Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

September Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

9/3/06 Communion Mark 12:18-27 "God of the Living"
9/10/06 Mark 12:28-34 "You Are Not Far"
9/17/06 Mark 12:35-40 "My Lord's Lord"
9/24/06 Mark 12:41-44 "Sacrificial Giving"

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Monday Puritan

"You may know God, but not comprehend Him."

-- Richard Baxter A Puritan Golden Treasury

Sunday Sermon

"Pay Your Taxes"
[Mark 12:13-17]
August 27, 2006 Second Reformed Church

You are wrong if you believe that you can obey God and not obey the government. You are wrong if you believe that obeying the government is all that God requires. You are wrong if you believe you can pick and choose what of God's Word to believe and follow. You are wrong if you believe you should follow anything and everything that the government says to do.

What is the relationship of the Christian to God and the state? If you blindly quip, "There is a separation between church and state," you are wrong, both as a Christian and an American.

We have in this morning's Scripture, two groups which approach Jesus: the Pharisees and the Herodians. I would guess most of us glossed over that fact -- and that's because we don't know who they were. We don't know how shocked people would have been to see the Pharisees and the Herodians working together on anything. We don't automatically know in our culture that what we see in this morning's Scripture is an example of the saying, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Remember, Israel was a Roman colony while Jesus was on earth -- she was under Roman rule. And the opinion of the people, as one might expect, varied regarding that fact. The Pharisees, the ones who had been set apart for the work of the temple believed that the Law of God -- as they interpreted it -- took precedence over the law of Rome. If there was a conflict between what they wanted the Scripture to say and what Rome commanded, the Pharisees' interpretation won. On the other hand, the Herodians we Jews who followed Herod in believing that it was good that Israel was a colony of Rome, so, not matter what the Law of God said, it had to submit to Rome and her law. Two very different responses and people. But this morning we see them come together and put their differences aside for a common goal: the destruction of Jesus.

The Pharisees wanted Jesus in prison or dead, because He criticized them and their representation of the Law of God to the people. The Herodians wanted Jesus in prison or dead, because He seemed to threaten Herod and the Roman rule of Israel. These two opposite peoples came together "to catch [Jesus] by his word."

And they asked Him this seemingly innocent question: "Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar or should we not pay them?" But Jesus knew, even with them buttering Him up, "Oh, teacher, You're so wise. You don't care what other people say about You. You don't base Your teachings on the way that others look to You or how Your teachings will look to others. You just speak the truth. You teach the way of God to all people. You are so wonderful, Jesus." They were sickeningly sweet. It was the sweetness that causes the heart to wrench up in pain.

"Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar or should we not pay them?" They had learned well how to craft a question, because if Jesus answered "yes," they would have cause against Him, and if He said "no," they would have cause against Him. If Jesus said, "Yes, we ought to pay taxes to Caesar," the Pharisees would accuse Jesus of neglecting the Law of God, putting the pagan Romans ahead of the commands of God -- and the Herodians would, reluctantly, back up the Pharisees. And if Jesus said, "No, we should not pay taxes to Caesar," the Herodians would accuse Jesus of being against the Roman government, of inciting disobedience to the law of Rome.

So Jesus, by the Wisdom of God, asked to see a denarius -- a common coin of the day -- which had the face of Caesar imprinted on it. Jesus asked them who was on the coin and they told Him that it was Caesar, and Jesus told them, "Give to Caesar Caesar's and to God God's." And the mouths of the Pharisees and the mouths of the Herodians and those of the crowd dropped open, and they were amazed. Jesus had completely circumvented their trap and stated the truth of the matter.

We are to give to Caesar, Caesar's. We are to obey the laws of the government unless they go against the clear teaching of the Scripture. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed" (Romans 13:1-7).

The Roman Christians had mistakenly thought that since the Roman government was pagan and Jesus was returning for His people soon, they didn't have to pay taxes or obey those in authority over them. Paul tells them that they are mistaken, and we are mistaken if we think we do not have to obey those in authority over us in the world. For this reason, every person that is put in authority is put there by God. President Bush, Governor Corzine, Mayor Smith -- were all put in their positions by God to carry out God's Will.

Now, let's not get confused: they are to be obeyed and respected and prayed for for the sake of their office. President Bush, Governor Corzine, and Mayor Smith have not done all things perfectly after God's Will. They are sinners, just like us. The point is not that they sin, but that God has put them in authority over us.

Understand, I, like many of you, can get worked up about the stupid and awful things that occur in government, and I believe we are taxed outside the realm of all reason. However, we are to obey those in authority. If we do, we have nothing to fear from them. And they, as we're told, are to protect us and punish evil. Of course, we ought to be involved -- voting, writing letters, etc, when we disagree with what our leaders do.

But we are not allowed -- by God -- to cheat those in authority, to dismiss the law because the government is corrupt or because "everybody does it." I was quite taken aback in a conversation with a number of ministers when I asked about an income tax issue and what it meant, to have them, one after another, admit that they cheat on their taxes. We must give Caesar Caesar's.

Another reason, that you may have already gathered, that we must give Caesar Caesar's is that we are to give God God's. If those in authority over us were put there by God to do God's Work, then obedience to the government, is ultimately obedience to God. That is part of obeying God.

Do you obey God? Do you give God God's?

Statistically, there is no difference between the actions of a non-Christian and a Christian. So, what are we saying? How are we living? We are just as obedient as those who have no desire to obey God, and, in fact, hate Him.

"Well, I thought Christianity was about loving God and believing in Jesus, not a list of dos and don'ts."

The longest of the Psalms, Psalm 119, is a hymn about the beauty of God's Law. There is a verse for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. If we really love God and believe in Jesus, we will love God's Law and give God God's.

"Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the way of the Lord Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. I will keep your statutes, do not utterly forsake me!" (Psalm 119:1-8).

Christianity is not a list of dos and don'ts, it's about falling in love, and being so in love that you want to do anything and everything you can to please your God and Savior. Do you love Him? Do you wake up in the morning and pray that today, you would please Him? Do you pray that you would fall more deeply in love with Him and find Him all the more glorious, more greatly to be desired above every thing on earth? Do you open His Word and read and desire more of Jesus?

The second verse: "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I shall seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statues! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word" (Psalm 119:9-16).

"Well, I don't have a good memory, so I don't waste my time."

Look, I don't have a good memory, but coming before God and reading His Word and reading it again and again and again as it sinks down into your soul as imprints you and changes you and grows you and enlightens you -- the psalmist said that there is nothing better -- not even all riches.

Do you love God?

Then pay your taxes. Obey the laws and those who govern over you, unless they go against the clear teaching of Scripture. And spend time in God's Word, reading God's Word, talking to God, falling more deeply in love with Him and in obedience and devotion to Him.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we have not obeyed those You have put in authority over us. We have ignored You, or at best, given You our leftovers. God forgive us. Make us a people who stand out by obeying for Your Sake and in Your Name. And may we give back to You what is already Yours in love and obedience, ever deepening. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Sticktuitivity?

In my reading of biographical material regarding the ordained, it seems it was common, prior to the Second World War, for a minister to remain at a single church for 30, 40, 50 years... That is no longer the case; it is a rarity for a minister to stay more than ten to fifteen years. Why? Families and inviduals move about due to changes in transportant -- we can now sin thousands of miles away in just a few hours, but why do the ministers leave?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Faith justifies the person, and works justify his faith."

-- Elisha Coles, A Puritan Golden Treasury

Sunday Sermon

"Not Even the Son"
[Mark 12:1-12]
August 13, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Jesus had overthrown the tables of the money changers and the chairs of the dove sellers, and He had run all those who were buying and selling out of the temple with a whip. He explained to them that He had done this because the poor were being cheated and there was no concern for the right, pure, and holy worship of God: "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? [But] you have made it a den of thieves."

Then the scribes and the Pharisees and the elders confronted Jesus and demanded to know by what authority He did these things. The scribes and the Pharisees and the elders were the keepers of the temple; they were to make sure that the right, pure, and holy worship of God was occurring. But Jesus turned the question around on them, asking them by what authority John the Baptist had preached. They realized that either way they answered Him, they would be condemning themselves for not receiving Jesus as the prophesied Messiah, the Savior, so they told Him that they didn't know.

Thus it was that Jesus told the parable that we heard this morning. It was a parable that the scribes and the Pharisees and the elders understood was condemning them -- Jesus accused them in this parable. But, again, they did nothing about it.

Jesus told them that a man planted a vineyard, provided all of the equipment necessary to grow and harvest the grapes, and set up various protections to keep them from loss by other men or animals. The man had provided everything. The farmers that he brought to care for the vineyard needed nothing for the care and running of the vineyard. Thus, the man appointed a number of farmers, and the man left the country.

When the time of the harvest came, rather than requiring all of the harvest be given to him, the man sent a slave to the vineyard with instructions to collect a portion of the harvest -- the rest of the harvest would be left to the discretion of the farmers to share and enjoy.

But the farmers hated the man; they were ungrateful, rebellious, and jealous of all he had, so they plotted amongst themselves to keep all of the harvest for themselves. So when the slave arrived to collect on behalf of the man, the farmers tortured him, tearing off his skin, and sent him back to the man empty-handed.

The man sent a second slave, and this one, they beat over the head until he was bloody, and they sent him back to the man empty-handed. And then, the next slave they killed. Slave after slave was sent, some they tortured, beat, and abused, and some they killed. They were not going to give the man a portion of the harvest.

So the man finally sent his son. He thought that perhaps they were unwilling to give a portion back to the slaves of the man, but surely, if the man sent his son, the flesh of his flesh, one of his own being, surely, they would receive him and give him what the man required.

But, instead, they saw the son as the final obstacle to achieving everything that the man had left in their care. If they killed his son, there would be no one left. They would win. The man would back off. He would abandon the vineyard and give it over to them. So they killed his son.

However, they were wrong: the man did not simply give up and give them the vineyard. No, he came after them and slaughtered them for their actions, and he put new farmers in charge of the vineyard.

What was Jesus saying?

Jesus was reminding them, that God created everything that is. God is the owner of the vineyard that is the created order. He has given us everything we need to exist, to care for the creation and each other. They would have remembered this call to dominion -- this call to show loving protective care to all of the creation as God instructed them in the beginning: "And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth'" (Genesis 1:28). And God gave the scribes and the Pharisees and the elders a special call to care for the worship of God.

The keepers of the temple were to receive the tithes and the offerings of the people, leading them in worship, and receiving their sustenance from a set portion of the tithes and offerings of the people. But they grew to be ungrateful, jealous, rebellious, and even hate God, not being satisfied with the exceeding greatness of the blessings and care of God for them, but wanting more and more. After all, they were doing all the work. What had God done for them lately?

But God is patient and long-suffering and usually does not cause people to immediately die for their sin. In another place we're told that Jesus mourned for Jerusalem, because He had given them chance after chance, mercy upon mercy: "'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city the kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate'" (Matthew 23:37-38).

God sent prophets and teachers to Israel, and again and again, she rejected the Word of God. She killed the prophets. She thought herself above God and His Law. So God sent His Son.

"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom he also created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs" (Hebrews 1:1-4).

And in an act of ultimate rebellion and hatred for God, they murdered Jesus, the Son. This Jesus was the One Who was rebuking the scribes and the Pharisees and the elders through the parable. He was telling them that in every way, they has been disobedient and in direct opposition to God and His Will and His Holy Worship. And they would receive God's Just Judgment upon them for their sin. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "For you, brothers, become imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen, as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved -- so as always to fill up the measure of the sins. But God's wrath has come upon them at last!" (I Thessalonians 2:14-16).

What they didn't understand, even though they wanted Jesus put to death and had tried to find a way to find Him guilty so He would be put to death, is that it was always God's Plan that in sending His Son, those who most should have recognized Him, would be the ones who put Him to death. As John said, "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him" (John 1:11). And as Peter preached, "'Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know -- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, losing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it'" (Acts 2:22-24).

Yes, they were responsible for their sin in rejecting Jesus and having Him put to death, but God did not fail. His Purpose was accomplished, just as He had planned, by having Jesus die for the sake of His people and the glory of the Father.

Jesus quoted the Psalmist as he praised God for being a God Whose Steadfast Love endures forever. He is a God Who always keeps His Promises and preserves and perseveres His people to the end. He is so great a God, the Psalmist tells us, that God's people should never fear a mere man. And the Psalmist wrote, "Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!" (Psalm 118:19-29).

In the condemnation of the evil religious leaders, Jesus also gave the people hope. Despite their sin, God is faithful and will keep His Promises. The Messiah, Jesus, is the Savior, and He will save His people -- not by the way some had expected -- but by being rejected by those who human wisdom would say would know, but then by becoming the cornerstone of the church -- our strength, our foundation, our hope. As Peter wrote, "As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.' So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, 'The stone that the builders have rejected has become the cornerstone' and 'A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.' They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do" (I Peter 2:4-8).

What a wondrous, generous, loving, patient God is this? He gave us all that we have, told us to care for it, and gave us some to lead us in worship. He requires some of the blessings in tribute, but gives most of them to us for our use. And even when those God has appointed to lead us in worship forsake Him and us, and lead the way to sin and destruction, God knew and planned it, that His Son would come, be rejected, and yet, would be the very foundation of our salvation. "This came from the Lord and is wonderful in our eyes!"

But as we understand this wondrous hope we have, let us also take heed not to base that hope on ourselves, on our being religious, on our church membership, or anything that is less that Jesus Alone. For just as Jesus replaced the farmers with other farmers, Paul tells us in Romans, "But if some of the [Jewish] branches were broken off, and you [Gentiles], although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant towards the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you will be cut off" (Romans11:17-22).

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we wonder and are amazed that not even Your Son was spared to secure our salvation. Keep us humble and in awe of this great truth. May we worship You and lead our lives in all ways after Your Word and by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Cause us to bear fruit that glorifies You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

George Petter

Last week I finished reading the massive A Learned, Pious, and Practical Commentary Upon the Gospel According to St. Mark: Wherein The Sacred Text is Logically Analysed; The meaning of the holy Spirit clearly and soundly opened: Doctrines naturally raised, strongly confirmed, vindicated from Exceptions, and excellent Inferences deduced from them: All seeming Differences in the History between this and the other Evangelists fairly reconciled: Many important Cases of Conscience, Judiciously, Succinctly, and Perspicuously solved. By that Laborious and Faithful Servant of Christ, Mr. George Petter, late Minister of the Gospel at Bread in Suffex. Printed by J. Streater, and are to be sold by George Sawbridge, at the Bible on Ludgate Hill, 1661.

In eight hundred and seventy-three pages of microscopic print, Petter indeed does what his ambitious title suggests -- it is one of the greatest, most profound and humbling commentaries I have ever read. And it was based upon his sermons at Bread. He died after finishing the eleventh chapter of Mark.

A J. Petter wrote the introduciton to the volume, let me point out three items from that introduction:

George Petter went to the University of Cambridge at sixteen years of age, and then studied at Trinity College, where he came under the influence of Mr. Simon Aldrich. Upon graduating in his twenty-fourth year, he became the pastor of Bread in Sussex and served there for the remaining fourty-four years of his life.

During his ministry, Petter preached through the Pslams, Isaiah 53, Zephaniah, Ephesians, I Thessalonians, James, Jude, the first eleven chapters of Mark, as well as The Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments.

Petter died in 1661 -- as recorded by J. Petter: "The Disease which made its Preparative Assault upon him, was an Arthritical Disposition in one of his Shoulders, the pain whereof encreasing more and more upon him, at length reduced him to a fatal Consumption, of which he dyed in the 68th Year of his Age. His departure, when once Death drew near, was speedy and peaceable."

As of yet, I have found no other works of Petter's. If anyone should know of one, I would be grateful to know where I might locate it.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Unity is no mark of the true Church. For here was unity amongst the enemies of Christ, though of different estates and callings; yet they all conspired against Christ. And such unity and consent there hath ever used to be among the wicked, and enemies of Christ and his Church. See Prov. 1.14. Psal.2.2. Kings of Earth and Rulers take counsel together against the Lord and his anointed. This was afterward fulfilled, when both Herod and Pontius Pilate, and Jews and Gentiles conspired against Christ Jesus to see him to death, Act. 4.27. Revel. 17.13. The ten kings have one mind, and shall give their power and strength to the beast, and shall make war with the Lamb, &c. Therefore unity and consent is no mark of the true Church, unless it be unity in the truth, and for the truth, and for the honor and glory of Christ, and not against Christ. To observe likewise against the Papists, who make unity a mark of the Church, &c. See chap. 3.6."

George Petter on Mark 11:27-28.

Sunday EVENING Sermon

"Woe"
[Habakkuk 2:6-20]
August 6, 2006 Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church

We return again to our look at the burden -- the heavy vision -- of the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk preached about the time of Jeremiah, before the fall of Jerusalem. We saw in our previous looks at Habakkuk's burden, that the prophet had called out to God and asked God why He was allowing Israel to sin and not be punished; why was the Law ignored and Justice never served? God answered the prophet that God would punish Israel's sin: He was sending the Chaldeans against them -- to slaughter them and take them into captivity. The prophet responded and cried out to God again, asking God how He could be holy and send a people more evil than Israel to punish her. And God told Habakkuk that God is Holy; He was well aware of the sins of the Chaldeans, but the just would live by faith.

God told Habakkuk that He knew that the Chaldeans were an insatiable and evil people, and God would deal with them. Yet, God was using them to accomplish His Will. God instructed Habakkuk to write down his vision -- this burden -- and print it in bold and clear writing so all the people of Israel would be able to read it and know what God had said and was going to do.

Tonight, we heard God speak five "woes" -- five laments of judgment -- against the Chaldeans. In response to their insatiable and evil gathering of nations and people, God pronounced five woes against the Chaldeans. The first three form a cluster about lust. The fourth deals with treatment of neighbor. And the fifth, with idolatry.

The first woe is a woe against those who plunder by demanding unjust tribute. The Chaldeans lusted after money and riches. Even after they had conquered and enslaved a people, they demanded that they pay exorbitant tributes to the king. They desired more and more and more -- while there was any breath left in their captives, while there was any person or nation on the planet, there was more. They were trying to fill the black hole of their hearts; their love of money. And God proclaimed that the day was coming when those that they have taken from and taken from and bled dry, will rise up against them and demand back full payment in the blood of the Chaldeans. They would not escape paying back their creditors -- the axe would fall, and they would take their due in flesh.

Paul warned about this sin: "Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we will carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (I Timothy 6:6-10).

Do not misunderstand Paul. He is not saying that being rich is a sin. God chooses to bless some with great riches. That is not a sin, but it is a temptation. Those who have much are greatly tempted. But we also must not glory in being poor, because being rich is relative. If we make five thousand dollars a year amidst a people that make two thousand dollars a year, we are rich. Paul is not saying that we should avoid being paid what we are worth -- no, we are to pay people what they are worth -- for the job they do for us.

Oh, it's so easy to lust after money and things -- especially in an age of credit cards. Credit cards are not evil -- they can be useful and helpful, but have you ever bought anything you didn't have the money for and didn't need, but you had the card? Have you said, "If I only had this, or one more of those, I would be content?"

Paul said, "With clothing and food, with these we shall be content."

David, on the run in the wilderness of Judah, wrote, "Because Your loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will life up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips" (Psalm 63:3-5).

Are you satisfied with what God has given you? Whether marrow or fatness, merely food and clothes or riches. Is God's Loving-kindness enough? Or are we modern day Chaldeans with insatiable lust?

Similarly, God pronounces a woe against the Chaldeans and those who seeks security and economic gain through evil means. The Chaldeans thought if they conquered and enslaved more and more of their enemies and took more and more of their goods, if they achieved more and more control over the world, they would be safe and successful -- nothing bad could happen to them. They would have all the toys, so they would win. But God said that they would be put to shame; they sinned against their own souls. The very building materials that they stole to build their homes and fortresses would turn against them, and their sin would be public knowledge. Their glory would be turned to shame. As Solomon wrote, "The fear of the wicked will come upon him, and the desire of the righteous will be granted" (Proverbs 10:24).

I have been told again and again that churches must be run like businesses. And, as often is the case, there is truth and falsehood in that assertion. Is it true that we ought to run churches in an orderly fashion, wisely stewarding what we have, setting goals and working hard to achieve them? Yes. But, when I hear that we need to calculate the number of people and the amount of money we need to keep "in business" and that we must set forth in a mercenary fashion to get "x"
number of people with "y" amount of money in total -- that is sin, that is putting out trust in numbers. That is seeking security in evil means.

Are we seeking safety in numbers? In the stuff we see around us?

After my father died, my mother was left to live on Social Security and the remains of the estate -- in other words, not much, especially with three children still at home -- two of whom has serious medical problems. And people in my mother's church advised her to stop tithing -- that God would understand that she needed the money now. I was thankful that my mother said "no" to this friendly Christian counsel.

Most people look at giving to the church as something we do with the left over money we have, as we feel like giving. I have preached to my congregation on how God teaches to give -- as a start -- ten percent of our gross income/blessings -- because it includes everything we receive. One of my elders came to me and said, "Sorry, I'm not that generous."

Are we hoarding to achieve some sort of false security, or are we being obedient to and trusting of God? After all, God has only given us His Son and eternal salvation with Him. The stones and the timbers will cry out.

Again, in line with the first two, God issued a third woe against the Chaldeans, against all those who ruthlessly seek fame. The Chaldeans wanted to be known throughout the world for their power and their glory, for their skill and wealth. Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon -- the Chaldeans -- was walking on the roof of the royal palace and said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30b). Do we remember what happened in the land of Shinar, in the early days of our history? The whole earth came together and said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scatter abroad over the face of the while earth" (Genesis 11:4b). In pride and vanity, they wanted to be known and glorified for their kingdom. They desired to be on a high place -- they desired to be worshiped and adored. Remember, their net was their god, so they thought they deserved all glory.

But God said it is vanity. It is the eternal feeding of the flames of a fire. The nations weary themselves seeking what they can never have. Their vanity grows exponentially as their sin shows them they are not worthy, even as they want more and more.

And so we are tempted -- we also desire to be known, to be thanked, to be glorified. (It is a sad commentary in the church when people get angry because they have not been thanked..) Who do we think we're asking to have glory taken from when we ask it be put on ourselves? The world can fill their black holes of vanity. But, Christians, we are the Church -- we are the Body of Christ. We exist to glorify Jesus Christ.

Even Rev. Howard Currie is not here to be glorified. He ought to be respected and loved as a fellow Christian and for the sake of his call, but no church is the pedestal of the minister. As Paul wrote, "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through who you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he that waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building" (I Corinthians 3:5-9).

Seeking after our own glory will fail, as it would fail for the Chaldeans some seventy years later. God said that they would not receive glory and we will not receive glory, but "the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."

If we want joy -- if we want security -- that coming glory that will enrapture the whole earth will be our hope. That glory that will come and make us as blind to our lusts and all sin, is the glorious future we look for. Matthew tells us it will be like this: "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will gather together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:27-31).

The commentator, Edward Marbury, wrote, "It is plaine that Gods remissenesse in the execution of his just judgments upon the proud and cruel Babylonians, and the miserable face of the Church disfigured with tears, her voyce hoarse with roaring for help, he throat dry, her heart aking, and no relief appearing: all this had not only made the ungodly and profane confident that there was no such thing as Providence; but it appeareth by this Prophet that the faith of Gods children was staggered hereby. But when God shall declare his justice against these his enemies, then he shall recover his glory; then shall they both know that Christ is Lord, both the oppressor shall know it, and the delivered shall know it, and they that are no parties to the cause of any side shall all understand" (Marbury, Habakkuk, 294).

God spoke a fourth woe against the Chaldeans and all those encourage others in their sin and humiliate them and abuse them. They gave their neighbors alcohol so they would get drunk. They wanted to get them drunk so they could expose their nakedness -- to take advantage of them, to shame them, to abuse them. But God promised that they day would come when whatever the Chaldeans had done to others -- whatever sins they had encouraged to engage in -- the violence that they had done to the people and the cities and the nations and the cattle and the land and all the grows on it -- all of that sin and shame would occur to the Chaldeans as well. Their cities would be taken, their crops and herds would be slaughtered. Their nakedness would be exposed and they would be physically abused.

Have you ever encourage someone to sin? Even just a little sin. "Everybody does it. Nobody will get hurt. But it feels so good. Don't you want to?" We are called to love our neighbors, so we ought to be about doing everything we can to keep them from sin. We ought to be about doing everything possible to promote holiness in our neighbors. Yes, even that nasty neighbor down the street that spits on your lawn and allows his dog to relieve himself on your stairs. Yes, even that good friend who says if you were really a good friend you would just ... We must renounce the temptations that come to us and not invite others in. It's true that sin loves company. Shall we compromise our witness to the Gospel and steal a box of paper clips from work because everybody does it? And so forth. We must draw the line hard and fast and not allow ourselves to be swayed into believing that a little bit, together, will be alright -- we can go to church and confess later. To such excuses, God exposes one's uncircumcision.

Fifthly, God issued a woe against all those who make idols. The Chaldeans, like all pagans, were idol-makers. Habakkuk said right from the beginning that they would worship their nets if they caught fish. And John Calvin said that we, humans, are by nature, idol-makers. But the fact of our depravity, due to our original sin, we seek to set up something, anything in God's place. Something that we can control and make do our will -- a god who is wholly pliable to our whims and fascinations.

The Chaldeans carved idols out of wood -- idols who could not speak or hear -- idols that could do nothing -- and God taunted them telling them to wake their idols, to call on them to teach -- but they have no breath. They are false gods. Impotent, human creations.

We remember that the prophets of Baal challenged Elijah and the Lord. And Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal when he did not answer them by saying, "cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened" (I Kings 18:27b). And Isaiah mocked the sin of Israel, saying that they would cut down a oak tree and "he burns half of it in the fire; with this half he eats meat; he roasts a roast. And is satisfied. He even warms himself and says, 'Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.' And the rest of it he makes into a god, his carved image, he falls down before it and worships it, prays to it and says, 'Deliver me, for you are my god!'" (Isaiah 44:16-17).

We may think we no longer build idols, but let us consider it in the widest understanding: do we sin? Is sin against God? Then sin is idolatry -- giving something or someone God's place. Each time we sin, we thrust up one of these little homemade idols in God's Face saying, "I would rather follow him."

Idols failed the Chaldeans, and our idols fail us. They have no breath; they cannot speak.

But the Lord God Almighty is in His Holy Temple, and the day will come when God shall speak, and there shall be no answer from man or beast or idol. As Zephaniah prophesied, "Be silent in the presence of the Lord God; for the day of the Lord is at hand, for the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, He has invited His guests" (Zephaniah 1:7).

Tonight, let us pray that our satisfaction would be in God and His Salvation alone. Let us be about preaching the Gospel, trusting the numbers to God. Let us seek to see God glorified in all that we experience -- and throughout the earth. Let us seek our neighbor's welfare in all things, and especially in the knowledge of Salvation in Jesus Christ Alone. And let us worship our Holy God, lifting up our voices in praise to Him, and shutting them when they do not advance the cause of Christ.

Let us pray:
Almighty and Holy God, forgive us for our presumption and our sin against You. We thank You for Your Son, our Salvation, and we ask that Yours Alone would be the praise and the honor and the glory and the worship. Satisfy us with Yourself. Cause us to trust You. Make us Your faithful and obedient children, for Jesus' Sake and for the Sake of the Kingdom. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Sunday Sermon

"Locating Authority"
[Mark 10:27-33]
August 6, 2006 Second Reformed Church

The day before, Jesus has gone into the temple in Jerusalem. He had thrown over the tables of the moneychangers. He had thrown over the chairs of the sellers of doves. He had chased everyone who was buying and selling out of the temple with a whip. And He condemned the sin -- the hypocrisy -- that was occurring in the temple. He said, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? [But] you have made it a den of thieves."

After Jesus finished teaching them, He was tired, and He and His disciples went back to Bethany to sleep.

The next day, Jesus went back to Jerusalem and back to the temple, and there He met up with the Pharisees and the scribes. And we remember that the scribes and the Pharisees wanted Jesus destroyed, out of the picture, killed -- He was a menace -- but they were afraid of the crowd that followed Him. So, when He returned, they, with the temple elders, confronted Him and demanded that He answer one of two questions:

"By what authority do you do these things or who gave you the authority to do these things?" The scribes, Pharisees, and elders wanted to know, as the guardians of the temple, what authority Jesus had to do the things He had done the day before. And/or, they wanted to know who gave Him the authority to do the things He did the day before. "You disturbed the peace of the temple, Jesus. We want to understand what authority You had -- who gave You the authority -- to cause such a ruckus in the House of God?"

And they were right to ask Him. The scribes and Pharisees and elders were right to demand to know the authority of someone who had so disturbed the regular worship of the temple. There is a system of checks and balances in the church, as it was in the temple, to assure that we are worshiping God rightly together. In our denomination, the Reformed Church in America, I have the authority and responsibility to preach whatever text I deem meet for us from the Scripture, and I have the authority and responsibility to make sure appropriate persons fill the pulpit when I am not here. The elders have the authority and responsibility to listen to what I say and to make sure it is biblical. They have the authority and responsibility to question me if they do not believe what I have said is in line with the Scripture, and if I have been wrong, they are to assure that I correct what I have said, or if I will not, they are to discipline me. I, on the other hand, have the authority and responsibility to teach, instruct, and discipline the elders. And you, even if you are not an elder, if I say something that is contrary to the clear teaching of the Scripture, or if you are unsure, you are to go to one of the elders, either for an explanation or for them to pursue correction. And so forth. We are to be about the pure and right worship, and if that is disturbed, different ones of us have authority to step in and address that.

However, the scribes, Pharisees, and elders were not right to ask Jesus about His Authority -- they sinned in asking Him -- because they weren't concerned about the purity of right worship -- they were upset that Jesus had disturbed their profiting off others. They were trying to trap Jesus -- to find a legal reason that they could turn Him over to the jailers, or worse. They were being hypocritical, because, as those who knew the Scripture, they knew very well why Jesus cleansed the temple, and that He was right to do so. But they were willfully ignorant of the signs and the testimonies that they had seen and heard about Jesus -- they were willfully ignorant concerning Jesus being the Messiah, the Savior.

Jesus knew exactly what they were doing and why. He knew they weren't interested in the truth of Who He is and what He was doing. So Jesus turned the tables on them, and He told them that He would answer their question if they would answer one from Him first. He asked them, "Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?" Jesus asked them whether the message of John for which he called the people to repentance and baptism, was a message of his own creation, or if it was from God.

Well, what was John preaching? As Jesus came to be baptized, John spoke the fulness of his message: "'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world This is he of whom I said, "After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me." I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.' And John bore witness: 'I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God'" (John 1:29-34).

The scribes, Pharisees, and elders were trapped. If they said that John's message was from God, then they would be admitting that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior, and they would have to explain why they had denied Him thus far. But if they said that John made his message up, that it wasn't true -- "they were afraid of the crowd for they believed that John truly was a prophet."

We in the Church are accountable to God that we teach and believe what is true. If anyone comes into the church teaching something that is against the clear teaching of the Scripture, especially with regards to Jesus and our salvation in Him Alone, such a person must be stopped and disciplined if he is a Christian. As Paul wrote, "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 I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9). And John warns us, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming and is now in the world already" (I John 4:1-3).

The scribes, Pharisees, and elders were trapped: they could not say John's baptism was from God without exposing their sinful, willful ignorance of Jesus, but they were afraid to say it was not from God, because of the crowd, and because, if they really believed that John was preaching himself, they would expose their sinful negligence in not bringing John to account for his teaching. So they said, "We do not know." A lie, but a way out. So, Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by whose authority I do these things."

This is what the Psalmist wrote of: "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, 'Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.' He who sits in heaven laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 'As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill'" (Psalm 2:1-6).

The answer was clear: Jesus did those things in the temple by the authority of God, and Jesus was given that authority by His Father, God Almighty. That much is clear to us from the Scripture.

But where does the Church get her authority? Why do we say and do the things we do? How do we know what is right and pure worship of God?

"Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus answered him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it'" (Matthew 16:16-18).

Our authority to be the Church and speak and act on Christ's behalf comes from Christ Himself. Jesus gives us the authority to be the Church and has called us into positions of leadership to speak His Word in the Church and throughout the world.

Since that is true, and since we saw last week that we are to pray boldly 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, we can conclude two things:

We can and must warn against and expose abuses and false teachers in the church, and discipline those in leadership who stray from the clear Word of God. Those who lead are to be corrected in love when they err, and those who are antichrists, seeking to mislead and destroy the Church, must be exposed and removed from the Church. This is not an easy task, but it is why God gave us elders and ministers. Let us pray that they would faithfully live out their calls.

Second, we can and must teach and preach and do all those things that Jesus has set before us to do. Let us respond to the Word in faithful obedience.

Even today, having heard the Word of God, let us obediently and in faith, receive the elements of the Lord's Supper. Let us receive the bread and the cup believing what we have be taught from the Holy Scripture -- Jesus has lived, died, and risen to secure our salvation. He meets us right now in this supper and ministers to us with and by His Grace. And He is coming back for all of His people, and He will gather us together and restore us in a world without sin.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, we thank You for the clear Word that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Whose authority comes from God the Father. We thank You for giving us work to do and a message to announce and the authority to go forth in Jesus' Name. Make us faithful in all that we do and give us clear answers to the questions we shall meet. For it is in Jesus' Name that we are, Amen.