Second Reformed Church

Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve I plan to preach, D.V., at the Preakness Valley United Reformed Church, 480 Valley Rd., Wayne, NJ, on I John 3:10-15; 5:1-5, "What Have You Done Lately?" All are welcome.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Monday Puritan -- Merry Christmas

"You shall find that a man is not better because of outward things, not a whit." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, 122.


[Mark 16:14-18]
December 24, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Do you believe?

This morning we asked the question and said it was the most important question we will ever answer. Each one of us must look at the evidence, what God has said in His Word, the Bible, and see if it is true. Did God really Incarnate as a Little Baby about two thousand years ago -- this Baby Whose birth we celebrate? Did He grow up and live just like any one of us, yet never sin? Did He suffer and die and rise from the dead to pay the debt of everyone who would believe in Him, to credit those same ones with His Holy Life, and secure their salvation in ascending back to His Throne?

Do you believe?

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and then to the two men, Cleopas and Simon, whom He met on the road, and they all went back to the disciples and confessed their belief that Jesus is the Savior, risen from the dead. But the eleven, the apostles, they still didn't believe. They discussed what these reports might mean.

"And as they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, 'Peace to you!' But they were startled and frightened and they thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.' And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

"Then he said to them, 'These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and he said to them, 'Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins shall be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are my witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of the Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high'" (Luke 24:36-49).

Jesus appeared to the eleven. He invited them to touch Him and look at Him to see that it was truly Him. And He ate food to show them that He is a real human being. And then He went through the Scriptures with them, like He had gone through them with the men on the road, and He explained all the Scriptures and showed how they all pointed to Him and what must happen regarding Him for the sake of His people and to the glory of the Father.

And they finally believed. Have you believed? If you have, you have work to do, even this very night and tomorrow, on Christmas. Jesus commands us to go.

Jesus told the eleven, and the word applies to all of His disciples, including us, "Go into the world and preach the good news to all the creation." That doesn't sound shocking to us, but it would have been to them. The Messiah, the Savior, that Little Baby, so many people thought, was born a Jew for the Jews and the Jews alone. But Jesus corrects them here and elsewhere: the Good News of Jesus Christ is to be preached to every single human being, no matter what their origin or ethnicity. The Gospel is not restricted by race or color or background -- it is Truth truth to every human being and especially for everyone who will believe it.

And Jesus puts the Truth quite simply: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved and those who do not believe are condemned." The message is not complicated -- believe in Jesus Alone for salvation or be eternally damned. Believe, wear the signs, and receive the sacraments of being a Christian, live like a believer in this life, and be received into life eternal, or, reject Jesus, reject His Salvation, add something to Jesus, or choose something or someone entirely different, and you will suffer eternal hell forever. Go, tell the history of Jesus, and ask, "Do you believe?"

And again, we say, "Oh, that is very well for missionaries and ministers, but I am just a simple person with a simple vocabulary. I'm too old. I'm too sick. I don't speak well. Etc. Etc."

God is not stupid. We should all have bumper stickers that say that: God is not stupid. The God Who created you and has blessed you and preserves you by His Mighty Right Hand knows exactly who you are and what your situation is, just as He knew the apostles two thousand years ago.

To them Jesus said, "And these signs will accompany those who believe -- in my name, they will cast out demons, they will speak in different languages, and they will take snakes in their hands and if someone drinks something poisonous, it will not harm him, they will lay hands on the sick and their health will be restored."

God is well aware that there are people who are demon possessed, and demons must be exercised from people before they can believe. So, we have reports like this, "As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, 'These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.' And this she kept doing for many days. And Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.' And it came out of her that very hour" (Acts 16:16-18).

God is well aware that He shut down the building of the Tower of Babel by confusing the languages of the world -- that is, making many languages out of the one original language. So, at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, causing them to preach in Jerusalem, there was a problem, "When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appear to them and rested on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

"Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus, Egypt and the parts of Lybia belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians -- we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God'" (Acts 2:1-11).

And God is very well aware that divine intervention may be necessary to carry out the work that He has set before us, so we read, "After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on to his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, 'No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.' He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm" (Acts 28:1-5).

And God is also very well aware, that some people are so sick that they cannot hear the Gospel until they are healed: "Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, 'Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make you bed.' And immediately he rose. And all of the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord" (Acts 9:32-35).

Let me ask us on this Holy Night: Does every Christian have the ability to spontaneously speak in foreign languages, cast out demons, heal the sick, and survive being poisoned? No. Did every apostle have the ability to spontaneously speak in foreign languages, cast out demons, heal the sick, and survive being poisoned? No. Has every person heard the Gospel in his or her own language? No. Has every demon been cast out? No. Has every sick person been healed? No. Has every person who was poisoned been delivered? No.

Then what did Jesus mean when He said, "And these signs will accompany those who believe -- in my name, they will cast out demons, they will speak in different languages, and they will take snakes in their hands and if someone drinks something poisonous, it will not harm him, they will lay hands on the sick and their health will be restored"?

Simply this: God will provide us with everything we need to be able to preach the good news. Whatever you and I need to propagate the Gospel will be provided by God. Whatever way God has called us to tell others about Jesus, God will make sure that way is clear for us. That does not mean we will always accomplish what we think we need to get done, for ourselves or the Gospel. But God will not allow His Plans, His spreading of the Gospel throughout the whole world, to fail.

So what does that mean for us? We have no excuses. Go has told us to go and tell. You and I each have people and places to be for the Lord, and God has provided the way and the means for us. Go. If we believe, go.

If we believe that Christmas is more than just the celebration of another Jewish boy being born, then go. If we believe that God has raised Jesus from the dead, then go. Rest assured that God has provided for you and He will provide for you everything you need to accomplish His Purposes, so, confidently, go.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, Yours is the Power and the Honor and the Glory forever. We thank You for the gift of this little Jewish Boy, the Incarnate God, our Savior. We believe in His Gospel, we believe You are able to do all things, give us trust in You to go where You have called us. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Sunday Sermon

"Do You Believe?"
[Mark 16:9-13]
December 24, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Do you believe?

A Jewish boy named Jesus was born in Bethlehem about two thousand years ago. Do you believe?

That's not hard to believe, is it? Jesus was a very common Jewish name -- there were probably dozens of Jewish boys named Jesus about two thousand years ago. The fact that a Jewish boy named Jesus was born about two thousand years ago isn't hard to believe, and it really doesn't mean that much.

Even if we add in angels and shepherds and a star and near eastern astrologers with gifts, it would not have been far-fetched. As we saw last week, there are angels -- they would have believed in angels, and there were shepherds who wandered off and got into other people's business, and eastern astrologers -- prophets and astrologers and mystics were common.

When we add in the fact that Jesus is God Incarnate, many eyebrows would have been raised, but not all, since God had manifested Himself in Israel's sight before. Today, of course, many more eyebrows are raised.

And when we add in, "and He was born to a virgin," even in Jesus' day, that seemed far-fetched -- not impossible, though. Because they had seen many miraculous things happen in the past, throughout their history.

So, I ask again, "Do you believe?"

It's interesting to note that the people of Jesus' day, just as people in our day, found His Resurrection even more difficult to believe in than His Miraculous Birth.

But here's the difference between the people of Jesus' day and our own day: the people in Jesus' day expected sure and convincing proof before they would believe something; they were not as easily fooled or convinced of things as we are. In the United States, and even in the Church, we have put our brains up on a shelf. And when we have been presented with reason and logic and proof, we have babbled back what the "experts" have said.

I was talking to a woman recently who said that she didn't believe in the Jesus of the Bible -- she believes that Jesus was a good and moral teacher, so she thinks -- but she does not believe that He is the Almighty God Incarnate, the only Salvation for humans. She said to me, "The Bible says that Jesus was born of a virgin; so the Bible isn't true. There must be a sperm and an egg to produce a baby; so Christianity isn't true."

We must grant that such an interaction is normally necessary to produce a baby. But tell me, if the Almighty God, Who created everything that is, including the body of Mary, herself, if He chose to created a baby in her womb without the male implantation, is it not possible that the Almighty God and Creator could do it?

The Bible says that we must use our minds -- we must love God with all of our minds -- so often a portrait is painted of people who lived two thousand years ago -- even five hundred years ago -- as being completely ignorant and unworthy of listening to. Yes, we have made great strides in medicine and in the ability to kill each other, but such advances do not mean that those who have come before us are unworthy to listen to. We ought to bring our minds to their testimony and prove what they have said as true or false.

I have talked with people about the issue of abortion, and I have been told that "There's no 'baby' in the womb, it's a fetus." And I explain that the word "fetus" is merely Latin for "baby" -- so the person is saying "There's no 'baby' in the womb, it's a baby."

When people tell me, "I don't believe in Christianity." They very often mean they don't believe in the Church -- they don't believe in the excesses and abuses, the sin and the history of conflict -- but I say, and I would hope you would say, "Look at the Bible. Look at the Holy Scripture. See what God has said. Read the Bible and see if God does not convict you of the truth of what it says."

The Church is not sinless -- not yet. But that Little Baby was born without sin, and He never sinned, so He was able to take our place as the Perfect Sacrifice and receive upon Him the punishment for our sin. That's what the Scripture says -- that's where we ought to direct our friends and families. And we ought to pray for them, that they would believe, remembering, that the best argument that we ever make will not convert a person. Only God changes the heart. Only God enlightens the mind. The Holy Spirit moves like the wind upon whomever it pleases Him to make believe.

Do you believe?

Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses and Salome and Joanna ran back to the disciples -- they did not yet believe. They had met the angel in the tomb and heard his words that Jesus was gone -- He was risen, and they ran away terrified, not knowing what to make of this message, and they went to Peter and the others and told them that Jesus' Body was gone.

And Mark is unable, as he is writing, to restrain himself, because he knows the end of the story, and he writes, "And with this, Jesus sent out through them from the east and to the west the sacred and imperishable Gospel of eternal salvation!" But Mark has more to tell us before we reach this blessed conclusion:

We're told that Mary Magdalene "ran and went to Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.' So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. The other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes" (John 20:2-10).

Peter and John ran to the tomb and confirmed that the tomb was open, Jesus' Body was gone, the linen cloth that Joseph of Arimethea had bought and wrapped Jesus in was folded in the tomb. They had proof that what the women said was true: Jesus was gone. But they did not know what to make of the angel saying that He was risen. They didn't believe that yet. They didn't have proof of that. So they went home and continued to mourn the death of their Lord, and now, also, the fact that His Body was missing.

Mary Magdalene did not go back with them; she stayed behind in the garden around the tomb and cried about the loss of her Lord, both to death and now in Body, that she could not anointed Him and complete His burial. "Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' She said to them, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.' Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?' Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary.' She turned and said to him, 'Rabboni!' (Which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."' Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord' -- and that he had said these things to her" (John 20:11-18).

Mary Magdalene believed; the disciples did not. Do you believe?

After this, Jesus appeared to two of His followers, "That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, 'What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?' And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, 'Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?' And he said to them, 'What things?' And they said to him, 'Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They went to the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not seen.' And he answered them, 'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

"So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going further, but they urged him strongly saying, 'Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.' So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, 'Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened to us the Scriptures?' And they rose the same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, 'The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!' Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:13-35).

Simon and Cleopas believed; the disciples did not. Do you believe?

When the angel came to Mary and told her that she was with child, she said that it was not possible, because she was a virgin. The angel offered her two proofs: her barren cousin, Elizabeth, was with child already, and the God of this world is the Almighty God Who can make a virgin pregnant (Luke 1:34-37).

When Mary told Joseph that she was with child by an act of God the Holy Spirit, he did not believe her, but he loved her and sought a way to divorce her quietly. But the angle came to Joseph and offered him the proof of the prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear the Savior -- this was Mary (Matthew 1:18-25).

In our society, with our mind-set and world view, it is easier to believe in the truth of Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph and all the other wonderful characters of Christmas. But, as fun and enjoyable as they may be, in the end, it really doesn't matter.

The history of this Baby, Jesus, Who also has something to do with the celebration of Christmas, does matter. His History ought not to be judged by looking at the sins of the Church, or my sins or your sins. His History ought to be judged by His History. And we ought not rely on the "experts," but take up the Bible ourselves and ask, "Is this true?" Read it and find out if there is any proof behind what it says. See if there is logic in its words.

Ponder this fact that Paul put before the Church in Rome, "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).

After all the other characters of the season return to the North Pole, the question -- the ultimate question -- the question that makes the eternal difference -- is still before each one of us:

"Do you believe?"

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, Child of the Virgin's womb, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You for this time of celebrating Your Birth. We thank You that You have made us to live at a time and in a country where we can take up Your Word and examine it and see if these things are true. Do not let one of us rest until we can answer honestly, thoroughly, and thoughtfully, "Do I believe?" For everything always is for Your Glory, May Jesus Christ be praised, for it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Meeting Cancelled

Due to it being Christmas weekend, the "It's Time for a Change Commitee" will NOT meet this Saturday.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Monday Puritan

"When a bladder is full of wind, one prick lets it all out; so when death comes, it let's out all their comforts." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, 122.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday Sermon

[Mark 16:1-8]
December 17, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Do you believe in angels? The Bible tells us throughout its sixty-six books that there are angels. Do you believe in angels? Perhaps I should ask, "what do you believe about angels?" In recent years, Americans have become obsessed with angels. Our culture has gotten its understanding of angels from television, in programs like "Highway to Heaven" and "Touched by an Angel." Despite how nice and encouraging and "moral" these program are, they have led to confusion; they have led to people embracing wrong ideas about angels. And my guess would be that, no matter what the Bible says, some will respond, "Well, it may not be in the Bible, but I believe its true." Here's the problem with that kind of "logic" -- we end up relating to angels incorrectly, and we misunderstand and diminish their true purpose.

Let me offend some of you right off the bat by denouncing three popular understandings:

First, angels are not gods; they are not equal to God; they do not advise God. Angels are creatures, created by God, just like squirrels and humans and cows and dolphins and bats. In the order of creatures -- in their relation to God, humans are a little lower than the angels, and all other creatures are lower than humans (Psalm 8:5).

Second, humans do not become angels when they die. Humans remain humans when they die. Angels are angels and humans are humans. We are different species.

Third, there is no such thing as a "guardian angel." We do have contact with the angels and work with the angels, but the Bible knows nothing of each person being assigned one particular angel to watch over him or her.

Those are Hollywood non-realities.

Now let us turn back to this morning's Scripture:

Israel celebrated the Sabbath, and early on the morning of the first day of the week, just as the sun was beginning to rise, at least four women, went to the tomb of Jesus to embalm His Body according to Jewish custom. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, Salome, and Joanna (Luke 24:10), perhaps with other women, went to the tomb of Jesus, where they had seen Him buried, and they went they to embalm His dead Body. They carried myrrh with them to embalm Him; they had no expectation that He was risen.

No one had understood, with all the times Jesus explained to them that He would die and then rise, that He would rise from the dead. Well, that's not entirely true, none of Jesus' disciples understood, but the Pharisees understood what He said: remember last week we saw them go to Pilate to have the tomb sealed and guarded, so the disciples would not be able to steal Jesus' Body and make it look as though He had risen from the dead.

And they brought myrrh, the embalming spice. And we may remember that the Baby Jesus was present with a gift of myrrh by the magi from the East (Matthew 2:11). Is it any wonder that we're told that Mary "pondered these things in her heart"? Have you ever given the mother of a newborn embalming fluid as a gift?

On the way to the tomb, the women wondered how they would get into the tomb: remember, the tomb was covered by a massive stone door that had been rolled down into a gully in front of the tomb's opening, so it would be extremely difficult to enter. And, even so, there were Roman guards making sure no one tried to move the stone.

But before they arrived, we're told, "there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men" (Matthew 28:2-4). The mighty Roman guards fainted.

And the women arrived and "behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground," (Luke 24:4b-5a).

Let us stop here in the text and consider three surprises the Bible tells us about angels:

First, the surprise of their presence. Angels have a habit of just appearing, and we humans find that very disconcerting! So, we see that the angel or angels who appear usually begin by calming down the humans they have just appear in front of.

When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he said, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God" (Luke 1:30). And when the angel appeared to the shepherds, he said, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people" (Luke 2:10). And when the angel appeared to Peter in jail, he just appeared, "And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell" (Acts 12:7). And at the tomb, "the angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay'" (Matthew 28:2-6).

We normally do not see angels, so when they appear, their presence is surprising; if they make themselves known. What do I mean? I mean that some of us may have met angels. The writer of Hebrews warns us, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:2). When an angels appears, his presence is a surprise. But we ought to be aware that there are times when an angel comes in disguise, and we will not recognize him.

Second, the surprise of their appearance. What do you think of when you think of an angel? I would guess that most of us picture a man with wings or a baby with wings -- specifically when we think of cherubs, or cherubim. We have three different descriptions of types angels in the Scripture -- well, four, if we include those that we don't recognize to be angels, that we just saw in Hebrews.

In most of the accounts in Scripture, the angels that are described look like men -- like humans -- with one small difference -- (and it's not wings) -- from this morning’s text, "And as they went into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right wearing a brilliant white robe." In most of the accounts, the angel looks exactly like a human being except for the fact that the Glory of God is radiating off of him as visible light. And it is that Glory that the people find terrifying.

We also have descriptions of two particular species of angels: the seraphim and the cherubim. Of the seraphim we are told, "Above [the Lord] stood the seraphim. Each had six wings; with two he covered his face, and two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory'" (Isaiah 6:2-3). The seraphim seem to look like humans, except they have three pairs of wings.

It was the cherubim, however, whom God set at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, so neither Adam, nor Eve, nor anyone else would ever return, "[God] drove out the man, and at the East of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). Much less cute babies and more like bouncers, Ezekiel describes the cherubim -- don't be confused by the cherubim's use of wheels to do their work -- the wheels are not attached to the cherubim: "The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under their wings. And I looked, and behold, there were four wheels beside each cherubim, and one beside each cherub, and the appearance of the wheels was like sparkling beryl. And as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went, but in whatever direction the front wheel faced, the others followed without turning as they went. And their whole body, their backs, their hands, and their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around -- the wheels that the four of them had. As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing 'the whirling wheels.' And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of the lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle" (Ezekiel 10:8-14). Rather than being cute, the cherubim are pictured are a terrifying army. These beings have four faces: one that is their natural face, one that looks like a human, one that looks like a lion, and one that looks like an eagle. They have wings, and under each wing, they have a hand. And their entire bodies are covered with eyes. That's not any baby I have ever seen!

Third, the surprise of their message. We could pose the question this way: what is the main point or purpose of these beings? What is the primary reason they exist? Whether they are unrecognizable, or shine the Glory of God, or have wings, or look exceedingly unlike anything we know, like the cherubim, what is their chief end? It may help to know that the word that we translate "angel," aggelos, means "messenger." Angels exist to carry a specific message. What message?

Gabriel's message to Mary was, "And behold, you shall conceive a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:31-33). And the angel told the shepherds, "'For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased'" (Luke 2:11-14). The message of the angels, the purpose of the angels, is to announce that Jesus is God, the Savior, in His Birth, in His Life, in His Resurrection. Jesus is Lord and Christ, receive Him.

The angel at the tomb said, "He is risen; he is not here. Look at the place where he was laid. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he has gone ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you." The message and work of the angels is the same as the message and work of Christians: tell everyone -- the whole creation -- that Jesus is God the Savior, there is Salvation only in Him, repent and believe.

That's why Peter was in jail when the angel came to him, "On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. ... [And Peter said,] 'let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead -- by him this man is standing before you well.' ... [And the rulers said,] 'but in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.' So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard'" (Acts 4:5-6, 10, 17-20).

Angels are all around us, and they are our co-workers in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As John found out on Patmos, "I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down and worshiped at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, 'You must not do that! I am your fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and those who keep the words in this book. Worship God'" (Revelation 22:8-9). Angels are not to be worshiped; they are our co-workers in Christ and for the Glory of Christ.

The angels serve with us and minister to us that we might serve all the better. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us: "Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14).

Do you believe in angels? Do we understand who they are and who they are not better for looking to the Scripture? And do we understand that they exist to Glorify God, just as we do, and to preach the message of Salvation in Jesus Christ, just as we are to do?

After the women heard the message that Jesus was risen, they ran from the tomb, terrified of the angels, and they told no one on the way back what had happened, but we know that they went to the disciples and told them, and the disciples went throughout the world and told others, and now we are charged -- not just ministers -- but all Christians -- to tell the message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are we too small? Are we too weak? Does it all seem so hopeless?

The servant of the prophet Elisha was discouraged as he saw the armies of the king of Syria approaching: "When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, 'Alas, my master! What shall we do?' He said, 'Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more powerful that those who are with them.' And Elisha prayed and said, 'O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.' So the Lord open the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (II Kings 6:15-17).

Be encouraged: the angels are all around us, working together with us, to see that this Work of God will be done. We and the angels have been sent out with a message: God Incarnate on the first Christmas, He lived under His Own Law perfectly, He was crucified, suffered Hell and the Wrath of God for all our sins, and rose from the dead to save His people, to the Glory of the Father.

May our eyes be opened, like the servant of Elisha. May we be confident of the angels ministering among us, whether we ever see them in this life, and may we, with the angels, fulfill our purpose, to the Glory of Jesus, now and forever.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for raising Jesus from the dead, securing our salvation, and bringing Glory to Yourself. We thank You that we humans are not alone, but we have brothers in the ranks of the angels at work in the ministry with us. Make us faithful servants, steadfast in Your Word. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Lord, here burn, here cut, but spare hereafter. I am content Lord, to be burnt, to be cut, to endure anything in the world, and sufferings in the world for Thee. Only hereafter I look for something else, and I'll wait for hereafter." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, 105.

Christian, can you pray this prayer with Rev. Burroughs?

Sunday EVENING Sermon

"Providence Does Parties"
[Esther 1:1-22]
December 10, 2006 Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Tonight, we begin a look at the book of Esther. Esther was written about 500 B. C., around the same time that the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah were prophesying. It's about seventy-five years after our friend, Habakkuk, received his burden and was told that Israel was going to be slaughtered and taken into captivity by the Chaldeans.

By this time, the balance of power had shifted: the Persians had conquered the Chaldeans, and the Persian Empire ran from Greece to India and from Egypt up through Turkey. The Persians had a different view of taking captives than the Chaldeans did. The Chaldeans herded their captives off into Babylon -- into a central location, whereas the Persians thought it best to leave their captives in their lands and send representative rulers to rule over them. Thus, when Cyrus the Persian inherited the kingdom of the Medes and conquered Babylon and the Chaldeans, he told the captives that they were free to go back to their homelands. In Ezra and Nehemiah, we read about those who returned to Israel. In Esther, we read about those who remained where they had been brought, and specifically those in the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces that were ruled over by Ahasuerus, who was also known as Xerxes. He ruled over the area from India to Ethiopia.

Ahasuerus was the son of Darius the Mede, and was known as the conqueror of Greece, and he was a successful builder -- perhaps an architect. As Esther opens, we find that Ahasuerus also liked to party. And in the third year of his reign, he invited all of the powerful people in Persia, all of the nobles, and all of the princes, to come to a party and to look at the glories and the riches and the splendor and the majesty of his kingdom. And they oohed and aahed for one hundred and eighty days. For six months they toured and told Ahasuerus how wonderful, how magnificent, how glorious, how wise, how wealthy he was -- praise upon praise was heaped on him, and he received it as one who was deserving.

And Queen Vashti, the daughter of Cyrus the Mede, threw a party for the rich and powerful women of the land, in another part of the palace.

Does Ahasuerus remind you of anyone else in biblical history? From the book of Daniel, "At the end of twelve months [King Nebuchadnezzar] was walking around the royal palace of Babylon. The king spoke saying, 'Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?'" (Daniel 4:29-30) We may remember that God answered Nebuchadnezzer's question, "No," and caused him to become like an animal until he was humbled.

That did not happen with Ahasuerus. At the end of one hundred and eighty days of being told how wonderful he was, he called for a banquet, and for seven days straight they ate and drank and ate and drank. And they ate in the garden court -- can we picture it? "There were white and blue linen curtains fastened with cords of fine linen and purple on silver rods and marble pillars; and the couches were gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of alabaster, turquoise, and white and black marble." And they drank out of solid gold vessels, and they drank and drank and drank. And we're told that according to the law, drinking was not compulsory, so each man was free to drink as much or as little as pleased him.

Have you thrown parties like that?

Let me encourage you, warn you, not to watch T.V. preachers. Unless you are sure that the person preaching on your T.V. is a Christian and is fairly reliable as a preacher, don't watch them. Don't expose yourself to the nonsense that's on T.V. Spend your time in the Word, reading good books, talking with faithful Christians about the faith.

Why do I say that? Because most T.V. preachers are, at best, thoroughly unbiblical. I watched a few minutes of a popular T.V. preacher recently. He always wears perfect suits, and gold chains and rings full of diamonds, and he said this, "Some people have actually asked me why I wear thousand dollar suits and gold jewelry and diamonds and have a big house and a fancy car, and I explain to them that if I didn't look this good, people wouldn't worship God. If I drove a shabby car and wore an old suit and came up into the pulpit, no one would listen to me, because they wouldn't see the evidence of God's blessings upon me." God won't be glorified unless people look at me and see all of my stuff and praise me for it.

Why does this have to do with Ahasuerus? Both Ahasuerus and this T.V. preacher by their words and actions show their pride and vanity. They show that they have abused the gifts that God gave them and used them for their own ambition. Having received much more than most from the Hand of God, they were not thankful for them.

What about you? Are you thankful for what God has given you? Do you praise and glorify God for what He has given you and seek God's Wisdom that you might use what you have been given? Or, do you parade around and invite people to your home saying, "Look at me! Look what I did! Look how wonderful I am! Look what God gave me -- me -- wonderful me!"

The blessings God gives us are not to make us look better than others, but that we might use them in a way that honors and glorifies God. Greater blessings imply greater -- more -- service. Understand, God has given us the creation to enjoy -- not misuse, but enjoy. God is glorified when we joyfully enjoy all that God has given to us and give Him thanks. There is a difference between thankfully and joyfully receiving a raise, using that money to care for your family and to give to the work of God, and vainfully, pridefully receiving a raise with the attitude that you know you deserve it and now everyone else will know how great you are. It's not wrong to buy a Mercedes, if God has enabled you to afford it, and it will serve you well. It is wrong to buy a Mercedes, because you know if anyone deserves a Mercedes, it's you.

It was not wrong in-and-of itself for Ahasuerus to throw a party and to show everyone that blessings God had given him, but he was wrong to make it into a means for glorifying himself, and for taking this opportunity to get rip-roaring drunk -- especially in front of those who served under him.

After seven days of partying, we're told that "the heart of the king was merry with wine" -- read "rip-roaring drunk." In that state of mind, Ahasuerus called for his seven eunuchs "to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show off her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold." Do you get the implication? The implication, as the commentator, Peter Merlin, points out, is that Ahasuerus wanted Vashti to come to the party wearing her royal crown -- and nothing else. She was another beautiful trophy that he wanted to show off. "Look at her. Look her over well. Do you see how great a man I must be to have a woman this beautiful?"

But Vashti refused. And Ahasuerus flew into a rage -- the party was over -- he had been insulted -- he was not going to take being treated like that -- not by her, not by anyone And he called for Memucan, one of the wise princes that he consulted on important matters and asked him what he should do.

Have you ever had a boss like that -- who's all fun and parties until he doesn't get his way, and then, "bang"? Have you ever been a boss, or a leader like that? Rev. Currie, elders, you are to be examples to the rest of the congregation is word and deed. Christians, we are to be examples to the rest of the world. We are to be light and salt. How are we doing? Are we taken seriously? Are we respected?

The commentator, Peter Merlin, wrote, "So often times the joyes of mortall men ende in sorrow, God accusing all intemperancie, and ryot, and turning the passions and desires of great men, whose joyes no man dares to trouble, to be the cause that they themselves trouble themselves. Wherefore God forbidde that we should envie at their prosperitie and delights, but rather rejoyce with spirituall joy, being content with our owne estate. For it is better to be content with little, to seele the favour and blessing of God, then in the middel of carnall delights and pleasures, to feare his wrath" (A Most Plaine and profitable Exposition of the Booke of Esther, delivered in 26 sermons, 45).

Then King Ahasuerus barked, "What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus brought to her by the eunuchs?"

What could Memucan say? "My lord, you're drunk and angry. Why not sleep on this and reconsider it in the morning when you are in a better frame of mind?" Is that what the wise man said? No, of course not. And if you have ever had someone who was drunk or blindly angry up in your face, you would understand that reasoning will not help at that moment. But Memucan went to the other extreme:

"My lord, Queen Vashti has wronged King, and not only the King, but all of his princes, and everyone who is here at the party, and even everyone throughout your entire, vast kingdom. Because the women at the other party will all know what has happened, and word of it will spread from the highest to the lowest of women, and everyone throughout the kingdom will know how she refused you and made you look like a fool -- before the entire kingdom. My lord, enter a law -- and enter it into the laws of the Persians and the Medes -- because once a king has issued a law, it cannot be repealed or changed, even by the king -- write a law that states that Queen Vashti is not longer Queen for what she has done -- divorce her via the law. And command every woman throughout the kingdom obey her husband or risk divorce. Find yourself another Queen -- a better Queen."

And King Ahasuerus was pleased with the wisdom of the wise prince, and he commanded the law, divorced the Queen, banned her from the palace, and made it law throughout the kingdom, that all wives must obey their husbands, or else. And the law was written in every language throughout the kingdom so everyone would know what the King had declared.

It is just that to destroy someone's world. When we speak foolishly or unkindly, when we listen to foolish advisors, when we put our trust in the way we feel about something, rather than relying on what God has said. That's the whole substance of the argument for inclusion of practicing homosexuals in the Church -- "I don't feel a God of love would want us to discriminate -- to be judgmental." Let us guard our tongues and watch who we listen to.

Merlin summaries like this: "Let us retaine temperance and sobrietie in our feasts; let us avoyd all vanitie and unseemly ostentation; let us bridle our wrath and the rage of our mindes; let us seeke counsaile of wise men, but without passion, seeking rather right and equitie, then revenge; let everie one according to his vocation, study to attaine true wisdome, and the knowledge of rights, lawes, and judgement & especially those, who ought to govern others with good consaile, that in all our meetings a lawfull order may be observed, and the ends of them may bee happie, being joyned together with the glorie of God, to whom only be all honor, strength, and power, for ever more. Amen" (Merlin 60).

So what is the point of the first chapter of Esther? We began with a pompous King throwing a party for himself and to his glory, and we ended with him divorcing his Queen, after listening to "yes men" and fools. Is there a point?

Paul wrote, "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Romans 15:4).

Certainly, we can see in this first chapter an example of a ruler that teaches us that we ought to be good examples to those who serve us and those around us. Also, we ought to use good judgment. As Merlin put it, "We learn also out of his wordes, that to pronounce right judgement of any matter, it is requisite that all things bee weighed what may followe upon any thing, that the evils which may ensue bee prevented, but yet by such convenient remedies as shall not be more dangerous than the evils which be feared" (Merlin 73). And we, as servants of our King, ought to serve Him in a way that is pleasing and obedient.

But isn't there something else?

The book of Esther was debated for a number of years during the assembling of the canon; it's a troubling book for many reason, not the least of which is that God is never mentioned. Yet, it was for those same troubling reasons that the book of Esther was accepted into the canon. You see, we don't often meet God in a burning bush, or in a Transfiguration, and He only Incarnated once. But God is always here, always carry out His Plan, even when there is nothing flashy about it.

The Westminster Confession rightly puts it this way, "Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either of necessity, freely, or contingently" (V.2)

In other words, King Ahasuerus freely and sinfully chose to sin against God, his Queen, and his people, through his party, drunkenness, anger, and divorce. Yet, it was also, and primarily to be understood as the Will of God that this occurred -- that the Hand of Providence worked through this party and Ahasuerus' sin to make Ahasuerus available to marry Esther and make her his Queen.

And that should be a comfort to us, not just in the book of Esther, but for all of our lives, that, though we are responsible for what we do, everything was set by God before the creation and God will unfailing carry out His Plan to its fulfillment. This God we can trust and have a sure and confident hope in. Let us living trusting and obedient lives, because our Good and Loving God is sovereignly and completely in control.

Let us pray:
Almighty and Sovereign God, forgive us for sinning, forgive us especially for the sin of attributing parts of our lives to fate or luck or chance. Give us confidence in Your Sovereignty, and give us eyes to see the working of Your Providence in our parties, and in all our lives. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Sunday Sermon

"Wrapped in Cloth"
[Mark 15:42-47]
December 10, 2006 Second Reformed Church

"And this will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12). What are "swaddling cloths"? If you've seen artists portraits of the Baby Jesus, He is often wrapped in a fine cloth. But that would not have been the case: babies were wrapped in strips of plain cloth, to keep them warm and safe, and to function as a diaper. Many of us will remember cloth diapers. Jesus was wrapped in something like that as a Baby, in the manger. Mary and Joseph were poor; they couldn't afford finery.

It was a different scene at the crucifixion.

Jesus had been crucified at 9 a. m. and at 3 p. m. -- a mere six hours later -- He had breathed His last and died. His suffering, in hours, was very short -- people who were crucified often hung on the cross throughout the night -- the strongest for days before succumbing. But Jesus was weak after losing a great deal of blood from the flogging and other tortures He endured before the crucifixion. And He had endured the full Wrath of God for all of our sin. And He died.

When it had become late -- that is -- when it was getting close to sunset, Joseph of Arimathea came, asking for the Body of Jesus. Why then? Why before sunset? In the Hebrew way of counting time, the day begins and ends with sunset. So they began each day with rest, and worked until the end of the day. In Western culture, we look at the day as beginning with sunrise, and we work, and then we receive rest, almost like a prize at the end of the day. We fall into our beds, collapse, and go to sleep. The Hebrew way of looking at the day is to see a time of rest that prepares us for the day ahead. Instead of rest being what we do after we have worked all day; rest was what we were given to prepare for and be able to carry out all that the day has for us.

And it happened that the day after Jesus was crucified was the Sabbath -- Jesus was crucified on Friday, so, sunset would be the beginning of the Sabbath day, and they would not work. They would not even do the work of removing a body from a cross. So, the options were to leave Jesus, dead, on the cross until the first day of the week, or to quickly remove Him and put Him in a tomb before the sunset and deal with embalming on the first day of the week.

Notice something here: they were willing to miss some of the prayers and sacrifices of the Passover holiday to see Jesus crucified, and to be with Him while He was crucified, but they were not willing to profane the Sabbath. They understood the Sabbath to be of much greater importance than the holidays.

In Western culture, we've turned that around as well. We've all heard of Christmas and Easter Christians -- people who come to worship on Christmas and Easter Sundays -- the big ones -- even though they never darken the door of the sanctuary any other day of the week. But the example from the Scripture, and from Church History, is that the Sabbath, the Lord's Day, regular Sunday worship is far greater and of much greater importance than the holidays. Showing up for the holidays says little or nothing about a person. A Christian will be in worship for every worship service that it is possible for him to be in.

There has been a great change in emphasis: we use to rest and then work, and celebrate the Lord each week, now we work and then rest, and celebrate the Lord on the "biggies."

Joseph of Arimethea was a member of the Sanhedrin -- a prominent and well thought of member of the Sanhedrin -- the group that condemned Jesus. So, we see that it was not a universal condemnation; not all of the Pharisees and scribes and elders rejected Jesus. Our Scripture tells us that Joseph of Arimethea was one who looked expectantly for the Kingdom of God -- he believed in Jesus for salvation -- he looked and waited expectantly for the Kingdom to break through. He was known as someone who was anxious to see the Work of God come to pass.

What do people think of you? What do non-Christians think of you? Are considered to be an honest and upright person at your job? Do people respect you as a person, even if they believe your religious views are nutty? Or, do they say that you don't let your religion get in the way of being or doing...whatever? Would we have had the courage and conviction to go to the Roman Governor, Pilate, and ask him for the Body of Jesus?

"My lord, the Sabbath is upon us, and we may not do work on the Sabbath. If you be pleased, may I have the Body of Jesus, that we might bury Him before the Sabbath?"

"He's dead? Already? It seems too soon. Centurion -- go, make sure that the King of the Jews is dead, and if He is, then give His Corpse to this man."

And we know from the other Gospels that the centurion went out and thrust a spear into Jesus, and blood and water ran out. He was dead. So the centurion removed Jesus from the cross and gave His Body to Joseph.

And for a second time in His Life, Jesus was wrapped in cloth. But this time it was not in scraps of cloth -- in swaddling cloths -- but it was in a fine linen burial cloth -- something very expensive. We're told in the other Gospels that Joseph of Arimethea was a very wealthy man. So He wrapped Jesus' Body, carefully, lovingly, like the treasure in a burial cloth -- one like the one he would one day have for his own burial. And he took Jesus to the tomb that he had made for himself. As Isaiah prophesied, "And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth" (Isaiah 53:9).

And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw the tomb and knew where He was buried. They had walked to the place and watched Joseph put Him in the tomb, and they had stayed there until the tomb was sealed.

Joseph's grave had been cut out of stone and had a large stone which rolled down into a gully, so once it was sealed, it would be extremely difficult to open again. Yet, the Pharisees were afraid and they went to Pilate, "and said, 'Sir, we remember how that imposter said, while he was still alive, "After three days I will rise." Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him and tell the people, "He has risen from the dead," and the last fraud will be worse than the first'" (Matthew 27:63-64).

So Pilate ordered that wax be poured on the seal of the tomb, and the imperial seal was pressed into the wax, and guards were set at the tomb. The punishment for breaking the imperial seal was death, and the guards were there to carry out the law on any who dared to try to break in.

In theology, we talk about the humiliation and the exaltation of Jesus. Before the creation and up through before the Incarnation, God the Son lived in perfect communion with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The Three Persons, our One God, sat on Their thrones and ruled exalted over all. In the Holy Counsel of God, the Son decided to become Incarnate for the sake of God's people and to the Glory of the Father.

The Incarnation began the humiliation of the Son. That simply means that He left His Glorious and Exalted State. The Son left His Throne and was Incarnate on earth. Paul wrote, "[The Son], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even to death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).

Let's not get confused, the Son did not become less that God in the Incarnation, He "simply" -- as great a mystery as it is -- put aside the Glory and the Honor that was due Him as God, and became like you and me in every way, except He did not have original sin, nor did He sin. Jesus was born, a real human being, with a real body, just like every one of our bodies, with all of its needs and struggles. This was part of what is called the "humiliation" of the Son -- He set aside His Glory and Honor, and He became a real human being and lived under His Own Law -- under the Law that God had given to His people -- and He lived under the Law perfectly, never sinning.

The depth of His humiliation is found in His Crucifixion and Death. The Holy God Incarnate became a curse. He became the opposite of what He is that He might be punished for our sake. Paul wrote, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree' -- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:13-14).

For each one of us who would believe and to the Glory of God the Father, the Son humbled, or humiliated, Himself by coming down from His Throne to earth, Incarnate Jesus, lived sinlessly under God's Law, so that that sinless life could and would be applied to each one of us, and then He was crucified, suffered Hell, and died, having descending into the depths of punishment for the sake of our sin. And remember, as I pointed out last week, if Jesus was not forsaken by the Father, if Jesus did not suffer the full Wrath of God and the full extent of the punishment for all of our sins, if there is one depth of sin for which He has not suffered, it will be that very one that we will be lost in forever. But thanks be to God, His Humiliation, His Suffering, was complete, so He cried out, "It is finished!" (John 19:30b).

Let us remember the Hebrew perspective, the perspective of Jesus on this humiliation: yes, it was horrific beyond what we can ever imagine, still, it was He who chose it, with an eye towards His Exaltation after death and the accomplishing of the Work that He set out to do.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us, we ought to be "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).

Because His Death was not the end of the story, we can look back now and understand the necessity of His Humiliation and Death. As Paul joyfully reminds us, "We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him" (Romans 6:9). So, we have been freed from our debt for sin, and we too are no longer under the dominion of death. Thanks be to God.

Let us understand the necessity, wonder, and joy of the depths Christ journeyed for us -- from Incarnation to Death. Let us give thanks that He has delivered us by this Finished Work. And let us live lives that are different -- let us be people who are known for being good and honest workers, and for being those who expectantly look for the full coming of the Kingdom of God.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending Your Son to be born and suffer and die for us. We thank You that this Work the He accomplished is a glory to You. And we ask that You would be gracious and glorified in making us an honest and upright people who long, expectantly and excitedly, for Your Soon Coming Return. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Today at 1 p. m., the "It's Time for a Change Committee" plans to meet.

Also at 1 p. m., all are invited to decorate the sanctuary and the Christmas tree for the "holiday season." (It's not an Asherah pole, it's not an Asherah pole, it's not an Asherah pole...)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

OPC Again

Since the OPC grants their ministers unlimited days off, I have been asked to preach again this Sunday evening at Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Whippany, NJ. As I finished my series on Habakkuk, I now intend to begin a series on Esther. Thus, D.V., Sunday evening I will preach:

Esther 1:1-22 "Providence Does Parties"

All are welcome.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Rather, should your heart not say, 'Well, the Lord forbid that there should be any one beloved sin that I should entertain again; for the time to come it shall be the uttermost degree of strictness and holiness that I will endeavor after, even to purify myself as Jesus Christ is pure, for I have read that there can be no hopes of heaven and eternal life without purifying myself, and endeavoring to purify myself even as Jesus Christ is pure. I will never cry out of strictness, preciseness, and Puritanism again, but will set myself with all my power to imitate the pattern of Jesus Christ the Holy One." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, 84.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"The Son of God"
[Mark 15:33-41]
December 3, 2006 Second Reformed Church

"The Lord himself will give you a sign, Behold the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).

When Jesus was crucified, His murderers placed a sign above His Head announcing and condemning Him for being the King of the Jews. And the soldiers and the crowd mocked Him and His Kingship. But we know different -- we react different, because we know that He is the King of the Jews. He is the direct descendent of King David, the Heir to the throne. He Alone perfectly rules His people.

But Jesus did not jump down from the cross as they mocked Him to do. He did not set up a political kingdom and rule as mere human kings rule. No, His Rule is greater: our King is also the Great High Priest that we saw in Hebrews, Who, because He is perfect, not only functions as our priest -- who offers up a sacrifice to make us right with God -- He also became for us the Most Cursed Sacrifice, and offered Himself up on the cross to suffer and die under the Wrath of God for our sin.

The King of the Universe, our Creator, the One Perfect Human, left His Throne, stood in our place, and offered up Himself to God, His Father, in our place and for our sake, to the Glory of the Father.

And for three hours -- from nine a.m. to twelve noon -- Jesus hung as a curse, out across the heavens, receiving in body, soul, mind, and heart the fullness of God's Wrath and Hell for every sin we would every commit. And then, everything went black.

The whole earth went pitch black. Can we imagine not seeing a light anywhere?

For three more hours, Jesus was tortured and tormented on the cross -- and then, He cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" Jesus screamed in agony -- not merely for the betrayal and the mocking and the pain of the spikes and the crucifixion -- but because somehow, in the Mystery of Providence, Jesus experienced the ultimate horror of no longer being in the Presence of God the Father. The Son had been in the Presence of the Father from before the creation and throughout the Incarnation, and now, now, the Father was gone. He was alone. Terror upon terror descended upon Him. And His Humanity He cried out to God, "Why?"

Why, indeed. There are some today who say we can't say that Jesus suffered like that. We can't say that His Father forsook Him on the cross. They call this "cosmic child-abuse." Don't believe them At best they are blind guides -- at worst, they are children of the devil who seek your destruction. Beware! If Jesus did not suffer terribly -- beyond our comprehension on this side of glory -- but surely, as much as is possible -- then you and I are not saved. If there is a depth to which Jesus did not descend on the cross, then that is precisely the bottomless pit we will slip into and suffer eternally.

No! The prophets declared it would be so, and it must be so if we are to be delivered from every sin we will every commit.

At Jesus' Bris, Simeon said, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34b-35).

Amos prophesied that this would be the Day of the Lord, the Day of Bitter Mourning, "'And on that day,' declares the Lord, 'I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight'" (Amos 8:9).

Jeremiah prophesied, "'She who has bore seven has grown feeble; she has fainted away; her sun went down while it was yet day; she has been disgraced. And the rest of them I will give to the sword before their enemies, declares the Lord'" (Jeremiah 15:9).

And Joel: "Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all of the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been seen before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations" (Joel 2:1-2).

And how did they respond to this horror, this terror, those who were standing around, being entertained? "Listen, Jesus is calling out for Elijah to help Him! Let see if Elijah comes through the clouds to get Him!" To sustain Him, they gave Him a drink of sour wine -- what would have been a thirst quencher in those days -- not a good table wine.

"And Jesus let out a great cry [and] breathed his last." After a circus of a trial, being mocked, beaten, and then tortured overnight, after being nailed to the cross and suffering the torments of crucifixion for six hours, Jesus was dead.

"But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" (Romans 5:8-9). He is the fulfillment of prophecy, our Priest and King.

Do you remember the construction of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, itself? There were outer chambers and inner chambers, and the inner-most chamber was called "the holy of holies." That was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept -- that box that contained the Ten Commandments, and some manna, and Aaron's rod -- and it was the place where the Presence of God descended. It was a place that no human was allowed to enter, except for the high priest, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and if anyone else entered it, or if the priest entered when he were no supposed to, God would kill him. There was a curtain that separated "the holy of holies" from the rest of the temple -- a heavy curtain:

"And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully woven into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy" (Exodus, 26:31-33).

And this curtain, which went from floor to ceiling and was attached to pillars, and separated them from the Holy God Whose sight would kill them -- at the moment Jesus cried out, the curtain was torn wide open from the top to the bottom. The worshipers and all of Israel would have been terrified. They would have run from the temple in horror -- fleeing for their very lives. They wouldn't have known what was happening, but they knew how dangerous it was to be there with the curtain gone, to be in the Presence of the Almighty God Himself.

And there's the rub: they had been in the Presence of the Almighty God.

At Jesus' death, one of the centurion's eyes were opened, "It's true, this man is the son of God." He understood that only if Jesus is, truly, the Incarnate God, would all of the events of that day make sense. We don't know if he knew the prophecies, but we have them, one by one, fulfilled, not just the very creation crying out that He is God.

And the women were there, watching, seeing the physical proof that He is God. Mary Magdalene was there, and Mary, the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome, and many of the other women who followed Jesus from Galilee. They were all eyewitnesses.

The prophet said that the virgin would conceive and bear a Son Who would be called, Immanuel, which means, "God with us." During the crucifixion, as Jesus completed that work, the natural order confessed that He is God, and the centurion spoke their actions in human words, "It's true: this man is the son of God."

Does it matter if He is God as well as Perfect Man? Yes. If He is not God, He could not raise from the dead and secure our salvation and credit us with His Righteousness. And if He is not God, then He cannot meet with us in the sacrament this morning and grant us His Grace, strengthening us and applying His Word to us, so we would be able to do all the good works He has set before us to do.

Immanuel. God with us. In His Incarnation. At His crucifixion. In the sacrament this morning.

Let us pray:
Almighty and Everlasting God, we thank You that Your Son was born a Human Being and yet remained truly and wholly God. Embrace us in the Mystery of the Incarnation and the crucifixion. Settle in our minds that Jesus suffered being forsaken by You that we might never be forsaken by You. And be merciful and grant Your Grace to us as we receive this sacrament. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Friday, December 01, 2006

December Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

12/3/06 Communion/Advent 1 Mark 15:33-41 "The Son of God"
12/10/06 Advent 2 Mark 15:42-47 "Wrapped in Cloth"
12/17/06 Advent 3 Mark 16:1-8 "Angels"
12/24/06 Advent 4 Mark 16:9-13 "Do You Believe?"
12/24/06 Christmas Eve 7PM Mark 16:14-18 "Go"
12/31/06 Epiphany Mark 16:19-20 "Immanuel"

I have been invited to preach New Year's Eve at Preakness Valley United Reformed Church in Wayne (NJ) at 6 PM. The specific information will be forthcoming.