Second Reformed Church

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"One Vs. the Nation" Sermon: John 18:12-14

“One Vs. the Nation”
[John 18:12-14]
May 14, 2017, Second Reformed Church
            There is a philosophy called, “Utilitarianism.”  It is considered to be first espoused by the eighteenth century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham.  In one basic form of this philosophy, it is stated as, the right thing to do is the thing that promotes the greatest happiness.  And to think about it quickly, that’s sounds like a good idea, right?  Whatever brings the greatest happiness is the right thing to do.
            But, if we think about it some more, there are definite problems.
            For example:
            If we would get the greatest happiness overall by changing the elements of the Lord’s Supper to peanut butter and jelly and coke, would it be the right thing to do?
            If we would get the greatest happiness by assassinating this leader or that leader, would it be the right thing to do?
            If we would get the greatest happiness by killing everyone over the age of sixty, would it be the right thing to do?
            In a sense, the Sanhedrin – the ruling body of the Pharisees and Sadducees – are acting with a utilitarian understanding of how to solve the “problem” of Jesus.   And they were wrong to do so.  But it was right that they did so.
            We see, first, Jesus submitted to His arrest and trials.
“So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.”
After Jesus rebukes Peter for attacking the High Priest’s servant and says that He is voluntarily submitting to them to obey the Will of the Father – after Jesus explains that He could call for the armies of Heaven to deliver Him – the Romans arrest Jesus.
The Roman method of arrest was to twist the arms of the person behind their back, hands pointed to their head, and while someone jammed their heel into the prisoner’s foot, they would tie the twisted arms to the prisoner’s throat.
The fact that Jesus allows Himself to be arrested proves the voluntary nature of the atonement – of His being put to death for our sin – that we would be made right with God.  Jesus has just shown that by the word of His mouth, He can cause everyone – some six hundred or more soldiers are there to arrest Him – He can cause them all to fall down before Him – He could escape easily – even call on the armies of Heaven to deliver Him.  But He submits to this arrest – He submits to being sacrificed for the people the Father gave Him.
At about two o’clock in the morning, the Romans deliver Jesus to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, for an intimate trial, followed by the trial before the full Sanhedrin.  John is the only one of the Gospel writers to mention this initial trial before Annas, and we are given little record of what happened during this trial.  What we do know is that all of these trials before the Jews are illegal according to Jewish Law:
It is against the law in a capital case to arrest the suspect at night.
It is against the law in a capital crime to enlist the aid of the suspect’s disciples.
It is against the law to hold a trial at night.
It is against the law to rule on a case immediately, the Sanhedrin had to sleep on it and deliver the verdict a day later.
 It is against the law for the High Priest to give the verdict in a case, the verdict is to be by simple majority vote, being cast from the youngest to the oldest [].
And, there is no legal reason to bring Jesus to Annas at all.  Annas had been High Priest from 6 to 15 AD, but now, his son-in-law, Caiaphas, is the High Priest.  Jesus is brought before Annas not unlike one is brought before the Godfather.
The title of High Priest is a perpetual one – it is held until death, even if you are not serving as high priest any more.  The historians of the day write that Annas is a master manipulator, and his hand is all over the Sanhedrin even after he is no longer serving.  Annas guides events so all four of his sons, his son-in-law, and one of his grandsons, all hold the position of High Priest.  The Talmud – which contains a commentary on the Scripture and commentary on the commentary – presents the line of Annas as ambitious and fabulously wealthy, and it condemns them for their greed.
            And so Jesus begins the most horrifying twelve hours or so of His life until His death, submitting to arrest and trial in submission to His Father and in love of His people.
            Second, we see that it was best that One should die.
            “It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.”
            Caiaphas, the High Priest, makes this utilitarian observation after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  Hear, again, what happened:
            “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’ But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death” (John 11:45-53, ESV).
            Word is racing throughout the nation: “Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb!  No one has ever done that before – raised a man after he began to decompose!”
            “Besides that, Jesus has performed many other signs – and people are believing Him.  If people believe that Jesus is the Messiah and set Him up as the King over Israel, the Roman government will shut us down forcefully.  They will take away our place of privilege and rule over the nation.  We will lose our power and wealth.”
            Just so it’s clear – most of the Sanhedrin is concerned about Jesus because they are under Roman occupation, and if someone – like Jesus – claims to be king against Caesar, the Romans will crack down on them.  The members of the Sanhedrin will not be able to enforce their policies on the people.  The Sanhedrin will not be able to collect gross incomes for their services.  Although they are painting the issue as being about the nation suffering, it is really all about the Sanhedrin losing their wealth and power.
            So, Caiaphas – who gave his father-in-law a run for his money when it came to manipulation, tells them that they really don’t get how dangerous the situation is and what the one sure-fire answer to the problem is:  the nation is more important than any one person, so, for the sake of the nation, Jesus must die.  The happiness of the nation is greater than the happiness of one person, so, to preserve the happiness of the nation, Jesus must die.
            But Caiaphas doesn’t know what he is saying:  he is actually prophesying that Jesus will die to save the people the Father gave Him.
            “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).
            God’s plan was for Jesus to die for all those who believe in Him.
“so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28, ESV).
Caiaphas says the problem is profound and, yet, simple:  one versus the nation.  And they choose the option that they believe will give them the greatest happiness – they pursue the death of Jesus.
But, we know that killing Jesus does not save the nation.
Jewish Zealots take Masada from the Romans in 66 A.D., and Caesar Nero counters with his own attacks, finally culminating in the attack of Titus on Jerusalem in 70 A.D., when he destroys the Temple, leaving over one million people dead, and the nation in the hands of Rome – crushed and disbursed.
Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin sinned in their actions against Jesus, and, yet, God used their sin to bring about the salvation of the people that God gave to Jesus.  God used their sin to accomplish His plan for the good of His people.
We are saved and made right with God through the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus for the holy nation that the Father gave to Him.  Therefore, let us respond by submitting to the Will of God in faith and thanksgiving knowing that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we tend to seek what we believe will please us, even as we disguise it in bringing the greatest happiness.  Help us to be sacrificial people for the sake of the Gospel, trusting You Who sent Your Son to suffer for our salvation as Your Fatherly Hand gives us what we need to be Your people.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: "The Spirituality of Paul"

I received Leslie T. Hardin’s The Spirituality of Paul:  Partnering with the Spirit in Everyday Life and I’m not sure what I expected, but it was not the book I read.  I would rather title this book, Be Like Me:  Lessons in Obedience in the Life of Paul.
Hardin gives anecdotes about her upbringing amidst exploring the life and priorities of Paul.  She goes through readable chapters on devotion to the Scripture, prayer, disciple-making, proclamation of the Gospel, corporate worship, holiness, spiritual gifts, building one another up, and suffering.
I found this book to be a good introduction to Paul.  This would be a good book for a high school class or a freshman college/seminary course.  Harding stays with a simple presentation of what the Scripture says, but does not neglect to mention some of the major issues in higher critical thought – such as, how many Isaiahs are there?  Therefore, this is a book I would use with someone in a guided/discussion manner – I would not just hand this over and say, “Have at it” – this book needs to be discussed as one goes through it.
The one hesitation I have with the author is in her discussion of suffering.  She makes it clear that her experience was one of being told that if one suffered, it was punishment for sin – which, of course, is not always the case – and that’s the problem.
Hardin writes, “It is not [God’s] desire to crush me and cause me to suffer” (165).  If I give her the benefit of the doubt and read this as though she is arguing against a capricious God, well, alright, but it is not clear.  If she is saying God never causes suffering or death due to sin, then I must disagree.  God is free not to show mercy.
This, again, is one of the reason this is a book I would recommend using with someone, rather than just giving it to someone.  It is a good introduction to Paul, but discussion and Bible reading will make it a stronger and more useful work.
[This review appears on my blog and on  I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.]

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

"All Fall Down" Sermon: John 18:1-11

“All Fall Down”
[John 18:1-11]
May 7, 2017 Second Reformed Church
            In our look at the Gospel of John, we now move to the Garden of Gethsemane:
            “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.”
            It is Thursday of Holy Week, late in the evening, Jesus is finished praying His High Priestly Prayer for the Eleven and all those who believe based on their witness, and John points out that they cross the brook Kidron.
            The crossing of the Kidron is mentioned several times in the Scripture – as the place where King David fled from his son, Absalom, and where King Hezekiah commanded the cleansing of the priests and the unclean things (2 Chronicles 29-31), and others.  It is a place associated with death and impurity, and the name, “Kidron,” means “dark,” “gloomy.”  Jesus crosses the brook Kidron many times in the Gospels – this being the last.
            And so, we open this text and enter the Garden through the dark and the gloom, thinking of death, impurity – sin.  Something supremely tragic is about to happen – as we well know.
            John assumes a knowledge of the history of the other Gospels – and he doesn’t say anything about Jesus praying that the Father might take the cup away from Him, nor Jesus’ rebuke of the Three for falling asleep during His prayer.  John assumes that his readers know that Jesus “contended with the difficulties” – as Calvin puts it (191) – that Jesus wrestled with what He is going to do and submits to the Father – voluntarily giving Himself up for the people that God gave Him.
            John skips right to Judas’ arrival in the Garden:
“Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.”
It’s rather ridiculous, isn’t it – all this pomp and show about arresting Jesus? 
It is common knowledge that Jesus and His disciples pray in this area – there is no great hunt to find where He might be.  And though most of the band likely knew Jesus, Judas went up to the One he once called, Lord, and kissed Him as a sign that this is the Man.
And Judas came with no small arrest group!  The word that is used for “band” in our text describes a group of 600 soldiers or more – and they came with lanterns and lights to find the Light of the World and weapons to arrest the Prince of Peace.  What overkill!  What irony!  They had no idea that this is Jesus’ plan – but they will get a clue.
And we see, first, Jesus knew everything that would happen to Him.
“Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.”
We need to keep before us the fact that Jesus is at the same time and in the same person the One God and the real human being, Jesus of Nazareth.  So, in His Divinity, Jesus knows everything, yet, there were times when His Divinity kept His humanity from knowing things.  For example, when Jesus was asked when He would return, He said He didn’t know.  In His Divinity, He knew, but His Divinity kept His humanity from knowing.
Here, Jesus, in His humanity, is told by His Divinity everything that will happen to Him – which is why, He prayed with such passion that, if there be any other way – that He would be delivered from the horrors before Him.
Jesus shows Himself to be volunteering as Sacrifice and Sovereign over everything that is going to happen.
Jesus knows everything that is going to happen to Him.  He has wrestled in His flesh and joyfully volunteered to suffer and die for His people – while despising what He would go through.  He did not go into hiding, but went exactly to where He was known to pray so He would be found by Judas and his ridiculous army.  Jesus even approaches those coming to taking Him away and asks them who they are looking for – in this, He chooses to show His Sovereignty.
Jesus says, “Who are you looking for?”
And the men say, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus says, “I am He.” – with no little double meaning there – remember we have seen, “I am” refers to God.
And they all fall down!
The word that is used here describes a violent thrusting down – as though a violent wind or an invisible hand shoves them back and to the ground – as though to say, “I am Jesus of Nazareth – and you have no idea Who I am – I am coming with you voluntarily – in obedience to My Father.”
There were other times that the crowds came after Jesus and He escaped from them, but now, in His Sovereign Providence, it is time for Him to submit to the horrors that would be thrust upon Him so He could gain the joy of securing His people’s salvation and returning to His throne in Glory.  The wicked have no power over Jesus except what He permits.
Do we see that as good news for us today?
Paul wrote, “In him 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).
Our Triune God is still Sovereign, and Paul tells us that everything that happens does so according to the Sovereign Will of God.  There are no accidents.  Just as Jesus went to the cross by the “definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23, ESV), everything that occurs throughout time and space is according to God’s plan – which no one can thwart or change.
So, we always have reason to thank God – anything good we are experiencing is from God’s Loving Hand.  Anything that happens to us that is evil is either for our discipleship or our punishment, so we should call on God in repentance and ask that He lead us through our trials.
We need to hear this so when things are bad, we do not despair, and when things are good, we remember to give God the thanks He is due.  As we are in the midst of a situation, we are prone to forget or not recognize what is happening and God’s place in it.
So, it is Jesus’ plan to be arrested – betrayed – accused, brought to the Roman rulers, be taunted, have his skin whipped off, and be crucified – and He despised it – but He did it “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV).
Jesus knows what He will have to endure – He knows what we must endure – He is our Sovereign God over all things.
Second, Jesus fulfills prophecy.
“So he asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: ‘Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.’”
We will remember – just in the last chapter – as we looked at Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, He says, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12, ESV).
And when we looked at this text, we saw that it refers to God the Father’s Sovereign choice to choose a people out of the mass of humanity to give to His Son to save – and so, God the Son incarnates to save these people.  And since God chooses them and gives them and saves them, not one of them can be lost – they all have salvation, which they cannot lose.
As the High Priest and Substitutionary Sacrifice, Jesus offers us Himself for the sake and the salvation of all the people the Father gave Him.  As the Good Shepherd, He protects His sheep and is willing to give up His own life so they will not be lost.
That being said, do our eyebrows rise to hear Jesus ask that the Eleven not be taken by the Romans, but be let free to go – and this fulfills the prophecy that none of them would be lost?
We have the Eleven and other disciples arrested and killed throughout the book of Acts – why is this different?  What is different about the Eleven at this point in time?  Why would they logically be at risk in a way here they would not be later?
At this point, the Holy Spirit did not indwell the Eleven and all believers.
Without the indwelling of God, the Holy Spirit and His power in them – their being arrested in the Garden would have been too much for them – jailing them and torturing them before God the Holy Spirit indwelled them would have been too much for their infant faith.
We can understand this, can we not?  As we consider our own temptation and sin – I know that without God the Holy Spirit working in me and empowering me to resist temptation and turn away from it, I would give in every time I was tempted.  The devil and his angels continue to tempt us, and the sin nature that still resides in us – even as Christians – is drawn to it – without God empowering us and leading us against them, we would give in.
In love, Jesus asks that His sheep be spared – they had work to do in the future – from receiving the Holy Spirit, to spreading the Gospel, to writing the New Testament.
This is the same God Who loves each one of us who believes in Jesus savingly.  If you believe that Jesus is God the Son and Only Savior, God the Father loves you, God the Son loves you, God the Holy Spirit loves you – and we are given the promise that God is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).
Everything that occurs to those of us who love God is being done in love for us and to bring us all the way home to salvation in the Kingdom of God.  We are loved by God and we can call out to Him for help and understanding and to endure through whatever He knows is best for us.
Finally, Jesus submits to the Will of the Father.
“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’”
The guards grab Jesus, but let the Eleven go as He requested.
But Peter – are you surprised? – Peter runs forward with a six-inch sword to stop Jesus from being taken by the crowd – Peter didn’t yet understand that all these things had to take place.
And Peter swings – managing only to cut the ear off of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant.
The other Gospels recount this incident, but they don’t give us the names of Peter and Malchus.  Why does John tell us their names?  One sure reason is that the reader could go ask Malchus what happened – he was an eyewitness who was not one of the Eleven.
And as Peter jumps in yet again, Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away and asks him if He was not to drink the cup that the Father gave Him?
“Peter, while you slept, I asked the Father if there was any other way to accomplish My mission, and He answered Me – He assured Me that this is the only way – it has been fully determined by the Father Who loves Me that I am to suffer and die for My people – it must be.”
The other Gospel writers give even more information about what happens.  Matthew records:
“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 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?’ At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:51-56, ESV).
“Peter, everything is under control – they are doing what My Father wants them to do that I would accomplish My people’s salvation.  If it were not so, don’t you think I could ask the Father and He would immediately send Me 60,000 angels – or more – to fight for Me?  But if I did not submit to the Father’s Will, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled?  The Scriptures must be fulfilled to accomplish all I was sent to do.”
It may have been Isaiah 53 that Jesus was referring to as the Scripture He had to fulfill:
“Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.   By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:1-12, ESV).
Christ’s Victory is bound up in submitting to the Will of the Father – in being bound as the Sacrifice for His people.
I suspect we have all jumped with our swords drawn like Peter – so sure of what God’s Will is.  (That’s not to say there are not perfectly clear and straightforward things in the Scripture – there are!) 
Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, endured more that we can ever comprehend to save the people that God gave Him.  In His Divinity, Jesus knew everything that would happen to Him on Good Friday, and His concern, as He submitted to the Will of the Father is seen in the love He shows for the Eleven – in seeking their safety.
Is Jesus doing any less for us in these last days?  Does He love us any less than them?
Let us trust God for all that we endure – especially for the sake of the Gospel.
Let us submit to the clear Word of God and pray that God the Holy Spirit will help us to understand and do all those things God has commanded us.
And let us hear these words of Paul:
“And being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11, ESV).
On that final day, all will fall down before Jesus:  those who believe in Him savingly will do so in worship in joy and thanksgiving; those who never believe will be violently thrust down like the guards in the Garden.
How will you fall before Him?
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for loving Your Son and us, sending Him to be our Savior.  We thank You that He submitted to Your Will, despite knowing all the horrors of what He would endure.  Help us – by God the Holy Spirit – to submit to You and to know that whatever we endure is according to Your Plan and from Your Loving Fatherly Hand.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.