Tuesday, November 21, 2017
“Remember the Lord”
November 19, 2017, Second Reformed Church
This week, we intend to celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving.
The first Thanksgiving celebrated in the United States is dated in October of 1621 when the Pilgrims and the Native Americans shared the harvest feast.
In 1789, George Washington suggested a national day of thanksgiving, which he recommended in a proclamation that begins:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness’” (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0091).
It was Abraham Lincoln who established the national day of Thanksgiving in 1863 – during the Civil War – in a proclamation that begins:
“The year that is drawing towar
d its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God” (https://www.thoughtco.com/abraham-lincolns-thanksgiving-proclamation-1773571).
Both presidents also say that this is to be a national day that we repent of our sins against God and our neighbors, and seek obedience in doing good.
They understood that all that we have is not of our own doing. They understood that there is a God Who providentially causes all things to pass. And the House of Representatives and the Senate agree.
Although we have a particular Thanksgiving day that we celebrate as a nation, throughout history, peoples and nations and families have celebrated days of remembrance and thanksgiving, as well as day of corporate repentance and renewal. We have a time when we may lift up thanksgivings each worship service.
In this morning’s text, Moses urges the people of Israel to remember the Lord – as they enter the Promised Land with all its beauty and bounty – they are to remember the Lord – to be obedient and thankful.
“Deuteronomy” means “the second giving of the Law.”
After four hundred years of slavery in Egypt, God delivers Israel. God frees them and brings them through the Red Sea and into the wilderness of Sinai, where, due to their sin, they wander for forty years – until all of the adults – except for Joshua and Caleb – die – and then, with Moses’ death, Joshua and Caleb lead the children into the Promised Land.
But first, Moses recounts the history of Israel and gives a second reading of the Law of God to make sure that all of these young people born in the wilderness of Sinai know what God expects of them.
And Moses tells them, first, God is to be obeyed in thanks for His blessings.
“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”
Moses tells these young men and women that they are entering the Promised Land that God is giving them, so they should thank God and obey Him.
They are entering a land where they will not have to go without water or strive to find it – it is a land full of brooks and fountains and springs.
It is not a wilderness, but a land of valleys and hills.
It is a land filled with wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates and olive trees and honey and bread without end, not a wilderness of scarcity.
It is a land filled with minerals – iron and copper – that they can build and create with, rather than being without resources.
“You will not hunger! Your bellies will be filled every day. Therefore, you shall obey and thank the Lord for what He has done in giving you all of this.”
Why do we need to be reminded to obey and be thankful? We don’t have to be reminded to disobey and not give thanks – we don’t need to be reminded to complain, do we?
We have a standard – even before God – of what we think we deserve. And we won’t be satisfied until God and everyone else fulfills what we believe we should have.
When I worked at a bookstore, the owner would thank us for our work at the end of each day – and, initially, I didn’t understand why she was doing that – I was doing my work, she paid me, why did she thank me?
We ought to thank other people for their service in appreciation of their doing their job well. We are more than just “consumers;” we are human beings who are to love one another – who are to consider each other better than ourselves – to do everything we can to better each other’s lives.
And then there is God. What has God done for us?
God has caused us to live in the United States. God has given us this church building and each other. God has allowed us to have housing, food, and enjoyments, as well. God has given us His Only Son to live and die that we would be made right with God and be received into His Kingdom.
Do we have any reason to obey God? Do we have any reason to thank Him?
Moses looks back at the history of Israel and tells them that God overflows blessings upon them – as seen in His Providence and Grace – and the right response is to joyfully serve and trust Him.
As we look back over our history – as a church – as individuals – do we have reasons to be thankful and obey? Are we surprised that we’re here – as a church – and as individuals? Can any of us look back and say, “I never thought I would be here. I never thought things would be this good. I never thought this church would still be open. I never thought God would do so much to get me to this point”?
Second, God is to be obeyed and not forgotten.
“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. “
Moses tells them that he knows how it is – humans forget. We remember when she slights us or he insults us. But once we have lived awhile and things are good, we tend to forget the difficult past, once we get to the blessings of the day – we are pleased with where we are and we forget – we forget what happened, we forget to be thankful, we forget to obey God.
Moses tells them to be careful once they enter the land, Moses tells them to make sure they keep the Word of God before them and give thanks for all that God does.
Moses tells them in the present day of their bounty in the land, they must remember all that came before it: slavery, an expansive, terrifying wilderness, snakes, scorpions, and the lack of water.
Moses tells them not to forget God, but to remember that God chose to give the gifts of water out of the rock, of manna every night – and this preservation was given so that they would be humbled and do what is good – that they would obey everything God says in His Word and thank Him.
Do we remember where we were compared to where we are now? Aren’t we all in a pretty good place, in a pretty good land? Yes, things could be better, but couldn’t they also be so much worse. Would any of us prefer to live in Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan or North Korea or before modern medicine?
Luke records for us nine people who forgot God almost immediately after receiving their blessing:
“On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:11-19, ESV).
Don’t forget God after He has blessed you. Don’t stop obeying God when He has blessed you.
Third, Remember the Lord and give Him thanks.
“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
Moses looks towards the future and tells them not to lose sight of Who has blessed them. “Remember it is God Who has blessed you and enabled you to get to this point. God gave your parents who followed God and brought you out of Egypt before you were conceived and went through the suffering in the wilderness, and they shared with you so you would live until the day that the Promised Land was opened to you.”
I’ve mentioned a former friend of mine who became more and more bitter, and one day I tried to encourage her by showing her how thankful she should be for all she has, and she angrily responded, “No one has ever helped me. Everything I have I earned myself. I have no one to be thankful to but myself.”
You gave birth to yourself? You gave yourself your body and caused it to function well? You raised yourself? You gave yourself an education? You made yourself right with God?
Jesus tells a parable:
“And he told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God’” (Luke 12:16-21,ESV).
Remember the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord. Obey the Lord. Show your love of the Lord.
Peter puts it this way:
“[Jesus’] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4, ESV).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, all things are Yours – created by You and for You – and You chose to give us life and living and salvation through Your Son. We are quick to forget where You have brought us from and quick to forget You altogether. Help us to regularly consider where we have been and where we are now and what You have given us out of Your Amazing Grace. Humble us. Help us to remember You at all times and in all things. Keep any prosperity from making us forgetful. Send the Holy Spirit to keep us alert and knowledgeable of all You have done and continue to do out of love, and cause us to respond in obedience and thanks. Lord, make us thankful. May we be thankful to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Thursday, November 16, 2017
Sunday, November 12, 2017
“The Stone Witness”
November 12, 2017, Second Reformed Church
Joshua is one hundred and ten as he speaks to the people of Israel. He is about to die.
The people of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt three generations prior; the people have been in the land of Canaan – Israel – for three generations. The adults Joshua speaks to are the grandchildren of the children who came out of the wilderness into the Promised Land. And Israel is a peace with her neighbors and free from all enemies at this point.
In chapter 23 of Joshua, he explains that God will fight for Israel – He will continue to fight for Israel – if they obey God, if they don’t intermarry with non-Israelites, and if they don’t worship false gods. If they keep the Covenant God made with them, all will be well, but if they do not, God promises to bring every form of evil down upon them until they all die.
Then Joshua reminds the people of all that God has done for them: God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, brought them through the wilderness into the Promised Land, and saw that every king that opposed them was put to death. God is faithful and showered blessings down upon Israel.
Now, Joshua calls upon the people to make a decision – today, and tomorrow, and for each day henceforth: will they serve the Lord their God – the One True God Who has proven Himself to them for generations in faithfulness – or will they serve the false gods of their pagan forbearers and the nations around them?
Here, we have the famous quote from Joshua, “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:14-15, ESV).
And all the people respond together: “We will never forsake the Lord! Look at all the good things He has done for us.”
That brings us to this morning’s text. And as we consider it, let us take our place in the people of Israel before Joshua.
First, we see, God requires holiness.
“But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the LORD.’”
The people answer quickly – and as a man. They put no real thought into their answer. They had not considered their history, or the inclination of fallen human beings.
“Will you serve the Lord or false gods?”
“Of course we will serve the Lord! It wouldn’t make sense for us to deny the One True God Who has blessed us with all the blessings we know from our history and even to this day. Of course, we will serve the Lord. We will never turn away again. We will never sin again. From this day forth, all is well, God has nothing to worry about.”
In most churches in America, if the people all responded like Israel did that day, the pastor would lead them all in joyful prayer, and then they would all go to the church coffee bar and sports lounge and enjoy the afterglow.
But Joshua understands humans better than that. Joshua understands his people, Israel, better than that. He understands that they have just answered the most profound question flippantly – with hardly a thought – as though it were something easy.
Joshua tells them, “You are not thinking this through. Are you able to serve the Holy God? The God Who requires holiness from each one of His people? Are you able to instantly make yourself holy and never sin again? Don’t you think – as you look back just over the past three generations – that following God completely in holiness is an impossible act for fallen humans? Don’t you understand that if you commit yourself to God and you sin against Him – if you sin against the Holy God – the fullness of His Wrath will come down upon you? Do you understand the magnitude of one sin against the Holy God? Do you really think you can make this covenant with God based on your own ability to be holy?”
And all Israel responds, “No problem, we will serve the Lord.”
Do we remember Isaiah’s encounter with God?
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’
“And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:1-5, ESV).
Over the past six weeks, we looked at the “solas” of the Reformation and saw that we have nothing to add to our salvation – we have nothing and no ability to make ourselves right with God. Our right response is that of Isaiah’s, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” The only hope is God intervening on our behalf, which He is under no obligation to do.
And yet, God has intervened on our behalf. He sent His Son to accomplish salvation for us – all by Himself – completely His own work – His own merit. As Paul writes:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11, ESV).
Not that the Law has been abolished – no: the author of Hebrews writes, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, ESV).
We, Christians, are told that unless we are holy – without sin and having fulfilled all of the Law – we will not see the Lord – we will not be received into the Kingdom.
If you feel something in the pit of your stomach, that’s alright. We cannot be holy, as God calls us to be. We are to strive towards it in this life, but we will not be 100% holy in this life. However, as we have seen in Paul’s words above and in the recent Reformation series of sermons – through Christ – we are holy. Through Christ – and through Christ alone – we are holy.
So, you can breathe now.
Israel in that day still thought they could do well enough on their own. They didn’t understand the seriousness and the impossibility of our fulfilling the call to holiness.
So, God requires us to be holy, and we are to strive to be holy – not sinning and keeping all of the Law of God – and we are holy in Christ and through Him alone.
Second, the worship of God must be pure.
“Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.’ So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem.”
Joshua tells the people, “OK, then, you will be witnesses against yourselves if you do sin and fail to keep God’s Law.”
And the people say, “No problem.”
So, Joshua tells them to start with the first commandment: “Put all the foreign gods away from you and worship the Lord alone.”
And the people say, “Sure, we will serve and obey Him alone.”
Then Joshua reads the covenant to them – at least the book of Deuteronomy – perhaps Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
And the people vow to worship God in the way He commands and to live their lives as He commands.
But they didn’t and we haven’t either, have we?
The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, ESV).
Why not, what’s the big deal?
If we worship false gods – if we try to worship them alongside of the One True God – we are giving glory to something other than God – and we remember that all glory is to be given to God alone.
Even with good intentions, we go beyond what God allows – “to bring people in” – “to make worship more accessible.”
R. C. Sproul writes, “Over and over again God invited the people, ‘Come near to Me.’ But that invitation was balanced by what God said following the deaths of Nadab and Abihu: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy.’ We are commanded by God to come into His presence—to come near to Him. Not only that, we may come boldly into His presence, as Hebrews 4:16 makes clear. But there is a difference between coming boldly into the presence of God and coming arrogantly. When we come boldly into His presence and draw near to Him, we must always remember that we are to regard Him as holy.
“We also must remember that we have no right to come into God’s presence on our own. No amount of preparation that we can do is enough to make us fit” (http://www.ligonier.org/blog/preparing-your-heart-worship/
Each day – each hour – we’re tempted by false gods – by idols – by anything we put in God’s place by sinning and not doing what God has commanded.
How would our husband or wife react to our saying, “You don’t understand. I had an affair to show me how to be a better husband or wife for you.”
How do you think that would go over?
It is the same thing in coming before God – any moment of the day – in private prayer – in corporate prayer – we say we will worship in holiness – and then we make exceptions for this reason and that reason – for idolatry.
We must not take God’s Word about life and worship lightly. Rather than hear the Word of God and say, “OK, no problem.” Let consider our hearts and the ways in which the evil one will seek to tempt us to sin.
And so the people would be witnesses against themselves if they were not holy – if they did not worship God purely.
Yet, the Word of God calls for two or three witnesses to prove a case, so a second witness is set to come forward against the people – and us.
Third, the stones witness our faithfulness or faithlessness.
“And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.’ So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.”
Joshua writes down the rash response of Israel in the Word of God, and then he sets up a large stone underneath a pistachio tree near the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua tells the people that the stone would also be a witness against them, because it heard the vows made by Israel.
Joshua was not saying that stones are alive. He was not indicating that there was an animal in the stone that could hear them.
On the other hand, God causes Balaam’s donkey to speak to Balaam (Numbers 22:30), and Jesus says that if His followers do not proclaim Who He is, the stones will cry out (Luke 19:40).
What Joshua is impressing upon Israel is that God is not ignorant – God knows everything that is done and not done. He knows what each one of us does and neglects to do. And though it is not necessary for Him to do so, He could call on the Creation to give an account against us.
No, the stones don’t really have ears to hear what we have vowed and how we have actually lived, but do we have ears? Do we hear the Word of God and seek – with the help of God, the Holy Spirit – to do it, or do we figure we’ll do the best we can – and that will be that? After all, Jesus died to pay the debt for our sins and gave us His righteousness, so does it really matter what we do?
That is the question of the unbeliever – one whose fruit betrays him.
The Christian will ask for help to steward every moment of every day and each gift and blessing that God has poured upon him. He will ask God, the Holy Spirit, to strengthen him and guide him, and apply the merits of Christ to him, even when he strives after holiness and purity and fails – failing into sin.
The Christian recognizes the amazing grace and mercy God has shown him, and he is greatly pained and repents when he sins and fails, because He knows what it cost Jesus Christ to secure his salvation.
As Paul writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, ESV).
Have you received salvation through Jesus Christ Alone? Do you believe that He has paid the debt for your sin and given you His righteousness? Then let us come to the Father in prayer and in worship, rightly trembling because our God is the Holy God, and yet boldly, because He is our loving Father, Who has adopted us and made us co-heirs with Jesus, asking that He would say of us – through the merits of Christ:
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23, ESV).
What happened after Joshua died?
“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.
“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger” (Judges 2:10-12, ESV).
Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, it is so easy to say that we will be faithful. It is so easy to say that we will do all that You have commanded and not sin. But we still have the sin nature within us, and we still turn away from You and give into temptation and choose to sin. Lord, we are witnesses against ourselves. The walls of this sanctuary are witnesses against us. The Creation that did nothing wrong, but was plunged into futility for our sake, witnesses against us. Forgive us for our sin. Forgive us for taking all of these things that You have said lightly. Forgive us for thinking it doesn’t really matter what we do, because we are forgiven through Christ Alone. Lord, soften our hearts, make us more sensitive to sin, and send the Holy Spirit to stir up the fires within us that we would strive with every ounce of life that we have to live in a way that is pleasing to You, because You sent Your Son to save us. And it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.