Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: "Wisdom of the Sadhu"

Wisdom of the Sadhu:  Teachings of Sundar Singh is a collection of Singh’s writings culled from his seven books.  Singh was born into a Sikh family in 1899, had a mystical conversion to Christianity in 1905, and disappeared – never to be heard from again in 1929.

While Singh’s parents were opposed to his conversion, they were pleased that he spent his life as a sadhu – a peripatetic monk.  His wonderings took him all over the globe where he taught Christianity through parable and discussion.  Although he studied theology, he was not what Westerners would think of as a theologian – more along the lines of a guru.

His use of Indian sadhu style to live and teach the teachings of Christ is fascinating to read – and it reminds the reader that the Western way is not the only way to present Christianity.  On the other hand, while he talks of Yeshu the Master – His teachings – there is scant in this work about a presentation of the Gospel.

The Gospel is, as Paul concisely puts it: “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).

Other concerns – which may be fleshed out in the full versions of his books – are his description of the Trinity being like the sun – the sun itself, light, and heat – which loses the Oneness of the Deity, and his repeated description of being received into Heaven as a spirit-being – the goal being the loss of the physical body.

Paul explains, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23, ESV).  In the end, we received our bodies back – glorified.

It is a fascinating work and I would recommend it to the extent that a Westerner like me should be aware that the Gospel may be proclaimed in many ways – even ways that seem strange to my ears.  Yet, I am concerned about some of his theology – especially the lack – at least in this book – of a clear presentation of the Gospel.


 [This review appears on my blog and at Amazon.com.  I received a copy of this book free from Handlebar Publishing and Plough Publishing House in exchange for the review.] #WISDOMOFTHESADHU

Saturday's Community Lunch

Due to the committments of many involved in our Community Lunch, we will NOT be having a lunch this Saturday.  D.V., we will continue our lunches in the New Year.

"Witness to the Light" Sermon: John 1:6-8; 19-28

“Witness to the Light”

[John 1:6-8; 19-28]

December 14, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            We turn to John’s account of John that Baptist this morning – a similar account to the one we looked at from Mark last week, but with a different emphasis.  John tells us that John the Baptist was a “witness to the light.”   

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

John tells us that there was a man by the name of John who was sent by God.  John establishes John the Baptist’s authority right from the beginning of the description of him and his ministry.  John is not someone acting on his own authority – this is not someone who just one day felt like baptizing people and calling them to repentance and belief.  No, John had been called by God to this work of being a pastor.

Why does it matter?

There are plenty of people today who have a disagreement with their pastor, find that they are able to imitate TV preachers – and these may be sincere, believing Christians, but they set up a church for themselves, based on their own authority – with no call from God to be a pastor.

James tells us:  “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1, ESV).

The reformed preacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, said that the piece of advice he would give anyone who wondered if he was called to the ministry was, if there is anything else he can do – do it.  Don’t go into the ministry.  And he said that because of the seriousness of the call to the ministry – no one should enter into it unless he is sure that he is called and it is the only thing he can possibly do, because God judges pastors more strictly – for pastors have been given a call to the preaching of God’s Word that not everyone has – and pastors must preach God’s Word Alone – not their preferences and opinions, but what God has said – period.

So, John was called by God to be John the Baptist – to do the work that God had ordained for him to do – to be a minister of the Gospel.  This is going to be important as we go along.

And John was called to be a “witness to the light.”

What is a witness?

A witness is someone who has reliable, first-hand, ascertainable facts about something.  A witness is someone who can say, “I was there.  I have first-hand knowledge of this.  I saw this happen.” – And so forth.

John was called by God to give reliable, first-hand, ascertainable facts about the Light.  John was there, he knew the Light, he knew about the Light, and he knew what the Light was called to do, so he could be a witness to the Light.

For example – there has been much talk and speculation about and response to the events in Ferguson recently.  We may have opinions about what happened and about what ought to have happened after these events.  We may base our opinions on various things we have read and things we have seen on TV.  But the only ones who are witnesses to those events are those who were actually there at the time and witnessed the events as they occurred.

If you weren’t there, if you don’t have first-hand knowledge of the facts – you are not a witness.  You may have a good or a right opinion, but you are not a witness.

Do we get the difference?  Do we understand that John the Baptist was called by God to be a witness to the Light?

In twenty-ninth verse of the first chapter of John – which we did not read this morning – for anyone who didn’t understand Who the Light is through the imagery of the preceding section of the text, it is made clear:  Jesus is the Light.

So, John was called by God – authorized by God – to be a pastor – to be a witness to Jesus – and especially, Who He is and all He would do.  And the reason he was called to be a witness was so people would hear his testimony about Jesus and believe that Jesus is the Promised Savior.

            We are all called to be witnesses to Jesus and His Gospel, are we not?  We are not all called to be pastors, but we are all called to be witnesses.  We did not know Jesus when He was on earth two thousand years ago, but we have met Him through the Word and the Sacraments.  We are witnesses to what God has said and convicted us to be the truth.  We cannot say that we knew Jesus in Israel all those years ago, but we can say that we know Him now – that we have, truly, met Him in the Word and through the Sacraments.  We know Who He is and why He came.  And we are called to be witnesses – like John the Baptist – to Jesus and His Gospel so people would hear our witness about Jesus and, if God is pleased, they will believe that Jesus is the Promised Savior – the Only Way to salvation – the Only Way to be right with God.

            As Christians we are called to be witnesses to Jesus and His Gospel – not, “look what Jesus did for me,” but, “see Who Jesus is and what He has done.”  While our “personal testimony” might be interesting, our call is to witness – to give the facts – of Jesus – Who He is and what He has done that all who believe will be saved.

            “And [Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16, ESV).

            Again, Jesus said to the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, ESV).

            We have been called by God to be witnesses to Jesus and His Gospel – to the One Way of salvation – as those who have met Jesus and know Who He is and what He has done to make all those who believe right with God.

            And John the Baptist was called by God to be a witness to Jesus and His Gospel – to the One Way of salvation – as one who knew Jesus and knew Who He was and why He came and what He would do to make all those who believe right with God.

            In the next section of text that we read, we see John the Baptist’s authority being questioned.  He was the son of Zechariah the priest, but John was not serving in the Temple – he was living in the wilderness – dressed like a prophet – eating foods like a prophet – and now he was exercising rites that ought to have authority behind them.  He was baptizing and calling Jews to repentance in a new and strange way – outside of the Temple, and a delegation was sent by the Pharisees to find out where he got his authority to do this.

            Now, we tend to have a bad taste in our mouths when we talk about the Pharisees – and the word “Pharisee” has come into our language to mean a hypocrite.  But that is not how all the Pharisees were – and that was not the intent of those who became Pharisees.

            The word “Pharisee” means “set apart one.”  The Pharisees originated out of the conviction of God’s call to holiness.  So these men “set themselves apart” to study the Law of God and to commit their lives to living God’s Law as perfectly as possible – down to the most minor detail.  But, some of the Pharisees became misled or corrupted – adding to God’s Law and creating loopholes for themselves.  That is how those who persecuted Jesus came to be – through the corruption of the original intent to be holy as God has commanded.

            We are called to be holy as God is holy.  We are to strive towards keeping all of God’s Law and being pleasing in His Sight in every way.  Although we are forgiven for all of our sins through Jesus’ Work that is not an excuse to say we do not have to strive for holiness.  We are still called to be holy.  And some today – like the Pharisees who went astray – have twisted that and added to God’s Word – burdening people with things God never commanded.

            And so, today, we are to strive to be holy – to keep all of God’s Word and Law.  We are not to say it doesn’t matter because Jesus has forgiven us.  Yet, we are not to add things to God’s Law that God never said or commanded.

            For example, God commands us not to steal.  So we are not to take anything that doesn’t belong to us, and we are to work to support ourselves and honestly earn a living and work to provide for ourselves for when we cannot work.  It does not mean that we must live lives of poverty.  It does not mean that everybody has to have the same amount of stuff.  And Jesus’ payment of the debt of our sins does not mean that it is alright for us to steal – to take things that don’t belong to us.

            OK?

            Now, the Pharisees sent a delegation to find out by what authority John the Baptist was calling Jews to repentance and baptizing them:

            “And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed,”

            Notice the repetition:  John confessed, he did not deny, he confessed.  Remember that emphasis in the Scripture in shown through repetition.  Normal emphasis was saying something once.  Strong emphasis was saying something twice.  The ultimate emphasis was saying something three times.  So, it is noted for us that John made his confession to those who were questioning him with the ultimate emphasis.  He confessed, he did not deny, he confessed.  Triple repetition. 

“’I am not the Christ.’”

There had not been a prophet of God in four hundred years.  The Christ – the Messiah – the Savior had not yet come.  The nation was occupied by the Roman Empire.  Some who heard about John and his prophet-like clothing and diet and strange rites at the Jordan wondered if he might be the Savior they were waiting for.  But John told them without hesitation – “No, I am not the Christ.”

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

There was a misunderstanding about the prophecy of Malachi.  Malachi said:

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4, ESV).

Some had understand this to mean that Elijah was going to come back from the dead – that he was going to be resurrected – before the coming of the Savior.  So, John answers their question, “No, I am not Elijah.”

Yet, we might have expected John to say, “Yes, I am Elijah.”

We may remember what the angel of the Lord told Zechariah about his son, John:             “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared’” (Luke 1:13-17, ESV).

The angel of the Lord, on behalf of God, affirmed that John was the prophesied coming of Elijah – that was confirmed by Jesus, Himself, as well – as we saw last week.

John was the coming of Elijah in spirit and power, but he was not the resurrected Elijah, himself.  So, that is why John told them “no.”

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

Was John one of the other great prophets raised from the dead?  No.

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

By what authority was John doing these things?  If he was not the Christ and he was not the resurrected Elijah – or any of the other prophets resurrected – who gave him the authority to do these things – to call Jews – the children of Abraham – to repent and be baptized in the Jordan River?

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

            What was John saying?

            John was declaring to them:  “I am the forerunner of the Christ that Isaiah prophesied about.  My authority comes from God – I am the fulfillment of prophecy.”

            And before we say, “Well, that wasn’t fair.  Why didn’t he just give them a straight answer instead of quoting Scripture?  How were they supposed to know what he meant?”  Let us remember who was asking the question:  priests and Levites on behalf of the Pharisees.  These were men who spent their whole lives studying the Word of God – pouring over it, memorizing it, learning everything God had said – these were highly educated people in the Word of God and they should have understood.

            But they didn’t get it:

            “(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’”
            
            They missed it – the people of all people who should have understood what John was saying didn’t get it.  They were still in blind unbelief – they didn’t see.  So they asked him again – who gave you the authority to baptize like this if you are not the Christ, or the resurrected Elijah, or one of the other prophets resurrected?

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

John points out the problem:

“I am the witness to the Light; I am the forerunner of the Christ.  He is so much greater than I; I am not worthy to untie His filthy sandals.  The Christ is here!  He’s been around you.  Some of you know Him from town and had seen Him in the Temple.  But you are so blinded by your unbelief and false perceptions and corruptions to the Word of God that you don’t see Him!  God has come to earth in the person of Jesus, Who is the Christ – but you are dead in your sin and you don’t recognize Him.  The Christ is here!”

How heart-wrenching must it have been for John to witness to the Light – to Jesus the Christ – before the leaders of the Church in Israel and have them not understand at all?

Are our hearts broken when we tell people Who Jesus is and what He did to make all those who believe right with God – and they don’t get it?  It should break our hearts.  It should cause us to weep and cry out to God that He would open minds and hearts and eyes that they would believe!

We are witnesses to the Light – and the testimony of a true witness does not change – the Gospel message does not change.  We do not need to find gimmicks to lure people in and trick them into belief.  We don’t need to focus more on ourselves and on the “felt needs” of our neighbors.  We need to tell people that they are at odds with God and the only way to be right with God is through believing that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would every believe, physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne.

We are witnesses to the Light!  All we who believe have met Jesus spiritually through the Word and the Sacraments.  We know Who He is and what He has done.  We believe that He Alone is the Only Way to Salvation.  We repent of our sins and strive to grow in obedience to God and in our faith.

Do the people you know and love believe?  Have you witnessed Who Jesus is and what He has done to them?

Let us pray:


Almighty God, we thank You for the witnesses in our lives that have pointed us to Jesus and His salvation.  We thank You for causing us to believe and for calling us, now, to be witnesses to Jesus and His salvation.  Fill us with the Power of the Holy Spirit to be faithful servants who tell others Who Jesus is and what He has done.  Don’t let us rest or be satisfied until all the world knows that Jesus is the Christ.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

"The Beginning of the Gospel" Sermon: Mark 1:1-8

“The Beginning of the Gospel”

[Mark 1:1-8]

December 7, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            As we continue our journey through Advent, we turn to “the beginning of the Gospel” – we see the end of the advent of John the Baptist’s work on behalf of the Coming Messiah – the Savior:

            “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

            Mark begins by telling his readers that this Gospel – this “good news” – is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – Jesus the Messiah – Jesus the Savior – the One that believers had waited and hoped for for four thousand years.  And He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God – the Savior is not a mere man, but He is God Himself, come in the human person of Jesus.

            This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus of Nazareth Who is the Promised Savior – the Messiah – the Christ – and He is God Himself.

            And we might be tempted to think, “Wait a minute, Mark, this isn’t the beginning of the Gospel – Jesus is thirty years old when your account of His history begins – isn’t the beginning of the Gospel in the miraculous conception of Jesus or in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem?”

            The answer is found in that Mark points back to the prophecies of the Christ – the beginning of the Gospel can be found in the promises that God made to send a Savior after Adam plunged all of humanity into sin.

            “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness:  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,”’”

            Isaiah prophesied that the end of the first Advent would come through a messenger coming – a forerunner to the Christ – coming – announcing Him – preparing the people for His coming – one who is crying in the wilderness – to be aware – to receive Him straightaway – without digression or side-track.

            This messenger – this one who proclaims the coming of the Christ – would minister in the wilderness. 

Why?

The wilderness reminded the Jews of the journey out of Egypt through the Sinai wilderness into the Promised Land – it was symbolic of hope – of deliverance – of God’s promise coming to pass.

It was also symbolic of their spiritual state – they were in the wilderness – dry, confused, broken, lost.  It was only by coming out of the wilderness that they would find spiritual life.

It also helped to identify “the voice crying in the wilderness” as a prophet.  There hadn’t been a prophet in Israel for four hundred years.  Many of the rabbis thought God was done talking to them through the prophets – and yet, here we find the promised “voice” – the final prophet of the Old Testament – is the one to announce the beginning of the Good News.

Mark tells us that this “voice” was John the Baptist:

            “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

            Baptism was not unusual to Israel – Gentile converts were ceremonially washed as part of their conversion to Judaism, and there were times when Jews would ceremonially wash to be considered clean again.  What was new was that John was baptizing Jews for the repentance of their sins.

            According to the Law, sins we remitted through the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur.  Jews were children of Abraham.  To suggest that they had to be washed for their sins in this way was scandalous.

            Also, sins were forgiven in the Temple in Jerusalem – and here we have the dwellers of Jerusalem going down into the wilderness by the Jordan to be washed by John.  It didn’t make sense to those Jews who were not truly repentant of their sins and placing their hope in the Savior God promised to send.
            
            But to those who truly repented of their sins and placed their hope in the Coming Savior Alone, they received forgiveness for their sins. 

Understand, it was not the baptism that caused their sins to be forgiven.  No, John’s baptism was a public ceremonial washing symbolizing that they had repented, put their faith in the Coming Savior, and were, thus, forgiven.  The baptism of John symbolized what God had already done in the hearts of those believers; it did not cause them to believe or to repent.

“Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.”

Mark notes that John was dressed and ate like a prophet – he looked like the prophet Elijah. 

Jesus would later speak of John in this way:  “And [the disciples] asked [Jesus], ‘Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?’ And he said to them, ‘Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him’” (Mark 9:11-13, ESV).

Some had thought that the prophecies about Elijah meant that Elijah would come back from the dead when Messiah came, but Jesus explained that John the Baptist came in the spirit and the power of Elijah to announce Jesus’ coming.

And we are given a summary of John’s preaching:

“And he preached, saying, ‘After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”

John preached, preparing the people for the Coming of Jesus, letting them know that the One Who was coming is mightier than he.  John was the first prophet in four hundred years.  He had preached with such authority and conviction that the people left Jerusalem for the wilderness and Jews repented of their sins and sought the symbolism of baptism in their repentance.  John was a man of power.

And yet, he explained that he was not worthy to untie the sandals of the One Who comes as the Gospel.  Now, remember, people wore sandals and walked on dirt roads with animal refuse on them – so people’s feet were covered with dirt and animal refuse.  It was often the job of a slave to wash the feet of a guest when he arrived at the host’s house.  And John said he was not worthy to untie the filthy sandals of Jesus – much less wash His feet clean.

Many of the people held John in high esteem – and they were right to do so – but John said they still had to adjust their scale of greatness to put Jesus even higher up on the scale than John.

And not only was Jesus as a person greater than John, what Jesus would do was greater than what John was doing because of Who Jesus is.

John was baptizing people with water for the repentance of sin – Jews were coming to John, recognizing that they needed to confess their sins and look forward and place their hope in the Coming Messiah.  So John baptized them with water as a public and symbolic act that they had humbly confessed their sins and sought forgiveness and now put their faith and hope in the Savior Who was to come.

But Jesus did not baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit.  What does that mean?

John could call people to belief and repentance and tell them that the Savior was coming – even that He was among them.  But Jesus called people to belief and repentance, caused it to happen, and gave them the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit to guide them and teach them. 

As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17, ESV).

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).

John would go on to witness to Jesus being the Savior and God Himself:

“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).

“Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.’

“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:22-36, ESV).

Shortly after Jesus began His public ministry, people began leaving John to follow Jesus, and John said that this was completely appropriate – his ministry was to point to Jesus, to announce the beginning of the Gospel, to be the friend at the wedding – of which Jesus is the Groom.  His joy, he explained, grew as the love and worship and knowledge of Jesus Christ and His Gospel increased.

What do we make of this all in the light that we are living in the Second Advent – waiting for Jesus to return again in power and glory?

First, just as John was the voice who cried in the wilderness for the First Advent – we who believe are the voice who cries in the wilderness of the Second Advent.

We are called as believers in Jesus Alone for salvation to tell others – to tell the whole Creation – that there is salvation only in Jesus Alone – and He is returning soon to bring His people to Himself.  One of our major calls as Christians is to proclaim the Gospel which began with John’s preaching:  all people are at odds with God through sin, but we can be made right if we believe in Jesus Who came to earth and lived and died, and physically rose victorious from the dead.

God uses us to get the Gospel out to the whole Creation.  We have the great responsibility and privileged to tell others what the One Way back to God is – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Second, we understand that neither baptism nor any other good work can save us.  How many times have we heard people say that they are “better than most” and God would certainly have to let them into His Kingdom because “they tried hard and believed in God.”

God's standard is holiness and sinless perfection – and the only way that you or I or anyone else can be right before God is if Jesus takes our place before God and grants us forgiveness and His Righteousness.

We need to explain to people that God is Holy and will accept nothing less than holiness from us – His creation – so we are deceiving ourselves when we think our good works can merit anything towards salvation.

And third, we need to have a view of the greatness of Jesus in our minds and hearts that extends out to all of our lives.

John got it right:  he was not fit to untie the dirty, animal refuse covered sandals of Jesus – that was too high an honor.  The world doesn’t need to see more of me or more of you – it needs to see more of Jesus – and part of the way we let them see Him – since He lives in us – is through that humility of Jesus that we are to make ours that we looked at in the book of Philippians some months ago.

As Paul wrote:  “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 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. 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 2:1-11, ESV).

When we are willing to give all in trust and sure hope in the Gospel and in Christ Jesus in obedience to the Father, then they will see Jesus, the Son, and, as God is pleased, they will believe that He is the Gospel – the Only Salvation – that John announced two thousand years ago.

May we – during the Second Advent – in these last days – proclaim the Gospel.  And may God not let His Word go out in vain, but use it to bring many to Him through the salvation secured by and through His Son.

Let us pray:


Almighty God, we thank You for sending John to announce the coming of Your Son, our Savior.  Empower us and give us courage through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit that we might now announce Your Gospel and Your Soon Coming.  And may Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be glorified.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

December Sermons

Join us for worship at 10:30 AM on Sundays and at 7 PM on Christmas Eve.

12/7/14 Advent 2
 Mark 1:1-8  “The Beginning of the Good News”

12/14/14 Advent 3
 John 1:6-8; 19-28  “Witness to the Light”

12/21/14 Advent 4
 Luke 1:26-38  “The Power of the Most High”

12/24/14 Christmas Eve 7 PM
 Luke 2:1-14  “Good News of Great Joy”

12/28/14 NOT Christmas Sunday
  TBD

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

"The Son of Man is Coming" Sermon: Mark 13:24-37

“The Son of Man is Coming”

[Mark 13:24-37]

November 30, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            We begin the Advent season by remembering that there are two advents:  the First Advent in which God came to earth in the person of Jesus – which occurred about two thousand years ago, and the Second Advent – which we look forward to – in which Jesus will return in power and glory to judge the nations and bring the elect into His Eternal Kingdom.

            We are looking at the answers to two questions the disciples asked Jesus, so it is good that we know what the context – and the questions – were:

            Jesus and the disciples had just come out of the Temple – this was the final Temple in Israel – the one built by the exiles who returned from Babylon about five hundred years earlier and which was having additions built by King Herod. 

The disciples drew Jesus’ attention to how beautiful the Temple looked and Jesus told them that the Temple was going to be destroyed – not one stone would be left upon the other.

At this point, the disciples asked Jesus two questions:  When will the Temple be destroyed?  And, what will the signs of the Second Advent be – what will the signs of the end pf the age be – what will the signs of Jesus’ return be?

So, the text we are looking at is Jesus’ answer to when the Temple will be destroyed and what the signs will be for His return.

We need to remember as we look at these texts that this is prophecy – and when we read prophecy in the Bible, we need to remember that a prophecy may have multiple fulfillments and a prophecy may have parts that are fulfilled in near history and parts that are fulfilled in latter history.  We must be careful in looking at prophecy that we handle it carefully.

            “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

            Jesus is telling them about what will happen after “that tribulation” – after that period of suffering.  In the preceding verses, Jesus tells the disciples that false teachers will come, the relative peace of the Roman Empire will fall apart, and the Creation will react by becoming more erratic.  At that time, “the abomination of desolation” will stand where it doesn’t belong.

            Matthew tells us that this will fulfill the prophecy of Daniel:  “And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator” (Daniel 9:27, ESV).

            Daniel is talking about the total destruction of Jerusalem, including the Temple.  And looking back from our age, we can see when this was fulfilled in history:  in 70 A.D., Caesar Titus led his army against the uprisings in Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the Temple – Romans were in the Temple – the abomination of desolation.

            After this destruction, we have the poetic description of cosmic upheaval – historically, we see the collapse of the Roman Empire and the end of biblical Judaism.

            So, Jesus tells the disciples, in prophetic language, that the Romans would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. and it would mark cosmic upheaval – including the end of the Roman Empire and biblical Judaism.

            The Jesus turns to the second question – about His coming at the end of the age:

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

“Then” – sometime after the destruction of the Temple – over two thousand years so far – Jesus – the Son of Man – will return “in the clouds with power and glory.”  This is what the angels told the disciples on the day of Jesus’ Ascension:

Forty days after Jesus physically rose from the dead, we read:  “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:6-11, ESV).

Jesus ascended physically and visibly up through the clouds into Heaven, and when He returns, He will descend physically and visibly through the clouds to earth as the Judge of Heaven and earth, and He will gather all of the elect – all those who ever believe – to Him.  This will be the end of the age and the restoration of the Creation.  It is a day of great hope for all we who believe.

And let us notice that He is called “the Son of Man” – that was the name Jesus called Himself the most frequently.  Why?  Because it was a name that had a specific meaning that would have been plainly understood by the people of that day.

Listen to what Daniel writes:  “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.  And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14, ESV).

Jesus repeatedly stated that He is the Son of Man that Daniel talked about.  Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God Who is Sovereign over all.  “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’” (Matthew 28:18, ESV).  Jesus plainly claimed to be God in the flesh.

            “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

            Jesus then turns back to the first question – giving some parameters on when the destruction of the Temple will occur:  just as you look at a tree beginning to bear leaves and know the summer is coming, when the suffering under Rome and the beginning of the collapse of the Empire occurs, then Rome will destroy Jerusalem, slaughter her inhabitants, and destroy the Temple, then the cosmic upheaval will occur – Rome will fall, Judaism would become a false religion, and troubles will continue until Jesus returns.

            And Jesus assures them – that this present age with its sinful corruption will pass away – the beginning being the destruction of the Roman Empire, Jerusalem, the Temple, and Judaism as a biblical religion.  However, Jesus assures them, as well, that even as all things fall apart, His Word will stand.  Nothing will ever contradict or cause Jesus’ Word – God’s Word – to fail.  Jesus is the Son of God – God in the flesh.  Surely, His Word will not pass away – it is truth forevermore.

            Again, Jesus turns to the second question:

            “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

            Jesus tells them He will not and cannot give them specifics as to the time of the end of the age – His Second Coming – that is known only to the Father.  And it is important for us to understand that – although Jesus is God – He was not lying – Jesus is both fully God and fully human – and in His humanity, He did not know when His Return would be.  God kept that hidden from Him.  His Divinity did not allow His humanity to know when it would be.

            So, what are we to do?

            One question has been answered:  when will the Temple be destroyed and the cosmos begin to unfurl?  The answer:  70 A.D.  The Temple has been destroyed – and not one stone is upon another.  The Roman Empire collapsed.  Judaism – today – is a false religion.

            The second question of when Jesus will return is not answered:  Jesus said that He will return in Sovereign Victory in the same way that He left – through the clouds with the angels.  As to the exact day and hour and year – we are not allowed to know.  Despite fanciful interpretations – there is no secret code to find out the day and the hour and the year that Jesus will return.  He will return when it is time.

            So, what are we to do?  What did Jesus tell the disciples to do?

            “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

            Stay awake!  Be alert!

            Jesus says that when we leave our house and property in someone else’s hands while we are away, we expect that they will be alert and care for our house and property and be ready to turn it back to us in the same condition when we return.

            If we go on vacation and ask someone to take care of our home, and we come home to find the doors open, and our stuff stolen, and our TV smashed in – God forbid! – we would demand an account – an explanation – as to what happened.  And if the person we set in charge said, “Oh, I just didn’t bother with caring for the house and your stuff, I figured it would be ok,” we would be angry, right?

            So Jesus told the disciples and us to be alert – to be awake – to notice what’s going on – to watch out for people who will try to mislead us and steal from us and lead us astray.  We are to be ready for whenever Jesus returns – we are to be expectantly waiting for Him – looking forward to His return – believing it with a sure hope and great joy.

            Now, Jesus didn’t mean for the disciples – or us – to never go to sleep.  Caring for our bodies is a right thing to do.  What He meant was we are to be spiritually alert and awake and aware.

            For the disciples – they were to recognize what it meant when the abomination of desolation came – when the Romans entered the Temple and profaned it and then destroyed it.  They were to watch out and be on guard against false teachers and those who would cause dissention in the church.  They were to look forward to the Return of Christ with great expectation and hopeful joy.

            We, also, are to be alert and awake – we are also to be looking forward to the Return of Christ with great expectation and hopefully joy.

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

            Jesus – the Son of Man – God Incarnate – is the Sovereign God Who rules over all of Creation.  We are to go proclaim the Gospel, and when people believe and repent, we are to teach them – to make them disciples.  We are to baptize in the Name of the Trinity.  We are to be faithfully obedient to all God has said.  And we are to live with assurance and hope in Christ’s Return.

            What would it look like to be alert and awake for the Return of Messiah the King – the Son of Man – our Lord and Savior, Jesus:

            Let us be centered on the Word of God.  Let what God has said be our meat and drink.  Let us desire to be in worship with our fellow Christians, hearing the Word of God read and preached.  Let us read the Word of God on our own – every day – in our private devotions.  Let us read the Word of God and learn from it with other Christians during the week.  Let us not be satisfied with a day that we do not come before God in His Word to hear from Him and to learn from Him and follow after Him in faithful obedience.

            Let us join together in the regular reception of the Sacraments.  Let us all be baptized once and receive the Lord’s Supper with our fellow Christians as often as we can to see a visual display of the Gospel and to receive God’s Grace through it that we might be strengthened as His people.

            Let us join together in prayer – for each other – for ourselves – for the world – for the Will of God – asking God the Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf when we don’t know how to pray.  Let us pray in church, privately, and with others.  God wants us to pray – giving thanks, repenting of our sin, and asking for our needs – and God will hear us and give us everything we pray for that is according to His Will.

            Let us evangelize – let us tell others the Gospel – not worrying about “getting a convert,” but telling others about the Good News of the historical life and work of Jesus which is the only salvation – trusting that God will save all those He has called as His elect to salvation.

            And let us gather for fellowship and hospitality.  Let us join together with fellow Christians to enjoy each other’s company and share what God has blessed us with.  Let us join together with non-Christians in sharing our blessings with them in thanks to Jesus and as a witness to Him.  And let us not neglect to talk about God our Savior and what He has said when we gather together.

            The Temple was profaned and destroyed.  All of Creation is unravelling.  But the Son of Man is coming.  Jesus is returning in power and glory.  And as we remember and give thanks for the First Advent and Jesus’ birth on earth, let us also look forward in great hope during this Second Advent, as we wait for His Coming again.

            May we watch the world.  Listen to the Word of God – and obey in all faithfulness – staying awake and alert in the spirit that we would be ready for His Return.

            Let us pray:


            Almighty God, we rejoice that You chose to come into the world to save a people for Yourself, and we rejoice and look forward to Your Second Coming, when You will gather all Your elect together from throughout history, restore the Creation, and bring us into the fullness of Your Kingdom.  Help us to be faithful in all things now, growing in faith and obedience, to Your Glory and for our joy.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.