Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Suppose a man should go into his plowed field and sow tares in the field, 'Well,' says he, 'I hope I shall have a good a crop of wheat as any man in all the country.' Would not any man in the world think the man mad who should hope for wheat when he sowed tares? Certainly the hopes of heaven and eternal life in most people are as foolish and contradictory in themselves as this kind of hope. What do you sow in your life? You sow nothing but wickedness in the course of your life, and yet you hope for heaven, glory, immortality, and the life; when the Scripture tells you plainly, 'As a man soweth, so shall he reap'" (Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, 81-81).

Sunday EVENING Sermon

"The Character of God"
[Habakkuk 3:1-19]
November 26, 2006 Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church

This evening, we conclude our look at the burden, the weighty and difficult vision, of the prophet Habakkuk. We will remember that Habakkuk was preaching just before the Babylonian captivity of the sixth century B. C. He was preaching about the same time as the prophet Jeremiah.

In our first look at Habakkuk's burden, we saw him crying out to the Lord, asking Him when He was going to do something about Israel's sin. When was God going to avenge His Name and put down the people who flaunted the Law of God. When would God listen and wake up and prove Himself to be the God of Whom he preached day after day. And we saw God's answer, "Don't worry, Habakkuk, I know what is happening among My people, and I am going to make things much worse: I am sending the evil, pagan Chaldeans to slaughter you and take you into captivity." So, we saw that God sometimes uses secondary causes to carry out His Will; He may even use pagans to punish His people.

We then looked at Habakkuk's response to the prophecy that God gave him -- "God, have You forgotten that You are holy? How can You send these people, who are so much worse than we are, to be the ones to meet out punishment on us? This will look bad for You." And God told Habakkuk that the just will live by faith. God told Habakkuk to stop putting his hope in good works, but to hold firm to the promises and the salvation of God.

And then we saw God tell Habakkuk that the Chaldeans, though they would do God's Will in punishing Israel -- the Chaldeans would be punished by God for their sin. God went through a litany of five woes -- five reasons -- five great sins for which God would ravage the Chaldeans. And He ended that word by saying, "the Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20).

In this evening's reading, Habakkuk presents us with a psalm, a prayer, a hymn -- all one in the same. This hymn was to be sung "on Shigionoth," which may have been a tune. We see the verse markers by the use of "selah" in the text. And Habakkuk ends his hymn with instructions to the chief musician, or the choirmaster, that the hymn is to be sung with stringed instruments -- perhaps even the type of stringed instruments that Habakkuk himself played.

The hymn can be divided into four verses, and in these four verses, Habakkuk teaches Israel and us about the character of God. It is a hymn he wrote for them to sing throughout their seventy year captivity, and we do well to hear the Word of the Lord and learn of Him as we receive God's Providence.

Verse one (2-3a): "O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran."

It is a great and terrible thing to receive the Word of God. It is unimaginable favor that God has bestowed upon us that we should receive His Word. Yet, the Word of God exposes us, the burden of Habakkuk exposed him and the people of Israel -- it exposes us. And we are right to be afraid, if we have understood that we have come into the presence of the Holy God.

How should we respond to this revelation -- to this exposing of our wretched selves? Call upon the Lord, that He would revive His Work, in our lives, in this church, in the Church Universal. Lord, revive Your Work in us and in our land. Let Yourself shine through us and blot out our sin, and even as we suffer on earth for our sin, revive us, O Lord.

And Habakkuk pleaded with God that in the midst of His judgement upon them, He would still be merciful. In the midst of captivity, he prayed there would be mercy. Not merely at the beginning of their captivity, not merely when the Lord was pleased to end their captivity, but in the midst of their captivity, when the days ran into days and weeks into weeks and years into years, and they would be prone to deny God and forget Him. Habakkuk asked that God would meet them and be merciful to them in the depths of their suffering.

And God is merciful, even to us, in the midst of our sadness and discouragement. When we have hit rock bottom, there is God and His Mercy for His people. Let us pray that God would be merciful to us, especially in the midst of our darkest days, that we would not lose hope and sin against Him.

The commentator, Edward Marbury wrote, "The Church of God is called the Work of God, to honour God, for God is not so glorious in any thing that he hath wrought, as in his Church, for therein mercy and truth met together, righteousnesse and peace kissed each other, our election adoption is to the praise and glory of his grace. You heard himself say to his Church, The work of my hands, that I may be glorified. For God is more glorified in those things which he hath wrought by Jesus Christ in our flesh and in those things which he doth for his sake, than in all other works of his hands" (A Commentary, or Exposition, upon Habakkuk, III.38-39).

"For there is no lesson so hard for a child of God, to take out as to take up the crosse of Christ, and to follow him, to suffer the smart of affliction with patience and thanksgiving. For in the very regenerate man, the flesh is both strong and unruly, and nothing so contrary to the flesh, as affliction and tribulation is. Therefore doth God measure to his Children their portion and drought of this cup, because he knows whereof we be made" (Marbury, III.41).

And Habakkuk said that we ought to keep in mind that God came from Teman, from Mount Paran -- that is, He came from Mount Sinai. And Israel, and we, ought to have a multitude of Scriptures coming to mind.

Verse two (3b-9a): "is glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. His brightness was like the light; He had rays flashing from His hand, and there His power was hidden. Before Him went pestilence, and fever follow at His feet. He stood and measured the earth; He looked and startled the nations. And the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills bowed. His ways are everlasting. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian trembled. O Lord, were You displeased with the rivers, was Your anger against the rivers, was You wrath against the sea, that You rode on Your horses, Your chariots of salvation? Your bow was made quite ready; oaths were sworn over Your arrows."

The Lord came out of Sinai. The Glory of the Lord filled the land. The praise of the Lord filed the land. The Power of the Lord filled the land. And God sent ten plaques down upon the Egyptians to show them that He is God and Israel are His people. And Israel repented and thanked God and was delivered by His Strong Arm. And we who have also been delivered ought to heed the Word of the Lord to the Church at Sardis, "Remember therefore how you received and heard; hold fast and repent" (Revelation 3:3a).

God brought them out of slavery and brings us out of slavery. God gave them a land and divided it and used it as He saw fit, for His Ways are everlasting. So God also sets before us a new home that will come in the future. For now, our hope is bolstered by remembering what God has done, how He has delivered us, in remembering where we have been led by the Hand of our Sovereign God.

Have we been thankful? We just celebrated Thanksgiving. What did we have to be thankful for? Edward Marbury wrote, "Look to the common blessings of the God in generall: upon the Church in which thou livest, pay God his debt for the good he hath done, before thou find fault with the defect in it: recount what he hath done for the Common-wealth in which thou livest. Looke home to thine own family, to thine own person: recount thy spirituall graces, thy temporall blessings: consider what God hath given thee, what he hath forgiven thee, the preventions, the subventions of his love: what spirituall, what temporall evils thou hast either not felt by his keeping of thee or escaped by his delivering of thee: and to all, and to each both these say: The Lord be thanked. It is a small duty that is required of us, to repeat what God hath done for us" (III.70).

Let us see that God has brought terror upon the nations of Cush and Median and all of the pagan world: they know that there is a God, and they are in terror of Him. But what wonders has God done for us? What wonders did God do for Israel? Habakkuk says, let's begin by thinking of the blessings that God has brought through the water:

God divided the Red Sea that Israel could be saved: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen.' And Moses stretched his hand out over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained. But the children of Israel had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left" (Exodus 14:26-29).

God provided water for Israel in the desert: "And the Lord said to Moses, 'Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink'" (Exodus 17:5-6).

Habakkuk could surely name more, just from water, alone. We see in this what Paul write of in Romans, "Therefore consider the goodness and the severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but towards you, goodness" (Romans 11:22).

Verse three (9b-13): "You divided the earth with rivers, the mountains saw You and trembled; the overflowing water passed by. The deep uttered its voice, and lifted its hands on high. The sun and the moon stood still in their habitation; at the light of Your arrows they went, at the shining of Your glittering spear. You marched through the land in indignation; You trampled the nations in anger. You went forth for the salvation of Your people, for salvation with Your Anointed. You struck the head from the house of the wicked, by laying bare from the foundation to neck."

The earth itself has the good sense to respond to the voice and the commands of God. The mountains, the rivers, the deep, the sun and the moon, they all responded to the Lord in humility and obedience and with thanksgiving. As we remember how the creation responds, let us ask ourselves, again, have we been thankful, are we thankful, in the midst of trial and tribulation, for Who God is, for all that God has done? Again, Marbury wrote, "Do not we thank God for it, and take it for high favour that he made us men, and did not make us stones, or plants, or worms, or fleas, serpents or toads; or any other kind of hatefull or hurtfull creature" (III.121).

Remember what God has done, even causing the creation to change its route: "Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, 'Sun, stand still over Gibeon; and Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.' So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the people had revenge upon their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day" (Joshua 10:12-14).

The Lord, our God, our Sovereign Commander goes out before us in battle. He saves His people. He provides them with salvation. He causes the Savior to fulfill the prophetic word, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (Genesis 3:15).

No matter what the battle, God is our leader triumphant, God is our Savior, and God will bring victory for His Name's Sake and for the Sake of His Glory in accomplishing His Will. Has God promised? So it shall be, without a doubt, by His Mighty Hand.

Verse four (14-19a): "You thrust through with arrows the head of his villages. They came out like a whirl-wind to scatter me; their rejoicing was like feasting on the poor in secret. You walked through the sea with Your horses, through the heap of great waters. When I heard, my body trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered my bones; and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble. When he comes up to the people, he will invade them with his troops. Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls -- yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer's feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills."

What do we know about God? What do we know about His character? What did Israel know? What did Habakkuk know? Again, we are referred back to the Exodus: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exodus 20:2).

Deliverance from Egypt, from death, from sin, from the Wrath of God, is all by the Sovereign Will and Hand of God. It is according to God's Sovereign Good Pleasure that He delivered Israel from four hundred years of slavery by Himself, and it is by His Sovereign Good Pleasure that He chooses to deliver any one of us our of bondage to sin through Jesus Christ Alone.

However, that did not give Israel licence to sin and flaunt it before God, neither do we have license to sin because all of our sin have been forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ Alone. No. And when we sin, God may choose to send the Chaldeans against us. God may choose to punish us in this life through secondary means. And that should cause us to tremble to the quick. Habakkuk knew the Chaldeans were coming. He knew they would be savage. He knew Israel deserved God's Wrath, and he knew they would receive a portion of it. And Habakkuk did not look forward to it. Habakkuk did not enjoy the thought of the Chaldeans coming; it shook him to the quick. He was sick to his stomach. He bones rattled and ached. He mourned his sin and the sin of Israel.

Yet, he did not despair. Habakkuk said that he would receive the disciple of God's Hand as necessary, and even if there were no figs and no olives and no flocks -- even if there was no oil and no wine and no animals to sacrifice, even if it was physically impossible to carry out the worship of God as it had been prescribed in the Law -- and notice, Habakkuk thought not being able to worship properly was worse than Israel being slaughtered by the Chaldeans -- even so, he would rejoice.

Why? For four reasons:

First, no matter how greatly he and Israel suffered, he would rejoice because God's Salvation is greater than anything that could ever come upon us in this world. Can we say that? Can we rejoice no matter how much we and our loved ones and our nation suffer, simply because Jesus and His Salvation are greater?

Second, no matter how greatly he and Israel suffered, he would rejoice because God is his strength. His strength -- his ability to overcome and even survive -- did not come from himself. His strength came from God. So, he knew he could never lose hope and fall away fully. Do we share that confidence? Do we know that our strength is from God our Savior, the Greatest Being that ever can be?

Third, no matter how greatly he and Israel suffered, he would rejoice because God makes his feet like the deer. No, Habakkuk did not have little hoofed feet. No, he was saying that God made him swift in spiritual things. He has the speed of the deer in the things of God. God took control of his feet and made him able to carry out all that God set before him. Do we believe we are able? We are -- not in ourselves, of course -- but we are able for everything God sets before us, because God makes us able.

And fourth, no matter how greatly he and Israel suffered, he would rejoice because God would make him victorious in God in the end. No matter what he endured, no matter what he lost on earth, in the end, God would bring him to the heights, and he would have everything and more than he could ever desire in God. Are we willing not to fear losing everything for the sake of Christ? Can we suffer and mourn and still know that we have the greatest and the everlasting in Jesus Christ Alone? We can because it is God Who makes is so for us.

That is the character of the God we serve: He is holy and righteous. He accomplishes all things for His Glory. He has chosen a people for Himself, and He will bring every one of them to Himself on the last day. And despite the raging Chaldeans, in Him, there is no better place to be.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the burden of Habakkuk. We thank You for the difficult word that You use evildoers to accomplish Your Holy and Perfect Will. Help us to rest in You and find our perfect joy in You, holding fast to You and Your promises, and Your Salvation, and not to the fleeting things of this world. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"The King of the Jews"
[Mark 15:21-32]
November 26, 2006 Second Reformed Church

"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!" (Psalm 24).

Our God, our Lord, our Savior, our King is not the like kings of the world. Our King does not "take [our] sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots." He does not "appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots." He does not "take [our] daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers." He does not "take the best of [our] fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants." He does not "take a tenth of [our] grain and of [our] vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants." He does not "take [our] male servants and [our] female servants and the best of [our] young men and [our] donkies, and put them to his work." He does not "take the tenth of [our] flocks, and [we are not] his slaves." So we do not "cry out because of our king," for our King answers us. (I Samuel 8:11-18, alt.) Those are the things that God promised would become of Israel if they insisted upon having a human king, rather than God as their Sovereign Alone.

Our King, the King of every Christian, is the One Who created the heavens and the earth. He created everything that is, and He reigns from His Holy Mountain. And He calls His people to Him, to receive His Blessings. He, Himself, gives His people cleans hands and a pure heart. He, Himself, causes His peoples' souls to be true, and they do no swear deceitfully. The people of the King seek after His Face -- they long to do what is pleasing in His Sight, they endure all things that they might come into His Presence, they rise up and wait upon Him, because He is the King of Glory, the Lord, Strong and Mighty. This is our King, the King of every Christian.

This is the King Who took on human flesh, that He might live a perfect life and then suffer unjustly, for His People. It is He Who spoke not a word, but walked straightward to His Slaughter for our sake.

He is our King Who began to carry His cross, but then fell beneath it because of all He had suffered. So, Simon of Cyrene, merely a passer-by, was conscripted by the guards to carry the heavy cross. We have no reason to believe he even knew our King, still he was pulled out of the crowd and given a burden to carry. And Simon carried the cross to the place where our King was to be crucified, and then he left. We know nothing more about him.

How ought we to react when the heavy cross is dropped on our backs and we are told to carry it up the hill? What should our response be when our King, Who seeks to bless us and have us know Him, when He gives over a cross to us for a time? As the pain and the weight and the rough wood dig into us, let us remember that it is not we who are crucified on the cross, but our King. Let us cry out, but for mercy, and strength, and help. Because our King will only allow us to go so far, and then we are delivered. The Lord will always provide a way.

And our King climbed the mountain, up on Golgotha, "the Place of the Skull," the Mount of Moriah, where Abraham brought his son, Isaac, his only son, his beloved son, the son of the promise. And we remember that God told Abraham to build an altar on Golgotha and sacrifice his son for the sake of God, His King, and Abraham raised up the knife over his son, ready to plunge it into him, and the King said, "I have a substitute -- sacrifice the ram." So it was that Abraham named the place, "Jehovah-jireh" -- "the Lord will provide" (Cf. Genesis 22).

Last week we saw that each one of us is born a cosmic terrorist against God -- what end do we expect? But it pleased God to send our King up the mountain, to the altar, to become our bloody sacrifice, to substitute Himself, for His people. He said, "I, the Lord, will provide Myself, the Lamb." And He to Whom they could attach no crime -- He became our substitute -- and we are made right with God.

They offered our King bitter wine, that His Senses might be dulled, but He refused. And they took all that He had left, His few clothes, and they gambled for them. "For they persecute him whom you have struck down, and they recount the pain of those you have wounded" (Psalm 69:26).

And about the third hour -- 9 A.M. in today's way of counting time -- they crucified Him. Our King was nailed to a tree. In the very hour when the priests and the people ought to have been offering up their peace offerings to God, before the start of the first full day of the Passover, our King offered up the Perfect Peace Offering -- Himself -- for all Who are His.

And they nailed the offense -- the charge -- His crime -- above His Head on the cross -- and it read, in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin -- so everyone throughout the land could read the inscription -- the crime -- the reason for putting the King of Glory to death as a criminal. "The King of the Jews." Did they understand? Do we understand? That's not a crime -- that's an announcement -- "Look, this One, Jesus of Nazareth, is the King of the Jews -- He is the King of Glory -- He is the King of Creation. What have you done? What have we done?"

And they crucified our King between two thieves -- two just like us, and the self-righteous walked around them, shaking their heads, thanking God that they were not sinners like these men. What did the prophet say? "All who see me mock me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads. He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him" (Psalm 22:7-8). "I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads" (Psalm 109:25).

"Do you still plan to destroy the temple and raise it up in three days? Com'on, Jesus. You've never had a loss for words before. Pull those spike out of your arms and feet. Jump down from the cross. Make us believe you."

"He could save others, but He can't save Himself. This is all very strange, Jesus. Do a miracle now, Jesus. Do something amazing now, Jesus. Com'on Christ, Messiah, Savior. You're a disappointment. We expected more from the King. Just pull out those spikes -- rip them out -- come down from the cross. Now, we will see and believe."

Jesus, the King of Creation, the King of Salvation, the King of Kings, the King of Glory, the King of the Jews, stepped down from His Throne and took our place on the cross, in Hell, as the object of His Father's Wrath. Our King, our Lord and Master, took our place, and not only that, He credits us with His Holy Life, so we can follow Him and receive blessings upon blessings from Him.

Since our King has done all that, how ought we to respond and live?

Let us pray:
Almighty and Sovereign King, we are awe-struck by what You have done as our substitute. Increase our awe -- never let us think that what You did was of little consequence. Cause us to be Your people, for Your Glory, and may we submit ourselves to Your Word and to Your Will as the King of Glory, for You are worthy. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

EOPC Calling

D.V., I will preach the fourth in a four-part series on the book of Habakkuk this Sunday evening at 6 PM at Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Whippany (NJ). All are welcome. I plan to preach on Habakkuk 3:1-19, "The Character of God."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Saturday Meeting

The "It's Time for a Change" group will be meeting on Saturday at 1 PM at the church. All are invited.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Irrefutable Logic

In talking about the divine origin of the Scripture, one who renounces Christianity said to me, "I have decided that the Jewish tribes wrote the Bible to scare the s**t out of each other to keep them from fighting. That's all the Bible is." I explained that there is no basis for that belief. I was told it didn't matter, "That's what I believe."

Monday Puritan

"The Scripture compares the hopes of the wicked to the spider's web in Job 8:14. A Spider takes a great deal of pains in making a web, and then comes the broom of the maid and in one dash takes it all away. So there are many people who spin out their hopes out of themselves, as the spider does, and not out of the Word, nor out of the bowels of Jesus Christ, but out of themselves. From their good meanings, their good actions, their good serving of God, a fine web is made; but when the broom of death comes, all is dashed." Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, p. 81.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"The King of the Jews or Barabbas"
[Mark 15:6-20]
November 19, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Today is Thanksgiving Sunday; this Thursday, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Why will you be thankful? Will you be thankful that someone else is cooking? Will you be thankful that you have family and friends around? Will you be thankful to eat certain foods that you only have or associate with Thanksgiving? Will you be thankful that you have the day off from work and your usual routine? Why will you be thankful?

Let me suggest, this morning, that our Scripture gives us the ultimate reason to be thankful on Thanksgiving. The Scripture that was just read is the reason for the season -- for the holiday -- of Thanksgiving. Let us consider what we have just heard read.

Jesus was in prison, and the Roman Governor, Pilate, had interviewed Him, and found no legal precedent for putting Jesus to death. He thought it must be that the priests were jealous of Jesus -- that Jesus had a following that was growing day by day, and He criticized them, and they just didn't like it. Now, history tells us that Pilate was a ruthless and arrogant man -- he enjoyed putting people to death and seeing them suffer, but he was a Roman, and Romans had to have a reason to inflict suffering and death. Pilate was unimpressed by this silly argument they had brought him about their religion.

And Pilate thought he found a way out: it had been his custom during the feast of the Passover to let one of the prisoners go free. It was a good faith act -- to show that the Romans were a kind and generous occupier of Israel.

There had been a rebellion, a terrorist plot against the Roman government. Romans had been killed, but the terrorists had been caught, and Israel was being punished . Their leader was a murderer named Jesus Barabbas. And Pilate came before the crowd and said that he would release either Jesus Barabbas -- the great terrorist who had so recently caused bloodshed in Israel -- or the silly rabbi, Jesus, the King of the Jews -- Who so upset the priests.

And the crowd cried out, "Give us Barabbas!" And Pilate said, "Then what do you want me to do with the one you call, the King of the Jews?" And they cried out, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" "But He hasn't done anything wrong." "Crucify Him!" "I need a reason." "Crucify Him!"

Pilate realize it was a no win situation for him: he had to order Jesus' crucifixion, or risk his governorship and his authority over Israel. So he set Barabbas free -- he set the terrorist free -- the terrorist was saved, pardoned -- and Jesus took his place among the crucified.

But Pilate wasn't just going to have Jesus crucified. Oh, no. If they were going to force his hand, his hand was going to come down hard. So he ordered Jesus to be flogged -- to be whipped with a whip of many tails, that had pieces of glass and broken pottery tied onto it, so when it hit flesh, it dug in and tore out. And Pilate knew that Jewish Law did not allowed a person to be whipped more than forty times, so he ordered thirty-nine lashes for Jesus.

And the soldiers were having so much "fun," taking out their blood-lust on Jesus, that Pilate allowed them to take Jesus away with them for a time -- to "play" with Him before the crucifixion. And they mocked Him mercilessly. They put a purple robe over Him, dressing Him like a King. And they fashioned a crown of thorns and pressed it down into His Head. And they took a stiff reed, and pretended it was a scepter, as they took turns beating Him over the head and spitting on Him. And they cried out, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And fell to their knees in false veneration. And when they got tired of their "games," they tore off the robe, and led Him off to be crucified.

This was part of the pain He suffered. This was part of the humiliation He bore. This led Him to become the curse for us, because the Scripture tells us that anyone who is put to death by nailing or impaling, is cursed of God -- and we remember Jesus received the Wrath of God on that Good Friday.

And this, we should be thankful for. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that "when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies them for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:11-14).

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that God requires blood to be shed in order for sin to be forgiven. And He says that Jesus, acting both as High Priest and Sacrifice, offered Himself on the altar "for the sins of many" (Hebrews 9:28b). And, if God allowed the blood of an animal to cover the sin of a person, how much greater a sacrifice, and how much greater a forgiveness -- in fact, an eternal forgiveness -- will we find in the Eternal God Himself, becoming enfleshed, and offering Himself up for our sins?

That's something to be thankful about, isn't it? Jesus died and received an eternity of Hell and God's Wrath that everyone who believes in Him might be saved, reconciled to God, and forgiven.

Consider how we come into the world, as God told Israel, "You have never heard, you have never known, from old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel" (Isaiah 48:8). Over and over in the Scripture, it is explained to us that we are born in sin, we are born sinners. We are born rebels, we are born terrorists. Cosmic terrorists in rebellion against God. That is how every mere human being has come into the world since Adam.

We talk about the terrorists in the Middle East, even some "homegrown terrorists," and terrorists cannot be allowed to continue their terror. Not in the Middle East, not in the United States, not in Ancient Rome, and not in this sanctuary. The debt of the terrorist must be paid. And God says, "You are a born terrorist. And so are you. And you." And I was born a terrorist, too. Every one of us. Isaiah tells us, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). Did you hear that? In the midst of being told that we are born lost and doomed, God reveals that He has always had a plan to redeem His people.

"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Jesus Barabbas was on death row as a terrorist, yet in the Sovereign Plan of God, Jesus, the King of the Jews, took his place. I was on death row, a terrorist against the Almighty God, but in His Mercy, Jesus took my place. Each mere human being born on this earth is on death row as a cosmic terrorist, unless Jesus, the King of the Jews, takes his place. If you have believed in Jesus Christ Alone for your salvation, then your sin and your terror and your rebellion has been forgiven, because Jesus has taken your place. He has suffered and shed His Blood and died for each one who believes in Him. And much more than that. His is risen to the Right Hand of the Father and is coming again.

Why will you be thankful this Thanksgiving? I pray it will be because you have been forgiven and set free and Jesus has taken your place.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that before the foundation of the world, Your Planned for the Son to be incarnate and take our place that we would be made right with You. We thank You for this substitutionary atonement that Jesus has made on our behalf. May we be truly thankful. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Consistory Meetings

Due to certain political changes, the next four months should be colder and darker than the four months preceding them. For that reason, the Consistory plans, D. V., to meet on the third SUNDAY of the next four months (after morning worship). That is: December 17, January 21, February 18, and March 18.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Meetings

Tomorrow, Tuesday the 14th, the Classis of Passaic Valley will meet at 5:30 PM at North Reformed Church, Newark. All are welcome.

On Wednesday, the 15th, the Consistory (thank you, HUL) of Second Reformed will meet at the church at 7 PM. All are welcome.

Monday Puritan

"We see by experience that at such times when men have least hopes, that is, upon the sickbed or death bed, when the very ice is cracking and they are ready to be swallowed up by the gulf of eternal misery, then they would be godly and would purge themselves. But when they have health, peace, and some hope, now they are ungodly. So the best condition that many people are in is when they are most in despair, when they are ready to die, when their hopes are most shaken -- then are they in the best tune. But it is otherwise with the saints; when their hopes are most raised, then their hearts are ost sanctified." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, p. 79

Sunday Sermon

"Truth and Deception"
[Mark 14:53-15:5]
November 12, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Are we followers of the Truth or of the deceiver? It is popular today to say that there is no True Truth, but truth is whatever one wants to believe -- that believing makes a thing true. And there are things that are a matter of opinion: Rocky Road is the best ice cream in the world. Well, that may be true for me and not true for you. But when we are talking about Truth True -- about Absolute Truth -- there are no such options. For example, if I were to say oxygen is necessary for human beings to live -- for our physical bodies to live on earth -- someone may claim that that is true for me, but not for him, but a simple experiment of putting a plastic bag over someone's head will prove that oxygen for human life is a True Truth.

We remember last week, we saw Jesus tell the disciples that they would all fall away, but Peter jumped up and said, "Even if they all fall away, I will never fall away." And Jesus explained to Peter that he didn't realize his own weakness -- that Peter would deny Jesus three times before the second crow of the rooster that morning. And Peter swore an oath, that even if he had to die with Jesus, he would never deny Him. Shortly, thereafter, Jesus was arrested, and the disciples all fled.

Then we have this morning's Scripture, which recounts the "trial" of Jesus before the Sanhedrin -- the ecclesiastical court -- and the first meeting of Jesus and the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, as well as the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning Peter. Here we see deception and truth.

Jesus was led away by the high priests and the scribes and the elders to the court of the Sanhedrin, and throughout the night, they sought witnesses to witness against Jesus, because God's Law required two or three witnesses -- who agreed on their testimony -- to bring about a conviction. And many people came forward to testify against Jesus -- to bear false witness against Him, as we are told -- to lie and give false testimony. And one by one, these deceivers gave their false testimony, but they couldn't find two people to agree on their false testimony, so it was all for naught.

In frustration, the high priest asked Jesus, "Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed [God] Who is worthy of praise?" Are You the Christ -- the Messiah -- the Savior? Are You the Son of the Blessed God? Are You the Son of the Blessed [God] Who is worthy of praise -- which would make You worthy of praise as well?

And Jesus answered, "Yes, I am." "I am the Christ, the Savior, the Messiah. I am the Son of the Blessed God, and I am worthy of praise just as He is." And that might be shocking enough to cause the high priest to tear his garments and proclaim a judgment of blasphemy, but what put it over the top and secured Jesus' condemnation by them is something that is lost in English:

When Moses spoke with God in the burning bush, Moses asked God for a name by which he could tell the people of Israel that he was sent, and God said that His Name is YHWH. That is, in English, "I am." It is the most holy and personal Name of God given in the Scripture. And what we don't realize in English, is that Jesus doesn't merely say, "I am," He uses a double entendre, proclaiming that He is the God Whom Moses met in the bush -- "I am YHWH," is what Jesus effectively said. Here was the ultimate blasphemy -- Jesus claimed, plainly before them, that He is their God. And not only that, He told them that the day would come when they would see Him seated on the Throne of God, with the authority and power and glory of God, coming in the clouds. So the high priest tore his clothes and proclaimed blasphemy on Him and called for the death penalty, which was appropriate in cases of blasphemy.

Here's where it makes a difference where we consider truth. If Jesus is the Truth -- True Truth was spoken -- and just because the Sanhedrin didn't want to believe it doesn't change the fact that it is truth: Jesus is YHWH. Jesus is God. In personhood, Jesus is the Savior, the Christ, the Son of God. And He, as a member of the Godhead, as the One, True God, He is worthy of all praise.

This is not a case where we can say, as we moderns would like, "Well, Jesus may be God for you, but He's not God for me." No, that can't be. Either Jesus was telling the truth, Absolute Truth, True Truth, or He was the most evil and deceptive liar who ever lived. We are not given the opportunity to waffle, or to be tolerant, or to allow relativism, the Scripture is clear in it's claim that Jesus is God, the Son and Savior. He either is, or He is not. He either is the Only Salvation, or He is from the devil, the father of lies. Either I am deceived, or I am not.

The Sanhedrin had what it needed, a confession, and they could stack the trial so enough people who didn't believe Jesus' claims would condemn Him. So they spit on Him and put something over His Face, and began to circle Him and punch Him, yelling at Him to "prophecy!" who had hit Him. And they abused Him until the morning.

Were they deceived, or were they right? There is no third option in this case.

In the meantime, Peter was warming himself in the courtyard, and one of the young servant girls came out and saw him, and announced, "You were with the Nazarene, Jesus." And Peter denied it, "I neither know him nor do I understand what you are saying." And the rooster crowed. And the little girl said, "This man is one of them." And again he denied it. And a little while later, those standing around, after having looked at him and listened to his accent, said, "Surely you were with him, [and] you are a Galilean." And Peter swore an oath swearing that he never knew this Jesus that they were talking about. And the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered. Oh, he remembered Jesus' Words. He remembered how he swore to Jesus that he would die before he ever denied him. And here, he had been shaken and shattered, and lied to a few servants, including a little girl.

How quickly will you and I deny Jesus when our lives are at stake? Will we stand for Him, no matter what happens to us, no matter who accuses us, not matter what is threatened us? It's easier to swear than to stand. Jesus said, "Pray that you do not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:38b-c). And we may not let that become an excuse, "Couldn't help it, 'the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'" No, if we live prepared to fail Jesus, then we will. Oscar Wilde said, "I can resist anything except temptation." We cannot live like that. We have been given the Holy Spirit -- God Himself lives in us. And He will lead us out of temptation, away from sin. And yet, there will be occasions when we still sin, and as we grow in the faith, those occasions will become all the more foul to us, so, as the hymn writer wrote, "foul, I to the fountain fly."

Immediately, when the rooster crowed, Peter broke down and wept. After he realized his sin, he immediately broke down and confessed his sin and asked for forgiveness and mourned what deception he had put forth against his God and Savior. And we do well to repent quickly. Until we reach glory, we will not do all things perfectly, so as we strive to live perfectly, when we give into sin, let us quickly, truly, turn to God and repent, pick ourselves up and fight again against the wiles of the devil.

Immediately when morning came, the Sanhedrin stopped beating and insulting Jesus, and they tied Him up and brought Him to the governor -- you see, Israel was occupied by Rome and was not allowed to carry out the death penalty -- they had to go to Rome for approval. So they brought Jesus to Pilate and accused Him of many things, including claiming to be God -- none of which impressed Pilate. So, they then told him that Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews -- that was something Pilate could not allow. If Jesus was raising up a rebellion to replace Caesar as king, he had to quell it.

So Pilate asked Jesus directly, "Are you the king of the Jews?" And Jesus answered him directly, "You said it." And some have taken Jesus' response and said, "Well, Jesus was only saying that it is Pilate's opinion." But that is not what Jesus meant -- this is an idiomatic expression -- we even have it in English. If we just had a great meal together, and someone said, "Boy, that was a great meal," and someone else said, "You said it." What would we understand? We would understand, "You're absolutely correct. That's exactly what I would have said. Of course, what you are saying is completely true." That's how Jesus responded, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "You're absolutely correct. Of course. What you are saying is completely true. You said it."

Understanding Jesus' claim, Pilate then asked why He was not refuting the false charges that were bring brought against Him. But Jesus remained silent. And Pilate was amazed.

C. S. Lewis, of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe fame, said that the one thing we cannot say about Jesus is that He was a good teacher -- a good rabbi -- he doesn't leave us with the choice, because He claimed to be God Almighty and the King of the Jews. So, our only options are that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, or He truly is the Lord -- exactly as He said He was.

Is Jesus True Truth, or is He the deceiver?

Our text this morning shows us that humans lie, deceive, and act with cowardice. But the portrait we are given of Jesus is that of Truth, Christ, Savior, Son of God, worthy of praise, the King of the Jews.

If Jesus is Truth -- True Truth -- Absolute Truth -- He changes everything. But if He is not, you can't hold to some middle ground.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending Your Son, God Incarnate, to come and speak and live and be the Truth among us. If any among us have doubts this morning, we ask that You would make the case and the choice clear. And we ask that we would find our strength in You, and when we sin against You, then we would fly back into You Arms, asking forgiveness, knowing that we shall receive it from You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mid-Term Elections

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instotuted by God." Romans 13:1 ESV

"Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people." Titus 3:1-2 ESV

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Saturday Meeting

Saturday at 1 PM the "It's Time for Change Committe" will hold the regular meeting at the church. All are welcome.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Monday Puritan

"When Moses was in the mountain and conversed with God, he came down with his face shining. Why? Because he had been conversing much with God. So those who converse much with God have shining hearts and shining conversations. The reason for the dullness and drowsiness of your hearts and conversations is because you converse much with the world; but conversing with God and Christ, the holy One of God, will cleanse and purify your hearts." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, p. 74.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"Strength and Weakness"
[Mark 14:26-52]
November 5, 2006 Second Reformed Church

What is your greatest weakness? What sin is easiest for you to give in to? How do we receive the strength to turn away from our weaknesses and accomplish God's Will?

After Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples, instituting the Lord's Supper, they sang a hymn and went out to the Garden of Gethsemane. And in this morning's Scripture, we have four vignettes.

First, Jesus prophecies that all of the disciples will run from Him -- hiding and denying Him -- when His time has come. And Peter, always ready to jump up and blurt out something without thinking, says, "Even if everyone else falls away, I will not." And Jesus prophecies again, "Amen, I say to you that today, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times." And Peter swore and insisted, "Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you."
And we're just like him at times, aren't we? "I can do it. I will take over. I know the answer. I would never, could never, will never, ever fail you." And then, we like sheep, push ahead of the Shepherd and wander off the edge of a cliff.

Do we think about what we're saying, about what we're promising, before we jump in? We ought to -- especially with God. We may be making a very good promise, but if we go in rashly, disaster is likely to follow. It was one of Peter's greatest weaknesses -- he jumped up, jumped in, made promises, but didn't think about what was involved -- what the consequences were.

If the Lord is willing, we'll see how this vignette ended in next week's sermon.

In the second vignette, Jesus explains to the disciples that He is going through "the valley of the shadow of death" as it were. He was sorrowful, troubled, even to the point of just wanting to die then and there. And we ask how that could be -- how could Jesus, Who came for the very purpose that He was heading straight for -- how could He now be afraid? And here we need to remember that Jesus has two natures -- He is both fully human and fully divine in a single Person. And Jesus knew, in His humanity and in His divinity that He was accomplishing the Will of the Father. Everything that was necessary to accomplish His Plan was occurring. But when Jesus, in His Humanity, looked ahead at being tortured and then put to death by crucifixion -- which is still considered among the most cruel ways to put a person to death -- He was, quite naturally, and not sinfully, upset. Since Jesus is a real human being, He looked at that impending enormous suffering, and cried out in pray to His Father, "Abba Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup from me. But not what I will but your will."

Jesus prayed to God for strength. He called out to His Father and told Him that He did not desire to die this hideous death, and if there was any way He could accomplish the purposes of God in another way, it was preferable to Him. But if it was not -- and there is assent in His Words -- He knew there was no other way -- then carry out this Plan. But -- it is implied -- if this is the only way -- if this is Your Will, then give Me Your Strength.

And this is the focus and the point of this morning's sermon: last week we saw that God gives us His Grace, Strength, and Assurance through the reading and preaching of His Word, and through the administration of the Sacraments. This morning, we hear the third way that God normally ministers to us, and that is through prayer. So, when we are weak, go to the Word of God. When we are weak, receive the Sacraments. When we are weak, go to God in prayer. These are the places that God has given us to meet Him -- where He ministers to us, so we might accomplish His Will and not sin against Him.

Jesus returned after praying for an hour, and He found Peter, James, and John asleep. And He woke them and asked them how it was that they couldn't stay awake for even an hour to pray with Him? How would they be able to overcome temptation if they couldn't even pray for an hour?

And Jesus returned and prayed again that He might be delivered, or that He would be ministered to and strengthen by God. And then, after an hour, He went back and found Peter, James, and John asleep again -- and they were ashamed. They didn't know what to say to Jesus. They were so weak, especially in this dark and desperate hour, when Jesus called them to pray with Him.

And Jesus went back to pray again -- and He prayed the same way again, waiting for an answer from God. And this time, Luke records for us, "And there appeared to him an angel from heaven strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:43-44). The third time, God sent an angel to minister to Jesus -- to deliver strength from God the Father to Him. And we need to understand that when Luke tells us that Jesus prayed with such passion and in such agony that His sweat became mixed with blood and dropped from Him like great drops of blood -- that is not a metaphor. It has been scientifically shown that when a person is in great distress or agony that blood vessels can break and blood will flow out like sweat, and it mixed with Jesus' sweat as He prayed and it fell to the ground.

Have you ever prayed like that? Have you ever prayed with such intensity, with such passion, with such earnestness, so truly gasping and grasping for the Hand of God that you bled? Have you ever even prayed for an hour for something? -- much less three?

When we look at the Bible and compare it to the American church, what do we see? We're told to keep one day in seven as holy to the Lord, and most people can't even find an hour. We're told to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper to our benefit and to declare Christ's Death until His Return, and until recently, most churches have celebrated the sacrament one a month, or once a year, our own denomination only requires it four times a year. And what about prayer? Again and again in the Scripture we see Jesus stop to pray and the disciples stop to pray and pray and pray, while today, so many prayers sound like we believe God is the genie in Aladdin's Lamp.

God draws us to Himself, and He tells us that He will minister to us through His Word and through the Sacrament and through prayer -- that He will give us all we need to accomplish His Will -- that He will deliver us from temptation. And we say, "Not now, I need my rest." There is a time for rest and a time to gather strength for the fight. The Christian Church has been asleep for too long.

Jesus had been hungry, so the disciples stopped and left Him at a well while they went to get food. While they were away, Jesus had a conversation with the woman who came to the well, and she came to understand that He is the Savior. When the disciples returned, Jesus said He was no longer hungry, "I have food to eat that you do not know about. ... My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together" (John 4:32b, 34b-36).

Do we eat the good food that our Father provides for us? Or do we merely want the sugary sweets?

In the third vignette, Jesus is identified by His betrayer and carted off to the high priest and the high council -- the Sanhedrin -- for questioning. Remember that when we read the Scripture, since it is the Word of God, there is nothing that disagrees, and we are to harmonize events. Listen as I read from the four Gospels:

"[Judas] drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, 'Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?'" (Luke 22:47b-48).

"Jesus said to him, 'Friend, do what you came to do'" (Matthew 26:50).

"Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, 'Whom do you seek?' They answered him, 'Jesus of Nazareth.' Jesus said to them, 'I am he.' Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, 'I am he,' they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, 'Whom do you seek?' And they said, 'Jesus of Nazareth.' Jesus answered, 'I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.' This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, 'Of those whom you gave me I have lost no one.' Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, 'Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that my Father has given me?'" (John 18:4-11).

"Then Jesus said to the chief priests and the officers of the temples and the elders, who had come out against him, 'Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay your hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness'" (Luke 22:52-53).

"'All this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.' And all the disciples left him and fled" (Matthew 26:56).

The fourth vignette tells us that there was one person who didn't immediately run away. A young man who was wearing nothing but a linen cloth. Who was this young man? He is only mentioned in the book of Mark -- and that has led many to conclude that it was Mark, himself. Whoever he was, when the crowd turned against him, he dropped the cloth and ran away into the night.

What is your greatest weakness? What sin is easiest for you to give in to? How do we receive the strength to turn away from our weaknesses and accomplish God's Will?

If you have heard the Word of God read and preached this morning, God has ministered to you. We are about to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and through it, God will minister to all those who believe. There is a third way to receive strength from God and come to accomplish His Will, so let us pray:

Almighty God, we come before You knowing that Your Will will be done and You will give us all we need to accomplish it, if we come to You. On this morning when we remember the faithful saints who have gone on to the kingdom before us, we ask that Your would raise up Your saints in this church and throughout all the churches of this world. Let us no longer be satisfied with sleep, but cause the fire of the Holy Spirit to build up within our bones, and give us no comfort until is it released to Your Glory and in Your Name -- for it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

November Sermons

D. V., I will preach:

11/5/06 All Saints' Sunday/Communion
Mark 14:26-52 "Strength & Weakness"

11/12/06 Stewardship Sunday
Mark 14:53-15:5 "Truth & Deception"

11/19/06 Thanksgiving Sunday
Mark 15:6-20 "The King of the Jews or Barabbas?"

11/26/06 Christ the King Sunday
Mark 15:21-32 "The King of the Jews"

Meeting

On Saturday, the 4th, the "It's Time for a Change" Committee will host a panel discussion on the family at Second Reformed Church from 11 AM to 4 PM. There is no charge. Please attend and give your input.