopefully that makes sense – it sets the historical setting for when this text took place, and it also helps us to understand why we celebrate on the days that we do – and, as Marla found out – there are people who will challenge even the day that we remember and celebrate events, so we should know how we got to celebrate them when we do.

            So, our text tonight takes place on Thursday, the first evening of Passover, in the year that Jesus was crucified.  Jesus and the disciples gathered for dinner and then to celebrate the Last Supper.

            We see in the sections of the text that were read:

            Jesus knew it was time for Him to die and return to the Father.

            Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

            Jesus explained that He did so as an example for them to follow.

            And Jesus gave them a new commandment – to love one another.

            “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.”

            Jesus knew it was time for Him to die and return to the Father.

            Notice:  Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed by Judas – He also knew He would be denied by Peter – which is in a section of the text we did not read – He knew He was going to be taken, unjustly arrest and condemned to death, tortured, crucified – and His thoughts were on His love for the disciples.

            With all of these things on His mind – that they were all now coming to pass – that the mission for which He chose to incarnate to earth was now coming to its bitter nadir, He thought about how He had loved all those that God had given to Him and how He would continue to love them until then end.

            The end of what?  Jesus knew He would love His people to the end of His life on this earth, to the end of this age of the corruption of sin, and into the restored Creation and the fullness of His Kingdom.  Jesus loved His people and He loves us and all those who come after us.  And though He is not with us physically right now, He is spiritually with us – as He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b, ESV).

            Jesus was able to face and endure all that had been revealed to Him and was now coming to pass, because His resolve was strengthened in the knowledge that as the One Who had come from the Father and was now returning to the Father – as God Incarnate – all power and authority were His.  None of this was happening by chance.  All of this was happening according to the Sovereign Plan of God, and Jesus, the Incarnate God, had willingly taken all this upon Himself that the people of God might be made right with God through His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  As Jesus would rebuke Peter later than night, “        Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54, ESV).

            Jesus knew everything that was to come to pass.  Jesus willingly chose to follow through with the plan God had made from before the creation.  Jesus went through the horrors of it all, strengthened by the knowledge of His Sovereign Divinity and the love that He had and continues to have and will always have for all those who believe in Him.

            “He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’”

            Let us understand that in Jesus’ day, when people walked around barefoot or in sandals, it was the custom – a sign of hospitality – for the host of a group of people to provide for the washing of his guests’ feet for the sake of their comfort and as a gesture of welcome and love.  So, the washing of the feet, in and of itself, was not strange at all.  So why did Peter get so upset?

            Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet – more accurately, Peter rebuked Jesus for going to wash his feet – because Jesus was their teacher – their rabbi – and they were His students.  It was not proper for a teacher to wash the students’ feet – the students ought to wash the teacher’s feet.

            Jesus responded, first, by telling Peter to just accept it, and he would understand later.  And we ought to take note of that – that we are to obey Christ – we are to obey God – even when we don’t understand.  If God has commanded something in His Word – we must obey, because He is God and we are not, even if we don’t understand, even if we wish it were different, even if pop psychology and science says otherwise.  As the “corrected” bumper-sticker says, “God said it; that settles it.” 

            Then Jesus responded that He must wash Peter or Peter will have no part of Him – and Peter being Peter then demands that Jesus wash his entire body – thinking that if washing his feet would unite him with Christ, having his whole body washed by Christ would really be powerful!

            But Jesus then tells Peter that if you’re clean, you only need your feet washed, you don’t need your whole body washed.  If you took your monthly bath, you only need to have your feet washed from walking out in the streets and getting them dirty; you don’t need to be bathed again.

            Which is true, right?  But that is not all that Jesus intended by this conversation, because Jesus then said, “And you are clean, but not every one of you” – meaning that Judas was not clean.  Jesus was not indicating that Judas needed a bath – Jesus was pointing to the distinction between what is clean and what is unclean in God’s Law.  That which is clean is acceptable before God.  That which is unclean is not acceptable before God.

            Jesus is saying the same thing that was said in the vision given to Zechariah the prophet:  “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’ And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by” (Zechariah 3:1-5, ESV).

            The text goes on to explain that the cleansing that occurs is done by the Savior that God will send.  This is symbolic of sins being washed away.  Just as Joshua the priest had his filthy clothes replaced with clean clothes by God, and just as Peter had the filth removed from his body by the bathwaters, so Jesus cleansed him – and all those who believe – from his sin – but not Judas – he was still unclean.

            Jesus took the opportunity to use the symbolism and Peter’s outrageousness to state that He is the One Who makes His people spiritually clean. 

What He was doing in washing their feet was another matter.

            “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’”

            How are we to interpret what Jesus did?

            One option, which many Baptist and Mennonite denominations go with, is to say that foot washing is a third sacrament which all Christians are to practice.

            Another option is that Jesus was saying it is good to wash each other’s feet that we would remember what Jesus did and understand that through Jesus we are all on the same level – no one is greater than another.

            In the Reformed understanding, we disagree with those two interpretations and instead, understand that Jesus was not instituting a sacrament, because He said this was an example for us.  It also does not mean we are all equal, because Jesus is certainly the pinnacle of humanity.  No, what we understand to be going on here is Jesus telling His disciples that if He, being greater than they, was willing to humble Himself to wash their feet, we ought to be willing to wash each other’s feet – that is, we ought to be willing to do anything we can to help our brothers and sisters in Christ – not matter how “low” it may seem.

            If it would help a brother or sister in Christ, and you are able, would you be willing to do their dishes, make them a meal, pick up the garbage on the lawn, clean their toilet, bandage wounds on their body – whatever it is that you don’t like, or that grosses you out, or makes you uncomfortable, or puts you off – would you be willing to do that if you are able and it would help a brother and sister in Christ?

            Jesus was saying, “I gave you the example of the Incarnate Almighty God washing the dirt and animal poop off of My disobedient disciples’ feet, now you go and… [insert whatever it is that you can do that someone needs you to do that you would prefer not to do].”

            (I’m not going to give you an example from my life, because I don’t want you to not ask me about certain things just because I find them difficult or unpleasant; I want you to call on me when you have need, and, if I am able, I will help.)

            We jump over Jesus identifying and dismissing Judas, and now we turn to the “new commandment”:

            “When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, “Where I am going you cannot come.” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

            Jesus begins by telling them that God the Father and God the Son are glorifying each other in the events of Holy Week – in particular.  Jesus revealed the Father and the Father revealed the Son – through Jesus’ Incarnation, Life, Death, Physical Resurrection, and Ascension, we learn about Who the Father is – Jesus reveals Him to us.  And through these events, the Father also reveals Who the Son is that He might be believed in for the salvation of His people.

            But, He explains to them, they would not be able to go with Him – ultimately – they were not able to ascend to the Father with Jesus.  As Jesus completed the work of salvation in returning to His throne, he would have to leave His disciples behind on earth until that final day.  Jesus wanted them to understand that He was physically leaving them, but He was not deserting them – He was not abandoning them – as we have already noted – Jesus promised, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, ESV).

            Finally, in the section we read this evening, Jesus gives His disciples – all of us – a “new commandment, “that [we] love one another; just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.”

            What’s “new” about this?

            Was Jesus asked what the greatest commandment was – and didn’t He say, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV)?  And didn’t Jesus explain in the parable of the Good Samaritan that our neighbor is everyone?  So, isn’t it our duty – from the days of Moses – which is where the law comes from – to love one another?

            What’s “new” about this?

            “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

            “Just as I have loved you.”  That’s new.

            We are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ – this command is directed to believers – just as Christ loved us.  We are to keep that always before us as our goal – because none of us are Christ – none of us is sinless – it is the goal towards which we strive – that we would love our brothers and sisters in Christ just as He loved us.  This is a part of our sanctification – of the process of our becoming holy, like Jesus, which the Holy Spirit enables us to do and completes in us on the last day.

            What does that mean?

            Paul put it this way:    “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3-8, ESV).

            It means we are to love each other in humility.  We are not to look down on one another, but treat each other as fellow bearers of the Image of God.

            It means we are to serve one another.  We are to do for others what we can do that they cannot.

            It means we are to be supportive in heart and soul and mind and strength – bearing each other’s burdens in the ways that we are able – using our gifts and blessings and giftedness for the good of the whole Church. 

            It means we are to be self-sacrificing – being willing even, if we are so called, to give up our lives for the sake of our fellow Christians.

            That’s not easy to do in a world where what I get is mine and you can’t have it, and we know where we stand – we know who we’re better than – in this great social experiment that we live in.

            Yet, we have an example:  The Almighty God and Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, the One and Only Savior of all those who will believe, did not think it too much to wash the dirt and poop off of His disciples' feet – and then he allowed Himself to be murdered for them.

            Jesus commands us to love each other like that – not to be a doormat – but to be willing in every way that we are able, because we need each other.  We are one body, and when one member of the body is hurt, the whole body suffers, and when one member of the body is built up, the whole body is encouraged and strengthened – if we love one another.

            And, Jesus told His disciples, and He tells us, if we strive to love each other as He has loved us, the world will notice and know that we are His disciples and what we believe about Him is real.

            You might wonder if that is really true – does the world really notice and care – do they put two and two together?

            “For example, the pagan satirist Lucian (130-200 c.e. [sic]) mocked Christians for their charity:  ‘The earnestness with which the people of this religion help one another in their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end. Their first lawgiver put it into their heads that they were all brethren.’

“… the Pagan Emperor Julian -- who attempted to lead the Roman Empire back to paganism -- was frustrated by the superior morality shown by the Christians, especially when it came to charity. This was something he readily admitted: ‘The impious Galileans relieve both their own poor and ours . . . . It is shameful that ours should be so destitute of our assistance’" Epistles of Julian, 49 (

Non-Christians may find our love for one another – as well as for the world – very frustrating.  But it will always point them back to asking “why.”

And if you and I love each other and show our love in ways like Jesus did, people may ask us why.  And you might begin by saying that you’re just following the example of Jesus Who cleaned the dirt and poop off of His disciples’ feet.  And that might just be an “in” to tell them the Gospel.

Love one another – as Jesus loves us.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we ask that You would strengthen us and open our eyes so we would see ways to show Your love of us to our fellow Christians.  We ask that we would unashamedly love one another in humility, service, support, and self-sacrifice in thanksgiving to You, love of our brothers and sisters, and as a witness to the world that they might ask us why.  Lord, prepare our mouths that we would answer well the questions of the world.  For it is in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday Worship

Join us tonight at 7 PM, D.V., for our Maundy Thursday worship service.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Believing God" Study

Just us tonight as we continue our study of the promises of God at 7 PM, D.V.  Psalm 127 says that children are a blessing from God -- that having many children is a blessing from God.  Do we believe that?  Join us tonight.

Reformed Wisdom

"Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though the father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because the father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in the Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but the devil's fools." -- Martin Luther, quoted in Every Thought Captive, vol 18, Issue 3, April 2014, 23.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Letter 2014

“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).

                                                                                                                        April 9, 2014

Dear Members and Friends of Second Reformed Church,

            We are in the Lenten season and Easter is upon us.

            The Scripture I have quoted above is a summary of the Gospel message by Paul.  A central piece of the Gospel message is that Jesus physically rose from the dead – He was not just a spirit – He was not just a fond memory – no, He really and truly, in the same physical body in which He lived and died, rose from the dead and walked among His people again.

            Ah, but the word “physical” is not used in the text I have quoted.  Does it really matter if Jesus physically rose from the dead.  Some people ask me why I harp on saying that Jesus physically rose from the dead.  There are at least two reasons:

            First, the Scripture tells us that Jesus could be touched, that He could handle material things, and His Body was missing (cf. John 20:1-18, John 20:27, John 21:9-14).

            Second, God considers the material world good, promised to give the material world to His people, and said our bodies would be restored as proof of our adoption (cf. Genesis 1:26-31, Matthew 5:5, Romans 8:23).

            If the material world is good, contra our twenty-first century American Platonic sensibilities, why would God get rid of the physical realm?  Does the Creation glorify and prove God’s very existence? (cf. Romans 1:18-23).

            Justin Martyr, a Christian apologist writing in the mid-second century A.D., explains the goodness of the physical body in his book, On the Resurrection:

“But the proof of the possibility of the resurrection of the flesh I have sufficiently demonstrated, in answer to men of the world. And if the resurrection of the flesh is not found impossible on the principles even of unbelievers, how much more will it be found in accordance with the mind of believers! But following our order, we must now speak with respect to those who think meanly of the flesh, and say that it is not worthy of the resurrection nor of the heavenly economy, because, first, its substance is earth; and besides, because it is full of all wickedness, so that it forces the soul to sin along with it. But these persons seem to be ignorant of the whole work of God, both of the genesis and formation of man at the first, and why the things in the world were made. For does not the word say, “Let Us make man in our image, and after our likeness?” What kind of man? Manifestly He means fleshly man, For the word says, “And God took dust of the earth, and made man.” It is evident, therefore, that man made in the image of God was of flesh. Is it not, then, absurd to say, that the flesh made by God in His own image is contemptible, and worth nothing? But that the flesh is with God a precious possession is manifest, first from its being formed by Him, if at least the image is valuable to the former and artist; and besides, its value can be gathered from the creation of the rest of the world. For that on account of which the rest is made, is the most precious of all to the maker.”  (

Join us in worship this Holy Week:

4/13/14 Palm Sunday
 Matthew 21:1-11  “Who Is This?”

4/17/14 Maundy Thursday 7 PM
 John 13:1-17, 31b-35  “Love One Another”

4/18/14 Good Friday 7 PM
 Psalm 116:1-8  “You Saved My Life”

4/20/14 Easter
 John 20:1-18  “I Have Seen the Lord!”

In His Service,

Rev. Dr. Peter A. Butler, Jr.

Reformed Wisdom

"A home with no head is a distaster, one with two is a monstrosity." -- John Blanchard, quoted in Every Thought Captive, vol 18, Issue 3, April 2014, 23.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Who Is This?" Sermon: Matthew 21:1-11

“Who Is This?”

[Matthew 21:1-11]

April 13, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Who is Jesus?

            Who did the people at the Triumphal Entry understand Jesus to be?

            Who are we to understand Jesus to be?

            In this morning’s text, we see:

            First, Jesus claimed to be God, the King.

            Second, the crowd recognized Him as the King of Israel.

            And third, the crowd worshipped Him as the promised Messiah – the Savior.

            It was Sunday – the first day of the week.  Jesus had been leading His disciples towards Jerusalem, where He told them that He must suffer and die.  It was time:

            “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them,” and he will send them at once.’”

            Now, Jesus did not tell the disciples to get the donkey and her colt because He was tired and couldn’t make it the rest of the way to Jerusalem – it was only about two miles away – and they were walkers – it would not have been a big deal for them to make the journey.  No, the point of getting the donkey and the colt was the symbolism that would arise from the use of them.

            Consider how Jesus showed Himself to be God in requesting that His disciples get the donkey and the colt:  His instructions to them either involved a plot on Jesus’ part, a great deal of luck, or a divine knowledge of who and what lay before them. 

            Jesus’ told His disciples to go into the village, and immediately, when they arrived, they would find a donkey and her colt tied there.  How did Jesus know that?

            Jesus told them to take them and bring them to Him.  How did Jesus know that the owner would be home?  That it would convenient for them to borrow the donkey and the colt?  That the owner would lend them to strangers?  And so forth?

            Jesus told them if they were questioned, they should say that “the Lord” needs them.  Now, that doesn’t mean much to us in English, but in Greek, it’s another matter.  The words that are used here can simply mean someone who has authority, but, phrased as they are, Jesus was using that most Holy Name of God that God gave to Moses for Himself – Jesus was saying, “If anyone asks you why you are taking them, tell them that the Lord God Almighty – YHWH – has need of them.”  “The Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, has need of this donkey and her colt.”

            Why?  Matthew explains the picture Jesus was painting – and remember – though many people couldn’t read – they had memorized vast portions of the Scripture that they had heard read:

            Matthew explains, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you,   humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”’”

            As Zechariah wrote, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, ESV).

            Zechariah wrote sometime after 538 B.C., after Israel returned home from her captivity in Babylon.  Zechariah was a contemporary of Nehemiah, Ezra, Zerubbabel, and Haggai.  Zechariah prophesied against the people, warning them not to go back into the sins that their fathers had committed, lest they be sent away into exile again.  He also prophesied of the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Savior.

            Zechariah’s text, which is quoted by Matthew, is one of those texts which points to the fulfillment of the promise of God to send the Savior.  In this text, Zechariah prophecies that the Savior God will send is their King – the rightful heir to the throne of David.  He is righteous and is the provider of salvation – He will make God’s people right with God.  Yet, He will come – the announcement of Who He is – will be that He rides into Jerusalem, lowly, humbly, on a donkey, on a colt.

            In riding into Jerusalem in this way, Jesus was announcing Himself to be the King and Savior that God had promised to send.  Jesus was announcing that He has a kingdom.  Yet, He was coming to them on a borrowed donkey, sitting on clothes – not a saddle, and cheered on by the poor.  Jesus’ Kingdom is not like other kingdoms – and it is not the one that some people expected the Savior would bring.

            Jesus explicitly states this in His trial before Pilate: 

            “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’”  (John 18:33-38a, ESV).

            The expression, “You say that I am a king,” is an idiomatic expression which means, “You’re exactly right – it’s just as you say – I am a king.”

            The truth is what some people didn’t recognize that day:  Jesus is God, the King.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy and the promise made that God would send the Savior to save His people and make them right with the Father that they might enter into His Kingdom

            Second, the crowd recognized Him as the King of Israel.

            “The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’”

            The disciples made the preparations Jesus requested – bringing Him the donkey and her colt.  They lay their coats on them, and Jesus sat on the coats on the donkey.  And He rode the donkey – with colt in tow – down the main road – and a crowd of – mainly – the poor – the commoners – gather around Him – and they begin to praise Him – to call to Him for salvation as the King of Israel.

            They sang – at least portions – of Psalm 118 – a psalm of David in which he reflects on being deserted by his friends and colleagues as he endured attack from his enemies, yet found his hope in the Lord and in His sanctuary and in the promised Savior:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!  Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’  Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’  Let those who fear the LORD say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’

            “Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.  The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?  The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD  than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.

            “All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!  They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!  They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!  I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.

            “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous:  ‘The right hand of the LORD does valiantly, the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!’

            “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.  The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  Open to me the gates of righteousness,    that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.

            “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.  The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

            “Save us, we pray, O LORD!  O LORD, we pray, give us success!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!  We bless you from the house of the LORD.  The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.  Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!

            “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.  Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118, ESV).

            As the crowd sang this song and watched Jesus ride into Jerusalem on the donkey, they confessed belief in Him as the King of Israel – and called out to Him for their salvation.  He had not come in on a military steed, but on a donkey; He had not come in with victorious pomp, but with meekness – Him only understanding that this was, indeed, a ride to victory – a ride to the cross – victory through His Blood for Himself and for us.

            And the Gospel writers highlight one section of the song:

            Matthew notes:

             “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9, ESV).

            And Mark:

            “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9b-10, ESV).

            And Luke:

            “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38, ESV).

            And John:

            “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
(John 12:13, ESV).

            “Hosanna” is a word which means “save us, we pray!” and it is directed either to the king or to God.

            When the crowd said that Jesus “comes in the Name of the Lord” – they were saying that He came in the power and the authority of God – He is God’s legal representative.

            They called Him King, they said that the Kingdom of David is His, they said He is the Son of David – that is, the legal heir to the throne of David.

            But the call and confession of Jesus as King is upped as they confessed that Jesus is blessed and that their “Hosannas” are directed to the “highest” – to the “peace” and “glory” of “heaven.”  This is a confession of Jesus as the Divine Messiah – this is the crowd confessing that Jesus is the Promised Savior.  This is the crowd announcing that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus to save His people.

            “But,” you may be thinking, “if Jesus claimed to be God, the King, and the crowd proclaimed Him to be King, and the crowd worshipped Him as the promised Messiah – the Savior, why did they crucify Him?”

            John tells us, “ His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16, ESV).

            Some of these people – most of these people? – spoke the correct words, but they didn’t understand what they really meant.  They hadn’t received salvation in their hearts.  Not a week later, they would say, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21, ESV).  They didn’t get it.  So it doesn’t surprise us as we read:

            “And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’”

            The crowd confessed that Jesus is the prophet – not a prophet – and the crowd noted that He was their prophet – He was from Nazareth in Galilee – He was a local – an Israelite – the Son of a carpenter – someone just like them.

            John explains that this crowd was made up – largely – of those people who had been at the resurrection of Lazarus and those who had heard about it:  “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him’” (John 12:17-19, ESV).

            “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out’” (Luke 19:39-40, ESV).

            Who is this?  The stones know.  The Creation knows.  And in the mercy of God, some people have had the scales removed from their eyes, and their hearts of stone replaced with a heart of flesh, and they have been raised to spiritual life, so they can see Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem, flanked by the praising crowd, who is calling Him King and Savior, Divine Prophet of God, and confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16, ESV).

            The answer you give to the question, “Who is this?” is the most important question you will ever answer – because it has eternal consequences.

            Is Jesus the prophet of God?

            Is Jesus King of Israel?

            Is Jesus God the Savior?

            Who is this?

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for sending prophets so we can read Your Word and see how Jesus fulfilled all that was said about Him.  We ask that You would open our hearts and ears to hear Your Gospel – to recognize and receive Jesus as Prophet, King, and through His Sacrifice on the cross – our Priest – the Only One Who can make us right with You.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.