Second Reformed Church

Monday, July 31, 2006

August Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach during the month of August:

8/6/06 Mark 11:27-33 "Locating Authority"
8/13/06 Mark 12:1-12 "Not Even the Son"
8/20/06 guest preacher, Bill Galloway
8/27/06 Mark 12:13-17 "Pay Your Taxes"

EOPC Calling

D.V., I will be preaching next Sunday evening, August 6, 2006, at Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Whippany, NJ. I plan to continue my series on Habakkuk, preaching on Habakkuk 2:6-20, "Woe" -- all are welcome.

Monday Puritan

"Pastors and ministers of the Church ought to use their Ministerial power and authority in purging and reforming the Church; viz. by taxing and reproving abuses in their publick Ministry: as also by teaching and directing the Civil Magistrate in the true and right way of reforming abuses; and exhorting him thereunto. The Ministers of the Word ought to be assistants to the Magistrate in reforming abuses in the Church: as Azariah was to Asa, 2 Chron. 15. Esay to Hezekiah, Hilkiah the priest unto Josiah."

-- George Petter (re: Mark 11:15-16).

Sunday Sermon

[Mark 11:12-26]
July 30, 2006 Second Reformed Church

What happened after the Triumphal Entry? The liturgical calendar might lead us to believe that Jesus was arrested and tried right after His coronation ride. But we're told that Jesus got off the colt, walked around the temple, and then, being tired, left Jerusalem, and found a place in Bethany to spend the night.

In the morning, Jesus woke up and He was hungry -- Jesus is, after all, wholly human as well as wholly divine -- He needed to eat to sustain His flesh, just as we do. So Jesus stood up and looked around, and He saw a fig tree in the distance -- a fig tree that was covered with leaves, indicating that it was bearing fruit. So Jesus went to the fig tree to pick figs from it, to assuage His hunger, but when He got to the tree, He found nothing on the tree but leaves. There were no figs.

Jesus became enraged, and He cursed the tree and revoked the blessing of "be fruitful and multiply" that God has given from the beginning. Jesus cursed the fig tree and commanded it never to be fruitful again. And the disciples heard Him.

Now, we might look at this history and wonder if Jesus got up on the wrong side of the bed: wasn't it an over-reaction to curse the tree and make it barren, just because it didn't have any figs on it? After all, our text says that it was not the time for figs.

Rather than going with our gut reaction, we need to consider what happened and consider it within the whole of the Scripture. Jesus is Holy, so He could not have over-reacted and thereby sinned. That is not a possibility. So how else might we look at this text? This text has to do with hypocrisy, which is not to say that plants have wills and can be hypocritical, but the tree serves as an example to them and us, of the sin of hypocrisy.

A hypocrite, we understand, is someone who looks as though he's bearing fruit, but does not. He is someone who makes an outward profession of religion -- of belief -- but actually does not believe. He is someone who works hard at looking like someone he is not -- in this case -- a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Surely we know such people. They come to worship, and they look like good people. They do what appears right in everyone’s eyes. But in actuality, they do not believe, they do not bear the fruit befitting righteousness. A hypocrite cannot posses the results of real faith in Christ when there is no real faith.

John the Baptist said, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. ... Even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3:9, 11). And Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

What does the fruit of real faith look like? Paul wrote, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23), "For the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true" (Ephesians 5:9).

If this does not describe you, beware, the axe is laid at the root, and all those who do not bear fruit will be thrown into the fire. If our words are not substantiated by our actions, we are hypocrites, and hypocrites have no place in the kingdom of God.

After Jesus cursed the fig tree, they all went back into Jerusalem, and Jesus went into the temple, and John tells us that Jesus made a whip out of cords (John 2:15), and Jesus went throughout the temple consumed with zeal for the glory of God and filled with a holy anger for what He saw going on in the temple, and with a holy violence, He cast out those who bought and sold in the temple, He chased them out with the whip. He overthrew the tables of the money changers, and He threw down the chairs of those selling doves.

What did Jesus see that so upset Him and caused Him to go on a holy rampage through the temple? Jesus saw that animals were being sold for sacrifices and money was being changed for offerings, in the temple of God. Now, the Law said that these things were to be provided for those who were traveling long distances, so they could purchase their sacrifices when they arrive -- healthy and appropriate for sacrifice. But the animals were to be sold outside of the temple, not in the holy place itself. And there is also the implication in the text that the animals were being sold at a profit and the money was being exchanged dishonestly. These were to be services for those who were needy, for those who had come long distances, for those who could do nothing else. So we see that a hypocrite offers help to the needy and then takes advantage of them.

Jesus also forbid the carrying of vessels through the temple. What is that about? The problem here is that people were using the temple as a short cut, and they were dragging their common items through the holy sanctuary, believing it didn't matter. A hypocrite like this calls something holy and then uses it for common use. It also emphasizes that even the small things matter to God: if God cares about whether or not a common vessel is brought through the temple, how much more does God care about our keeping the explicit commands He has given us? And if we believe that we ought to keep the commandments of God, will we not also be careful in the small things not to sin against God?

For example, a hypocrite calls the Bible "holy" and then uses it to balance a wobbly table. We are not to worship the holy things; they are not to become idols for us, but there is a respect and an honor due them, for the sake of the God with Whom they are associated.

So Jesus cleansed the temple for the sake of these two kinds of hypocrites: those who cheat the needy and those who treat the holy things as common. This was also done to fulfill the prophesy from the Psalms: "Zeal for your house will consume me" (John 2:17b).

And Jesus told the people at the temple what the point of the temple is -- not to become wealthy, not to cheat, even a little, not to become a den of thieves, no, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations." As Isaiah prophesied, "And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant -- these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them all joyful in my house of prayer, their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Isaiah 56:6-7). And just notice quickly that the temple -- the house of the Lord -- is not just for the Jews, but for every person and people group who believes in the One True God.

The high priests and the scribes were outraged -- they got a cut of the profits, you see. And they sought a way to kill Jesus, but they had to be careful, because they were afraid of the crowd. The religious leaders, the people who knew the Scripture backwards and forwards, these denied what the Word of God said and hid from the crowd.

A hypocrite is one who hears the Word of God and denies it. Or, perhaps more ironically, a hypocrite is one who says he believes the Word of God but says it is not true. A common example and a famous preacher: we are told over and over in the Scripture to preach the whole Word of God, yet Rev. Dr. Robert Schuller said on national radio, that some parts of the Bible should not be preached.

As it became late, Jesus and the twelve and the other disciples left Jerusalem and began to walk back to Bethany, and they passed the same fig tree, and Peter was shocked, and called to Jesus, because the tree had completely withered away.

Jesus told them that they should have faith in God -- they ought to trust in God and the promises that God made. They should trust in the call of God upon them and follow Him, no matter how impossible the odds might be, because if God has willed something for our lives, and we pray for it in accordance with God's Will, there is no other outcome but that we shall receive what we have prayed for. Jesus gave the example of praying that the Mount of Olives would uproot itself and throw itself into the sea. Jesus said that if it was the will of God, and we prayed and did not doubt that the mountain would throw itself into the sea, but believed that it would surely happen, it would happen.

Now, let us understand that Jesus is not saying that we can "name it and claim it." He's not saying that if we have enough conviction, we can command anything we desire. No, what Jesus meant by this example is "whoever shall by a calling from God undertake or go about to do any great and difficult work, which may seem as hard or impossible, as the removing of a Mountain, shall have power to effect it: yet not of himself, but by the power of God, in whom he believeth, and upon whose power he resteth by faith" (George Petter, 857).

In other words, if God called Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery after 400 years and Moses believed God and prayed to God for the ability to carry out what God had called him to do, God would surely grant his prayer. If God called Noah to build an Ark and collect two or seven of every animal on the planet, and Noah believed God and prayed to God for the ability to carry out what God had called him to do, God would surely grant his prayer. And if God calls us to do something that we consider beyond our wildest ability to accomplish, and we believe God and pray to God for the ability to carry out this great thing that God has called us to do, God would surely grant our prayer. A hypocrite, however, prays, but doesn't believe God will grant him his request.

Jesus said, "Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7). And again, "Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24). "And this is the confidence that we have towards him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us" (I John 5:14). That is not to say that God is a magic slot machine -- remember, God will grant us whatever we ask, if it is what God wants -- the point is to become in tune with the Will of God. As the author of Hebrews puts it, "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Finally, Jesus tells them and us that we must forgive before we can pray and before God will forgive us. A hypocrite asks for forgiveness, but will not forgive others, but a true believer forgives others first and then receives the Father's Forgiveness. The Psalmist wrote, "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (Psalm 66:18). And God said, "When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood" (Isaiah 1:15).

Let us not be hypocrites, who come with all the pomp and show, looking like angels, while in reality we are trees without fruit, merchants without love, unforgiving and unforgen, holding high their bloody hands. Instead, let us come as humble and innocent followers of Jesus Christ. Let us bear fruit consistent with being forgiven -- let us do those good works God has prepared for us and help those in need, not expecting anything back. Let us solemnly and rightly bear the Name of Christ, coming into His Holy Sanctuary for worship, asking for forgiveness from those we have wronged, forgiving those who have wronged us, and receiving forgiveness for all these things from our God. And then, let us boldly pray in faith, trusting God's Promises, knowing with surety, that if we pray in accordance with God’s Will, not even a mountain can stand in our way.

Let us pray:
Almighty and Holy God, we come before You as a people who need Your forgiveness and Your Strength, day by day and hour by hour. Forgive us and cause the Holy Spirit to send us forth in Your Power to do those things You have prepared for us to do. May You be glorified in us as we follow You. And may we pray in faith, after You, knowing that Your Will will be done. We pray these things in the Name of our Savior, Jesus, Who has promised not to lose a single one of His people -- may these pews be filled with them, in Jesus' Name, Amen.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Let us not therefore sinne against God, and make an idol of him, by making him all mercy; for though we call him father, doubtlesse there is a God that judgeth the world, who upon the wicked will rain soares, stormes and tempest; this shall be their portion to drink, rather meet a temptation with Joseph and say, How then shall I do this great wickednesse and so sin against God? For our God is a consuming fire."

-- Edward Marbury on Habakkuk 1:12-17

Sunday EVENING Sermon

"Is God Not Holy?"
[Habakkuk 1:12-2:5]
July 24, 2006 Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church

We return to our look at the burden of the prophet Habakkuk this evening. We remember that Habakkuk preached around the same time as Jeremiah, and the Word that the Lord had given to Habakkuk to give to the people was a burden -- it was heavy -- it was not good news. At least not in the short run.

Habakkuk complained to God that Israel was sinning in many and various ways, and God seemed to be doing nothing: He seemed to be ignoring what was going on; He seemed not to be interested in bringing justice to Israel; the Law seemed powerless and useless. And Habakkuk wanted an answer from God. So God told Habakkuk that He was raising up the Chaldeans -- that mighty, awful, evil empire -- to slaughter them and take them into captivity.

In this evening's Scripture, we hear the prophet raising objections to God's Plan. Habakkuk had asked God what He was going to do about all their sin, and God told him that He was going to send the Chaldeans against them to punish them. And Habakkuk said, "Wait a minute..." Habakkuk objected and told God that God's Actions did not match His Attributes.

Habakkuk said, "But God, aren't You eternal? Aren't You that God Who made an everlasting covenant with Your people? Aren't You the God Who never changes? How can You break Your Covenant and change Your allegiance and send the wicked Chaldeans to punish us?"

Habakkuk said, "But God, my God, the God of Israel, how can You favor another nation when we are Your people? You are my Holy One, aren't You Holy? How can You be holy if You do this awful thing and send the wicked Chaldeans to punish us?

"No, we will not die, because You will change back again, O Lord. You will stand for Your Holy Name once again. How could You be our Lord and appoint them for judgement? How could You be our Rock, and use them to mark us for correction? No, Your Eyes are too pure: God could never do this, it will not happen.

"You cannot enjoy wickedness. You cannot enjoy the treacherous. You cannot hold Your Tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than themselves -- can You? Can You sit by and do nothing when the Chaldeans, who are so much worse sinners than we are, attack and enslave us?

"It would be as if You made us the fish of the sea, and the Chaldeans were the fishermen. And they would come and haul us all up with their hooks and their nets and their dragnets. Do You understand what You would be doing Yourself? They would rejoice as we are defeated, but they would not rejoice in You -- they would not give thanks to You or worship You. No, they would make sacrifices to their nets and burn incense to their dragnets. And they would live in wealth and prosperity, slaying nation afer nation, hauling them up in their net.

"No, God, You are Holy, God from all of eternity, our God, the God of Israel. All sin is against You, O Lord, so You cannot ordain sin. Think again, Lord, and do not make this mistake."

And Habakkuk went up into a tower and waited to hear a response from the Lord.

Habakkuk's mistake is a mistake we make as well. We know something about God; we learn how God acts in a situation, and we jump to the conclusion that God can or cannot x, y, z.

"God really loves us, so He does not violate our free will."

"God is Sovereign, He just restricts His Sovereignty so we're not robots."

"God is not the author of sin. Therefore, the future is unknown to God."

We've surely heard other true propositions with false conclusions.

Perhaps one of the best known and well-loved pieces of blasphemy is a book called, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner. I had to read this book in a Judeo-Christian ethics class in college, and then again in seminary, and I have seen it in countless church libraries. It ought to be removed.

Rabbi Kushner and his wife had a son, and the son was born with a horrible, incurable disease, and he died a horrible and painful death. Rabbi Kushner couldn't go on without an answer to why this happened -- why their son was taken from them. So he looked to the Old Testament to learn about the character of God. And he said there were two conclusions that he could come to: God is Good and God is Almighty. (Both of those are true, by the way.) But Rabbi Kushner asked how it was that such a bad thing could happen to his good son, much less himself and his wife. And he said there are only two options, either God is not Good or God is not Almighty. And Rabbi Kushner came to the conclusion that he would rather believe in a God that was Good, but not Almighty, than a God Who was Almighty, but not Good.

Rabbi Kushner looked at the Old Testament and saw that God is Good and God is Almighty, and he concluded that, based on his terrible experience with his son, one of those must not be true. So, in this book of comfort that has sold thousands and thousands of copies, Rabbi Kushner says that when bad things happen to good people, don't blame God. God is Good all the time, and He wishes that everything would go well, but He's just not that powerful. God is not Sovereign. God does the best He can, but He's not able to do just anything. Take comfort in knowing that God cares, even if He's impotent about your situation.

Habakkuk came to the opposite conclusion, God is Almighty, but sometimes He doesn't make the best choices. "God, I know You're Almighty, I know You are Sovereign, but if You consider Your Character as You've revealed it to us, You can't do what You're planning to do."

And God answered Habakkuk and told him to write down the vision -- the burden -- that he was receiving -- to put it all down so everyone could read it. To put it down clearly, in crisp lettering, so every people who ran by or were in a hurry could read what God had said and done because of the sin of Israel.

And God told Habbakuk that His Plan was set for an appointed time. God was not going to change His Plan -- it was not God Who had misunderstood, it was Habakkuk. The Chaldeans were coming against Israel, and they would win decisively. But, God promised, in the end, the vision, the burden, would speak against the Chaldeans. But its fulfillment would be in God's Time. And though there would be people who say that the time will never come, because so much time has passed, God keeps His Promises. The fulfillment of the vision would come.

So it is in this day: we have the nuts who are gleefully cheering about the conflict in the Middle East, praying that there will be a great slaughter that will bring Jesus back. And then there are those who say, "What return of Jesus?" "Knowing this first: that scoffers will come
in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.' For they willfully forget: that by the work of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (II Peter 3:3-8).

Just as God's Justice against the Chaldeans would wait about sixty years, so we are waiting for the return of our King and Savior, Jesus. He will return, in His Own Time.

But for now, "Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him." God understood perfectly well, the pride and the arrogance of the Chaldeans. He knew their sin and planned to deal with it, after God used them to punish Israel.

But there is good news, "the just shall live by faith." This verse is quoted three times in the New Testament. In Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews.

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

In Galatians, Paul writes, "But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for the just shall live by faith" (Galatians 3:3-4).

And the author to the Hebrews wrote, "For a little while; and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back; my soul has no pleasure in him" (Hebrews 10: 37-38).

"The just shall live by faith." What is God telling Habakkuk? God is telling him, in the midst of the devastation that the Chaldeans will bring upon Israel for their sin -- Israel was not innocent --" there is salvation in trusting in God. If they knew and trusted and received the promises of God, they would be saved in the end.

Similarly, Paul writes, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8). Just as with Habakkuk, our salvation is found in a sure trust in the promises of God. Neither Habakkuk, nor Israel, nor we can be saved from our sin by any work we do. Salvation is found as we receive, through the conduit of faith, that Grace God is pleased to give us according to His Promises.

Paul continues in Ephesians, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:9). Paul says that we who have been saved by grave and saved by faith will live out their faith by doing the good works that God has ordained for us to do.

The same implication is found in Habakkuk: the just, those that God has declared legally innocent by His Grace, these will receive God's Grace through faith and they will live out their faith through good works.

We come to the end this evening's Scripture with God telling Habakkuk that God is well aware of what type of people the Chaldeans are. The Chaldeans are an arrogant, greedy, insatiable people. Their pride knows no end. They are not satisfied with what God has given them. Their desire for more is like the desire of Hell to fill itself; it is like the desire of death to be full. They gather people after people, conquest after conquest, but it is never enough.

But, remember, Habakkuk, brothers and sisters, God is eternal; He keeps His Promises. God is Holy and Just. God will not allow sin and evil to go unpunished forever. Yet, God does use secondary causes, like the Chaldeans, to carry out His Will. Still, God’s Will is done, in God's Time, and according to God's Sovereign Good Pleasure.

Habakkuk's hope, our hope, and the hope of the Church, is that the just shall live by faith. Let us trust and hope in God and in Salvation in Jesus Alone, as we faithfully carry out those good works that God has set before us.

Let us pray:
Holy and Just God, we thank You that You never change or sway, but are always and forever our Holy and Trustworthy God. We thank You for Your Amazing Grace, for the faith to receive it, and for the ability to live out Your call on our lives. May we be pleasing in Your Sight. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Sunday Sermon

[Mark 11:1-11]
July 23, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Jesus, the twelve, and others continued their journey to Jerusalem -- to where Jesus said the prophecies would be fulfilled: He would be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they would condemn Him to death. But since the Jews did not have the authority to put people to death at that time in history, they would hand Him over to the Romans, who would mock Him and spit on Him and flog Him and kill Him. And three days later, He would rise.

They reached the Mount of Olives -- that mountain about a mile outside of Jerusalem that was covered with olive trees, and Jesus stopped. And He sent two of His disciples to a nearby town and He told them that as soon as they entered the town, they would see a young colt that had never been ridden on, tied up. And they were to untie it and bring it back to Him.

And if you remember the history of this event as it is recorded in Matthew, you might be thinking, "Something's missing." And you would be right, Matthew records Jesus saying, "Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me" (Matthew 21:2-3).

So which one is right? Did Jesus tell them to get a colt, or a donkey and a colt?

When we read the Scripture, we need to read it as a whole; we need to see how it fits together; we need to harmonize it, because if this is the Word of God, as we confess, then there cannot be any contradictions in it.

Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah, the Savior, would be known because He would ride into Jerusalem "mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9b). And this is what Matthew records. So, do we understand that Jesus straddled the mother and baby donkey and rode both of them at the same time? Of course not. What we understand, as Mark records it, is that Jesus rode the colt, the baby donkey, but as Matthew and Zechariah record, the disciples also brought back the mother donkey, because the colt was young and needed his mother.

So understand that if the Scripture seems to contradict, it does not; there must be a way that the Scripture fits together with itself, because God breathed it -- it is His Word, and God does not err.

And Jesus told the disciples that they would be asked what they are doing, and they were to tell those who asked that the Lord had need of the animals, and they would be returned immediately after He had used them. So they untied them and threw their garments over them and brought them back to Jesus.

Why did Jesus want a donkey to ride into Jerusalem? Because riding a donkey through the gates of Jerusalem was symbolic of the arrival of a new king. Zechariah wrote, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9).

Why did Jesus want to ride on the colt, the baby donkey, the donkey that had not yet been broken, who had never had a person ride on him before? To subtlely emphasize that He has divine authority over the creation, even over unbroken colts.

So Jesus mounted the colt and began to ride him towards the gates of Jerusalem. First, they went down the Mount of Olives, and then they began the circuitous ascent to the city of Jerusalem. And Jesus' disciples understood the symbolism, and the common people along the road and in the fields understood the symbolism, and they began to throw their garments in the road before the colt, and they cut down leaves and branches and threw them before the colt, just as it had been done in the days of the coronation of King Jehu (II Kings 9:13). They sought to make the way as smooth and as comfortable as possible for the new king to travel on. Here was the new king, and they honored Him by making His way comfortable and smooth.

And the Holy Spirit moved them to cry out with joy and expectation: "Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the lord! Blessed is the coming of the kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!"

They cried out: "Hosanna!" which is a Hebrew contraction that means, "Save us, we pray!" They saw the New King and recognized Him to be a Savior of His people. They cried out for His Salvation.

"Blessed is he that comes in the name of the lord!" This is a petition to God for the King Who now came in God's Name. The word "lord" here is kurious, which refers to the legal authority and strength and also refers back to the most personal name of God that God gave to Moses from the burning bush. In other words, they were asking God that this King would be blessed and given all of the legal authority and strength of God Himself, as He honors God by way of that most personal name.

"Blessed is the coming of the kingdom of our father David!" They knew that promise, that "David my servant shall be their prince forever" (Ezekiel 37:25b). God had promised that there would always be a descendant of David on the throne, for all of eternity, and this King, was a descendant of David. And they recognized in Him, David's kingdom coming once again -- Jesus is the legitimate heir to the throne of David, and to his kingdom.

"Hosanna in the highest!" "Save us to the uttermost part of our being, we pray."

And so Jesus rode on, with the crowds praising Him, and praying for Him, and acknowledging Him as their King and Savior, and the Son of David. And He went through the gate, as they continued to lay their garments and branches before Him. He fulfilled the prophecies about His coming into Jerusalem. He symbolically declared His right to rule over all, so no one who saw Him would misunderstand or doubt Who He said He was and the authority He claimed as His Own.

We call this event the "Triumphal Entry." But was it really "triumphal"? Had He achieved victory -- completed all that He came to do? After all, He was riding into Jerusalem on a borrow colt. And it was only His disciples and the common people that were recognizing Him as king. The religious leaders and government leaders didn't receive Jesus as king -- they didn't bring Him to the palace and hold a formal coronation and anoint Him and crown Him. No, what happened? Jesus rode into Jerusalem amidst the cried of the common people and His disciples, and once He had ridden in, He got down off of the colt, and walked around the temple, to see what was going on -- to see if the people were living what they said they believed.

Still, we rightly call it the "Triumphal Entry" for this reason: what Jesus did gave a glimpse of Who He is. He fulfilled prophecy and the people confessed Him to be Savior, King, and Son of David -- the fulfillment of the promises of God regarding the throne in Jerusalem. They believed He is the King.

Do we believe that? Do we believe that Jesus is the King of all Creation, the King of the Universe, the Sovereign Potentate of Time? And if we do, does it make any difference in the way we live? Are we living as thought Jesus is the King -- the King of kings?

Well, what would that look like?

First, it would mean that we believe He is Who He says He is, and we believe what He has said. If Jesus is our King, we will open this Word of God and believe everything it says about Him. We will believe that He is the Incarnate God. We will believe that He is wholly divine and wholly human, at the same time, but without confusion. We will believe that He lived a perfect life under His Own Law, suffered the Wrath of God and Hell for our sin, died, rose, and ascended, crediting our accounts with His Holy Life. And He is coming again. We will believe in Him and what God has told us about Him.

It would also mean that we would openly confess Him -- before each other and anyone and everyone else. If we believe that He is our King, all of our friends and relatives will know that. They will know what we believe. How can we say we believe, if those closest to us don't know?

Thirdly, we will revere Him. We will hold Him in high esteem. We will do everything we can to make sure that His Name is honored and not taken in vain. (Yes, think of the commandment -- do not take the Name of the Lord in vain, which also means, do everything within your means to make sure the Name of the Lord is honored.) Remember, that means more than not using His Name as a curse word. It means being a living representative of His Name. For people look at us and say, "Oh, that's what a Christian is like; that's what Jesus is like." We ought to live and act in a way that makes people understand that Jesus is Holy and Almighty.

Fourth, if Jesus is our king, we must obey Him. Now, there are people in the Christian world today who say it is not necessary to obey Jesus. Yes, it's good, it's profitable, but it's not necessary -- Jesus can be your Savior and you can still be lord of your life. Not so: "And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). Another way to put this would be, "if you do not obey Jesus, He is not your salvation." You do not have Jesus, if you do not obey Him.

Now be careful, because we are still sinners. We ought to be fighting sin, progressing is not sinning, progressing in our sanctification, becoming holy, becoming more like Jesus. The author of Hebrews is not saying that repentant sinners cannot be saved, he's saying that those who do not care about what Jesus has commanded and do not attempt to keep His Commands, these have not been saved, not matter what they say or think.

And fifth, if we serve Jesus Christ as our King, then we will honor His other servants. If we serve Jesus Christ as King, then we will love all those who bear the name of Christ and treat them with the honor due a Christ-bearer. You and I ought to treat other Christians, even the ones that aren't as great as us, even the ones that annoy us, with honor and in love. All those who believe in Jesus Alone are brothers and sisters.

And if we do recognize Him as King and live as though He is King, then we will not be afraid, but we will look forward to that day when He returns, not with symbols and hints, but in His Fullness: "But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven" (Mark 13:24-27).

Let us pray:
Almighty God and King, we thank You for living under Your Own Law and for fulfilling all prophecy, so we would known and be without excuse that Jesus is the King of Kings. Strengthen our belief, make us bold to confess, teach us reverence, and make us obedient, and may we love each other as much as we love ourselves. May Jesus Christ be praised. Amen.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Fun Church History Fact

"Tertullian in Apologei, sayes, The Christians were called Asinarii by the Heathen, in contempt; because their Saviour rode upon an Ass, &c."

-- George Petter (re: Mark 11:8-9)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Monday Puritan

"To this we must say that He who promised forgiveness to them that repent has not promised repentace to them that sin."

Ralph Venning, A Puritan Golden Treasury

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Back in the EOPC

I have been invited to return to Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Whippany, NJ, to preach at their evening service on Sunday, July 23, 2006. I will continue (D.V.) my series on Habakkuk, preaching on Habakkuk 1:12-2:5, "Is God Not Holy?" Service is at 6 pm and all are welcome.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

So Jesus Changed His Mind?

Periodically, I look to see what the network TV preachers are up to. This morning, Benny Hinn had Pat Robertson on, talking about Pat's book, Miracles. Pat explained that God does not want us to worry about theology any more; He just wants us to preach the Gospel, and the best way to get the Gospel across is through miracles.

"An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Matthew 12:39-40

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Syd Barrett Dies at Age 60

Syd Barrett, the founder of Pink Floyd, died "in the last few days" of "unreleased causes" at the age of 60. He was a genius, eccentric, and "troubled," as they say. He only actually sang on the first Pink Floyd CD, "Piper at the Gates of Dawn," but his "leaving" the group inspired Roger Waters of Pink Floyd to write their best work, as it was about him: "Wish You Were Here," "Dark Side of the Moon," and "The Wall." He released three solo CDs (though there are many additional compilations of various sorts): "Barrett," "The Madcap Laughs," and "Opel." He is all the more profoundly missed in death.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Monday Puritan

On Mark 10:46, George Petter writes:

"How careless are some in coming to the Ministry of the Word, and to the Sacraments, &c., suffering small matters to hinder them: yea, framing vain excuses to cloke their negligence and contempt of God's Ordinances: suffering matters of the world to hinder them: like those, Luke 14. who were invited to the great Supper. Some absent themselves when they see good: others come when half is done, &c. This shews want of true love to Christ, and zeal for his glory and worship."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"And What Do You Want?"
[Mark 10:32-52]
July 9, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Why are you here this morning? Why did you come for? What did you want? We all come to worship with expectations. Why did you come?

This morning, we have three vignettes in our Scripture. Three events are recorded, and in each one, someone wanted something. In the first part of our text, Jesus wanted the twelve to understand that He is going to die and then rise from the dead. In the second, the twelve wanted power and glory. And in the third, the blind man wanted mercy.

Jesus and His disciples were walking along the road, and He separated the twelve from the rest of the crowd, so He could teach them without the rest of the disciples hearing Him. And He told them for a third time that they were going to Jerusalem and that He, the Son of Man, was going to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they would condemn Him to death. And then Jesus gave them some new information, because Israel was an occupied country, they did not have the authority to carry out the death penalty, but the Romans did. So Jesus told them that the religious leaders, who should have known who He is, they would turn Him over to the Gentiles, to Rome, and He would be mocked and spit on and flogged and killed. But, after three days, He would rise from the dead.

Jesus told the twelve this so they wouldn't be surprised when it happened. He wanted them to understand that if they followed Him, they were opening themselves up to the same sort of treatment -- the same sort of rejection. And He wanted them to understand that this was the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Savior, the Messiah.

Jesus said, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of this world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.... [And] the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: 'They hated me without cause'" (John 15:18-19, 25). Jesus was their Teacher, as well as Savior, and He wanted them to be prepared, to understand what would happen in Jerusalem. And to come to understand what it all meant in the fulfillment of prophecy.

Immediately, James and John stepped forward and command Jesus, "Teacher, we want you to grant whatever request we make." And we might immediately respond, "You've got a lot of chutzpah." But remember, we are told, as the children of God, brothers and sisters and co-heirs with Jesus, that we are to come confidently, boldly, before the throne.(Hebrews 4:16). So, that it not a problem, per se.

What did they want? "Grant that one of us sit on your right and one on your left in glory." "We want power and authority and recognition in Your Kingdom." The good part of this request is that it shows that they understood that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, and He will bring His Kingdom to earth. But James and John, and we're told in Matthew 22:29, their mother, as well, said James and John deserve honor and power and glory for the work they had done on Jesus' behalf. James and John, with their mother, told Jesus that He owed them something for what they had done.

And Jesus told them that they didn't understand what they were saying; they didn't understand what was involved. They were sinfully ignorant of that part of the prophecy (Matthew 22:29). And Jesus asked them if they were really able to drink the cup that He was about to drink and be baptized with the baptism that He was about to receive, and without hesitation, they asserted, "We are able."

They did not understand that His Cup and Baptism were of His Passion and Death. "Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering" (Isaiah 51:17). Even Jesus, in His Humanity, agonized about His fulfilling these words: "'Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will'" (Matthew 26:17).

"We are able." Arrogance, pride, self-love, and sinful ignorance. Yet, Jesus put that aside and told them that He would grant it to them, that they would drink of the cup and be baptized in His Baptism, but He could not grant them the places they asked for in glory, because those places belonged to the persons for whom they were prepared, by the Father, from the beginning.

Jesus does not have the authority to grant the place where the elect will sit, but He does have the authority to provide their salvation. "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). And now, even we share in the benefits of the cup and the baptism. "Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you who were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Colossians 2:12-14).

Do we understand that Jesus, God Incarnate, drank the cup of God's Wrath against all of our sins? "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree' -- " (Galatians 3:13). Do we understand the heinousness of sin and the greatness of the Love of Christ? Are we fit to receive the gift of being hated by the world for His Sake? Are we fit to suffer for Christ?

James and John said, "We are able." And Jesus granted them the cup and the baptism. James was hunted down and decapitated by King Herod (Acts 12:3). And John was captured by the Jews and brutally scourged (Acts 5:40), and the Emperor Domitian, exiled him to the Isle of Patmos, where he died. John wrote, "I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 1:9).

Paul said that this is what he wanted, "that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Philippians 3:10). "Now, I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake" (Colossians 1:24a). "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:16-17). Paul was not a masochist, but he was fit to be a servant of Christ and suffer for His Sake.

Now, the other ten heard James and John and their mother, and they became indignant -- they were angry. Not because of their sin in desiring power and glory and position, but because each of the other ten also wanted the power and the glory and the position -- they all wanted to sit on the left or the right when Jesus came in glory. They all thought they deserved that honor.

Jesus responded with a dehortation and an exhortation. He told them first that they ought not to be desiring power and position; they should not be puffed up and prideful about themselves. And secondly, He told them that they ought to be humble, and take no regard for their status amongst the things of the world.

Jesus gave them an example: Jesus said, "You understand that politicians tend to be power hungry -- they tend to be people who lord their power over others -- they tend to be media hounds -- they want everyone to know who they are and how great they are and that it is the underlings that make the mistakes in the administration." [Maybe God's Word is for today!] Jesus said, "You are not to be like that. If you are mine, you will be humble, self-sacrificing, ready and willing to receive whatever comes for My Sake and the sake of the Gospel." Just as Jesus did not incarnate to be served but to serve and to pay the debt for our sin to God -- to pay the debt for the sin of the Church, the elect, to God, you are to seek to serve, not to be lifted up on a pedestal.

And they arrived at Jericho -- about eighteen miles from Jerusalem, and as they passed out of the town, followed by a large crowd, they passed the son of Timeaus, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, who was begging beside the road. And when he heard that it was Jesus, he began to cry out to Him, "Son of David, Jesus, take pity on me!" "Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!" Let us understand that, by calling Jesus, "the Son of David," he was confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior. How did he know? How did this blind man, who sat by the side of the road, know that Jesus is the Savior? Paul tells us, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). There is one and only one means by which a person believes in the Scripture -- there is only one way that God tells us to use -- and that is the reading and preaching of His Word. Bartimaeus had heard the Word of God preached and God had given him the faith to believe and regenerated him -- brought him back to spiritual life.

But the crowd told him to be quiet. Maybe Jesus was teaching, maybe they just thought Bartimaeus was below Jesus to bother with. But Bartimaeus' faith only grew as it was suppressed, and he cried out more, "Son of David, take pity on me!"

And Jesus stopped and had them call to him, and Bartimaeus jumped up and threw off his garment and immediately went to Jesus. That is how every Christian should act: when we hear the call of Jesus, we ought to jump up, throw off any impediment -- anything that would slow us down -- and rush to His Feet -- to hear what word He has for us. There should be no sitting around, "Well, did Jesus really say that? And I'm not sure we can say what the meaning of 'is' is for the first century Jew, so we can't understand..." If Jesus says, "Come," we are to come. Period. If the Word of God says it, that's it. We should read the Bible critically, like intelligent people, interpreting it wisely, and ask questions, but if this is the Word of God, our Creator, we will find a call to immediate obedience, even if we don't fully understand.

And Jesus asked Bartimaeus, "And what do you want?" And Bartimaeus, cried out, believing in Jesus already, "Rabboni, to see again." And immediately he could see. Not because he merited sight, but because Jesus chose to be merciful to him. "Go, your faith has saved you." He received his healing through faith -- not because of it. Just like we receive mail through the postal system -- the postal system has given us mail -- but the postal system in no way created the mail -- it is the conduit by which the mail is delivered. So, Bartimaeus received his healing by faith in the mercy of Christ. But rather than go home, he followed Jesus.

And what do you want?

Do you want power, glory, recognition, honor, etc.?

Paul wrote of "our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14). And the writer of Hebrews wrote, "Since therefore the children share flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook in the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

I want that deliverance, that salvation, that mercy from Jesus. "Son of David, Jesus, take pity on me!" Don't you?

I spoke with a woman this week who said, "You hope Jesus had the truth. I don't believe it. The Bible was written by humans. I believe that God, if there is a God, will judge me by His Justice, and there's nothing more we can say or do."

I pray God will have mercy upon her and enlighten her to salvation, because the last thing anyone should ever want, who understands the heinousness of sin, is God's Justice.

Jesus promised that all those who believe in Him and confess their salvation in Him are saved eternally in Him, by His Mercy Alone. Let our proper response be one of humility, thankfulness, and praise.

Let us pray:
Almighty and Holy God, keep us from being distracted by the things the world values. Make us a people who humbly serve after Your Example and in Your Mercy. Forgive us for treating sin lightly and create in us clean hearts by Your Mercy. We thank You and Praise You, for You Alone are Worthy, now and forever, Most Mighty God and Savior. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Monday Puritan

from George Petter on Mark 10:20:

"See how many formal hypocrites are now adayes to be found in the Church; in that it is so common a thing with men to rest on outward obedience to the Law and Commandments of God, without care and conscience of the inward. How many are there, who think they keep the Law of God well enough, and are religious enough, if they refrain from outward grosse sins before men? and if they perform some outward duties of Religion towards God, and of charity to men: if they come to Church duly, hear the Word, receive the Sacrament: and not only so, but use prayer in their Families (though this is wholly neglected by a great many): If they have some care of the outward sanctifying of the Sabbath; and if withall they do perform such outward duties of Charity and Justice towards men, as are required in the second Table of the Commandments; then they think all is well, and they rest in this outward conformity to the Law: in the mean time, making no conscience of inward and spiritual obedience to the same, but harbouring gross sins and corruptions in their hearts, both against God and Man. Thus it is with many (if not with the greatest part) of such as bear the name Christians now adayes: which shews, how great is the number of formal and close hypocrites; and how small the number is of sound Christians: and how true it is which the Scripture hath foretold touching these last and dangerous times in which we now live; that man should have an outward form of godliness, denying the inward power and life of it, 2 Tim. 3. Formal hypocrisie is one of the raining sins of these times; the Epidemical disease of Christians; yet fearful and dangerous: to be lamented with a fountain of tears."

preached July 27, 1628. Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.

Sunday Sermon

"Is Salvation Possible?"
[Mark 10:17-31]
July 2, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Is salvation possible? We might think that a stupid question with the number of times we have heard from this pulpit that there is salvation in Jesus Christ Alone. But the question takes on a different nuance as we look at the man who comes to Jesus in this morning's Scripture.

Our text tells us that a man ran up to Jesus, fell on his knees, and asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He said, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus began His answer with a rebuke, "Why do you call me 'good'? No one is good except for God." See, the man was trying to butter Jesus up by using a term that ought only be used for God; he knew that Jesus was a famous teacher and healer, and the man thought Jesus would be impressed if the man associated Jesus with God. But Jesus wasn't impressed. Jesus said, "Don't call me God, unless you believe that I am God."

Understand, in this context, the man was using the word "good" to mean "sinless; holy." And Jesus knew that the man did not believe that Jesus was sinless and holy, so Jesus reminded the man that only God is sinless and holy, and we ought not throw around descriptions that we don't believe. However, let us remember what the writer of Hebrews wrote, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). What is the author of Hebrews telling us? Jesus is without sin; He is holy. Therefore, Jesus is God. Jesus was not denying that He is God when the man approached Him, He just wanted the man to know that it is not appropriate for the man to call Jesus God when he did not believe it.

So the man came to Jesus. In Matthew, we are told that this man was very young (Matthew 19:20). And in Luke, we have the additional information that he was a ruler of the Jews (Luke 18:18). This was a man who has risen to power and fame early in life. He was someone who recognized that despite his worldly accomplishments, he had to be right with God to enter God's Kingdom, so he came to Jesus and asked Him what he still needed to do. And Jesus told him to keep all of the commandments. For most of us, that would be the end of the conversation -- we would be weeping and mourning, knowing that we have not kept all of the commandments. John reminds us, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ... If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us" (I John 1:8, 10). And Paul wrote, "None is righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10).

But the young ruler was feeling pretty good about himself, "Teacher" -- at least he learned that lesson -- "Teacher, all of these I have kept from my youth." He seriously believe that he had kept the Law of God perfectly. He must have been an American, "Well, I've never done this and I've never done that. I'm actually better than most people, so God will let me into His Kingdom."

Let us remember what James wrote, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it" (James 2:10). If we have only sinned once, we are guilty of the whole Law.

So Jesus said, "There is one thing that you lack, take everything you have, sell it, and give it to the poor, and you will have wealth in heaven, and come here, and follow me." Jesus, knowing the man's heart, knowing his weaknesses, knowing his sin, said, "Alright, let's just check, beginning with the first commandment, 'I am the Lord Thy shall have no other gods before me'" (Exodus 20:1a, 2).

"Well, you can prove that easily enough, if your wealth is not a god to you -- a greater god to you that the One True God -- sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then come back and follow Me." "And he was appalled at his word [and] departed distraught because he had great possessions."

The man thought he had kept the whole Law, but when Jesus put the first commandment in front of him, he was found to have put other gods before God, and he had become covetous in his wealth. He was horrified at the idea that others would have his wealth and he would not.

Let's notice a few things here:

First, the man's riches did not cause him to sin. Being wealthy is not a sin. Someone who makes five thousand dollars a year can put the money above God, just as much as someone who make five million dollars a year.

Second, until we understand and believe that we are sinners, there is no salvation for us. Why would there be? If we are right with God, if we have kept God's Law perfectly, what need do we have for salvation?

Third, notice that Jesus loved the man. We're not told what happens to this man, but tradition holds that he did, eventually, repent, and sell all he had, and followed Jesus. The fact that Jesus loved this man is an indication that the tradition may be true.

And fourth, notice that Jesus said that if he gave up his possessions on earth, for Jesus, for the sake of the Gospel, he would have treasure in heaven. Paul wrote that he prayed that God would "give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (Ephesians 1:17b-18). Those who faithfully follow Jesus shall receive riches in the Kingdom. (We'll come back to that in a minute.)

And Jesus looked around and said to the disciples, "It is difficult for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God. It's difficult for anyone to enter the Kingdom of God. It's difficult -- like a camel going through the eye of a needle." Solomon wrote, "Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf" (Proverbs 11:28). James wrote, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you" (James 5:1). And Paul wrote, "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction" (I Timothy 6:9).

Again, we need to emphasize, being wealthy is not a sin. Money and riches are not sinful. Wealth does not make a person sin. What we are being told here is that having wealth is a big temptation, but wealth is relative: if we have nothing, and we suddenly receive five thousand dollars, we will be rich, comparatively, and we face the same dangers of sin. If we have more than we need, however much that may be, we have wealth relative to our situation, and we are more likely to fall into certain types of sin. That's why Jesus first says it is difficult for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God and then says it is difficult to enter the Kingdom of God.

So, the disciples, realizing their and all of humanity's plight before God, cried to each other, "Then who can be saved? Is salvation possible?" And Jesus looked at them, weighed out their ability to receive His Word, and He said, "On your own, based on your own ability, no, salvation is not possible, because none of you are able. All humans are sinners and therefore incapable of entering the Kingdom of God. But -- if God grants you salvation, if God is pleased to save you, if God chooses according to His Sovereign Good Pleasure to save You -- then, yes, salvation is possible -- in fact, it is sure." Paul wrote, "Such is the confidence we have that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God" (II Corinthians 3:4-5). And, "So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy" (Romans 9:16). If God wants you to be saved, He will save you. If not, there is no salvation for you.

And Peter, on behalf of everyone who has done volunteer work for the church, jumped up and rebuked Jesus, "Listen! We have given up everything and followed you."

And Jesus cut him off and said, "True, and don't worry whatever, whomever, you've given up for My Sake and for the sake of the Gospel, you will receive back one hundred fold." Jesus said, "There is a reward for faithfulness and obedience in Me." "There is a reward for Christian sacrifice, both in this life and the next."

Jesus said that our works and sacrifice do not save us, be we do receive a reward for them, both in this life and in the next. As God is pleased, we are rewarded in physical and spiritual blessings on earth, in persecution and suffering on earth, and in the glory that is to come in the Kingdom.

"Wait a minute: I like the idea of physical and spiritual blessings on earth and in the glory that is to come in the Kingdom. But is Jesus saying that if we are faithful and obedient in this life, we may be rewarded with more suffering and persecution in this life?"

Brothers and sisters, the answer is "yes." Remember what Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:34b-36). As God is pleased, we will receive blessings on earth, and glory in the Kingdom, but we will also receive the fruits, the rewards, of taking up our cross -- the fruits of suffering and persecution.

"Well, how much will I have to suffer and be persecuted? Let's weight out whether this is worth it or not." We just don't know. For some, it will be very little; for some, it will be a great deal, even our very lives. Suffering and persecution are difficult, no doubt. We are not called to enjoy them. But we are called to receive them and rely on God and bring glory to God in the way that we endure them for His Sake and for the Sake of the Gospel. Remember, we are only talking about suffering and persecution for Jesus' Sake and for the sake of the Gospel, not for our sin. If we suffer for our sin, that's our problem, we deserve it. What we receive from the Hand Of God for Jesus' Sake and the Sake of the Gospel is not punishment.

George Petter explains that the Christian is rewarded in two ways in this life: First, the Christian receives a greater measure of spiritual gifts and grace needed to live this life faithfully and obediently. Second, the Christian receives the ability to find greater value and take greater comfort in whatever God gives us now, than all of the things we had before (A Commentary upon the Gospel of St. Mark, 770).

And why is that? Because we Christians have already received the greatest thing possible, the one thing that we are absolutely incapable of securing ourselves -- that we are absolutely unable to receive ourselves -- and that is salvation in Jesus Christ Alone. It is simply and only the Gift of God to whoever God is pleased to give it. If you and I are Christians this morning, God did it -- not us. We were never able.

So Jesus ends this morning's text, "And many who are first will be last and the last will be first." What is He saying? First, He's warning us not become conceited in our salvation. How easy would it be, if you or I had been one of the apostles, one who had known Jesus and been given instruction and salvation and gifts from Him to consider ourselves among the greatest of people. Jesus tells us to watch our -- to maintain our humility, focusing on the fact that salvation is in Jesus Christ Alone. Humans are born incapable of receiving salvation; it is wholly the Work of God. And second, He is telling us that we ought not despair of anyone, for God may snatch a person out of the fire in the very moment before she breathes her last breath. So, we ought to be faithful in our witness and our preaching, leaving the work of salvation to the One Who is able.

As we come to the Table this morning, let us remember that our God, Jesus, is the only One Who makes salvation possible, and He grants it to whomever He is pleased to grant it. It is not based on us at all. And let us understand that we are all sinners -- every human being -- and we must all understand that, or there can be no salvation. And let us understand, in faith and hope, as we drink the cup and eat the bread, we are pledging to Christ that we will drink the same cup He drank -- that we will bear the cross that is before us -- for His Sake, for the Sake of the Gospel, and to the Glory of God.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, Yours Alone is the Salvation. Thank You for saving us and making us Your people when we were unable. Strengthen us in our spirits, and provide for all our needs, that we may carry our cross to Your Glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen.