Second Reformed Church

Friday, September 29, 2006

A New Seminary

New York Divinity School-Newark
The Regional Seminary of the Northeast

MEETING AT:188 Union Avenue -- Irvington, New Jersey

wtiverson@juno.com -- 732-877-9373

YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO MEET AND HEAR NYDS PRESIDENT, DR. PAUL DEVRIES, LECTURER

"THEOLOGY AND THE CITY"

SATURDAY -- SEPTEMBER 30 -- 9:30-12:30

REGISTRATION AND MINI-SEMINARY EXPERIENCE

Attend and enjoy four "mini-classes" (20 minutes) so that you may know the professors, choose your classes you and meet fellow students. By all means bring colleagues and friends.

Announcing Fall Class Schedule-October 9,10, 12

Continuing Registration

Mondays -- 6:30-9:00 PM -- Hermeneutics: Biblical and Cultural
Dr. Paul DeVries. Dr. Peter Padro

BEGINS OCTOBER 9

Tuesdays -- 6:30-9:00 PM -- Christian Education: Church Training Ministries
Rev. Ned Suffern, Dr. Bill Iverson

BEGINS OCTOBER 10

Thursdays -- 10:00 AM-12:30 PM -- Homiletics: Preparation of Biblical Messages
Rev. John Teabout, Dr. Bill Iverson

BEGINS OCTOBER 12

Note: All courses will be supervised by a Ph.D. with the prescribed doctoral proportions.

The cost of three credit courses is @ $110 per credit, to be paid in 1-3 payments.

Special Seminar: The Columbo Project: Civility in the Streets-Civil Servants and Civil Citizens Come and learn the Winning Ways of Socrates and Jesus, the greatest teachers in history, yet they never wrote a book and died for their convictions.

Note: Twelve (12) hours of training for civil servants, police officers, and others such as business persons, teachers, pastors and lay persons. TBA in November.

Our fixed purpose is to glorify God by out-thinking, outliving, and out-dying
this generation, and to do so through the Gospel, community, and service.

The NYDS-Newark is now meeting at the cite of the original Regional Seminary of the Northeast, right on the Garden State Parkway off Lyons Avenue. The lecture halls can easily accommodate 100 students, and the library will be able to house over 5000 books. Our courses are Bible-based, Christ-centered, and Spirit-led. All members of the faculty do theology combine scholarship with faithful practical ministry.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

October Sermons

D.V., the sermon schedule for October:

10/1/06 Mark 13:1-13 "Perseverance of the Saints"
10/8/06 Mark 13:14-37 "Stay Awake"
10/15/06 Mark 14:1-11 "Priorities"
10/22/06 Will Lampe, guest preacher
10?29/06 Mark 14:12-25 "The Lord's Supper"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Monday (So Sue Me) Puritan

"'Nay,' says a gracious heart, 'Lord, as for these things, do with me what Thou wilt. I'll serve Thee as long as I have life and strength. Thou shalt have the glory of all. I'll do it upon Thy bare Word, what Thou hast promised for the life that is to come, merely upon the hope of what glory Thou hast revealed in Thy Word for Thy saints. That shall be enough to me, though I never see a good day in the world in respect of my outward comforts; though the men of the world should use me against common sense and reason, and treat me ever so vile here, it is no great matter. I do not serve Thee for wages here; that which I serve Thee for is in hopes of what is coming hereafter, and that wage is not a servile thing.'"
-- Jeremiah Burroughs Hope, p.7

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"Sacrificial Giving"
[Mark 12:41-44]
September 24, 2006 Second Reformed Church

How much do you plan to give in the offering today? Don't tell me -- there's no reason I should know. Its better that I don't know -- that we don't know what we each give, so we won't think one way or another about each other or assume something about one another. Your giving is between you and God. But, let us understand this morning, if we have not understood before: "Thus says the Lord" -- this is what God says to you and to me:

After condemning the scribes and the Pharisees for not knowing or believing the Scripture, and for putting on an air of holiness, while they "devoured widow's houses" -- while they feigned compassion to get what they could out of mourners, Jesus sat down in the temple and watched to see what money the people were putting in the offering box. They didn't pass around an offering plate at worship. Rather, they had a number of boxes, labeled with the intended use of the offering, and persons went to the general offering box or one of the special offering boxes and put their money in. Rather than having different boxes, or multiple offerings, we have different envelopes -- some for the general offering, some specifically for missions, some for improvements to the building, etc.

And Jesus watched the offerings being given. And He saw that the wealthy were giving large amounts of money. And they were right to do that. If you are wealthy, if you have much, much is required of you, and you ought to give much financially to the work of God in the church you attend. Of course, financial wealth is relative to our circumstances: (generally speaking) a single person who makes $25,000 a year is far wealthier monetarily than a family of six with an income of $25,000. So, (generally speaking) the single person who makes $25,000 a year ought to give more money to the church that the family of six that makes $25,000.

Then Jesus saw a poor widow who dropped two small coins into the offering. The coins were worth next to nothing. They were less than a drop in the bucket towards the expenses of the temple. But, then, she was poor. So, let us learn this lesson: the actual cash value of the offering you give is not the point.

And Jesus called the disciples to come and hear what He had seen:

Jesus criticized the rich and their offerings, because they gave out of their excess. Jesus, Who is God, so He knew their finances and their hearts -- Jesus said that these rich people, though they were right to give large amounts of money, did two things wrong: First, they didn't give enough. They gave God some of their excess, some of their leftovers, some of their petty cash. It was not the first and best as God requires throughout the Bible; it was part of the spare change that they could throw away. It was as if a person who makes a million dollars a week came in to worship and gave a thousand dollars. It would be good that they gave much, but it's too little. A thousand dollars to a millionaire is junk money; it's an insult to God. It is not acceptable. Second, to give as they gave, shows that their heart was wrong -- they were not trusting God, they were not showing true thanks to God, they were not filled with joy in giving as they gave. They thought they were fulfilling their duty -- that was all.

On the other hand, Jesus praised the widow, because she had given out of her poverty. She had given almost nothing, but she gave it with joy and in sincerity, and she trusted God for herself and her future. How do we know that? Because Jesus said that was all the money she had in the world. She was so joyful and so trusting of God that she gave every last cent that she had in worship and thanksgiving.

Now, let's not get confused: God is not telling us that everyone has to give every penny he or she ever makes to the church. God is not endorsing the monastic life or a vow of poverty in this Scripture. No, what God is telling us is that we are to give to the church that we attend and we are to give joyfully, thankfully, and sacrificially. We are not all called to give everything that we ever make to the church, but we are all called to give more than our leftovers, more than what is insignificant to us, we are to give what shows that we are thankful and trusting of our God and Savior.

In American Protestant Christianity, especially, we link this Scripture with the Scripture that is on your bulletin about "God loving a cheerful giver." And we tend to take these together and say, "Well, see: God doesn't care what offering we give, so long as we're cheerful about it; we should give what makes us happy." Here's the truth in that understanding: God does not want us to give begrudgingly, under compulsion, feeling forced or tricked. God is not happy when we give resentfully, sadly, reluctantly.

In II Corinthians 9:5-7, Paul writes this: "So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go ahead to you [on their way to Achaia] and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Paul was on his way to Achaia to bring the Christians there financial gifts that other churches had pledged to them. They could not wire money to the missions site, you see, so Paul went from church to church to collect the pledge that they had made, and he was bringing it to the church in Achaia. And Paul tells the Corinthians that he is sending a few people ahead to make sure that everyone who pledged towards this work would have time to pay their pledge, so no one would be surprised at their arrival, and no one would be embarrassed at not paying their pledge. Paul didn't want to arrive and put them on the spot like a collections agent; he wanted them to have the pledge gift ready when he arrived so they could present it calmly and joyfully, and no one would be embarrassed by being put on the spot.

That carries over into the modern church: you know that church has expenses and money is necessary to carry out the work of Jesus in this place. So we are each to come, ready to give our best gift. No one should be surprised that the offering plate is passed. No one should be put on the spot, as if they had thought the ministry of Christ was support by air, or that God magically filled the bank account.

And Paul bluntly tells them that if they are cheap, they should expect little from them and God. God is not ignorant: He knows our circumstances and our finances. And God tells us to be ready to give an offering for the work in this place, and to give an offering that reflects our thankfulness and joy to God for His blessings, especially the blessing of His Son. No one in this church is able to see another's heart or to know their circumstances. So, the question that is put to us ought to be, "Is this the best gift that I can give? Does this gift truly reflect my thanks and joy for what God has done? Does this gift reflect how much I value Jesus' Suffering and Death and Resurrection?"

We must get away from the idea that nothing is expected of us financially in the church, because it is. God makes it clear in His Word that the gifts of the people are to be enough to finance all the work that God has for His Church -- God gives each church the people necessary to afford all of the work that God has called the church to do. That means that we at Second Reformed Church have either not understood the work that God has called us to, or we are not giving as God has called us to give.

We must also banish the idea that our offering is to be based on whether or not the church or the minister or the sermon pleases us at any given moment. Our offering is not a tip for the worship service. Our offering is to be based on our understanding of what God has done for us.

What has He done for you? Has He left His throne in heaven and taken on a human body and nature? Has He lived under His Own Law, and suffered at the hands of men? Has He been unjustly tried and crucified, and in the most horrifying of acts, did God the Father turn His Face from Him and allow Him to suffer all of the Wrath of God for all of our sins in one moment? And then, did He die -- did our God die? -- and then rise and ascend back to His throne, for us and to the glory of the Father? And does He now intercede for us, and bless us, and call us His own?

Might we give cheerfully, sacrificially, if that is all true? Paul said, "God loves a cheerful giver." The word for "cheerful" means "filled with hilarity" --" if we are truly giving in response to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, we should be hysterical with joy! Our offering is given in thanks to Him, because we desire His Work to continue. We ought to be hysterically joyful because of what Christ has done -- why? Because we never did and never could deserve it -- it is so far beyond what anyone could ever have conceived that God would choose to do, that we should be filled with wonder, lost in praise, laughing in joy, giving in a way that reflects that joy.

Some of us want a figure -- I can't give you a figure. I don't know your heart or your circumstances. All I can tell you is this: Jesus said that we ought to be faithful and just and show mercy, and we ought also to give back to God -- to begin with -- as an initial gift -- the tithe. Ten percent of our gross income -- and all of the rest of our blessings -- is to be given to the church we attend. Check it out: Matthew 23:24-25. And, if we trust God, if we are filled with that hysterical joy, we will understand that if God requires us to begin with an offering of ten percent of our gross income, that means God has given us at least that much extra.

I don't like to give personal examples in my sermons, because the sermon is not about me; I am here to speak the Word of God to you and lead you to Him. Yet, if I am the shepherd and your are my sheep, here at Second Reformed, you ought to look to me as an example -- not because I do everything right -- far from it. Not because I have kept the Law perfectly, because I surely have not. And even if I had kept all the Law perfectly, I would merely be doing what the Good Shepherd requires of all of us. There are no bonus points for merely doing what is expected.

But, as an example and an encouragement, I tell you this: I was raised in a family that understood and taught that God requires Christians to give ten percent of our gross income. To the best of my knowledge, I have always given ten percent of my gross income to the church I was a part of. (And I give other gifts to other charities, but the church gets ten percent to begin with.) Two years ago, God made it clear to me, that for me, ten percent of my gross was not enough. I don't give what I give because I feel threatened or under pressure, but because of the joy God has given me through His Son.

What we bring as an offering ought to represent our joy in what God has done for us. And, if you are a Christian this morning, your giving ought to be both joyful and sacrificial. What has God done for you? How much do you plan to give in the offering today?

Let us pray:
God of Grace, we ask that none of us would feel compelled or forced or reluctant about giving offerings of thanks and joy to You. Fill us with the hilarious joy that accompanies salvation, and teach us to understand how much You have blessed us and to show our joy in giving financially to Your Work in this place. Continue to use us to Your Glory, deepen our faith, and cause us to be a light of the Gospel to Irvington. For Jesus' Sake, Amen.

Anybody?

Due to a death in the family, I neglected to post several "happenings" at the church last week. If anyone was looking to the blog for said information, I apologize.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monday Puritan (Meditating on Death)

"Lord, be pleased to shake my clay cottage before Thou throwest it down. Make it totter awhile before it doth tumble. Let me be summonded before I am surprised." -- Thomas Fuller, A Puritan Golden Treasury

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"My Lord's Lord"
[Mark 12:35-40]
September 17, 2006 Second Reformed Church

The Sadducees had asked Jesus a question about the resurrection in the hopes of trapping Him, and they had been made to look like fools. The Pharisees chose a scribe to ask Jesus about the Law of God to trap Him, and God was honored. But Jesus was not trapped. So He turned the tables on them and asked them a question: "Let me ask you about the 110th Psalm -- the scribes teach that the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior, will be the son of David -- that is, a direct descendant of David. But 'how is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?' -- that is, how is it that they say that the Christ is merely the son of David, considering what the Psalm says about Him?"

Let's hear the whole Psalm:

Psalm 110. "A Psalm of David. The Lord said to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.' The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.' The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head."

The question Jesus is asking is about the word that is translated "lord" -- or, actually, the words that are translated "lord." We have an additional problem with the English translation of the Bible, because the same work is used to translated two different Hebrew words. Unfortunately, our pew Bible, the NRSV, is of no help at all. Some translations, such as the ESV (from which I read the Psalm), puts the one "LORD" all in capitals and the other "Lord" they just capitalize the first letter. The first "LORD" is the name "YHWH" and the second "Lord" is the title "Adonai." (Bear with me: this is important!) We may remember that YHWH is the most personal Name of God that God gave to Moses from the burning bush. Adonai is not as easy -- it is a title that means "lord" and it can refer to God or a human in a position of authority -- we have to understand it by its context. Who is Adonai in this Psalm? Well, the scribes and Jesus agreed in this morning's text that "Adonai" is the Savior, the Christ. So, we see God the Father speaking to the Savior, the Christ, and David tells us this about the Christ:

1. "YHWH said to Adonai: 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.'" The Christ is a king and sits enthroned with God the Father and has the same power and authority as God the Father. And the Father causes all of the Christ's enemies to submit to Him.

2. "YHWH sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours." By His Authority, the Christ rules with and through His people. And His people move in accordance with His Will. They are a people set apart, holy, filled with His power, ready, eager, waiting on Him.

3. "YHWH has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.'" The Christ is a priest, not of the priesthood of Aaron or of Levi, but of the mysterious Melchizedek. He is a priest forever with none beside Him and none to succeed Him.

4. "Adonai is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth." When the day of His Wrath comes, the Christ will see that His enemies are justly and thoroughly punished.

5. "He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head." And the Christ will be victorious and rejoice in His Victory.

And Jesus asked the scribes: "Is the Christ merely a man? Is the Christ merely the descendant of David? If you say that the Christ is merely a human being, then why does the great King David submit to Him and call Him Adonai?"

Jesus was criticizing the scribes for their reading of the Scripture -- for not reading it in context, for not seeing that it so obviously said more than they had made of it. The Christ is a descendant of David, yes, He is a human being, but He is also co-equal with God the Father, an eternal king and priest, the Lord of a people, Who will meet out justice on all the peoples. And Who cannot be less that wholly victorious at the end of time. The Christ, David is telling us, is also God.

And we can be sure that the scribes understood what He was saying -- they knew that the people had called Jesus "the Son of David" and "the Christ" and He had received those titles without criticism. Jesus, in asking the question of the scribes, was subtly saying to them, "If you read and understood the Scriptures, you would understand that the Christ is a human, a descendant of David, and He is also, at the same time, the One God, YHWH, incarnate among you -- and I am He."

The angel told Mary, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and over his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32-33). And Paul wrote, "concerning [God's] Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 1:3-4).

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached, "This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself said, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.' Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:32-36).

Paul, speaking of the end of the age wrote, "Then comes the end, when [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (I Corinthians 15:24-25). And again, "[God] worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:20-23). "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even to death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:5-11).

The author of Hebrews wrote that God said to His Son, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet" (Hebrews 1:13b). And "when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet" (Hebrews 10:12-13). And he also wrote, "For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, the king of righteousness, and the he is also the king of Salem, that is, the king of peace. He is without mother or father or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. ... This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witness of him, 'You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.' ...but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: 'The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest forever.' This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant" (Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-16, 21-22).

They should have understood; they should have recognized Him. But instead of studying and submitting to the Word of God, they played dress-up, looking for complements about their dress. They waited in the shadows and paraded about, longing to be invited to banquets and given the seat of honor. They pretended to care for the widow, but instead prayed on them, taking as much from them as they could during their grief. The looked good, with long prayers and fancy language, but they said nothing -- their religion was empty and their faith was dead. They were the teachers of God's Word, and they will be judged more strictly.

Who is David's Lord? Whose Son is Jesus? What does the evidence tell you?

Psalm 110. "A Psalm of David. God the Father said to Jesus (God the Son): 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.' God the Father sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. God the Father has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.' Jesus (God the Son) is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head."

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the writing of the prophets. We thank You that You allowed David to see the Christ and His Victory and the people that He is gathering to Himself. May none of us be lax in reading and hearing Your Word, but by Your Mercy know that Jesus is fully human and fully God, the One and Only Savior, Who is coming to judge the earth. And we plead that You would, by Your Holy Spirit, make us a people, quick to be obedient, quick to run to Your Mercy, growing daily in holiness, seeking first to bring glory to You, our Priest and King and Christ. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Unknown princes are not respected."

Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, p. 2

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"You Are Not Far"
[Mark 12:28-34]
September 10, 2006 Second Reformed Church

How would you have answered the question? "Which is the most important commandment of all?" Do you have one in mind? The Pharisees and scribes debated with each other about what the most important commandment was and what a short summary of the entire Law might be. In this morning's Scripture, we have one of the scribes coming forward to ask what Jesus' opinion of the matter was, and if we didn't have the Gospel of Matthew, this would look like an honest question. But Matthew tells us that this man was chosen to ask Jesus the question in an attempt to trap him (Matthew 22:34-35).

The Sadducees had just asked Jesus a question about the resurrection, and Jesus had made them look like fools, showing them that they neither knew the Word of God, nor the Power of God. So, the Pharisees finished laughing and thought that they could trap Jesus with a question about the greatest Law..

Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel, the lord your God is one lord, and you shall love the lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all of your strength.' The second is this, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." The first law is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and the second is from Leviticus 19:18.

What do these laws tell us?

In the call of the first law, we learn that there is One and Only One God. Israel was reminded as they were called to worship with this commandment, and in synagogues around the world, they are still called to worship with this commandment, that Israel is a peculiar people. That is, they are not like the world, they believe in One God and the Only True God. That is true of us, the spiritual Israel, all those who believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation. We do not and may not believe in several gods or a pantheon of gods -- no, there is One and Only One God.

Then, we are told to love God with all of our heart (for defs., Bible Windows Analytical Dictionary and Hendriksen 492-4). This refers to the emotional, spirited, part of us that moves us in one direction or another. It includes our passions, our will, our inner-most self. Similarly, we are to love God with all of our soul -- and there is some over-lap between the words "heart" and "soul." This refers to the spirit within us, the life-force, it is that part of us described in Genesis 2:7, "then God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." The "breath of life," the soul, that living spirit that is ours, from God, that cannot die.

In the church that I grew up in, the minister's final sermon was on this passage, and when he talked about loving God with heart and soul, he told us about how he would visit the boys in the hospital who had come back from Viet Nam. Some of them had lost sight and hearing, some had their whole face taken off, some had lost both arms, both legs, but with all of that gone, they remained. There was still something there that made them who they were -- something untouchable by the guns and bombs. It is with that deepest part of who we are that we are to love God. With every breath, will, emotion, action, by our very existing, we are to love God.

We are also to love God with all of our mind -- with our intellectual ability. In whatever way and to whatever extent we can use our minds, we are to use them to love God. When we think, when we understand, when we explain, we are to do this in love for God.

And we are to love God with all of our strength -- with our physical body. In every way that we use our physical body, we are to love God. In eating, moving, engaging, having sexual relations -- in every way we use our body it is to be to show love to God. Paul put it this way, "You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (I Corinthians 6:20).

That is the most important law -- that we love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. Do we do it? Do we always love God, glorify God, submit to God, give thanks to God -- with all of the very center of our being, that which causes our body to live, and with all of our thoughts and intellectual processes, and with our body -- in everything we do to and with our body -- do we always, only, primarily use that which makes us who we are to show our love to God. He says that is the first and most important thing we ought to be doing. Do we give first? In everything we feel, in everything we do, in everything we think, in everything we understand to be the very core of who we are -- do we first use all of that -- all of us -- to show love and give thanks to God? It completely changes the way we live if we purpose to do everything first out of love for God.

What would it be like, if we were a people who believed and strived to say and act in this way: "I did this with my body because I wanted to show love to God." Would we rape and murder and abuse ourselves and each other? "I thought this out and planned this and came to these conclusions to show love to God." Would we embezzle and plot and cheat each other? "I felt this way, I am motivated to do this, my life is centered and focused in this way to show love to God." God deserves and is worthy to be loved and glorified with everything that we are, and if we strive to do so, we will be very different people. We might ask ourselves -- does this really show love to God? -- before we think or do or become anything.

Second, we are to love our neighbor as our self. We often paraphrase that as "love your neighbor." But we can get in trouble, because that doesn't tell us how much we should love our neighbor. We are to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. And the Bible is clear, God is clear, and if we think about it for even a split second, it will be clear to us -- we love ourselves very much, thank you. We love ourselves enough to provide for food and shelter and things that we enjoy around us. We are to love our neighbors -- who? -- everyone -- that much. Now, that doesn't mean that you or I have to provide for all of the needs and wants of every person that we come in contact with -- that's just not possible. What it does mean, is that you and I each have blessings and gifts that we are able to share with others -- that we are able to use to show love to others -- and as we are able and as the occasion appears, we are to show love in giving of what we have to those in need, so they might see our love and God's Love through us.

Jesus said these are the two greatest commandments, and there are none greater.

And this scribe got it, "Well said, teacher." It could be translated, "Beautifully said, teacher." The scribe was excited, filled with joy, the desire to trap Jesus had left him, and he was filled with respect and awe of Jesus. And he burst out in joy, "That's beautiful! What a perfect summary! What a truly true statement of the Law of God! There is One God. And to love God with all of our heart and all of our soul and all of our mind and all of our strength and our neighbor as much as ourselves is greater and more pleasing to God than the sum total of all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices!"

God had given him wisdom. As the writer of Hebrews put it, "Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, 'Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, "Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book."' When he said above, 'You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings' (these are offered according to the law), then he added, 'Behold, I have come to do your will.' He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:5-10).

In other words, the sacrifices and offerings were symbolic -- God did not need bulls and goats and grain. They were symbolic of the sacrifice of Jesus, the only One Who could perfectly keep the Law and be sacrificed for those who did not keep the Law, because He is both fully God and fully human. The eternal Son came to earth, incarnate in the person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under the Law, was put to death for the sins of those who would believe, rose from the dead, and ascended to the Father in Heaven. Jesus made the final and only eternal sacrifice, so sacrifices are no longer necessary. Now we are called to obedience. And Jesus stated the summary of obedience to the Law -- Law that we, as Christian, can finally be obedient to, because we are empowered by God to keep it. Through Jesus, God has made us able to give Him the love and glory He deserves and to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, and God gave the scribe that understanding.

Jesus saw the wisdom of the scribe's answer to him and said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." What does this tell us about Jesus?

It tells us that Jesus enforced the Law. As He said in the Sermon on the Mount, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of God. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-20). As Christians, we are not excused from keeping the moral law. No, God has made us able in Christ to finally keep the moral law, and we are to do so.

It also tells us that Jesus taught obedience to the Law as a sign of participation in the kingdom of God. In other words, if someone is keeping the Law of God, it is a sign that that person is a member of the Kingdom of God. But we must be careful, as Paul wrote, "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people" (II Timothy 3:1-5). In other words, someone may appear to be godly -- he may appear to be keeping the Law -- but, in fact, he is a son of his father, the devil.

This leads us to our third point: Jesus taught that obedience to the Law is not enough for participation in the Kingdom of God. James makes this very clear in his letter: "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For anyone who is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. ... If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable to all of it. ... What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them , 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -- and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;" (James 1:22-25; 2:8-10, 14-22).

You see, good works are not enough for salvation. Good works are not enough for us to enter the kingdom of God. The scribe understood the summary of the Law. He thought it was beautiful, well-said, and accurate. But he had not confessed faith in Jesus Alone, the Messiah, the Savior. And Jesus said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." How pathetic and tragic is it, if he never received Jesus by faith? And how pathetic and tragic is it, if you have spent a lifetime "keeping" the Law, trying to be "good," and you die, "not far from the kingdom of God"?

And Christians, if you call yourself a Christian and believe that you have faith, but believe that the moral law does not apply to you, you are deceived. Faith that does not lead to good works is not real faith: Obedience to the moral law is a natural outgrowth and sign that we do have faith in Jesus Alone for our salvation and we are members of the kingdom of God.

Where are you this morning? Are you "not far" from the kingdom of God? Understand, that's not good enough -- you're still lost in your sin. Paul wrote, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). And if you believe you are a member of the kingdom of God, then let us learn and live by loving God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength and our neighbor as much as ourselves. If we are working hard to do that, and we believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation, then we can be sure that we are members of the kingdom of God and we have received salvation in Jesus Alone.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for making it clear to us that we can never be good enough to earn the Kingdom and Your Salvation. And we thank You for making it clear that faith that does not evidence itself in good works is not a true faith. May You be pleased to give us true faith and the will and the desire and the ability to follow the commandments in love and joy and to Your Glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy"

John Trapp A Puritan Golden Treasury

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"God of the Living"
[Mark 12:18:27]
September 3, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Hear the Law of God given through Moses: "If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out in Israel. And if the man does not wish to take his brother's wife, then the brother's wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, 'My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.' Then the elders of the city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, 'I do not wish to take her,' then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off of his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, 'So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.' And the name of the house shall be called in Israel, 'the house of him who had his sandal pulled off'" (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

This is the law that the Sadducees had in mind when they came to Jesus and posed the hypothetical situation we heard in this morning's Scripture. What does the law mean? What is its point?

When God gave the land of Canaan -- Israel -- to the Israelites, He set up a system whereby, no matter what befell any family or individual in the family, every family of Israel, with the exception of the Levites, would have an eternal inheritance of land. God divided Canaan among the tribes and set it in His Law that the land that was given to the families was to eternally be the families. Even if the land was lost or sold, the land would return to the family after a certain time.

This law was part of that system by which the land remained in a given family. If a man married and died before a son was born -- and inheritance of land was normally to the first-born son -- if he died, leaving no son, if he had a brother, for the sake of the family and the continuation of the family name and the continuation of the land in the family's name, the brother ought to marry his deceased brother's wife and bear a son by her in his brother's name. Does that make sense? If you are a married woman, and your husband dies and you have not borne a son, if your husband has an unmarried brother, that brother ought to marry you and bear a son in his brother's name, that there would be a first-born son to inherit the land.

That ought to be done. But notice, the brother did not have to marry his sister-in-law, he could refuse. But if he did so, he and his family would be publically humiliated and known as someone who was unwilling to carry on his brother's legacy.

Do we understand this law?

So, the Sadducees came to Jesus with this law in mind when they posed their question.

But, who were the Sadducees? We don't see much of the Sadducees until the end of the Gospels -- specifically until after Jesus overthrows the tables of the money changers. We often speak of them in the same breath with the Pharisees. Let us distinguish them (cf. Http://users.aristotle.net/~bhuie/pharsadd.htm):

The Pharisees were a group of rabbis who taught the Old Testament and the oral tradition of the rabbis. They were to keep the worship of God holy, pure, and right. They believed in the physical and the spiritual realms -- believing in angels, demons, heaven, paradise, sheol, Gehenna, etc. They believed that God was actively involved in history. They believed that humans were composed of a body that died and would be raised and an immortal soul which never died.

The Sadducees were a political party that upheld the Old Testament, as they interpreted it -- with special attention placed on the laws regarding capital punishment -- but they rejected the oral tradition of the rabbis. They believed that God created and then left humanity to its own devices; thus, fulfillment in found through politics. They adopted Greek philosophy and rejected the spiritual realm: they did not believe in angels or demons; they did not believe in an afterlife of any kind. They believed that the body and soul were both physical and died and stayed dead. They rejected the existence of any resurrection.

So we can see that their question was hypocritical and mocked the Law of God: they asked Jesus, if, according to the Law, a man died, leaving his wife without a son, and each of his brothers married her, one after another, and she never bore a son, and all seven brothers finally died and the wife died -- "In the resurrection when they rise again who will be with the woman? For all seven have had the woman?" The Sadducees didn't believe in resurrection, so their question was posed hypocritically. And the idea that seven brothers, one after another would marry a woman, makes light of the Law itself, which was for the preservation of the family name and the inheritance of the land.

The Sadducees posed the question to trap Jesus, yet, even so, since they only believed in the physical realm, not the spiritual, and they also rejected resurrection, the implication of the question is physical, "With which of the brothers would she have sexual intercourse in the heavens?"

And Jesus was repulsed by their question -- for their mocking of God's Law, for their crude minds that rejected the teaching of God -- "Is it not because of this that you are wrong, that you do not know the writings nor the power of God?" Jesus said, "Your question makes it clear that you do not know the writings of God nor do you know the Power of God. You do not know what God has said, nor do you know what God can do."

First, Sadducees, you are wrong -- there is a spiritual realm. There are angels and demons. Second, Sadducees, you are wrong -- there is a resurrection. And when the resurrection occurs, they will be no marriage and giving in marriage -- in other words, there will be no physical relationship between men and women. No, resurrected humans will be like the angels in this sense: they will not have sexual union. And, of course, there will be no procreation. It is unnecessary in the resurrected state.

Third, Sadducees, you are wrong -- the soul does not die. Jesus told them, if they remembered the book of Moses, they would remember that God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and identified Himself, saying, "I am the God of your father; and of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exodus 3:6a). And Jesus told them, "God is not the God of the dead but the living."

What did He mean? He meant that when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive -- even though their bodies were dead and buried, they were still alive. Jesus was not saying that they were alive in people's hearts and minds -- no, He was saying that after death, we remain alive.

And, since only the dead can be resurrected, and Jesus said that there is a resurrection, then the resurrection is of our physical bodies, which are then reunited with our souls (Cf., I Corinthians 15).

Brothers and sisters -- it is not just a dream -- it is not just a fantasy: C. S. Lewis once said, "You have never seen a mortal man." He meant what Jesus teaches us this morning, though our bodies die for a time, we do not die. We live on forever. And the day will come when our bodies are raised from the dead. And we will be whole human beings again. But then, in a twinkling of an eye, we will be changed, perfected, fully sanctified and glorified, made holy, like the first-born Son of the Father.

In the movie, "The Dead Poets' Society," Robin Williams plays a teacher who tries to impress upon his students that they should "seize the day" -- they should live for today -- because, as he showed them the pictures of students from generations before, he whispered, "They're food for worms, boys." Live. Enjoy. For tomorrow you're dead.

As Christians, we acknowledge that the body dies, but in the Scripture, and in this Supper, we acknowledge more than the fact that Jesus lived and died, more than the fact that He rose and is alive and meets us in the bread and the cup with His Grace, but we acknowledge that we have this hope, that we, too, though our bodies die, we shall live and be raised, and live forever with our God and Savior.

If we believe that, then we have nothing to fear. Death, though sad, though a foe -- death is defeated and it will not last forever, but it shall be destroyed and we shall be welcomed into the Kingdom of our Christ.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for being the God of the living. We thank You for letting us know that all those who have died are right now alive, and there is a resurrection to come on the last day. We thank You that You have delivered Your elect from death and saved us into the Kingdom of Light and Life. We pray that You would continue to bring Your elect to You, that You might be glorified in Your Most Gracious Work. In Jesus' Name, Amen.