Second Reformed Church

Monday, October 30, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Before I was a vile wretched worm, one who was a child of wrath and under the curse of the Law, one liable to all the fruits of God's eternal wrath, to be a castaway forever for all I knew. And the Lord now has given me hopes that I shall see His face with joy, that all my sins are pardoned, that my soul is accepted, that I am one who belongs to His eternal election, one whom He has separated for good. I hope I am one who shall have the fruit of all the purchase of the blood of Jesus Christ, that I shall live forever with God to enjoy communion with Him, that I shall be with Christ in His Kingdom to all eternity, and have a crown of glory incorruptible; that I shall join with the saints and angels to be eternally blessing and praising God in the highest heavens. I have hopes of such things as these are." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, p. 59.

Sunday Sermon

"The Lord's Supper"
[Mark 14:12-25]
October 29, 2006 Second Reformed Church

When God instituted the Passover, He told Moses, "You shall tell your son on that day, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.' And it shall be to you as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep the statue at its appointed time from year to year" (Exodus 13:9-10).

This morning, we will briefly consider the Lord's Supper and what it means. And as we look at its institution, I pray that our hunger will increase -- that we would look forward with great expectation, as we plan, if the Lord is willing, to celebrate the Lord's Supper next week.

If we remember the institution of the Passover, we will remember that it involved a meal -- a lamb that was slain, bread and wine, as well as other elements. And modern followers of Judaism celebrate the Passover to this day.

Christians understand that the Lord's Supper is the fulfillment of the Passover, but let us ask a few questions about the Passover, before we move on to its fulfillment: How did the elements of the Passover -- the bread and wine and lamb -- cause the Israelites to be freed from their four hundred year slavery to the Egyptians? They didn't. The Exodus occurred some 3,500 or so years ago; how many of those people are still physically alive on earth? None. Then why today do they confess in the Passover that they were delivered from Egypt? In this way: "Egypt" becomes symbolic of all sinful bondage -- all separation from God by sin and bondage to sin.

Jesus told the disciples in that Upper Room that He would not celebrate the sacrament again until His Return. Yet they, and we, are to continue to celebrate the sacrament. As Paul tells us, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (I Corinthians 11:26).

If this sacrament is something that we are to continue to celebrate until Jesus returns, we ought to understand it, to the extent that God allows us understanding. Jesus "took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and he said, 'Take; this is my body.' And he took the cup, [gave] thanks, gave it to them, and they drank all of it. And he said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.'"

We live in a time and place when to ask the question of "what is the meaning of 'is'?" is sure to raise snickers. And we live in a time a place where we are being told that there is no Absolute Truth; there is no True Truth. There are volumes of books dedicated to arguing that words don't have any meaning in and of themselves, but only in a particular context. (I hope you see the irony.)

Words have meaning, and yet, we admit that context helps to determine what words mean because words can mean different things depending on the context. For example, if I said that Artie was wearing a "bad" suit, we would have to know the context to determine if I was saying that Artie's suit is bad, in the sense that it is not good, less than it could be, etc., or if I was using popular slang to indicate that his suit was top of the line.

When we interpret the Scripture, we must understand it in its historical context, and, more importantly, since the Bible is the Word of God and cannot err, we must understand it in the context of all of the rest of Scripture. That way we can look at a difficult passage and bring it in line with passages that are easier to understand.

So what was Jesus saying when He said that the bread "is" His Body and the wine "is" His Blood? And what happens when believers eat and drink Him in faith?

First, we need to understand that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is not a sacrifice. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that each time the bread and wine are offered up, Jesus is re-sacrificed. And they teach that Jesus must be re-sacrificed over and over until His Return. But the author of Hebrews tells us, "And just as it was appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgement, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Hebrews 9:27-28). Jesus was sacrificed once, for many. Jesus is not re-sacrificed in the Lord's Supper.

Second, we need to understand that Jesus is not physically present in the bread and the wine. Jesus ascended in His Physical Body and sat down at the Right Hand of God the Father -- as Luke tells us in Acts. In order for Jesus to physically be at the Right Hand of the Father, and at the same time, physically present on our communion plates and in the bread and cups of every one celebrating the sacrament, it would mean that Jesus' Physical Body is Divine, because only the Divine has the ability to be in more than one place at once.

Let us understand that Jesus is a real, complete, wholly human being, with a real human nature, but without sin, and, at the same time, in the same person, He is Completely, Truly, the One, Holy God, with His Divine Nature. This is what the Bible teaches, this is what the Church throughout the ages has confessed.

Quickly, see that Jesus is a real human being: in John's Gospel, "Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour" (John 4:6). Jesus grew tired, just like any other human being. Also, Jesus, like you and I, in our humanity, don't know when Jesus will return: "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mark 13:32). Jesus is a real human being. However, Titus also identifies Jesus as the One True God: "[We are] waiting for our blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). So Jesus is both a real human being and the One True God in a single person. And His Human Body and Nature are not divine, and His Divine Nature did not become human. Jesus is one person with two complete, distinct natures. So, if Jesus is truly human, He cannot be in more than one place at a time, so the bread and the wine are not the literal body and blood of Jesus; we are not cannibals.

Thirdly, we must not regard the sacrament as merely bread and wine, as though the sacrament is nothing more than a snack table. The Corinthian Church was treating the sacrament as though it was merely a place to get free food, and Paul condemns their actions, "But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear there are divisions among you. And I believe this in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No. I will not" (I Corinthians 11:17-22). The sacrament is more than a memorial with food.

Hear these words of Jesus: "I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And this bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. ... Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, not as our fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever" (John 6:48-51, 53b-58).

Jesus tells us here that the bread and the wine, like the elements of the Passover, do nothing -- they cause nothing -- by themselves. So, the non-believer gets no benefit out of eating and drinking the elements. In this passage, Jesus is not teaching that cannibalism leads to eternal life; He is not teaching that the Lord's Supper leads to eternal life; He is teaching that eternal life is in Christ -- it is through being in-grafted into Him, becoming a member of His Body. And just as bread and wine sustain us for a time on earth, Christ, in His Sacrificial Death, He secures for us life in this world and life everlasting.

So what is the Lord's Supper about? What benefit is it? What happens?

John Calvin wrote, "if any good is conferred upon us by the sacraments, it is not owing to any proper virtue in them, even though in this you should include the promise by which they are distinguished. For it is God alone who acts by his Spirit. When he uses the instrumentality of the sacraments, he neither infuses his own virtue into them nor derogates in any respect from the effectual workings of his Spirit, but, in adaptation to our weakness, uses them as helps; in such manner, however, that the whole power of acting remains with him alone" (A Short Treatise on the Lord's Supper, 203).

In other words, the Lord's Supper is a means by which God has chosen to meet us and strengthen us and assure us and deliver His Grace to us. Jesus is not physically present in the sacrament. Jesus is not re-sacrificed in the sacrament. The bread and the cup don't, themselves, do anything. But God has chosen them as physical signs to remind us of what Jesus has done, of the promises He has made to us, and to truly, spiritually, meet with us and minister to us as we celebrate the sacrament. Jesus is really, truly, spiritually present in the sacrament, just as He is in the reading and preaching of His Word, and He ministers to all those who have received Him by faith and confess Him as Lord and Savior.

If Jesus meets us and ministers to us in the sacrament, through faith, how should we come to the Lord's Supper? What should our opinion of the Lord's Supper be? Again, Calvin said this, "Hence, if we would worthily communicate in the Lord's Supper, we must with firm heart-felt reliance regard the Lord Jesus as our only righteousness, life, and salvation, receiving and accepting the promises which are given us by him as sure and certain, and renouncing all other confidence, so that destructing ourselves and all creatures, we may rest fully in him, and be content with his grace alone. Now as that cannot be until we know how by necessity it is that he come to our aid, it is of importance to have a deep-seated conviction of our own misery, which will make us hunger and thirst after him. And, in fact, what mockery would it be to go in search of food when we have no appetite? Now to have a good appetite it is not enough that the stomach be empty, it must also be in good order and capable of receiving its food. Hence it follows that our soul must be pressed with famine and have a desire and ardent longing to be fed, in order to find their proper nourishment in the Lord's Supper" (Ibid., 166).

In other words, as men and women who believe and confess Christ and understand that we are still sinners, we ought to long and be famished for forgiveness and complete relief from our sinful nature. So, we who come to the Lord's Supper ought to find ourselves chomping at the bid, hardly restrainable, longing to meet with Christ and to be ministered to by Him through faith and through the instrument of the Lord's Supper. May it be true of us.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we ask that You would rid our minds of crass and common and profane understandings of the Lord's Supper. Help us to understand that the Lord's Supper is given to us as a means of receiving Your Grace. Increasing our longing, both to meet You in the Supper and for Your Soon Coming Return. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Am I a Heretic?

You scored as Chalcedon compliant.

You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant 100%
Nestorianism 67%
Monophysitism 33%
Docetism 0%
Arianism 0%
Apollanarian 0%
Adoptionist 0%
Donatism 0%
Gnosticism 0%
Pelagianism 0%
Monarchianism 0%
Albigensianism 0%
Modalism 0%
Socinianism 0%

Quiz taken at "Are You a Heretic?"

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Monday Puritan

"God has wrought faith in you, yet God expects that you should daily act your faith upon Jesus Christ for the cleansing of your soul to the extent that you defile your soul daily. You do not go about the least duty without contracting some filth. Your houses every day gather filth and dust at least. Though swine are not allowed to come into your houses, yet they gather some kind of uncleanness every day, and need to be swept and washed daily. So you need to wash your soul in the blood of Christ every day, and you need to renew your repentance every day." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, p. 38.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Day Off Thoughts: Does Absolute Truth Exist?

There is no sermon to post today, as I have the day "off." I visited a church I had never been to -- Covenant Presbyterian (PCA) in Short Hills, NJ -- and I was thrilled to find them a biblical and Bible-teaching church. This evening, I will attend (D.V.) Emmanuel OPC in Whippany, NJ -- an evening worship standard for me.

Due to two conversations I had recently, and one I had years ago, I am wondering how many ordained ministers and professing Christians believe in Absolute Truth -- escpecially with regards to the Scripture. With the emergence of the emergent church movement, it would seem to be few.

Consider: a number of years ago, I was speaking with an ordained minister of a reformed church, and he told me that he had decided (well, actually, that the Holy Spirit told him) to only preach from the four Gospels, because Jesus said that we are to preach the Gospel, and those are the four that are gospels.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a seminary graduate, who is seeking ordination, and this person said that this person preached almost exclusively from the four Gospels for two reasons: (1) the epistles don't make any sense to this person and (2) didactic teaching is not as effective as story-telling, and the Gospels are stories.

Last week, I was at event, and I sat at a table of persons of a different denomination than I (but one we are in "full communion" with), and we cheerfully introduced ourselves and talked about our ministries. They started talked about Jesus, the penultimate social-worker, and then I was asked how I came to the ministry. I explained ... "predestination" ... "Louis Berkhof" ... "the Old Princetonians" ... "the Puritans" ... and I would swear that they revealed their being hosts to "goa'ould" (cf. "Stargate SG-1"). One of the men hissed at me, "I hope you're not one of those narrow-minded people that try to exclude people based on the teachings of the Bible; there are no teachings in the Bible -- the Bible is all stories, and we have to interpret them for and to our own context."


I'm not sure how such gnosticism and dogmatic absolutism against absolutes is helpful, or Christian.... I guess my raising the issue is proof that I believe that the Bible is Absolute Truth, the Word of God, which must be followed by we mere mortals. Ah, pity me, poor sad-sack that I am.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sunday Sermon (Here it is)

[Mark 14:1-11]
October 15, 2006 Second Reformed Church

If we could view a movie of your life, what would we see as your priorities? What would be most important? Would you be pleased or disturbed that we could see what really matters to you?

Mark recorded history this morning in such a way that he bookends a glorious priority with actions concerning a repulsive priority. Mark begins and ends this morning's Scripture showing us human depravity and sin, yet, in the midst of it, he shows us that not all people always have sinful priorities -- sometimes, one has a glorious priority -- and it is this glorious priority that should be each and every one of our highest priority as Christians.

Chapter fourteen begins with the fulfillment of prophesy: Jesus told the disciples, "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified" (Matthew 26:2). Jesus had told the disciples that He would be betrayed and crucified after the Passover celebration, not before. And Mark tells us that it was two days before the Passover, and the high priests and scribes were plotting together, trying to find a way and an opportunity to trap and seize and kill Jesus. They were concerned that the method they used to have Him caught and put to death would not reflect badly on them. Therefore, they decided to wait until after the Passover celebration to implement their plots, because they knew that the people would be all the more enraged if Jesus was taken from them during the celebration. We understand that the chief priority of the high priests and the scribes, was their power and position -- they were willing to do anything to preserve and glorify themselves.

Verse three jumps back in time about three days, and John's Gospel fills in a few more details: Jesus and the disciples, with others, including Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead, and Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha, were at the house of Simon the leper, presumably for a meal.

And at some point during their stay, Mary brought out an alabaster jar of pure anointing oil made from the spikenard plant. This was a very expensive anointing oil. And the jar contained about twelve ounces of it, John tells us.

And Mary took the jar and broke it open, and Mark tells us that she poured all of the oil over Jesus' Head. John tells us that she rubbed it into Jesus' Feet. And Matthew tells us that she rubbed it all over His Body. And John tells us, in addition, that she used her hair as the cloth with which to rub the oil into His Body.

What an act of humility and devotion She had taken a large amount of money -- possibly all of her money -- and she had bought one of the most expensive oils on the planet. And then she had lovingly, devotionally, humbly anointed Jesus from head to foot.

What had possessed her? Why did she do it? The text doesn't tell us what her motivation was, but we might guess: several days earlier, she had been at the funeral of her beloved brother, Lazarus, because of Jesus, Lazarus was standing among them, alive. She had seen Jesus weep and then heard Him cry out, "Lazarus, come forth!" And she had heard the discussion between Jesus and her sister, Martha, about the resurrection that will occur on the last day, and Jesus then revealed, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:25a-b). And then Martha made her confession, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world" (John 11:27).

It's not unreasonable to believe that Mary anointed Jesus because she had received her brother back from the dead, and more than that -- so much more -- she had come to know that Jesus is God, the Only Savior. Her priorities changed and she was now totally fixed on Jesus, on loving Him, on honoring Him, on glorifying Him. And we might well say, "Amen, Mary! And so it should be." But that's not what some of the disciples, and Judas in particular, did.

No, as John tells us, Judas, with some of the other disciples, confronted Mary and rebuked her, "How dare you! We could have raised over 300 denarii -- or more -- we could have raised over a year's pay -- and donated the money to the poor! How dare you waste the oil! You have ruined a great opportunity."

Mary was surely taken aback; and surely we hear the silent rebuke of Judas to Jesus, "How dare You allow her to waste this oil on You! You of all people -- the poor and meeting their needs matter more than Your feet and hair!"

Why were they angry? Yes, some of them were angry because they wanted to minister to the poor and that much money would have been helpful in performing their ministry. We can understand that. But John tells us this about Judas, "He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it" (John 12:6). Judas feigned love and desire for helping the poor, but his priority was not the poor, it was maximizing the amount of money he could steal -- and here he had lost a year's wages. Blind hypocrite.

And Jesus became angry, "Leave her alone! Why do you trouble her? She has done a great work for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you want, you are able to do good, [but] you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. Amen, I say to you, whenever the good news is preached throughout the whole world, [and] what she has done will be told in memory of her."

What was Jesus' priority? Jesus' priority was glorifying Jesus. Jesus' priority is Jesus.

Here's an example of "what would Jesus do?" not giving us the correct answer. Since Jesus is God and worthy of all praise and glory; He rightly trains our eyes on Him. But we dare not focus our eyes on ourselves, sinners that we are.

Jesus told them that they should be focused on Him and His Gospel, not their greed and misunderstandings. And not even the poor -- first. First must be Jesus and His Glory.

And we might wonder: wasn't Jesus being callous? "The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you want, you are able to do good, [but] you will not always have me." The Law of God in Moses says, "There will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and the poor, in your land'" (Deuteronomy 15:11).

Jesus was telling them -- and us -- to get our priorities right -- to understand that Jesus is God, Jesus is Holy, Jesus is Glorious, and He is and was and is to be, always and forever, First and Last, the Center of All, the Beginning and the End, the Only Hope and Salvation. And He is right to direct us to glorify Him -- to make Him always our first priority -- because He is the only One deserving of it.

Jesus was not telling them or us to neglect the poor. On the contrary, again and again Jesus, in His Word and through His Actions call us to minister to the poor -- to provide for those who are unable to provide for themselves. But He tells us to get our priorities straight. They had the privilege to be in the presence and service of the Incarnate Almighty God, Who knew His time was very short, so Mary was right -- oh, she was right -- to break the alabaster jar and anoint Jesus from head to foot, covering Him with the oil, using her hair -- she was in the presence of the Resurrection and the Life, and her time with Him was very short. Anyone who had the slightest understanding would want to spend every moment before Him, listening to Him, being in His Presence, loving, worshiping, glorifying Him. It's how and why the martyrs throughout the ages have been able to stand firm as they were tortured and killed, as their families were tortured and killed before them. Their wives, husbands, children. They gave up all worldly good, because they understood that He is greater; He is worth more; He is Worthy.

If you've come into the presence of Jesus -- really come into His Presence -- there are only two responses -- two ways to set our priorities: we could see Him and be repulsed by Him -- like the scribes and the high priests and Judas -- we could have as our greatest desire that we be lifted up and He put out, sent away, killed Or we could see the Glory and respond, "Glory!" Jesus first, Jesus always -- lost in rapture, love and wonder -- willing to give up everything, to serve humbly and passionately...

And we do not worship Him and glorify Him for rewards, for a "get out of Hell free card," but because He is deserving. Yet the writer of Hebrews tells us "And without faith, it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). What does that mean?

Mary sought Jesus. She sought to know Him and glorify Him. And Jesus promised, "Whenever the good news is preached throughout the whole world, [and] what she has done will be told in memory of her." Jesus rewarded her by this, that when we talk about having Jesus Christ as our highest and first priority, when we preach that there is salvation in none other but Jesus Alone, we will tell the history of this event in the life of Mary, as an example for us to follow.

There is another example: that of Judas and the high priests. Judas found being taught by God Almighty and knowing the Incarnate God to be too little, so he went to the high priests and told them that he was ready to sell Jesus out to them. And the high priests rejoiced ... and they sought a convenient place to deliver Him up...

What is your highest priority?

Let us pray:
Almighty and Glorious God, we are so easily distracted by fool's gold. Draw us close unto You. Teach us to see Your True Glory and have us be so enraptured by it that nothing else will satisfy but that You be our All. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Monday Puritan

"In the hearts of most people, hope lies as a dead thing that is of no use at all; but if times should prove to be as yet more perilous, as they may be, then it will appear of use." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, p. 16.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Hope is a grace wrought in the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, whereby the soul quietly waits for, and expects the future good that God has promised in the covenant of grace, though there are many difficulties in the way to hinder the accomplishment of it." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, p. 8

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"Stay Awake"
[Mark 13:14-37]
October 8, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Are you awake?

Last Sunday, we saw that the temple that Jesus worshiped in in Jerusalem was still under construction when He preached. Herod's temple in Jerusalem was not to be finished until about 64 A.D. Yet, Jesus shocked His disciples by telling them, some thirty-five years before the temple's completion, that the day was coming when they would see the temple destroyed -- not one stone would remain upon another.

And the disciples asked Jesus two questions: When would the temple be destroyed, and what will be the signs of the end of the age -- when the Messiah, the Savior, set up His Kingdom on earth?

And Jesus told them to look, to watch for the signs -- that there would be earthquakes and wars and rumors of wars, there would be anti-Christs and false teachers seeking to mislead the people, and there would be great family discord, even to the point of family members killing each other, and they would be persecuted by both the Church and the state. But, He told them, these are not the end, this would not be the birth of the new age -- this was merely the birth pangs, a time of great suffering and upheaval, during which He called them to be witnesses to the Gospel.

Have you ever been to the mountains? Have you ever looked across a mountain range? Or, have you ever stood on the shore and looked out to the horizon? If we left out what we know to be true, and just described what we saw, if we looked at a series of mountains, we would describe them as being one after another -- much closer than they actually are. And if we stood at the shore and looked out, we would describe it as not a long distance -- nowhere near as long a distance as it really is -- just by what we see. The same is true of prophecy: when we read a prophecy in Scripture, we need to keep in mind that the prophet is looking out across the corridor of time, and things that look to be very close together, might actually be very far apart, and things that look like a single event, might actually occur in several stages. Our Scripture this morning is an example of both senses.

"And whenever you see the abomination that desolates God's sanctuary where it ought not to be, (let the reader understand)" -- huh? "Let the reader understand" is an editorial note that Mark put in to alert the reader of Jesus' Prophecy that He is referring to something that they should remember from somewhere else. However, twenty-first century Christians are not as biblically literate as first century Christians were. So, what do we do? Well, remember, we have four Gospels, so we ought to look to see if the other three fill in anything more that would be helpful for our understanding, and we find that Matthew does: "So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)" (Matthew 24:15).

So, hear the prophecy of Daniel: "Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half a week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolation. ... Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate" (Daniel 9:23-27; 11:31).

Stay awake This is part of the signs of the birth pangs of...what? Jesus had been explaining what would happen just before the destruction of the temple. Then He told them to remember what Daniel prophesied -- that this would be for signal to them to act. The abomination that desolates God's sanctuary where it ought not to be, the abomination of desolation, occurs just before the temple is destroyed.

Daniel gave his prophecy after 600 B.C., during the Babylonia captivity. So, when was this prophecy fulfilled? When was the temple destroyed after someone desecrated the temple? Between 175 and 164 B. C. Antiochus Epiphanes and his army attacked Jerusalem, conquered it, and then he ravaged and destroyed the temple, and had a pagan altar set up over the altar of sacrifice.

Here you see the layers of prophecy, because this prophecy was fulfilled first, in part, once, by Antiochus Epiphanes, but some two hundred years later, we have Jesus telling the disciples to watch for this prophecy's fulfillment. The first mountain, if you will, that Daniel saw was Antiochus Epiphanes, but there was another mountain, if you will, that it overlapped, so it looked like the same event, but it was not. The second mountain, if you will, as we looked at last week, was Titus' attack of Jerusalem and leveling of the temple in 70 A. D., when he erected a statue to the Emperor Vespasian over the altar of sacrifice and worshiped him.

So, Jesus was telling the disciples that when they saw the Roman army come against Jerusalem and set up a statue of Vespasian for worship in the temple, this is when the temple will be destroyed. And, Jesus said, when you see them coming -- stay awake! Flee to the mountains, don't go back into your house for anything, and pray that when this does come to pass that it will not be during bad weather, or during a time when a woman is not in a condition to travel due to pregnancy or having given birth. Why not? For the great upheaval, the tribulation, a time of violent disruption that has not been seen since God created the creation and will never been seen again after it is over -- this will occur when the signs begin. The historical fact, however, is that when the Romans attacked, a vast number of people ran into the city and into the temple, instead of fleeing to the mountains, and the was an enormous bloodbath.

And, Jesus said, if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being, even the elect that God chose for Himself to be His people, even those would have been lost. So, the good news is, that God has shortened the days, so the elect, that He has chosen to be His people, will not be lost. And Jesus promised that after Him there would be people claiming to have found another Christ, another Messiah, another Savior, and He said not to believe them. Jesus is the One and Only Savior; the Only Hope of the elect. So Jesus said, "Wake up!" For the anti-Christs and false teachers will be so persuasive and so successful that, if it were possible, they could even deceive the elect. Thank God that our salvation is by Jesus Alone, so the elect cannot be lost.

These things will take place during the tribulation, during the time just before the destruction of the temple, until Jesus returns. We are living in this time of tribulation, when the deceivers scour the earth. As John warned, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they come 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 Christ has come in the flesh is from the God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti-Christ, which you have heard is coming and is in the world already" (I John 4:1-3). Be alert. Watch out. Stay awake!

After the tribulation -- these are the signs that the end of the age is here -- after the tribulation, the sun and the moon will go dark, the stars will fall from the heavens, and the supernatural rulers will be shaken. There will be a cosmic upheaval. And then we will see "the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory." Luke records for us that, after the Ascension, the angels said, "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go up into heaven" (Acts 1:11b).

After the tribulation, Jesus will return, and He will gather the elect from the four winds, for every corner of the planet, and He will bring us to Himself. This will be the end of the age.

Then Jesus told them two parables:

First, Jesus told them about the fig tree. He said that they knew that when the fig trees branches filled with sap and became pliable and leaves began to come out, that they would know that summer was near. So, they -- and we -- should be alert and watch for the signs and discern that His Return is near. And Jesus promised them, "that surely this generation shall not pass away until all these things happen."

How could this be? We have three options: (1) all of these things occurred and Jesus returned in 70 A.D., and there are Christian theologians who believe that, or (2) Peter, James, John, Andrew, and whoever else was there, never died -- these two thousand year-old men are somewhere on the planet, or, (3) what makes much more sense is that Jesus meant something different that what we commonly think of by "generation." The word that He used, genea, from which we get our English words, "genealogy, generation," etc., literally means "birth," and it has more to do with ethnic origins than a time period, or "a generation," as we think of it. So it is better to read Jesus as saying, "Amen, I say to you that the Jews shall not pass away until all these things happen." This is a promise they would have delighted in, especially after Jesus promised that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed and they would be persecuted, hunted, and slaughtered. This is not the end of the people of God. For "the heaven and the earth will pass away, [but] [Jesus'] words will surely never pass away."

Jesus began the second parable with a warning to "watch out" for no one, no the angels, not Jesus in His Humanity, and therefore, no mere human being, knows the date Jesus will return -- only God the Father knows when that will occur -- and we do not need to know. It's like a man who goes away and leaves his servants in charge of his house. Each of them has work to do -- including the doorkeeper. Each of the servants ought to stay awake and do his job. Each of them should be ready and at work, doing what he was called to do, when the owner of the house returns. Therefore, we are to stay alert! For we do not know when our Master will come back for us, and if He finds us asleep, not doing the work He has called us to do, He will not be well-pleased.

So, what ought we to do? What did Jesus want the disciples of the first century to do? First, we are to stay awake! We are to look for the signs, not being panicked by them, but trusting in God that He will carry out His Will. And second, we are to do the work that He has called us to do, both as individuals and as the Church.

Now, that doesn't mean that we should never sleep and rest our bodies -- that is necessary. What it means is that God expects us to be about the work He has given us -- to know Him and worship Him and do all those things He has said to do in His Word, including being witnesses to His Gospel -- that there is no salvation, no hope, no future, except through Jesus Alone.

This became a problem in the early church: they knew that Jesus promised to return soon, so why should they work? Some people cashed in their land and quit their jobs and waited, relying on the church to support them. That is not what we ought to be doing. That is not what Jesus meant for us to do. And Paul gave this correction to those at the church in Thessalonica who were sitting on their lawn chairs waiting for Jesus:

"Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living" (II Thessalonians 3:6-15).

Stay awake! Watch for the signs! Don't panic, but trust! Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love others as much as you love yourself. Take care of yourself and work hard for Jesus and His Kingdom. Be a fruitful tree; a faithful servant.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You gave the prophets visions and prophecies that You have preserved for us in Your Word. We ask that You would forgive us for tuning out and falling asleep when You call us to action again and again. Make us a people who look to Your Word and follow after You diligently, seeking to do everything that pleases You, and staying awake to the signs that You provide for us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Seminary Begins

You are cordially invited . . .

Open House and Registration

New York Divinity School -- Newark

A full service graduate and certificate seminary

Monday, October 9

6:30 PM -- 8:00 PM

. Registration and Information
. Academic Advice and Evaluation

8:00 PM -- 9:00 PM

Orientation for the Courses

Refreshments will be served

188 Union Avenue -- Irvington, NJ 07111

Off Lyons Avenue -- Exit 143 B (south) -- Garden State Parkway

For information call 973-216-5993

Bob Mojica, Administrator

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

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

Thursdays-6:30-9:00 PM-Homiletics: Preparation of Biblical Messages
Rev. John Teabout, Dr. Bill Iverson

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.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Monday Puritan (Yom Kippur)

"The wrong that man had done to the Divine Majesty, should be expiated by none but man, and could by none but God" -- John Howe, A Puritan Golden Treasury

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"Perseverance of the Saints"
[Mark 13:1-13]
October 1, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Is it possible to be sure of our salvation? Can we be sure that our salvation can never be lost? Can we know that if we have believed in Jesus Christ Alone for our salvation that there is no possible way that we could ever be lost again?

We could pose the question this way: is salvation completely the Work of God Alone, or do we, in some way, participate in our salvation? Do we really, even to the smallest degree, contribute to our being saved?

If salvation is our own work, to any degree, then we can be saved and then lost and then saved and then lost, and so forth, never sure about our eternal destiny. But if salvation is wholly the Work of God Alone, who among us is able to force himself out of God's Hands? Who among us can stop God from carrying out His Will?

Jesus and His disciples left the temple, and one of the disciples turned to look, and marveled at the craftsmanship, "Teacher, look at the wonderful stones and the wonderful buildings!" And, indeed, the temple was an amazing piece of work: the historian, Josephus, records that some of the stones were fifty feet by twenty-four feet by sixteen feet. The temple was huge and magnificent. Yet, Jesus revealed to them, that as magnificent as the temple was, a day was coming when every stone of the temple would be cast aside -- the temple would be utterly destroyed.

The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed most recently in 63 B.C., and the ruins remained until 19 B.C., when Herod began to rebuild the temple. Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in about 27 A. D., yet Herod's temple wasn't even completed until thirty-four years later, in 64 A. D. The temple that Jesus worshiped and preached in, took about eighty-three years to build. We understand then, how angry Jesus made the Pharisees, after He had cleansed the temple, when they asked Him, "'What sign do you show us for doing these things?' Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?'" (John 2:18b-20).

Jesus might as well have said that Israel and all her people were going to be destroyed, because, to them, the temple was the symbol of God's being with them. If the temple was destroyed, it would mean that God had left them -- and they did not know when He would return. It would be an embarrassment to the nation and the Name of God.

In 70 A. D., the Emperor Titus and his troops destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, as Josephus records, "[the temple at Jerusalem], however, God long ago had sentenced to the flames; but now in the revolution of the time-periods the fateful day had arrived, the tenth of the month of Lous, the very day on which previously it had been burned by the king of Babylon....One of the soldiers, neither awaiting orders nor filled with horror of so dread an undertaking, but moved by some supernatural impulse, snatched a brand from the blazing timber and, hoisted up by one of his fellow soldiers, flung the fiery missel through the golden window....When flames rose, a scream, as poignant as the tragedy, went up from the that the object which before they had guarded so closely was going to ruin....The emperor ordered the entire city and the sanctuary to be razed to the ground....the city was so completely razed to the ground as to leave future visitors to the spot no reason to believe it had ever been inhabited" (Hendriksen, p. 513).

Jesus and the disciples walked across the valley and sat down on the Mount of Olives, looking at the temple on the hill across the valley, and Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, when these things would happen and what the signs would be. Not just when the temple would be destroyed, but when would the end of the age come. When would the Messiah fully bring His Kingdom to earth. We know Jesus was answering a question of more than the mere destruction of the temple, as monumental as that would be, because, as Matthew records for us, Jesus said, "And the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). Not just the destruction of the temple, but the end.

Jesus told them that there would many people who come in His Name, but they are false teachers and anti-Christs. There are people who would come after Him and say that they were the Messiah, the Christ, even that they were Jesus, Himself. And many will be led astray by the false teachers. And there will be wars -- nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom -- and there will be rumors of wars.

And Jesus told them that when false teachers come and false Saviors come and when war breaks out and rumors of war flood the airwaves -- there are wrong ways to respond, and a right way to respond. Just like today, when there are false teachers and false Christs, even within the Christian Church -- and there are wars and rumors of wars. How should they -- how should we -- react?

A wrong way to act is the way of the zealot and the Zionist -- to go into war with joy, hoping for a great slaughter that will bring about the kingdom. There were zealots in Jesus' day encouraging Him to overthrow the Roman government. There are Zionists today who believe the temple must be rebuilt, and all the Jews relocated, and then they must be slaughtered -- after that, Christ will reign.

Another wrong way to act is to fear: "There are false teachers in the Church -- all is lost -- no one is to be believed. There are wars and civil war -- this is the end of the world -- I heard that the war is spreading." Jesus said, "Do not be alarmed. It is necessary that these things happen, but this is not the completion." False teachers and war are signs that the end of the age is coming, but it is not the end -- how long have there been false teachers in the Church? How long have there been wars on the planet? Are they escalating? But this is not the end -- not yet.

During the Gulf War, and now the war in Iraq, I have had people come to me and ask if this is the end. Is this Armageddon? Is this the Apocalypse? Is this the end of the age? And the answer must be, "no." These are signs that time is passing, that our nature hasn’t changed, that sin is still prevalent. But this is not the end.

We are to pay attention: look at the wars being fought, look and expose and denounce and remove the false teachers in the Church, look at the increase in earthquakes and famines. Jesus said these are the birth pangs. The creation is in labor; the age is in labor. But the birth has not occurred.

And then we have a promise of suffering -- that if they, and we, preach the Gospel -- Christians will be unjustly tried in the civil courts and in the synagogues and churches -- and Christians will be physically abused in the synagogues and churches. And we will be tried in the highest courts -- before princes and kings -- and there, we ought not to shut our mouths in fear, or denounce our confession. No, Jesus commands us to bear witness before them. When Paul was brought to Rome to be executed, he, first, as a Roman citizen, had the right to speak to the emperor, and he did, and bore witness to the Gospel before him. Paul preached the Gospel to the Emperor of Rome, and then he was decapitated. If we have the opportunity, we are to do likewise. Without fearing.

But first, the Gospel will be preached to all the nations. What does that mean? A church I used to be a member of taught that this means that there has to be a translation of the Bible in every language of the world, then Jesus will return. But that can't be what it means. No, usually, more often then not, when the New Testament writers talk about the world and about all the nations, they mean this: not just the Jews, but the Gentiles as well. One of the major problems of the New Testament is making it clear that Jesus is not just for the Jews -- the Gospel is not just for the Jews -- it is for the Gentiles as well, for all the nations, for the whole world.

Still, Christians ought to expect that they will be brought before the civil courts and also be persecuted in the Church. And Jesus said that we ought not to be preparing a speech. We ought not to have lines memorized. Why not? Because the Holy Spirit, Who lives in us, will tell us what to say. What does that mean? Will we speak a new revelation? Will we speak some foreign tongue or magic words that will get us out of trouble? No. Jesus said that will be tried for the sake of bearing witness to Christ. He does not promise to get us out of unjust trial. He said, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all I have said to you" (John 14:26). In other words, God will help us to remember what we know about Jesus, so we can bear witness to Him. One of the reasons we suffer as Christians is to bear witness to Jesus.

And Jesus promised that believing in Him will destroy families -- even to the extent that brothers will seek to have each other put to death, and fathers will try to kill their children and children will try to kill their parents. "And you will be hated for my name's sake." And let us not think for a moment that all of this only applied to the disciples, because the verb "hated" in that verse is a verb of continuous action, so Jesus was saying that "you" disciples who followed Jesus while He was on earth and all of the Christians throughout history will continue to be hated for believing in Him.

Aren't these things happening? It may not seem like they're happening so much here in the United States -- our persecution of Christians has been very polite in this country. But in Darfor, and in China, and Iran, and other places around the world, if you convert to Christianity, you are put to death. Since the beginning of Christianity, the enemies of God have seen fit to exterminate it. There were ten great persecutions in the Middle East between the Resurrection and 312 A. D., lead largely by the Roman government. The most brutal of these was the tenth, under Emperor Diocletian, who commanded that the church be terminated once and for all.

The Christian theologian, Tertullian, wrote to the emperor, "Go on, rack, torture, grind us into powder: our numbers increase in proportion as you mow us down. The blood of Christians is their harvest seed" (Hendriksen, p. 523).

And then we have this word from Jesus that ends this morning's reading, "And the one who perseveres to the end will be saved." The Perseverance of the Saints -- that's one of the distinctive doctrines of the Reformed Church. If we persevere to the end, we will be saved!

But will we persevere, as we are faced with false teachers and anti-Christs, war and loss in war, rumors of impending war, earthquakes, famines, being falsely accused and unjustly tried and punished, both by the civil government and the state, being betrayed by our own family members, having our family members kill each other, having our own life threatened, and being called to defend what we believe. Will we persevere to the end?

If it was up to us, based on our ability, no, not a single one of us would persevere to the end. I wouldn't. And none of you would. But the great news of God is that it is not we who persevere ourselves, but it is the Almighty God Who, Himself, perseveres us for Himself, so everyone who believes in Jesus Alone for salvation will persevere to the end without question, without exception.

Remember that famous passage from Romans, "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died -- more than that, who was raised -- who is at the right hand of God, who is interceeding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [and that includes you and me], will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:33-39).

Therefore, all those who are Christians, truly believing in Jesus Christ Alone for salvation, we are not astonished or alarmed or paralyzed by the things that happen in the world or the things that happen to us and our loved ones. They may be painful, but we do not lose hope, because we know and can endure all things and recognize them as part of God's Plan, leading to His Glorious Return and the restoration of all things.

Let us trust God and take Him at His Word, doing those things He has commanded us to do, and waiting on Him in hope, for He is the Sovereign Lord, He always was the Sovereign Lord, and He will always be the Sovereign Lord. And He has come, in His Word and in its preaching, and now in the bread and the cup, to minister to us and strengthen us for the work He has given us.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, Sovereign of the Universe, we thank You that You have not left us to a random world, but You have a Plan and it is being carried out, just as You planned it. We thank You for the assurance that all those You have chosen will always be Yours. We ask that You would strengthen us, increase our hope and faith, and give us boldness to always confess You. In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.