Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Monday Puritan

Brethren, I have never asked the question, "Why did Jesus cross the Sea?" Yet, George Petter gives an answer worthy of hearing, especially on a day when I was considering crossing:

"We should not take Journey, or remove and travell from place to place without a Calling and Warrant from God. Our Saviour in all his Travell and Journey from place to place, by Sea and Land, had respect to the Calling which he had from his heavenly Father; and he never went or journyed to or from and place, either to preach or work Miracles, or any other end, but by virtue of his Callings. So Chap 1.38 Let us go into the next town that I may preach there also, for therefore came I forth. Neither did he undertake any Journey, but at the same time in which it was appointed of his Father that he should go it and we say see Joh, 7.8, he would not go up to Jerusalem to the Feast of Tabernacles so soon as his Kinsfolks would have him, because the due time appointed for his going up thither was not come.
Herein we are to follow his example, not undertaking Journyes. As Israelites journyed by direction of the Cloud and Pillar of Fire; so, &c. Now we have a Calling from God for them, when we undertake them by good Warrant from the written Word of God: that is to say, upon just and lawfull Grounds and Causes, and for good and right ends; as for the Glory of God, and for the procuring of some good to ourselves or others."

May God grant us such reliance and receive our prayers.

Sunday Sermon

"Where's the Bread?"
[Mark 8:11-21]
April 23, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Who and what can we believe? Where hear reports on the "Gospel of Judas" and the "Da Vinci Code" and some of us wonder if there might be truth in them. We read the books and articles; we watch the news reports and the movies; we listen to "scholars" who talk about "alternate Christianities" and conclude that all religions are the same. There is a movement within Christianity called the "Emergent Church" that argues that there are no absolutes. And then we have Paul, who writes, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" (II Timothy 4:3-4).

In this morning's Scripture, we learn four sound teachings: First, hypocrites must be recognized and not endured. Second, false doctrine must be recognized and not endured. Third, willful ignorance must be recognized and not endured. And fourth, we must not endure our laziness, but know, commune, and remember Jesus through His Word and the sacraments.

Jesus had delivered a little girl from a demon, healed a deaf and dumb man, and fed four thousand people, when the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked Him for one more -- greater -- sign, to prove that He is that Savior. Their request was hypocritical: they came to Him, not desiring that He really prove to them that He is the Savior -- they didn't believe Him and had no interest in being convinced. No, they came to Him, hoping to trap Him, to make Him publically fail, so He would be discredited. They came to Him, after they had witnessed Him do miracle after miracle, and they asked Him for "just one more" -- which was completely unnecessary.

Hypocrites are people who ask questions, but who have no desire or purpose of ever putting the answer into practice.

And hypocrites are people that neglect the means that God has provided and seek, instead, extraordinary means. God has given us His Word and the sacraments, but rather than look to them, which, for the most part, are in plain English, hypocrites look to the evening news and say, "See, I knew it!"

Jesus heard their request and looked to the heaven, and sighed deeply in His Spirit. He recognized them as hypocrites -- He rebuked them by His sigh, and He also grieved for their sin, just as we ought to grieve sin, both our own and others. And Jesus said, "Are you kidding? I promise you, I swear to God, that no sign will to this lot of hypocrites." Why not? Because it was unnecessary; He had performed plenty of miracles. And because their request was for an evil end -- to see Him fail. And they willfully condemned the teaching of God by not receiving Jesus based on what He had said and done already. Hypocrites must be recognized and not endured. And they left.

And we're told that the at disciples forgot to bring the baskets of food they had collected; they only had one loaf of bread on the boat. And Jesus cautioned them, emphasizing His caution, as He said, "Look out Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod!"

What was Jesus saying to them? Leaven -- yeast -- is put in many types of bread to make them rise, giving the little voids in the bread that makes it spongy. Leaven is a very small thing, but once it is mixed into the dough, it permeates and affects the whole loaf. If there is any leaven, the whole loaf will be affected.

What Jesus meant was: False doctrine must be recognized and not endured.

The Pharisees and Herod, the religious and political leaders of the day had the duty to protect the people and teach them the truth of God's Word, but they had allowed and even created sinful and false teachings and added them to the Word of God. And like the leaven, those false and sinful teachings had permeated everything they taught. Even when they used God's Word to preach and teach, the leaven of their heresy affected the way they interpreted and taught the rest of the Scripture.

Today, the Christian Scientists leaven the Scripture by teaching that there is no material world, and they come out with false doctrine. The Jehovah's Witnesses and the other descendants of Arius leaven the Scripture by saying that by calling Jesus the Son, that He is not the same Being as God, and they come out will false doctrine. The Open Theologians look at the Scripture and reinterpret the verses where it is said that "God repented" by leavening the Scripture with the idea that God has no idea what the future is going to be, nor does He have any control over it, and this is false doctrine. And there are many more false teachers -- coming out of the woodwork of the church itself.

The Lord, YHWH, said, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him" (Leviticus 19:17). If someone comes to us with false doctrine, false teaching, twisting the Scripture, or adding to it, we must frankly refute that teaching with God's Word. Paul also says, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). And this has to do with more than physical transgression, but any sin, including false doctrine that a person might bring in.

Yet, if there is no repentance for false doctrine, as was the case of most of the Pharisees and Herod, Paul says, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9). False doctrine is not to be endure once it has been recognized.

But the disciples didn't understand that Jesus was talking about doctrine. They huddled together and said, "Jesus is mad at us because we only have one loaf of bread. We should have brought more. And now He's telling us that He's not about to eat at the same table with the Pharisees and Herod. We should have remembered to bring the baskets of bread."

And Jesus said, "Why are you talking about bread? Are you really that dense? Are you really that ignorant? Have you hardened your heart against My teaching?" Jesus said that He had taught and explained God's Word to them again and again, but now they were acting as thought their minds and heart and eyes were calloused over, and they didn't have any understanding of the simple Gospel.

Jesus didn't get angry with them because they had never heard, or because what He said was too complex for them to understand. Jesus was angry because He had taught them simply and explained to them when He left others with no explanation. Jesus was angry because they were willfully ignorant, and willful ignorance must be recognized and not endured. They had done like the three monkeys -- hear no evil, speak not evil, see no evil, but they had done it about the Gospel.

So Jesus said, "Don't your eyes work? Don't your ears work? Where were you when I fed the five thousand men? Where were you when I fed the four thousand people? Do you remember how many baskets of food you collected each time? What don't you understand?"

Now, before we think Jesus is too harsh with them, let us understand that Jesus is mad at them for acting ignorantly about things He had taught them over and over. He was mad because they should have known and remembered what He had said and taught them. He was mad because they had allowed their sin to callous over their understanding.

We know that there are things that we won't understand during this earthly life. Paul said, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away" (I Corinthians 13:9-10). In other words, in this life, the Holy Spirit helps us to understand a certain amount of the Word of God and about God Himself. But that is not all there is to know; it is not all that God is. When Jesus returns, we be perfected in our understanding, and we will know and understand far more than we ever do in this life.

The same is true of us and the disciples: some things we can understand and some we will not understand until that final day, and some we will never fully comprehend in our finiteness, but that does not excuse us from understanding what we can understand. We must not endure our laziness, but know, commune, and remember Jesus through His Word and the sacraments.

How do we understand? Relying on the Holy Spirit, we understand:

(1) By praying. The Psalmist prayed, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law" (Psalm 119:18).

(2) By not being overly worldly. David said, "Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved" (Psalm 55:22). Remember what Jesus said to Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-43). And Paul reminds us, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are earth" (Colossians 3:2).

(3) By faithfully attending worship, reading, hearing, and listening to God's Word preached, receiving the sacraments, and through learning from and encouraging each other. The author of Hebrews wrote, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:23-25).

(4) By remembering. Moses warned Israel, "Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children" (Deuteronomy 4:9). And Asah wrote of the sin of the Ephraimites, "They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them" (Psalm 78:11).

Who and what are we to believe? How can we understand? Let us pray. Let us restrain ourselves from becoming consumed with the world. Let us join together in worship, in the Word, in the sacraments, and in communion with each other and Christ. Let us remember -- what Jesus has said and done and promised.

So, let us pray:
Almighty God, we come desiring to be Your faithful children and servants. Make our excuses fall away. Keep us from being hypocrites. Make us living examples of Your Truth. And build our trust and hope on Your Truth, all You have done and will surely do, and may it all be remembered by us as we walk in the good works You have ordained for us to do. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Letter Regarding the "Gospel of Judas"

Dear Members and Friends of Second Reformed Church:

Satan had a good chuckle this past Holy Week with all the brouhaha about the "Gospel of Judas." The initial news reports about this poorly written fiction presented a major new find that contradicted the Bible. Questions were raised about whether this "accidental" find during Holy Week proves Christianity a fantasy. (And if you think it was an accident, you probably also believe that the fact that the price of gas goes up every summer is one of those mysteries we will never understand.)

I pray that you were able to shake the fog of this nonsense off and your faith was not disturbed by the lies and cotton candy reporting.

Let us understand that this document is a historical piece, worthy of understanding. It has its place among the rest of the fictional writings of the Gnostics, like the "Gospel of Thomas" and the "Gospel of Mary" and the "Revelation of Peter," etc. But let us also understand that it does not have the authority of the biblical texts.

By the time the April 7th (New Jersey) Star Ledger reported the story -- on Good Friday -- NOT a coincidence, the story of this document had changed, and gotten more accurate.

It was initially reported that this text was a new discovery -- NOT SO. In recent history, this text was discovered in 1978, studied, and translated. The Star Ledger reports that the National Geographic Society has been working on the document since 2001, "authenticating it, [and] translating it" for its "surprise discovery" this Holy Week, five years hence!

However, it is not even that new a discovery, as Irenaeus wrote about this "fictitious history" in his Against Heresies, back around 180 A.D. The text, then, was probably written between 150 and 180 A. D., which is when the other Gnostic writings were written. It's nothing new.

Not only that, it is fiction. Nothing that is written in the "Gospel of Judas," has any historical backing (except for the names). It could not have been written by Judas and it has been rejected as fiction by all scholars, except the most liberal and Christ-hating, for over 1800 years.

On the other hand, the texts of the Bible were completed by 70 A.D., and there has never been a single text that has been proven to be inaccurate. There are texts of Scripture with historical and archeological proof behind them, and then there are texts where such proof has not been discovered. There is not, however, one word of the Scripture that has been proven false.

But perhaps most disturbing about this whole "incident" is the continual reference to this being an "alternate Christianity." The Star Ledger quotes professor Elaine Pagels, who is a Gnostic Scholar, but NOT a Christian, as saying that the Gnostic writing show "how diverse and how fascinating the early Christian movement really was."

Christianity cannot be understood by the non-Christian; it is only after God changes a person's heart, the inclination of the will, and regenerates a person, that one can believe and understand Christianity. So, to accept a non-Christian's assessment that Gnosticism is "another branch" of Christianity, makes about as much sense as to accept a squirrel's understanding of bovine lactation.

What's the difference -- the GREAT, BIG DIFFERENCE -- between Christianity and Gnosticism? Christianity says that we are saved by Jesus Christ Alone: "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). Gnosticism says that its brand of salvation comes, NOT through Jesus, (though He's nice enough...), but through the gaining of a secret knowledge.

Beloved, do not be disturbed by false writings. We are saved through Jesus Christ Alone. All we need to know for life and salvation is contained in the Bible, sixty-six books, completed by the time the apostles had died, and never yet, or ever, to be shown to be inaccurate.

The "Gospel of Judas" is a historical piece of fiction that another religion made up, based, in part, on the history recorded in the Bible. It is not authoritative for Christians, nor is it a threat. It is an interesting ancient document, like so many others, that will be burned up in the fires to come.

Sola Scriptura

Monday, April 17, 2006

Monday Puritan

"In keeping wth this dignity, preaching has a twofold value: (1) It is instrumental in gathering the church and bringing together all of the Elect; (2) It drives away the wolves from the folds of the Lord."

William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying

Easter Sunday Sermon

"Speak, But Don't Tell"
[Mark 7:31-8:10]
April 16, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

This morning, let us look at two events in the Gospel, and as we look at them, let us consider two questions: If Jesus is physically risen from the dead, how should we respond? And, does He minister to us today?

Jesus and His disciples left Tyre and Sidon after He healed the little girl who was possessed by a demon, and they sailed across the Sea of Galilee to the middle of the region of Decapolis. And as soon as they got out of the boat, a crowd formed around them, because they recognized Jesus and had heard the stories about His Ministry.

Now, there was a man who was deaf and had a terrible speech impediment, and his friends brought him to Jesus and begged Jesus to lay hands on him and make him whole in body. We should notice the compassion of the friends -- that they heard Jesus was coming and they made sure that their friend who was in physical distress got to see Him. Christians ought to care about the physical needs of others and help them in whatever way we are able. This church does well in that, as many here have been in physical distress and others have stepped up to provide counsel and rides and comfort. Let us continue to minister to the physical needs of each other in whatever way we are able.

Jesus also had compassion on the man and healed him: God is able to sympathize with our physical needs because He became incarnate and became a real human being. Jesus took the man aside, privately, but still in view of the crowd, so they could see and hear Him. And Jesus stuck His fingers in the man's ears, and then He spit on His fingers and touched them to the man's tongue, and then He looked up to heaven and sighed, and then He spoke the word, "Ephphatha," which means, "Be opened."

Why? Why did Jesus go through all those gestures? They weren't necessary to heal the man. In the verses preceding this morning's text, we see Jesus heal a demon-possessed girl that He never sees or touches. And Jesus is the Incarnate God, the same One Who by His Very Word, spoke everything into existence. Why did He make all these gestures? Why didn't He just say, "Be healed," as He did on so many other occasions?

Jesus put His fingers in the man's ears and spit and touched his tongue to symbolically show that He had the power to heal. He showed it was not a coincidence that the man was healed, but it was by His Power that the man was healed. And Jesus looked up to Heaven that they would know that His Power and Authority comes from Heaven -- He is neither a magician nor a con-artist, but the Savior Whose Power and Authority come from Heaven. He also looked to Heaven to make it clear that He is the Only Mediator between God and Man -- it is Jesus Who stands between God and man and makes us right with God. And He sighed, because He was truly sorry for the man and his afflictions. And then He spoke to manifest the healing. We read that as soon as Jesus spoke, "immediately," he was healed.

We can conclude from this that God also desires that His own be delivered from spiritual death and disease. For if Jesus was so concerned and compassionate towards the physical needs of those around Him, surely He would be all the more concerned about the greater issue of the health of a person's soul. And so should we.

So, Jesus healed the man. "And he ordered them to tell no one, and the more he ordered them, the more zealous they proclaimed. And they were exceedingly amazed, saying, 'He has done all things well and he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.'"

Jesus said to the man, "Speak, but don't tell." Why did Jesus tell them -- command them -- not to tell anyone? Wouldn't it make more sense that he ask them to spread the news as far as they were able? Wouldn't it only help His ministry to have more people know what He had done?

No. For two reasons: Jesus told them not to tell anyone because He didn't want them to get addicted to miracles. There are some today that preach that God wants everyone healthy and wealthy -- that is what Jesus wanted to avoid, because the truth of the matter is, if God is God, then God gets what God wants. If God wanted every single person to be healthy and wealthy, they would be. But He does not, and He doesn't want us to become addicted to the spectacular, because God does heal today, but not everyone will be healed in this life.

The other reason Jesus commanded them not to tell is that God is a God of order, and He works out His Plan in time as it pleases Him. It was not time -- we've heard that over and over in our look at Mark -- it was not time for Jesus to be revealed in His Fulness among them. But the time would come:

On that first Easter morning, the women went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried, "And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, 'Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is 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'" (Mark 16:5-7).

If Jesus is physically risen from the dead, how should we respond? We should respond just like the friends did -- we've got to tell somebody If we know that God cares for us and calls us to belief in Jesus Alone for salvation, if we know the Truth and the Truth is the greatest news that anyone could ever know or believe, we must tell -- we must speak up! Jesus Himself said, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15b).

About the same time that Jesus healed the man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, another great throng gartered around Him to listen to Him teach and preach, and they stayed with Him in a desolate place, listening, hearing, for three days. And Jesus had pity on them and showed compassion towards them, because they had gotten so caught up in hearing Jesus, that they had forgotten to eat, and Jesus was concerned that they would start to faint, especially if He sent them back to their homes.

So He called His disciples to Him and told them that He was going to performed another miracle, one similar to one He had performed before. Jesus asked them for their bread -- seven loaves -- and their few small fish. And Jesus told them to prepare -- to set out baskets, because He was going to bless the bread and the fish and feed all 4,000 people there with them.

When Jesus had fed the other crowd, He asked the disciples what food they had, and they responded in an unbelieving manner to Jesus; they did not believe He could feed about 15,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. They scoffed at Jesus. But now they knew better, and Jesus prepared them for what was going to happen so they would be able to partake of the miracle rightly and to their benefit

We ought also prepare ourselves before we come to worship, so we will not be caught off guard and fall into sin. We ought to get a good night sleep and arrive on time for worship. We ought to give ourselves enough time to quite down and be ready to hear from God. We ought to pray for ourselves and each other -- that we would hear and receive the Word of God -- and we ought to be in prayer for the minister -- that he would prepare well and handle the Word of God accurately. And we ought to take a special preparation on those days when we know the Lord's Supper will be celebrated. Since Jesus and the Apostle Paul have warned us against receiving the bread and the cup without discerning the body. Let us come, having confessed our sin and made ourselves right with each other. Let us come expecting that the bread and the cup will be for us the Body and Blood of Christ, such that He will be spiritually present with us as we receive the elements. We do well to prepare before we hear God's Word and receive the Sacrament.

So Jesus blessed the bread and the fish and fed all 4,000 people, until they were satisfied, and the disciples collected six baskets full of fish and bread that were left over. And then they got into the boat and sailed to the region of Dalmanutha.

Notice again that Jesus cared for the physical needs of others, and, we understand, much more for their spiritual needs. So, how does the Risen Jesus He minister to us today? The two primary ways He ministers to us is through the reading and preaching of God's Word and through the administration of the sacraments.

When the Word of God is read and preached, Jesus gives us His Grace, and when we receive the bread and the cup, Jesus gives us His Grace. As we join together in these primary actions, Jesus is spiritually here with us, strengthening our faith. The words printed on the pages of the Bible are not magic, neither is the bread or the cup magic, but Jesus uses these things to be the conduit through which He meets us and ministers to us with His Grace. And becoming addicted to Jesus is a good thing. To desire Him more and His Word more and the Sacrament more are good things. It shows that we are becoming more and more vessels of God that declare His Glory, and that is why we were created. We were created to glorify God, and when we glorify God, we receive joy from Him, and on that day when Jesus comes for us and we enter into His Kingdom forever, then we will be constantly obsessed with glorifying God, and we will be filled with the eternal joy of Jesus.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we are amazed and humbled as we hear that You understand our weaknesses because You have lived among us as a human being. We rejoice that Your Work was accomplished and Jesus is risen from the dead. We ask that You would stir up the fire of the Holy Spirit within us and cause us to speak out that Truth all the more. Grant us that excitement for Your Glory. We thank You for the gift of Your Word and for the sacraments. We ask that You would continue to minister to us and give us Your Grace. We ask that You would help us to prepare before worship and increase our desire to be in Your Presence. For it is in the Name of our Risen Savior, Jesus, we pray, Amen.

Good Friday Sermon

"Feeding the Dogs"
[Mark 7:24-30]
April 14, 2006 Second Reformed Church

For whom did Jesus come?

Jesus had explained that spiritual cleanliness is a matter of the heart, not the body, and then He left with the disciples and went into the region of Tyre and they found a house where they could rest, for they desired to hide from the throng for awhile. Remember that Jesus is completely human, as well as completely divine, so He needed to rest His Body, just like us. But it was not to be.

A Gentile woman, a Syrophoenician, a non-Jew, who had heard of Jesus and His preaching and teaching and healing, and who had a little daughter who was possessed by an unclean spirit, came to Jesus and prostrated herself before Him. And she asked Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

Let us learn two things from her approach and her request:

First, she came to Jesus in all humility, and so ought we. We who are Christians are the sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, but God is still God and we are still humans, creatures. We can enter into the throne room of God with boldness thanks to Christ, but that boldness is not the same as arrogance; we must still come before our God understanding the relationship we have with Him. We no longer face condemnation, but we still must come before the Almighty God with our prayers in humility, recognizing the greatness of our God.

Second, she brought her cares to Christ, and especially her cares about her daughter. So, we Christians are also called to lift up our prayers to God. Part of the way in which we become Christ-like is in offering up our prayers to God. For, as we learn to pray rightly, we are changed such that we pray for God's Will. And notice one of the prayers that we are rightly compelled to lift up, is to pray for our children. All those who have children have the awesome responsibility of raising them in the teaching of the Scripture, and then to pray that God would be merciful and save them from the devil.

St. Augustine's mother, Monica, prayed for him for decades, that God would change his heart and deliver him from the devil. And God was pleased to deliver him and adopt him as a son. And the day finally came when St. Augustine turned back to the Scripture his mother had taught him.

We are to pray, and to pray, especially, for our children. And while our children are alive, we ought continue to pray for them, that they would be delivered and restored, that they would be pleasing in the sight of God. Let us come before God, humbly with our prayers, day after day, hour after hour, and year after year, especially for our children.

So, we see this good, Gentile mother come before Jesus in all humility, with dire concern for her daughter's deliverance, and she asked Jesus to cast the demon out of her. And Jesus said, "Let the children feed first, and it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."

Is Jesus calling this woman and her daughter, "dogs"? Yes. Is He saying that He came for the children of Abraham, the Jews? Yes. Is He saying that He will not heal her unless she offers Him a good argument for healing her? No.

So many times this passage has been preached as though what it means is, "Jesus came to save the Jews only. And when they rejected Him, He switched to Plan B and offered salvation to the Gentiles as well." That's not true. That's not what Jesus is saying. Notice, Jesus said, "Let the children feed FIRST," that means it is His intention to feed the others, SECOND. Jesus' intention from before the creation was to come for some of the people of the Jews and some of the people of the Gentiles.

Paul tells us, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17).

Paul explains that, chronologically, the Gospel did come to the nation of Israel first, as was God’s Plan from all of eternity: "They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen" (Romans 9:4-5). God chose to reveal Himself through the nation of Israel and even to become incarnate as an Israelite.

Then, John tells us, "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:101-3). And some say, "Ah-hah. Jesus came to the Jews, failed, and went on to Plan B, the Gentiles."

No. "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not are all the children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named'" (Romans 9:6-8).

In other words, Jesus came for Israel -- the spiritual Israel -- which is made up of people who are from national Israel and from every other nation. God never intended that all of national Israel would receive Him; it was always God's Plan to offer the Gospel to all peoples, all nations.

So, at the time the Gentile woman came to Jesus, the Gospel was still being given to the Jews -- first -- though individual Gentiles had believed throughout history. So, Jesus was telling her that it was not time for the Gospel to be advanced among the Gentiles.

And though we may understand that, we wonder about the way Jesus addressed the woman: Wasn't Jesus out of line to call her and her child "dogs"? Perhaps the time for the Gentiles to hear the Gospel had not come, but did that give Jesus the right to insult them?

What was Jesus doing? We know the end of the story, so we know that Jesus delivered her daughter from the demon. So, what was He doing? He was testing her --strengthening her faith. She had come to Him, humbly, rightly, caring for her daughter, believing that Jesus is the Savior, but Jesus wanted to increase her faith by having her confess what the Father had revealed to her.

Jesus was obviously pleased at her response, "[Yes] Lord, [yet] the dogs underneath the table eat the little children's crumbs." She said, in effect, "I understand You are the Lord and Savior, and that You have come to the Jews first, but after the Jews have received the Gospel, their bread, we Gentiles receive the Gospel, the crumbs, just as was Your Plan from eternity."

And Jesus healed her daughter and sent the woman home, where she found her daughter, delivered from the demon. And so we see that Jesus came for all those He came to save, whether they be from the biological line of Abraham, or from Irvington, or Maplewood, or Union, or even Scotland. Jesus lived thirty-three years on earth, the Incarnate God, sinlessly obeying the Law, so He could credit that righteousness to those He came to save. Then, on that first Good Friday, His Arms were outstretched and spikes were pounded through them, and He received the Wrath of God for our sins in His Body, so those He came to save would be forgiven, and then He died.

And it would all be meaningless nonsense, except for the fact that we know Sunday is coming. On the third day He rose from the dead to the Glory of the Father and to seal the promises of the Gospel.

And with that, these words became Gospel: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:9-13).

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending Your Son to redeem all of the people that You always intended for Him to redeem. We thank You that You chose people from the line of Abraham and from every other nation of the world. We ask that we would be like the Gentile woman who came to You in faith and humility, praying according to Your Gospel. We ask, now, as we receive the bread and the cup and remember the crucifixion, that You would minister Your Grace to us. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Maundy Thursday Sermon

"Is Washing Your Hands Necessary?"
[Mark 7:1-23]
April 13, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Does God require us to wash our hands before we eat? If we did not wash our hands before we ate dinner this evening, are our souls in jeopardy?

The Pharisees and scribes watched Jesus and His disciples throughout Jesus' Ministry, hoping to catch Him in a sin, so they might discredit Him. And the day came when the scribes and Pharisees noticed that Jesus' disciples didn't all wash their hands before their ate. So they went to Jesus and demanded an explanation.

We're told it was the custom or the tradition among the Jews that they would wash their hands before they ate. Mark tells us that they also washed their cups and pitchers and copper pots, and even their dining couches. It had become the tradition to wash everything well before eating, because God said that a person with an issue of bodily fluids, or a skin disease, or a deformed body part was unclean. So, they concluded that God must also want them to wash the dirt off, or they would also be unclean.

So the Pharisees and scribes demanded an explanation from Jesus -- "Your disciples are unclean; they haven't washed their hands. Don't they know that their souls are in jeopardy from eating that way? And what sort of rabbi are You not to stop them?"

And Jesus said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophecy about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me,' and 'in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' You get rid of the commandments of God and hold on to the traditions of men."

Jesus said, "You hypocrites enforce your traditions, while you show contempt for God's Word."

The Pharisees and scribes were trying to enforce a law that they made up -- a mere tradition. God never said that we must wash our hands before eating to escape the fires of Hell. For all of Jesus' Ministry, they would ignore the Word of God and distort it, so they would not recognize that Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah. They could do without the Word of God, but, "Tradition!"

And Jesus gave an example to them: God's Law says that we must honor our mother and father and anyone who speaks against his father or mother shall die. But they had seen fit to invent the tradition of "Corban," which made the Law of God void on this point.

One aspect of the law to honor our parents is that we must assist them in illness and old age and frailty. We have a duty to care for our parents when they are at risk, just as they cared for us in the womb and as little babies who could not do for ourselves.

The Pharisees and scribes came up with a way out of this law -- by swearing a holy obligation. "Corban" means, "a gift to God" -- specifically, one given by a vow. So, if your father or mother came to you in need and you didn't want to give them any aid, all you would have to do was say, "Corban." In other words, you would say, "I've sworn my money to the service of God; I cannot break my vow to God to help you." Thus, the obligation to parents would become void.

Jesus exposed this insidious tradition to show that they were hypocrites, who enforced their traditions while showing contempt for the Word of God. And again Jesus said, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who enter to go in. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves" (Matthew 23:13-15).

We dare not require people to do things that God does not require. We have traditions in this church, and some are good traditions, and some are innocuous traditions, but we dare not say that they are required by God, or we will be hypocrites, like the scribes and Pharisees. Our traditions do not save us or damn us -- which is why there are Christians in every Christian denomination -- but if we make them requirements for salvation and show contempt for the Word of God, that may be a sign that we have never truly been saved.

Those who condemned the disciples were not of the elect, so they did not listen to Jesus, so He turned to the throng, and He called to them and commanded them to listen and understand: cleanliness is a matter of the heart, not the body.

Jesus said that no matter whether your hands are washed or not, you put the food in your mouth, it goes through your body, and then it exits your body. Hand washing does not make a person spiritually clean; neglecting to wash hands does not make a person spiritually unclean. The dietary laws were given to make a spiritual point about holiness and obedience to God. And Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. And there can be no misunderstanding about food: Jesus said that all foods are clean. The dietary laws are over and fulfilled in Jesus. No food is illegal or unclean for the Christian.

The point is that cleanliness is a matter of the heart, not the body. The cleanliness that indicates spiritual life, is a matter of the heart, not the body, They are the things from within the heart that defile a person, Jesus said. The evidence of being defiled, or not having a clean heart, is what comes out of the person.

The person who gives forth evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil deeds, treachery, licentiousness, envy, deceit, arrogance, foolishness. And we would rightly cry out with the disciples, as they did on several occasions, "Then who can be saved?" And Jesus' answer is the same for them and us, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things possible" (Matthew 19:26b).

So let us not be discouraged: Jesus is not saying that anyone who sins after conversion will become unclean in heart and be damned. Jesus is saying that if a person persistently, joyfully, unrepentantly, sins through evil thoughts, fornication, theft, adultery, greed, evil deeds, treachery, licentiousness, envy, deceit, arrogance, foolishness -- such a person, no matter what he says, these things which defile the heart, indicate that this person is a hypocrite, not a believer.

Still not be discouraged: King David, the man after God's own heart, after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, after he had Uriah murdered, after he was tricked into requiring the death of the man who would do the things that he did, after this evil came forth from him, he repented and was forgiven. David wrote Psalm 51 in broken-ness and humility, and he understood what the Pharisees and scribes did not: cleanliness is a matter of the heart. He wrote, in part, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter then snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have broken rejoice. Hide your face form my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit" (Psalm 51:7-12).

Our salvation, our cleanliness of heart is not a matter of keeping tradition or of physical cleanliness, it is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of believing that Jesus is the Only Savior and confessing that God raised Him from the dead on that first Easter morn.

"And when the hour had come, [on that first Maundy Thursday, Jesus] reclined at the table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, 'I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God'" (Luke 22:14-16).

And Jesus calls each of us who believes, each of us who has received a clean heart from Him, to come to the table to receive the bread and the cup, His Flesh and His Blood. And still we hesitate, because we know ourselves, we empathize with Michael Been as he sings, "You say we'll walk right through Heaven's door, you must be foolin', our hands are covered blood red.."

Listen to these words from the author of Hebrews, and prepare to come, for Jesus has made the Way: "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:19-23).

And so let us pray:
Holy God, purge us with hyssop, and we shall be clean; wash us and we shall be whiter then snow. Let us hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities. Create in each of us a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within us. Cast us not away from your presence, and take not your holy spirit from us. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and uphold us with a willing spirit. In the Name of Jesus, Who is Faithful and True, Amen.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Holy Week Services

D.V., we have service:

tonight, Maundy Thursday at 7 PM (Communion)
tomorrow, Good Friday at 7 PM (Communion)
on the Lord's Day, Easter at 10:30 AM (Communion)

Please join us and worship our risen God.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Serious Question Asked of the Pastor

"Why does Psalm 1 only have six verses?"

Monday Puritan

"Question: How did Christ pray, and give thanks to God his Father, seeing Himself was God equall with the Father?

"Answer: Though he which prayed was God, yet he prayed and gave thanks not in his God-head, or according to it, but in and according to his Human Nature."

George Petter, Mark 6:41ff.

Sunday Sermon

"What Is Needed"
[Mark 6:30-56]
April 9, 2006 Second Reformed Church

John the Baptist had been buried, and the disciples, who Jesus had sent out two by two, came back to Him to tell Him what they had taught and what they had done among the people of Israel. And then Jesus told the disciples that they should rest -- they should take time to refresh themselves in a quiet place.

While Moloch and Baal and Asherah and every other god was crying out, "more, more, more," Jesus said there "is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). Ours is the God Who knows us and cares for us such that He said, "six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work,..." (Exodus 20:9-10a). He also calls us, now, after His Resurrection to rest, "on the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7a).

Many people were coming to Jesus and the disciples, but He knew they were tired, and they hadn't had time to eat, so He sent them away, into a desolate place to rest and prepare themselves for the work that they had coming. And Jesus says the same thing to us today, "You don't have to accomplish everything right now. Take a break; rest and prepare yourself for the crowd that is coming. Rest is necessary."

Do you take time to rest? We need to take the time we need each day and each week to bring ourselves back and to ready ourselves for the good works that God has set out for us. God does not want us to go non-stop -- it's not healthy for us. And we need to be mindful of each other, that we are not expecting others to run at a pace that does not allow them time to rest. Rest is a gift from God that we must all receive and allow others to have it.

Jesus sent the disciples off to rest, but the crowd recognized them and ran after them on foot. Every one of them wanted to be healed and taught and cared for by Jesus and His disciples, and they ran so fast they got to the desolated place before the disciple's boat arrived. And Jesus took pity on them -- they were desperate -- they were like sheep without a shepherd, so Jesus began to teach them, and He taught them hour after hour, and they listened.

What do we think of the desperate, the disillusioned, the disenfranchised? Do we pity them? Do we look at those worshiping false gods and pity them? Do we see those who are pursuing things that will never satisfy and pity them? Or do we pass by on the other side of the road? Do we just say, "God bless you and be at peace"? What or who makes your heart break? And what are you doing about it?
The disciples came to Jesus and told Him that night was upon them, as if He was unaware, and they told Him to send the people away -- they had been with Him all day, listening to Him preach and teach, and now they ought to get something to eat. The crowd had been so wrapped up in what Jesus was saying, that they didn't notice that they hadn't eaten -- have you ever been doing something that you were so excited by, so enraptured with, that you forgot about food -- that you forgot it was time for a meal? Jesus is that way: knowing Jesus is worth more than food. If you haven't had the experience, pray God that there will be a time when listening to Jesus' Word and studying it finds you forgetting about your sandwich. If we are in love with Jesus, there will be times when we suddenly realize that we have forgotten to eat, because we have been so involved with Him.

Jesus told the disciples, "You feed them." And the disciples responded, "Right, we're going to go back with two hundred days' worth of cash and buy this crowd bread." But Jesus said, "No, how many loaves do you have?" And they told Him, "Five and a few fish." That is more than enough for the God of the Universe, and they should have known it They would have known how the prophet Elisha met a man from Baal-shalishah who had twenty loaves of bread and a sack of fresh ears of corn, "And Elisha said, 'Give to the men, that they may eat.' But his servant said, 'How can I set this before a hundred men?' So he responded, 'Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, "They shall eat and have some left."' So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord" (II Kings 42-44).
Jesus held the bread and fish up to heaven and praised God and prayed, thanking Him for His bounty, and He broke the bread and broke the fish and began filling baskets and told the disciples to distribute them to the people sitting on the grass. And they went around and fed the people -- we're told there were 5,000 men, so it is not unreasonable to think there were about 15,000 people there, if we consider that there could have been an equal number of women and children. And once the 15,000 had been fed, the disciples came back to Jesus with twelve baskets full of bread and fish.

Do you doubt that Jesus can provide for our needs, as individuals and the church? Perhaps we have not always gotten what we wanted, what we thought we needed at a given moment. But the Scripture tells us that if we do not have, it is because we do not need it to accomplish God's purposes. God gives each of us what we need and He gives us more and more.

Paul wrote, "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from who every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith -- that you, being grounded and rooted in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Immediately after these things happened, Jesus sent the disciples back to the boat and told them to sail, again, and He would get rid of the crowd. Once Jesus had sent them away, Jesus went into the mountain to pray. Prayer is necessary.

Why do we pray? To change God? To give Him information? To point out His mistakes? Of course not. We pray to align ourselves with the will of God. Prayer changes us. We pray to align ourselves with the will of God. But we have to take time to pray -- alone and with each other -- because that is the example of the Scripture. Our prayers don't have to be fancy or "perfect," whatever that means. But we have to pray. We need to pray that God would help us to understand, that He would lead us, and that He would provide us with all that we need. Prayer is necessary for our health and life: do we pray? Do we take advantage of our prayer time on the fourth Tuesday of the month? Do we gather at other times, or suggest other times to pray? Let us become a people of prayer that are becoming more in line with the Mind of God by His Grace.

While Jesus was praying, a violent wind came up upon the Mediterranean, and the disciples were struggling about mid-way across the sea to sail into the wind to get to Bethsaida. And Jesus walked out across the sea to the disciples, and when they saw Him, they thought He was a vision of some sort and they were shaken to their core, but Jesus said, "Take courage It is I Do not be afraid " And Jesus got into the boat and the storm stopped. But they were still afraid. And the Scripture tells us that they still didn't understand what the bread meant, and their hearts had hardened.

What a sad state of affairs. Those closest to Jesus just didn't get it, and that lack of understand lead to fear. And that's true for us, as well, it is the things we don't understand that we fear, and it is when we don't understand the place of Jesus as God and Lord of the Universe that we fear. For, if we know that Jesus is God and Lord of all, and He is our God, what would we have to fear? We are not a people without hope. Yes, we suffer and mourn loss, but ultimately, we have hope. We know what happened that first Easter morn.

Horatio G. Spafford sent his wife and three daughters from England to their new home on the mainland. They took the first ship, and he was to follow shortly. But a storm rose up and the ship his wife and daughters were on sank, and his three daughters were lost at the bottom of the sea. Surely he mourned their loss, but he did not fear, because he had a sure hope. He made the voyage across the sea to be reunited with his wife, and as he sailed across the deep where his daughters had died, he wrote these familiar words, "When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, 'It is well, it is well with my soul.'"

Is it well with your soul? Do you know that Jesus is the Lord and God of all? If you do, then you will come to receive whatever comes from His Hand and not be afraid, but, instead be satisfied in Him.

They crossed to the other side of the sea and landed at Genesaret and they docked, and when they disembarked, they were immediately recognized, and the people rushed to Jesus with their sick, bringing them on their mats -- on their beds, if necessary. No matter where Jesus went, the people ran after Him and sought salvation from Him. Action is necessary.

The word that we translate, "begged," is a word the indicates that these people not only begged Jesus with words, but they pressed against Him, they got in His Face, and they would not leave Him alone until they had touched and been healed -- saved.

And we remember from the woman with an issue of blood who was healed when she touched Jesus' robe, Jesus did not have a magic robe. No, Jesus healed her and He had compassion on those begging Him for healing. Jesus had compassion on them, and He has compassion on His people. Jesus has compassion on us. Look at where we are, who we are, and think about where we could have been. If we understand how much worse off we could be, we can understand how much compassion Jesus has shown us -- how much He has blessed us. Do you realize how blessed you are? Do you understand the enormity of the compassion Jesus has shown to you? Merely consider what He suffered, willingly, for you.

James wrote, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" (James 2:15). What can you give of your abundance? What's holding you back?

The crowd persisted after God's Will and they received results, and so shall we. If we are about God's Will. If we seek after God and His Kingdom, we shall receive it.

To live the Christian live, action is needed, prayer is needed, and rest is needed. Each at the right time and in the right amount. As we live the Christian life, we learn that Jesus has compassion for His own, He is the Lord and God of the universe, and He provides for all of our needs.

Even on that first Palm Sunday, we see Jesus having compassion on Jerusalem, crying for them and their sin as He prepared to ride in. We see the crowds recognizing Him as the One True King of Israel as they threw the palms and their cloaks down to make a path of comfort as they welcomed the new King into the city. And we see Him providing for our needs, in His Life, through the horrific events the week of the crucifixion, and then as He rose from the dead.

Let us pray:
King Jesus, we come before You as people who have not taken the rest You give us. Forgive us and teach us to love a holy rest. We come before You as a people have shuffled You off to the corner, rather than bowing before Your Throne. Forgive us and humble us that we might be right witnesses to Your Majesty. We come before You as a people who say "it's not my job." Forgive us for shirking our duty to You and Your creation. Make us understand that You have equipped each one of us and given us good works to carry out in Your Name. Increase our trust in You and make us compassionate towards each other for Your Sake. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Monday Puritan

On the Word, George Petter writes (in Mark 6:19):

"The written Word of God is the only sure and perfect Rule of all truth in matters of Religion, and the touchstone to try it by. It is the Word of Truth, containing in it nothing but truth, without mixture of errours: yea, it is truth itself, joh, 17.17. neither is any word or doctrine, or Opinion of man true, but what is conformnt to this Word of God: therefore to leave the Rule and Direction of this Word, must needs be the way to all absurd and gross Errours."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"You Killed the Prophets"
[Mark 6:14-29]
April 2, 2006 Second Reformed Church

News travels. Sometimes it travels for the sake of caring or mere information, and sometimes it travels by gossip. Sometimes the news travels accurately, and sometimes the news arrives distorted or misunderstood. Still, news travels.

The news of the healings Jesus had performed and even the raising from the dead of Jairus' daughter had reached throughout the kingdom, even to the very ear of King Herod. And they had heard the reports correctly: Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead and taught with greater wisdom than the Pharisees and the scribes. But what this meant was not understood. At that time it was believed by some that just as demons could possess a person, the soul of a dead person could possess another person to get a message across or to exact revenge, etc. So, some said that Jesus was possessed by the soul of John the Baptist, and some said he was possessed by the soul of Elijah, but when King Herod heard what Jesus was doing and saying, he was convinced, "This is John, whom I beheaded, he is raised." King Herod believed that Jesus was possessed by the soul of John the Baptist, and he worried that Jesus might be coming for him.

The rest of this morning's Scripture is a flash--back. We're told that Herod had thrown John in prison because Herod had married his deceased brother, Philip's, wife, Herodias, which was against God's Law. And John repeatedly preached against the marriage and told Herod that he was in sin. And Herodias, his wife, resented John. She was annoyed by him and wanted him to stop his criticism of them and their marriage. She was tired of being told that they were living in sin. She wanted John dead, but Herod was unwilling to have him put to death. So Herod threw John in prison, and Herodias began to scheme.

In this country we have freedom of speech. No one was thrown in prison for saying that President Clinton sinned in committing adultery. There is no risk of being put to death for saying that Governor Corzine lied to the people of the state of New Jersey. We have more latitude with what we say regarding our politicians.

However, let us suppose for a moment, that your uncle, who claimed to be a Christian, was having an affair and you found out about it. Would you go to your uncle and tell him that he is sinning and must stop? If you do, you might risk your relationship with your uncle -- in fact, you might destroy your whole extended family. Would you tell him?

Let us remember the boundaries that are set out for us in the Scripture: we are to denounce all sin, and we are to confront those professing Christians who continue in unrepentant sin, as Jesus taught us, and usually within the context of the church that the individual is accountable to. First we go as individuals, then with witnesses, and then we bring the whole community. And we must remember that the purpose of confronting sin and sinners is to bring about repentance and restoration.

John went to King Herod in the hopes that he would repent of his sin and restore his family and his reputation before the kingdom. We are to do likewise -- cautiously and wisely -- but we ought not be afraid based on who the person is or what the consequences might be. Herod was afraid of John and his wife, so he threw John in prison.

Yet, we're also told that Herod enjoyed listening to John. Herod knew that John was a holy and righteous man. He was a prophet of God. And he spoke in a way that was profound and engaging. Still, Herod also found him very confusing. Herod didn't understand what John was saying. But he listened and enjoyed.

The same is true in our churches: we have people in the church who don't believe the Scripture, they don't believe that Jesus is God the Only Savior, but they enjoy listening and they enjoy being around people who do believe such things, like John. Why?

Well, for some, the mere philosophical engagement of ideas is a rush for them -- merely discussing the issues of the Scripture makes them feel good and gets them excited. So the fact that they don't believe it is irrelevant, because for them, it is the process of discussion and debate that they come for.

For others, although they themselves do not believe, they admire people who do. For them is it a sociological experiment -- like going to the zoo. They don't want to be a penguin, but they admire the penguins, and enjoy watching them and being around them

And for others, they enjoy the benefits of associating with people who are known for their beliefs. These are people who are glad to be guilty by association, as it were. They enjoy being in the company and being known as being in the company, of people who are treated differently due to their belief. For them, it is the appearance that matters. If you don't understand, then spend a day with me when I am wearing the collar and a day when I am not. I am treated much differently and far better (by most people) when I am wearing the collar.

For Herod, it may have been a combination of the three -- here was the King, debating matters with the renown John the Baptist. Surely the people would have looked at the king as though he must be so wise, so good, for the Baptizer to be spending time with him. And the king apparently enjoyed the debates and instruction, though he didn't understand what John meant. Even so, this relationship caused the King to respect and honor and protect John.

But he was also afraid of his wife, so he threw John in prison, hoping to appease her. But it didn't, the damage was done. She had been dishonored in her eyes, and her husband, the king, was unwilling to avenge her honor against the prophet. So, she schemed.

Then Herod's birthday came. And all the best people were invited: all the nobles, and the chief military officers, and all the best people of Galilee were invited to a banquet. The feast went on for hours with more and more food and more and more drink, as the king impressed the who’s who of the nation with his wealth and generosity.

After some time, Herodias sent her daughter in to dance lasciviously before Herod and his guests. The story of Salome and the seven veils comes from this occasion. And she danced and enticed the men to lust after her, even her step-father. And when they were all sexually excited and Herod saw that his guests were well--pleased with the show, he swore before God that he would give her anything at all that she desired, even up till half of the kingdom. And she ran back to her mother who was waiting for her husband to make such a foolish and sinful commitment, and she told her to go back and ask for the head of John the Baptist on a wooden platter.

So she ran back to her step--father and said, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the baptizer on a wooden plate." Notice, Herodias did not just want John killed, she wanted his decapitated head to be displayed like hors d'oeuvres. She wanted John humiliated and killed.

And this request made Herod very sad. But what was the king to do? So he ordered the execution of John the Baptist and John's head was brought on a wooden platter, and Herod gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets.

Jesus said to the scribes and the Pharisees, in particular, but also against all the guilty, "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:33-36).

How did it come to this? How did Herod go from respecting and protecting a holy man, to murdering him, to being consigned to hell? The answer is that sin grows -- it blossoms. "Little" sins matter. They lead to greater and greater sins.

Herod began by sinning in lusting after his brother's wife, then it grew into a sinful marriage after Philip's death. Then the sin grew as he submitted to his wife and imprisoned John, and then allowed his step--daughter to be used for entertainment, and he lusted after her, such that he took the Name of the Lord in vain and made a rash vow to this foul child of an evil mother. And then the sin grew, because it was more important to him not to lose face in front of all of the great people of the kingdom than to obey God, so he murdered John and humiliated him before all those present. No wonder he was very sad.

What is the "little" sin that you don't mind committing? What is the "little" sin that you think you have under control? That you don't believe will ever spiral into more and more sin, like it did with Herod?

James describes this growth: "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it is conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:14-15).

It is an easy path from stealing a pencil or a candy bar, to justifying stealing hundreds or thousands of dollars. It is an easy path from lusting at a person from a distance to engaging in rape, prostitution, and adultery. It is an easy path from discounting one obscure section of the Scripture to discounting everything God has said.

We must be vigilant against the "small" sins. It only takes a few moments of reflection to note where and when and how we are tempted to sin. Flee those things. Avoid them. For the sake of the holiness and glory of God, we must do whatever is necessary to avoid falling into sin, which always leads to more sin.

Jesus said, "Woe to the world for temptations to sin For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire" (Matthew 18:7-9).

Of course Jesus is not endorsing self--mutilation. Jesus is telling us to leave behind everything that leads us into sin, before we follow that sin into the eternal fire of hell. And the things which tempt a person are different: you and I are not tempted in the same way by the same things. But whatever we are tempted by, we must run from, give up, and avoid.

Some of us need to give up television, or movies, or the computer, or certain types of books, or attending certain types of meetings, or whatever it may be. All Herod did was lust after his brother's wife. In the end, he murdered and humiliated John the Baptist. We must be vigilant against even the "small" sins.

And so we come to this table, not because we have achieved perfection. Not because we have refused all temptation and never sinned. But because we know we are sinners, forgiven, justified, and made holy, only by the life, death, and resurrection of the Only Savior, Jesus Christ. As we come to the table, let us ask for Christ's Grace, that we would flee from temptation and do good, resting in Him Alone, for the power and the courage to identify sin and leave temptation behind us.

Let us pray:
Holy God, we come before You ever needful of Your Forgiveness. Forgive us for our sin. We ask that You would give us Your Grace, that we might be obedient and faithful to our call. We ask that You would lead us in holiness and righteousness and that we would consciously, vigilantly look to You for the power to flee temptation and the humility to return to You quickly to repent of our sin. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.