Second Reformed Church

Friday, March 31, 2006

Easter Letter

"When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?' And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back -- it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a robe of white, and they we alarmed. And he said to them, 'Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." Mark 16:1-8.

2 April 2006

Dear Members and Friends of Second Reformed Church:

Are you afraid this Easter season?

This year, as the Lord wills, I am preaching through the Gospel of Mark. In Mark's account of that first Easter morn, we find the women running away from the tomb, afraid, not speaking to anyone on the way back to where the other disciples were hiding. And if we take a step back, we might ask ourselves, why -- why were they afraid? Jesus had told them over and over again that He must suffer and die and on the third day He would be raised from the dead. Confused we can understand, perhaps even doubting, but afraid?

Are you afraid this Easter season? Of Iraq? Iran? Afghanistan? North Korea? President Bush? Hillary Clinton? The Reformed Church in America ? Our local leaders? Our mortality?

It's good to know what is happening in the world, so we can pray and offer biblical responses to what occurs. But being afraid of these things is not an option for the Christian, because everything is happening exactly as God planned it: "all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth;" (Daniel 4:35).

Jesus, our Risen God and Savior, said, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). Jesus said that we are not to fear anything or anyone, except for God. Yet, even our fear of God is not to be the irrational kind of fear we so often have, because Jesus continued, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).

And again, Jesus said, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:1-3).

The women went to the tomb, expecting to see a dead body, but they found and open and empty tomb, with a supernatural being inside -- and they were afraid because they had not understood Jesus' Promise to rise. They ran back afraid, because they didn’t understand the Truth -- they couldn't yet comprehend what it meant that Jesus rose from the dead.

But by the time they got back to the room where the rest of the disciples were, God had made it clear to them, and they told the other disciples that Jesus is risen -- everything He said and promised is True -- they have nothing to fear. Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again!

Jesus came among them and spoke with them and ministered to them, and then He left. And they could no longer be silent: "So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs" (Mark 16:19-20).

They went forth, no longer afraid, but confident in the salvation of Jesus, assured by God Himself that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

From this moment forth, do not doubt the sure promises of God, do not be afraid of whatever comes, but stand firm in the assurance we have in Jesus, and go out and preach everywhere, standing firm on the Word of God, and answering, "Thus says the Lord," to those who would deny and confound the Truth.

Join us for worship:
4/9/06 Palm Sunday, Mark 6:30--56 "What Is Needed"
4/13/06 Maundy Thursday/Communion 7 PM, Mark 7:1--23 "Is Washing Your Hands Necessary?"
4/14/06 Good Friday/Communion 7 PM, Mark 7:24--30 "Feeding the Dogs"
4/16/06 Easter/Communion, Mark 7:31--8:10 "Speak, But Don't Tell"

He is Risen.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

April Sermons

D.V., I shall be preaching the following in April:

4/2/06 Lent5/Communion Mark 6:14-29 "You Killed the Prophets"
4/9/06 Palm Sunday Mark 6:30-56 "What Is Needed"
4/13/06 Maundy Thursday/Communion 7 PM Worship Mark 7:1-23 "Is Washing Your Hands Necessary?"
4/14/06 Good Friday/Communion 7 PM Worship Mark 7:24-30 "Feeding the Dogs"
4/16/06 Easter/Communion Mark 7:31-8:10 "Speak, But Don't Tell"
4/23/06 Mark 8:11-21 "Where's the Bread?"
4/30/06 Guest preacher -- Will Lampe

Monday, March 27, 2006

Prayer Meeting

All are welcome to come and pray with us at our monthly prayer meeting, tomorrow, Tuesday the 28th, at noon.

Monday Puritan

Commenting on Mark 6:10, George Petter writes:

"May not Ministers of the Word meddle at all with Matters of the World and this life?

"Yes, they may use the world, as well as other Christians. for their present necessity in this life; and they may and ought to take care to maintain themselves and such as depend on them (for that speech of the Apostle is general, I Tim. 5. 8. If any provide not for their own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denyed the faith, etc.). But a Minister is not to indulge his Mind with immodest cares about matters of this life, so as to hinder himself in the diligent reading and meditation of the Word of God, and in the study of other learning and knowledge necessary for him in his Ministry: neither is he so to give himself to followig the world as others do, whole Profession and Trade of life is to deal in matters of the World. He must not ordinarily spend his time caring about earthly matters, or worldly businesses and dealings, either for the providing of Maintenance for himself and his family, or otherwise: much less is he to be drown himself in the world, and worldly profits or pleasures, and to give himself over to these."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"The Call"
[Mark 6:1--13]
March 26, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Peter wrote, "As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:4-5).

Are we living up to our call?

I was talking with a non--Christian businessman, and he told me that he hated dealing with professed Christian business people because they were bigger liars, thieves, and con--artists than non--Christians. And statistically, he's right -- professed Christians in 2006, get divorced more often than non--Christians, are convicted of theft more often than non--Christians, get more abortions than non--Christians...

The "good" news is that not everyone who calls himself a Christian is a Christian, so those statistics are tainted. The bad news is that you and I are not living up to our call.

Jesus returned to Nazareth with His disciples, and since it was the Sabbath, He went into the synagogue and began teaching. Just like birds naturally live in nests and bears naturally live in caves, it was just natural that Jesus would be in worship on the Sabbath. There was no question of there being something better to do, or being too tired, or just "taking a break" from worship.

This past year, Christmas fell on a Sunday, and a number of the "mega--churches" around the country closed so their parishioners could stay home all day with their families. After all, they argued, the real point of Christmas is being a family. Well, no, it's not. The point of Christmas is that the Almighty God was born in human flesh, to live and die and rise again, to the glory of the Father. This Child is the same God Who said that one day in seven belongs to Him for the worship of Him. Whatever else occurs on a Sunday, unless God in His Providence keeps us away, we are to be in worship.

So Jesus was preaching in the synagogue in His hometown, and the people knew Him; they had seen Him grow up among them. And they began to question among themselves, "Who does He think He is? We know Jesus -- He works for His father, Joseph, in the carpentry shop. We know his brothers and sisters -- they all grew up right here. Who is He to interpret the Scriptures for us? Who is He to tell us what is right and what is wrong?" And they were offended by Him. Notice, it doesn't say that they thought what He was saying was wrong. No, we're told that they were offended by Him because He grew up among them, with their children, He was like part of the family, and here He was, suddenly correcting them and teaching them.

Ask any ordained minister, and you will find out that their family and friends do not suddenly find them to be the source of Truth once they've received their ordination. In fact, there is more likely to be a resentment from them: "I knew him when he couldn't ride a bike. I knew him when he failed his exam. I knew him when he did this wrong and that wrong -- he use to be a lot of fun -- but now he thinks he's 'holier than thou.' Now he thinks he speaks for God."

We can hear Jesus shaking His head, "A prophet is not despised except in his homeland and among his relatives and among his household." And it's true of Christians in general and our call as Christians. The people who will most resent us, most despise us, most pity us, and be most confused by us, are our family, friends, and neighbors. That's a promise from Jesus: if you truly believe in Him and follow Him, we will have problems with our families and friends, especially among those who are not Christians.

Jesus went all around Nazareth and was astounded at their lack of faith, and Jesus could not do much work among them, because they did not believe. Still, we ought not to lose hope or stop being a witness to Christ, simply because of the reaction of those closest to us. It is often easier to receive the truth from someone we don't know well. And we ought not be afraid to leave, when God calls us, to minister among people we don't know.

Let us remember, Moses was dishonored by his brother and sister, Jeremiah was dishonored among his people, as was Daniel, and Paul was despised by his fellow Jews (Petter, 303). These men ought to have been honored, not because they were sinless, but because they were prophets of God; they were ministers of God. And the same is true today, if a minister preaches solely the Word of God, then he should be honored for the sake of the office, not because he is sinless, but because he has been called to speak for God by His Word. It is a terrible indictment of our world that the office of "minister" and "priest" have become synonymous with the crime of pedophilia.

Still, despite the reaction Jesus received, He sent the twelve out, and He sends out ministers and all Christians today as witnesses to Himself. And Jesus sent them out two by two. Why? Because ministry is not a "one-man show"; ministry is not done by "lone rangers." You and I, ministers and parishioners, need a fellow Christian by our side as we do the work of the Lord. Jesus sent the twelve out in pairs that they might comfort each other and encourage each other, and strengthen each other, and learn from each other and present a united doctrine -- a single clear teaching and message together. We need each other, as frail beings of dust, to be able to carry and present the weight of the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Knowing that, we also need to remember that our authority is from God. Just as God gave the twelve authority over unclean spirits and demons, He has given us authority to speak His Word, as we find it in the Bible. God has given us gifts and talents that we would each, in our own way and with each other, be able to present all the God has said in His Word.

And we need also to remember that our needs for the good works that God calls us to perform are supplied by God. Jesus told the twelve to bring a rod, a tunic, and a pair of sandals. Jesus promised that He would provide houses that would open up and care for them while they were in a given location. That does not mean that we no longer have to be wise in our use of the blessings God gives us; God expects that we would look to Him for wisdom in how we would use and disburse all that He gives us. However, we are wrong to get ourselves worried about "what if." God will provide for all that He has for us to do for Him. If God does not provide, then what we had in mind is not what God wants.

Jesus told the twelve that there will be those who will not receive them into their house or receive their word. To such as these, Jesus told the disciples to shake the dirt from the bottoms of their feet as evidence against them and leave. We also are to be people who get up and leave when intolerable and blasphemous things are being said about our God and when others refuse to hear the clear Word of God read and preach. Do we get up and leave when our God is mocked? Or do we tolerate it? Or even giggle along?

The historian Eusebius wrote what he was told by Ireneaus, a disciple of the Apostle John: Ireneaus and the Apostle John went to the bathes, and when they found the heretic, Cerinthus, enjoying a bath, they turned around and immediately left, warning everyone who would listen to leave the baths, because there was a heretic in the baths, and God might bring the roof down upon him and anyone else who tolerated his presence (Petter 315). Perhaps we chuckle at the description, but God has been known to kill people for their persistence in sin. And even if one escapes God's Wrath in this lifetime, there will be no escape in the world to come. Everyone who does not believe will be thrown into the lake of fire with the devil and his angels, where they will all suffer eternally in body and soul. This is a horror we don't like to talk about, but for the sake of the souls of those who hear us and see us, we must make that possibility clear.

There is a kindness, a so--called "tolerance," that is completely inappropriate for the Christian. There are times when we must shake the dirt from our feet and leave. And we don't like to do that -- it's hard to do that, but there are times when we must say, "If you have no interest in the Word of God and see fit only to blaspheme Him, we must leave." We do not live up to our call if we coddle such persons.

The positive side is that we are to be witnessing to Jesus by our good works and by our obedience. We are to be a people who are known for our belief and faith and sure hope in Christ. Jesus sent the twelve out to preach repentance. We are not all called to be ordained ministers, but we have all been called to be Christians, to live lives worthy of our God and wholly devoted to Him. In this life, we will not fully reach holiness, but we are called to strive towards it, to make progress towards it.

That's why Paul wrote, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). We are sinners -- all of us -- and we are called to repent of our sins, to believe in Jesus, and He has forgiven every sin of everyone who will believe. And He has credited us with His Righteousness. Why? So God would see us as righteous and receive us into the Kingdom and so we would be able to fight and claw and repent and be forgiven, and fight again, until that righteousness becomes a reality in our lives. It's God Who works in us, and part of His Will and His Work is to make that credited righteousness our reality. That we would one day be received by God as eternally, holy beings like Him.

Peter wrote, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies to him who called you out of the darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation" (I Peter 2:9-12).

Let us remember that God has called us, in His Mercy, to be witnesses. And some of our friends and family will resent us for it. Still, God has given us authority to make His Name and His Gospel of Salvation known, and He has promised to provide us with everything we need to carry out His Will. He has even made people ready and willing to open their doors and hearts and minds to the witness we live and speak. But there are some to whom we are to witness against, those who persistently refuse to believe and profane the Name of God and His Word. These we must testify against and walk away from. Still there are others who will hear and believe, and together, we have all been qualified for the work that Christ has for us. His Word will not return empty, and He gives us no excuses, but makes everything possible in Him, as we live and speak His Word.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You chose us and called us and are making us holy. Cause us to despise our sin and turn more readily from it. Make our desire be the holiness You have called us to and promised we will be when Your Kingdom has fully come. Make us witnesses to Your Word in our actions and words, even as we struggle against sin, and increase our trust and faith in You. Makes us a people who do not tolerate offenses against You, but take a strong stand on the clear teaching of Your Word for Your Glory. For it is in Jesus' Holy Name we pray, Amen.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Monday Puritan

Again, from George Petter, this time on Mark 5:25-26:

Reasons why God exerciseth his Children and Servants with loving affliction:
1. To manifest his great power, strengthening them to bear such long afflictions.
2. To magnifie his mercy in delivering them at length out of them.
3. That he may make through proof and tryall of their faith, patience, and other graces of his Spirit in them.
4. To wean them from this World, and to stir up in them a longing for heaven.
5. To stir them up to sue unto God by prayer the more earnestly for deliverance.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"Talitha Cum"
[Mark 5:21--43]
March 19, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Picture your house or apartment. On your house or apartment, you have gutters and leaders. When God gives us rain, the gutters and leaders receive the rain from the roof and work as a conduit to apply that water to the ground away from the house or it dumps it out in the street. The gutters and leaders don't cause it to rain; that system, that instrument, receives the rain and distributes it and applies it where we want it to go. However, a pile of leaders and gutters is useless without a house or apartment that they are attached to. The same is true of faith.

Faith is the instrument by which we receive and apply to ourselves all the benefits we have from Christ (Petter, 285). For example, Christ gives us salvation, and it is by the instrument of faith that we receive salvation and apply it to ourselves. Faith does not cause salvation; it is the instrument that receives and applies salvation. Faith does not cause anything to happen; it is the conduit by which we receive and apply Christ's benefits. Like the gutters and leaders on a house, we received salvation and all Christ's Benefits through faith and apply them to ourselves. However, without regeneration, without Christ changing the inclination of our will, replacing our heart, there is nothing for Christ to attach our faith to, for the receiving of His Benefits. And whatever it is that we call faith at that point, is like leaders and gutters without a house. God must change us, first, give us a house on which to attach gutters and leaders -- He gives us faith -- and then we receive all that He gives us by faith.

Faith is the instrument by which we receive and apply to ourselves all the benefits we have from Christ.

How do we receive the gift of faith? "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). We receive faith from Christ, as it pleases Him, as we hear the Word read and preached. There is no other way given in the Scripture. That is why the Word is and must remain central to our worship. It is through the reading and preaching of the Word that God is pleased to give us the faith to receive His Benefits. And this faith is the instrument by which we apply what He gives us.

After Jesus healed the demoniac, He went back, again, to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And when He got there, the crowd pressed around Him again. The fact of miracles He was performing was spreading and people were coming to Him to be healed and to be delivered from demons, and to see what He would do, and to hear what He would say.

And one of the leaders of the synagogue, Jairus, came to Him and fell at His feet and begged Him to come to his home and just lay His hands on his dying daughter. For he knew that if Jesus would just lay His hands on her, she would be well again. How did he know that? Where did his faith come from? It could only come from one place: he had heard the Word. He had heard what Jesus had done for others, and now in the desperation of seeing his daughter nearing the end of her life, God had mercy on him and gave him the faith to believe that Jesus could heal her.

And Jesus agreed to go with him -- and the whole crowd followed, pressing against Jesus, reaching in to touch Him, to get His attention, to feel the presence of the Man, the rabbi. And one of the women in the crowd was a woman who was ill with an issue of blood that she had be stricken with for twelve years running. We men can only begin to imagine. She certainly would have been weak, anemic. She had been to all the doctors and she had spent all of her money, and in the end, they had made her worse. We understand how that can happen. And then she heard -- she heard the Word that had come to Galilee, that Jesus was healing and He was teaching about God, and she knew -- God had mercy on her and gave her the faith to believe -- and she knew, if she would only touch His robe, that she would be healed of this affliction.

But it was more than just physical healing that she sought. In Israel, there was a law that would have prevented her from going to worship for all of those twelve years. In fact, the law said that she was not even allowed to touch another person -- she was without human touch for twelve years. Listen, "When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything on which she sits shall be unclean. ... If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in her impurity" (Leviticus 15:19-20, 25). Since she was unclean, she was not allowed in the temple or the synagogue, and since she was unclean, anyone who touched her or anything that she touched, they would also become unclean. She had been isolated for twelve years due to her impurity.

But God had mercy on her and gave her the faith to believe in Jesus and His Word. She had faith in Him and applied it to her distress and knew by God that if she would only touch His robe, she would be healed and set free. Think about the chance she was taking: if she was wrong, by touching Jesus, she would make Him unclean. If Jesus were anyone less that God Himself, she would corrupt Him and bar Him from the temple, and she would prove that He was not that Savior. And notice that Jesus was not wearing a magic robe, because the crowd was pressing against Him, touching and pushing and leaning -- many people had their hands on Him as they walked towards Jairus' house.

But she was right, and by faith she applied the Word she had heard about Jesus to herself, and she touched Jesus, and immediately she was healed -- completely. She was free from her disease; she was welcome back into the temple; she was allowed to make human contact again.

And Jesus said, "Who touched Me?" And the disciples responded, "You've got to be kidding." So, Jesus turned and looked at the crowd, and the woman came before Him and prostrated herself before Him and told Him everything. And Jesus comforted her and told her that she was not only physically healed, but spiritually healed as well. She had been saved in the physical and the spiritual sense, and Jesus gave her His Peace -- the same peace that He gives to us: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27).

While Jesus was comforting her, a messenger came from Jairus' house and told him not to bother Jesus any more; his daughter had died. But Jesus overheard him and said to Jairus, "Do not be afraid, but believe." Jesus said, "What have you received about Me? What have you heard? Does this news present an impossible road block to Me? Or do you believe that I overcome death as well as disease?"

Jesus was testing and strengthening his faith.

He obviously believed in Jesus' Authority over death, because they continued on to his house. And as they got near to the house, they heard what would have been common in those days -- screaming and crying and wailing and dirges being played on musical instruments. In those days, in a number of the cultures, it was not just the immediate family who attended funerals, but singers and musicians were also hired to increase the sound of the mourning. So as they approached, it was not just the family crying, but all of the people who had been paid to increase the sound of their grief.

As they neared the door, Jesus forbade anyone to enter but Jairus, Peter, James, and John. And they entered, and Jesus said, "Why are you upset and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep." And the hirelings laughed at Jesus and mocked Him. They did not have faith. God had not given them belief. They acted according to the desperate evil that the Scripture says lies at the foundation of the natural heart. And Jesus threw them out of the house.

Have you been laughed at for what you believe, for having faith? Jude promises us, "In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions" (Jude 18). When I was in seminary, we were told that vast sections of the Scripture are not historically true. We were told that we could skip sections of the moral law that don't fit in with today's culture. I have been told in expletives that being a good person and helping the poor is fine, but believing that this is the inerrant, infallible Word of God is foolishness. Peter said, "If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (I Peter 4:14).

The Incarnate God came into the house and said, "If you believe in Me, you'll stop crying, because I have the power over life and death. If you have any understanding at all, you would stop mourning as though she is gone forever, because death is not the end -- we live on eternally." And they laughed at Him, so He threw them out.

Jesus, Peter, James, John, Jairus, and his wife, went into the little girl's room, and Jesus took her hand and said, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, wake up," and this twelve year old girl immediately woke up and stood up and walked around. As Paul writes, "The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (I Corinthians 15:45).

All those who are Christians have heard this same call, "Little girl, little boy, I say to you, wake up." Every Christian has had Jesus wake us from the sleep of spiritual death and bring us into the waking world of spiritual life. Yet, here, as in other places, Jesus shows us that He has the authority over physical death as well; He not only gives us spiritual life, but He raises us from physical death.

Martha understood this, even as she mourned the death of Lazarus. "Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?' She said to him, 'Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world'" (John 11:23-27). And He physically raised Lazarus from the dead.

And then Jesus told Jairus not to tell anyone what had happened, because His hour had not yet come.

Jesus' hour came, and He was glorified. We have been given the whole of God's Word and these sixty-six books are the whole Word of God. If we are Christians this morning, we have been given faith, by which we apply this Word to us. Yet some of us don't think we need it. Recently the Chinese Church, which is persecuted -- Christians are imprisoned and killed in China for believing -- they were asked how the American Church could pray for them. And the Chinese Christians responded that it is we who need the prayers, and the prayers of the Chinese for us is that we would be persecuted for our faith, that we would not be so casual about our Christianity and so apathetic about the Word.

After the woman had been bleeding for twelve years, her faith was strong. She was desperate and she humbled herself and clung to the Word until she received an answer from God. Jairus' daughter was dead, and still he brought Jesus into the house, because He had heard the Word and believed that Jesus is Almighty, and he waited on Him.

What disaster must befall us before we go first to the Word of God and apply it to ourselves through faith?

God has given us His Word; it's all true. God gives us Salvation through Jesus Alone, and He gives us faith, and He calls us to live as Christians.

Are you ready?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for giving us faith, and for all the benefits of Your Salvation. We ask that You would cause Your Church to rise up in America, in the RCA, here at Second Reformed -- that we would become a people ever more devoted to Your Word and seeking You and Your Kingdom first. Make us love Your Word and desire to read it and know it and apply it. Give us strength during our trials and when others attack the Truth of Your Word. May we be a witness and a glory to You in all that we do. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Scripture's Secret to Weight Loss

I am overweight. That is due, in part, to my sin. It is something I repent of and struggle with.

That being said, it is good to know that Christians have finally really discovered that there is money to be made in the diet book/program industry. In the seventies and eighties, when the great wave of diet hit the rest of the world, Christians were discovering that there had been a war in Korea. With consistent timing, Christians, today, are flooding the market with Christian diet books.

I occasionally flip through the channels to see what the t.v. preachers are up to, and a few weeks ago, I was stopped in my flipping by a "prophetess" who was "revealing" Jesus' Success Secrets for Perfect Weight. They were only hinted at and hyped by "actual" customers who had tried Jesus' method and experience dramatic and permanent weight loss. To know the secrets in depth, one had to send in some amount of money.

I was so relieved to know that Jesus hid a diet plan in the New Testament, that I almost placed an order for the product. But then, she is not the only one to claim that she has discovered the secret diet plan hidden in the Bible.

Books actually, currently available (but with the titles changed to protect the gullible):

Fasting: a Biblical Diet Plan with Recipes -- this author explains that fasting in the Bible has been misunderstood: it is not actually or primarily a discipline associated with prayer, it is a weight loss plan!

How Would Jesus Dine? -- this book shockingly reveals that Jesus ate a Mediterranean diet which rarely included processed foods and mysterious chemicals.

Sweating with the Spirit -- explains that the charismatic gifts were actually given to the apostles to slim them down.

The Maker's Meal -- unlike most of the others, this author looked to the Old Testament and found that there is a secret set of dietary laws in a section of the Bible that no one reads any more.

Making Your Body God -- a trainer wrote this book using the sacrifices of bulls to show that a high meat protein diet with weight-lifting is the most spiritual diet.

I Love to Eat; I Hate Myself -- has less to do with actual recipes than it does with the recognition that "until you believe that you deserve to be thin, the Holy Spirit will not make you thin," but as soon as the reader has come to that realization, the Holy Spirit shuttles fat out of the reader's colon.

There are more, but I only want to mention one other -- one that Christians seem to ignore since it is promoted both by a cult and an animal rights organization. These two base their diet on Genesis 1:30b, "I have given you every green plant for food." It is a vegetarian/vegan diet. They argue, for example, that when Jesus ate fish with the disciples, it is a mistranslation -- it should read that He ate seaweed with them. Since the diet given in the Garden included no animal products and God said killing is wrong, they argue, the biblical diet is plants.

And, in typical ministerial fashion: one more -- one I have not heard mentioned, or seen a book written about, Matthew 3:4b, "[John the Baptist's] food was locusts and wild honey."

Consistory Meeting

The Consistory will meet, D.V., this Sunday, the 19th, after morning worship.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Christ went more readily ad crucem, than we to the throne of grace."
-- Thomas Watson, A Puritan Golden Treaury

Sunday Sermon

"Pigs"
[Mark 5:1-20]
March 12, 2006 Second Reformed Church

God has been merciful to us.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 66:

"Shout for joy to God, all the earth, sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise Say to God, 'How awesome are your deeds So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praise to you; they sing praise to your name.'

"Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds towards the children of man. He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we did rejoice in him, who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations -- let not the rebellious exalt themselves.

"Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

"I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will perform my vows to you, that which my lips have uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatted animals, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats.

"Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me"

God has been merciful to us.

Why?

Jesus has mercy on us, and we have joy, so that He will be glorified.

After the hurricane was stilled, the disciples brought the boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, to the region of Gerasenon. And immediately, when Jesus stepped off the boat, a man possessed by demons, it turned out, ran up to Him.

And we're told that the demoniac lived in the tombs -- in the cemetery. Why? Well, why are horror movies shown to be in cemeteries? Have you ever been to a cemetery at night? When we are in a cemetery, we tend to be on edge, disturbed, fragile -- because a cemetery represents the culmination of our sin and the return to dust of the body; it is a place that reminds us of the Fall of Humanity and the desperation of our condition. So, the demoniac lived in the cemetery to better terrify those who came into it.

And Mark tells us that he was not only terrifying, but superhumanly strong: different times they had tried to restrain him, but he was able, by the power of the demons, to tear through the chains and break off the shackles -- making him all the more terrifying. And all day long and all through the night he howled and cried out, and hit himself with stones, causing bruising and bleeding -- so he looked all the more terrifying.

And the demoniac ran right up to Jesus and dropped to his knees and kissed his feet, and he made a confession with a plea, "What do you and I, Jesus, son of the most high God? I beg you by God, don't torment me." The demons confessed that Jesus is the Son of the Most High God and He has the power and authority to cast out and even torment the demons. And that's true -- they made a true confession, but it was forced and hypocritical. They did not bow before Him in true worship, in love and adoration. No, they wanted Jesus to let them go on tormenting the man. They even had the audacity to blaspheme the Name of God, requesting, in God’s Name, that Jesus not harm them.

And we need to realize that he comes to us in the same way. The devil and his demons come to us and say, "Oh, yes, Jesus is God the Son, the Savior, of course. And surely He would not want to deny you this.... Jesus wants you to be able to do this and enjoy this in Him. I know Christians have said it is wrong, but how can it be wrong if you get the Name of Jesus out there?" The devil was confessing and pleading with Jesus, saying that if He sinned, good would come of it. We cannot do evil that good will come; we cannot sin to bring about more grace.

It is reported that Christian colleges have a great deal of theft in their bookstores. And the thieves openly confess their thievery, relying the on lies of the devil: they say that it is more important to spread the Name of Jesus, by handing out Bibles and other Christian items that they can't afford, that for them to obey the command not to steal. That is a lie of the devil. Beware, the devil will urge us to do good things by evil means. This is not the work of the Lord.

So Jesus asked for the demon's name, and the demon responded that his name was Legion, because there were so many of them. There were, in fact, thousands of demons possessing and oppressing this man. And Legion begged Jesus not to send them away from the region, but to send them into the herd of pigs on the mountain. Why? Jesus had cast out demons before, but He didn't cast them into another being. Why did Legion want to be cast into the pigs? Because the devil and his demons hate all of God's creation. Humans were told in the Garden to have dominion over the creation – and that meant that they were to be stewards and caretakers of the creation. The devil and his demons are glorified as we attack and destroy and misuse the creation. Remember, the devil did not just appear to Adam and Eve as the beautiful angel he was, but he possessed a serpent, he attacked part of the creation even as he attacked humanity. So, they wanted to be cast into the pigs. And Jesus did cast them into the pigs -- why? As a witness to the miracle. Seeing over two thousand pigs rush into the sea and commit suicide caused word to be spread of the event: the herdsmen ran and spread the news throughout the country and the city --"Jesus cast out a legion of demons, and possessed our pigs and caused them to commit suicide, right before our eyes."

The news traveled quickly and people rushed to the cemetery to see the demoniac, but they found Jesus with a perfectly, sane, calm, clothed man. There was no denying that something miraculous had happened. Jesus had freed the man from his demon possession. And the people were afraid of Jesus and begged Him to leave. They were terrified of a Man Who had power and authority over the demons, and the people said, "We'd rather be demon possessed than have You here." Isn't that true of us? "I would believe in Jesus, if only -- if only He didn't command this -- if only He allowed that." But Jesus doesn't give us a choice, we either come to Him wholly, completely, totally sacrificing ourselves to Him, or He tells us not to come. If anything is of greater value to us than Jesus, then we don't know Him; He hasn't saved us. If there is anything that we would not let go to be destroyed, then we do not have Him. That's a lifelong struggle, but the struggle shows that we belong to Him. So let us fight the good fight.

But what was the response of the formerly possessed man? Jesus head back to the boat to leave, and he ran after Him again, only this time, he was filled with real joy, and he begged Jesus to let him go with Him. The man knew that his joy was made full in the company of and the service to Jesus. But Jesus said, "No. Go back to your house with yours and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and had mercy upon you." Jesus did not call him to be an apostle, but a believer like you and me. Jesus told him that if he wanted to remain in the joy of Christ, to truly follow Him, (though he would not be physically with Him), Jesus said to go home and tell his family the mercy that He had had on him. Jesus said, "If your joy and thankfulness are real, if you truly believe, go home, tell your family and friends and acquaintances -- tell everyone that the Lord has done great things for you; the Son of God has shown mercy to you." Does your family know? Do your relatives know? Do your colleagues know? If want to have joy and to be spiritually near to Jesus, we have to tell somebody No, we're not all called to be missionaries, but there is someone -- at least one person in our lives -- that God has given us to tell.

Let us open our mouths and tell those, right where Jesus has put us, "Jesus has done great things for me; He has shown mercy to me. And I can have joy in any situation because He has be merciful and He has done such great things. My greatest joy is found in studying and knowing and telling others about my Savior."

That doesn't make sense to the world, "Your joy comes in obedience and witnessing to Jesus?" Yes, it does. And God is glorified, Jesus is glorified, the Holy Spirit is glorified, as we obey and witness to our God.

Rev. Dr. John Piper wrote this: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." In other words, God received the most glory, the formerly possessed man received the most joy and satisfaction, as he obeyed and witnessed to Jesus. That doesn't mean that nothing ever went wrong for him. It means that his joy and satisfaction were found in Jesus Alone, so nothing else that he encountered could take that joy and satisfaction from him. That is why Jesus had mercy on him, and that is why Jesus has mercy on us: Jesus has mercy on us, and we have joy, so that He will be glorified. Jesus is glorified as He give us mercy and joy and we live in right response to those gifts.

Paul put it this way: "But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" (I Timothy 1:16-17).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for being merciful to us, for sending Your Son to be our Savior. We thank You that You have done great things in taking on our sin and crediting us with Your Righteousness. We ask that we would understand that our joy is to be found in You. Have us seek our satisfaction in being faithful and obedient witnesses to You. And may You be glorified. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Monday Puritan

Here we find George Petter, of the commentary on Mark, commenting on 4:26 (and following). I quote the four uses of the second doctrine -- read away, dear brothers in the ministry:

"Use 1. See by this, that we ought not to contemn or refuse the Doctrine of the Word, because of the meanness of the person that doth Preach it. Though he be of mean place and condition in the World, or of mean parts and gifts; yet if he be indued with a sufficiency of gift, and have a lawfull calling to the Ministry, we are not to contemn his Doctrine, nor to refuse to hear and imbrace it, so long as he searcheth the truth of God soundly, and in profitable manner. In this case remember, the efficacy of the Word is from God, not from the person of the Minister; and he may if he please, and doth sometimes give asgreat a blessing to the ministry of a man of mean gifts, dealing sincerely in his Ministry, as he doth to the Ministry of another that hath great gifts. He that was powerfull in converting the Wolrd by the Ministry of the Apostles, being but mean persons, and some of them unlearned Fishermen at the time of their first Calling, his Arm is not shortened, but he can fill work mightily and marvellously by the Ministry of mean persons.

"Use 2. This may teach faithfull Mnisters not to be discouraged or troubled at it, nor too much to vex and greive their minds at it, thought they have faithfully laboured in the Ministry, and yet see not in their people such good fruits of their pains as are answerable to their desire and expectation. Here we must remember, that though we be called to Preach the Word, yet it is not in us to make it efectuall to work Grace further than the Lord gives a blessing to our pains, and accompanyeth the outward Teaching with the inward operaiton of his Spirit. He that Planteth and watereth is nothing, but God which onely giveth the increase. Faithfull Ministers are but the Lords Husbandmen, they are to cast the seed of the Word into the Ground; that is to open and apply the Doctrie of it to the Hearers by Preaching: but they cannot of themselvesmake this Seed to spring and grow up in them; that is, to bring forth the fruit of living Grace in them: This God alone can do, by the powerfull work of his Spirit joyned with the outward Ministry. Here then a Faithfull Minister is to do as the Husbandman useth to do. When he had sowed his Seed, and Harrowed it into the ground, he doth not Afflict and trouble himself with care and thought about the growth of it; neither is he discouraged, though he do not see it spring and come up so soon as he expected; but he leaveth these things to Gods Providence and blessing. knowing, that without the blessing of God, and without the vertue of the Sun shining on the earth, and rain falling on it, he himself cannot make the Seed to spring and grow. So a faithful Minister is to do his duty in sowing the Seed of the Word; that is, in Preaching the same to his people diligently; and the to leave and commit the fruit and success of his labours to the blessing of God, not disquieting or discouraging himself about the same, though he do not see such fruit of his Ministry appearing as he earnestly wisheth, knowing that this is wholly in the hands of God o make the Ministry of his Word effectuual to those who hear it.

"Use three. This must move both Ministers and people not to rely onely in the outward Preaching and hearing of the Word, but withall to seek God often and earnestly by prayer to give a blessing to the onward Ministry, that it may be powerfull through the Spirit of God accompanying it to work in Grace in the Hearers, Ministers must not think it enough, that they Preach the Word diligently; but having so done, they are also from time to time to sollicitate God by Prayer for a blessing upon their Ministry, without which all their labour is fruitless. The Husbandman having sown his seed, though he doth not afterward trouble himself with vain and needless care and thought how to make it grow (because he knows he cannot do this) yet he doth wait for a blessing from God upon his seed sown, and he looketh up to the Heavens, desiring that the Sun may shine, and the rainfall on his ground, to make the seed spring up and grow: Even so should a Minister of the Word look up to God, and pray unto him for a blessing upon his Ministry, etc.

"So also the people are not to think this enough, that they have a sound and prophitable Teacher to Preach the Word to them diligently, and that they hear him duly; but they are withall to go unto God by frequent Prayer, craving his blessing upon the Ministry of the Word, and upon their hearing of it, and that he will by the Divine power of his Spirit, make both effectual to work and increase Grace in them, and to further them unto salvation. Remember, the efficay of the Word depends not on the person of the Minister, although he be of never so excellent gifts, but it is wholly from God himself. Seek to him by prayer to make his Word effectuall to thee, else thou wilt never profit by it, though 'Elijah, John the Baptist, or Paul' himself were a live to Preach it to thee: Rest not then in this, that thou livest uinder the Ministry of a good Pastor, but pray unto God daily to make his Ministry profitable to thee, etc.

"Use four. Seeing all the venue and efficacy of the Word Preached is from God, and not from the Minister that Preacheth it; let this move both Ministers and people to yeild unto God all Glory and praise, when they see any good done by the Preaching of the Word; when the good fruits do appear, let God, and not man have the Honour of it, etc."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"The Lord of Creation"
[Mark 4:35-42]
March 5, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Jesus is the Lord of Creation.

"Well, I know that."

Then, what did Jesus have to do with Hurricane Katrina?

We're told in this morning's Scripture that Jesus needed a break from the crowd, so He told the disciples that they should sail across the Sea of Galilee. So, they began to sail across the sea. Jesus went to the stern -- the back -- of the boat, got a pillow, and went to sleep. Suddenly, a violent hurricane sprang up, the winds were howling, waves were crashing up over the sides of the boat, and the boat began to fill with water.

A point of information: this is a normal occurrence on the Sea of Galilee. Violent storms suddenly and without warning, spring up on that sea. That is why the floor of the Sea of Galilee is littered with sailing vessels. It was not unusual that such a storm would come up. Some of the disciples were experienced fishermen: they would have known the dangers of the sea and how to attempt to live through them. What was unusual was that their rabbi, Jesus, was asleep during this violent storm

So they went over to Him and shook Him awake and said, "How can You sleep through this? Don't You care that we could all die? Don't You think it would be useful if You offered some help, or at least worried with us?"

And Jesus looked at the storm and the sea and rebuked them: "Silence! Be calm!" And they were. The winds were still; the sea was like glass. And the disciples were terrified, not of the storm anymore, but of Jesus. And Jesus rebuked them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" Jesus said, "You think you know Who I am, but You don't. If you understood Who I am, you wouldn't be afraid of a hurricane."

So, Who is this Man? The disciples asked each other in terror, "Who is this that the wind and the sea obey?" And there is our first answer. Jesus is One Who exercises control over the creation. Jesus has the ability to command the creation to do what He wills and the creation obeys Him. We see His Power again when He was in Jerusalem, after the Triumphal Entry, "In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went over to it and found nothing on it, but only leaves. And he said to it, 'May no fruit ever come from you again!' And the fig tree withered at once" (Matthew 21:18-19).

"But where does Jesus get the authority to command creation?" Here we have the second point: Jesus created everything, so everything is under His Control. Paul tells us that Jesus "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, whether, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones and dominions or rulers and authorities -- all things were created through him and for him.. And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17} Everything that is, other than God, was created by Jesus.

Daniel echoes this truth, that Jesus is the Creator of all of the creation, and He is also Lord over it all -- creation exists in obedience to Him, "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belongs wisdom and might. He changes the times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals the deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him" (Daniel 2:20-22).

Notice, we humans -- you and I -- are part of the creation. Jesus created us and He has authority over us; He is Lord. Hear again from the book of Daniel, "His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can say to him, 'What have you done?'" (Daniel 4:34b-35). So, the clear teaching of the Scripture is that Jesus is the Creator and Lord over all of creation, including humanity.

"But why did Jesus put His disciples through that?"

There are at least four reasons:

First, Jesus brought them into the hurricane to rebuke them and humble them for their lack of trust and faith and for the sin of fear. Even though they didn't know as much about Jesus as we do, they knew God, and they believed that He is the Creator and Lord of the creation. So fear and lack of trust and faith was the wrong response. Just like when Peter walked on the water, and then sank as he took his eyes off Jesus and feared the winds and the waves, instead, so the disciples took their eyes from the Only One Who could help them and instead focused on their circumstances.

"Well, it's not easy to focus on Jesus and trust in Jesus when you're suffering and in danger and so forth."

That's true: it's perfectly natural to meet up with a terror and forget all about God, but that is the foolish and sinful thing to do. When the Psalmist was being hunted down and he was sure he was going to be killed and he felt rejected by God, down to the depths of his soul -- he did not turn from God -- he pursued Him: "Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God" (Psalm 43:4).

Jesus brought them into the hurricane to rebuke them and humble them and cause them to learn to respond like the Psalmist: "I don't know how we're going to get out of this. I don't know why God is allowing this to happen. So I'm going to take everything I am and spend myself on what I do know: that God is the Almighty, worthy of worship, and my exceeding joy, and I will trust in Him and praise Him no matter how this turns out because He is always worthy."

Second, Jesus brought them into the hurricane to emphasize His care for them. Jesus didn't have to stop the storm: He could have let them drown, and it wouldn't have been a sin. But Jesus showed His Care for the disciples and saved them from the storm.

These first two lead to the third reason Jesus brought them into the hurricane: He wanted to make it clear to them that they still had spiritual work to do. It could have been easy for them to get prideful, after all, they were the disciples of the Messiah -- the Savior. The could have thought that they had made it, and all was well. But Jesus showed them that they were not done -- they were not holy -- they still had to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, as Paul would later say. That's not to say that they earned their salvation, but that they participated in their growth -- just as you and I participate in our growth. Milk may be fine for a baby, but if we do not move on to meats, we will eventually wither away and die.

And fourth, Jesus brought them out into the hurricane to continue to reveal Himself to them. Surely, from their terrified reaction, they knew something of Jesus and His Nature and Power and Authority that they did not know prior to sailing out into the sea. Jesus desires to be known as He knows, "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:14-15).

So, how should we respond? How should we respond to a Hurricane Katrina, or a severe diagnosis, or a great trial?

First, let us recognize that Jesus is the Lord of Creation: God is in control of all of the creation. Nothing happens that is outside of God's Plan. Everything -- absolutely everything -- that happens -- is part of the plan of our loving God -- the same God Who sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again to the glory of the Father. My disease is part of God's Plan for me. It did not happen outside of the will and plan of God.

And some ask, "Well, what about the devil?" Satan cannot do anything without permission from God -- Job 1:6-12 shows us that Satan has absolutely no power except what God gives him. Satan can do nothing that God has not approved as part of his plan. Satan did not make God resort to Plan B. The fall of Lucifer and then of Adam and Eve were always part of God's Glorious Plan.

So, second, let us submit to God no matter what occurs. That's hard. When we're suffering or bearing other's burdens, we might be tempted to wave a finger at God, to rebuke or correct God, or to demand an explanation from Him. What we ought to do is receive what God gives us. Rev. Dr. John Piper, who we have prayed for, said of his diagnosis of prostate cancer, "My wife and I got down on our knees and thanked God for this gift from His Hands." That might sound crazy. But understand, he was not saying he was glad to have cancer, or that he hoped it would get worse -- he is not a masochist. What he was saying is, "God, You are the Lord of Creation, in Your Plan, I have received cancer, and we worship You because You are worthy of worship."

Still, that's not all: thirdly, let us seek after God and His Will, praying, and putting our hope and trust in Him. It is perfectly appropriate to pray to be delivered from disease. I pray to be healthy. Others are praying that my disease will leave me. However, being safe and healthy is not the most important thing -- the most important thing is that you and I seek after God and His Will and put our hope and trust in Him.

The creation, including our bodies, has been corrupted and distorted by our sin. The creation groans as it falls apart. Paul tells us, "For the creation itself was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now" (Romans 8:20-22).

So, yes, let us pray for each other, to be delivered from pain and suffering -- that's biblical, but let us be at least as active in pursing the Will of God and putting our trust and faith in Him always, based on His Promises, knowing that our God loves us, even enough to send His Son, so we have every reason to trust Him and follow Him, not matter how things may look or no matter what we may not understand.

And fourthly, let us not presume to know the Mind of God. When Hurricane Katrina hit, there were those who said they knew why, some people said that the hurricane hit because the people of New Orleans are greater sinners that "us," some said the hurricane hit as punishment for the Presidency of George W. Bush, and some people said the hurricane hit as a freak result of nature and chance -- and beloved, we can't say those things. We dare not presume to know the Mind of God. What do we know? We know that the hurricane happen as part of God's Plan. God intended it to happen. We also know that the people of New Orleans are sinners -- just like you and me and President Bush. Whether God specifically sent the hurricane or merely allowed it, and for what reasons, we don't know. What we do know is that we have a duty as Christians to pray for them, to help them in any material way that we can, and to also make sure that the Gospel is brought to them. The same is true for anything we come up against: we are to pray, to do what we can, and to preach the Gospel.

Jesus is the Lord of Creation. Everything happens according to the Plan of God. God loves us, and we are saved through the blood of Jesus. Let us believe that truth of the Scripture. Let us bow in submission to Him, praying for each other, trusting God, and seeking His Will. And let us not presume to know the Mind of God, but instead, let us throw ourselves on Him, however and wherever we are, and worship Him, because He is always, always worthy.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, Sovereign Over All Creation, as we come before Your table this morning, we ask for Your Grace. We ask that our faith and trust and hope would be strengthened. We ask that we would hold fast to You in the midst of all of our hurricanes, knowing that You cannot do evil, but "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17). In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ash Wednesday Sermon

"Parables and the Kingdom"
[Mark 4:21-34]
March 1, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This is a season of reflection and mourning for our sin, before we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. This season is not meant to be a morbid one, but one where we take seriously the depths of our sin and then rejoice as we remember that our sin was imputed to Jesus and His Righteousness was imputed to us. In the mystery of salvation, we who were under the Wrath of God, have been justified, and we are being made into the Image of Jesus.

One of the most terrifying verses in the Scripture is this: "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). If we are not holy, we will not see the Lord. If we are not sanctified, we will not see the Lord. I dare say that none of us is completely holy; we are not wholly sanctified. So, is there any hope? Thanks be to God, there is.

On Sunday, we looked at the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, and we saw that it is God Who gives us the grace and the faith to believe in Jesus Alone for our Salvation. Salvation is wholly the Work of God. God makes us members of the Kingdom of God. We only understand as God reveals Himself to us.

Don't be confused: the Scripture is not teaching Gnosticism -- that there is a secret knowledge that we have to attain. What we are told is that God Himself chooses us, forgives us, and makes us His people, and He gives us God the Holy Spirit to indwell us so we might understand the Scripture and live in joy under God's Law.

In this evening's Scripture, Jesus tells three short parables. One about a lamp; one about a growing seed; and one about a mustard seed. These parables concern the Kingdom of God that we belong to and the hope that we have as Christians, even as we consider the horrible greatness of our sin.

In the first parable, Jesus says, "Surely, a lamp is not brought to be put under a modius [basket] or under a bed? [But] put on a lamp stand?" Jesus says that the Word of God is like a lamp in the darkness: the nature of the Good News of Salvation is like a lamp in the darkness. It is not right or even reasonable to put a lamp under a basket or a bed. The lamp cannot shine, and the darkness cannot be driven away, if the lamp is hidden. The lamp has to be put on the lamp stand where it can shine, producing its maximum light. We have an obligation to send the light out, both through our words and deeds. Letting the lamp shine is every Christian's duty, and joy.

And we needn't worry as we consider our limitations and infirmities and sins. We need not fear that the lamp will fail to shine and drive away all of the darkness God intends it to drive away, because, Jesus said, no matter what we do, whether we are faithful or not, in the end, nothing will be hidden. The lamp will, by its own nature, expose every secret. God has called us to preach and live out His Word, but God has not rested His Future and His Plans on us. No, God's Word will accomplish exactly what God wants it to accomplish, because it is we who rely on God.

The Good News here is that we ought not to hesitate because we fear our sin is too great or our abilities are too small. God knows what He is doing, and God will bring everything to pass that He has willed. On the other hand, we ought to be careful and seek after holiness, not treating sin as something light or insignificant, simply because God is not hindered by us, but we need to understand that God knows everything and is not fooled, and everything we do and do not do will be exposed on that final day. So, let us heed this warning and strive with everything that we are to be holy, until that day when Jesus returns and accomplishes our holiness in total.

Jesus said that we must, "Consider what we hear. For he who has, to him will be given; and to him who does not have, what he has will be given away." That is a call to work, as Paul wrote, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to do his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).

Together, let us understand this: if God has given us certain gifts for the sending out of the lamp of the Gospel, and we work hard to accomplish God's Will by the Power of the Holy Spirit, God will give us more. But if we do not use those gifts, we ought not be surprised if God takes them away.

"But how does the Word work in us?" one asks.

In the second of tonight's parables, Jesus says that a man threw seeds on the earth. The Word of God -- the Gospel -- was preached and lived out -- remember the seed is the Word of God. And then he watched. The man did not cause the seed to have any power or strength. The man did not cause the seed to grow. No, he watched. And eventually, he saw the seeds sprout and grow. "But as to how, he knows not."

Jesus is saying that the Word works in a secret manner. We throw the seeds far and wide. But we can't cause anything to happen. We don't even understand how anything happens. The growing of the seed is God's Work, and the way that it works is a secret. Solomon wrote, "As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good" (Ecclesiastes 11:5-6).

"The earth bears fruit by itself, first the sprout, then the head, then the full head filled with grain in the head." God is patient, and we sowers must be patient as well. We have no idea where God will work His Word or in what time frame He will work it. The Word of God works both when and where God sees fit, and then by degrees. If we do not see the results of our efforts, it may be that the seed, simply, has not yet broken the soil. But that's God's Work, not ours.

Still, we should find that an encouragement to us, especially when we are feeling despondent over our own growth. We cannot judge ourselves as to the heights we will grow or the rates with which we grow. The plant does not fret over its height and breadth; it works hard to be the plant God has made it. Likewise, we are to work hard to live the lives of holiness that God has called us to, but as to when or how we grow and mature -- it is by degrees, as God wills. Peter reminds those who were suffering for their faith not to give up hope, "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (I Peter 1:8-9). Let us press on, and take hope and be confident that God is working in us through His Secret Means and by degrees.

And in the third parable, Jesus reassures us that the grace that we need will come to us through the Word. Jesus says that our faith -- the faith the God gives us -- initially seems tiny -- like a mustard seed. But when that seed is sown in the good earth, and God works it to grow, it will not just grow, but it will "grow up and become the largest of all the garden herbs, and grow large branches, therefore the winged creatures of the heaven can tabernacle in its shade." Jesus said, not only does He cause the seed to grow and mature, but He brings it to full growth, and so He will bring us all the way to our full growth, to fullness, and to holiness, our sanctification in Him.

Paul wrote, "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing" (II Thessalonians 1:3). And, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18).

During this Lenten season we do right to consider our sin, to recognize the greatness of the offense that it is against God, and to recognize that, without holiness, no one will see God. However, the reason we can celebrate this season again and again is in knowing that God has made a Way for us in Jesus, in God's Son receiving the fullness of God's Wrath for our sin upon the cross, and He rose again. If we believe that, then we have been made right with God -- justified -- and He has now called us to go out and tell others through the Word and the example of our lives. And as we work hard to seek after holiness, by the Power of the Holy Spirit Who lives in us, let us find comfort in knowing that God is working in us, as He wills, by degrees, and as we receive His Grace and continue to know Him through His Word.

Let us pray:
Holy God, we thank You that You do not leave our Salvation or our holiness up to us. We thank You that You are at Work in us to bring about Your Kingdom and to make us into the image of Your Son. Give us the grace and the desire to work hard and to place all our hope in Your Word. In Jesus' Name, Amen.