Second Reformed Church

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:7 --

"Obj. We must be as Christ's Disciples, who forsook all and followed Christ.

"Ans. 1. We are not bound to do as they did, for they were called to a special and extraordinary calling to follow Christ, and go into all the world preaching him, which could not stand worldly business. 2. They left not these things in respect of their rights to them, but onely the use of them; They took off their mindes from them, and were content to part with them for Christ and the Gospels sake, and so ought we, but they retained the right of them: Matthew after he followed Christ, feasted Christ, and with him many Publicans in his own house: So Peter had a Boat and Nets, and went a fishing a little after our Savior Christ was taken from him: So that a Minister is not bound to spend that which his friends hath left him, much less are private persons."

-- John Rogers, 550.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."

Philippians 2:5-7a.

"He Will Purify for Himself a People" Sermon: Titus 2:11-14

"He Will Purify for Himself a People"
[Titus 2:11-14]
December 24, 2007 Second Reformed Church

We have come to the evening before the day we celebrate the birth of our God and Savior in history. Why do we celebrate? Does this two thousand year old birth mean anything for us? Do it do anything for us? Or do we celebrate tomorrow and then quickly move on to our New Year's Resolutions, which we will break on January second, as we settle back into the usual routine?

This evening's Scripture comes from Paul's letter to Titus. Titus was a
young minister that Paul had taught and left on the island on Crete. Titus was the minister of the Church of Crete. Paul wrote this letter to encourage Titus and to remind him that he had been sent there to put things in order.

Cretans were, well, even today, when we call someone a "Cretan," it's not a compliment. Paul quotes a Cretan describing his fellow Cretans this way: "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." That's what someone who liked the Cretans said.

Paul left Titus at Crete, aware of the kind of people Cretans were, and Paul instructed Titus to straighten them out -- to make them understand that Christians cannot act like that. They were not to be like everyone else -- they were to be different, because they were now members of Christ's Church. And Paul also instructed Titus to rebuke those people who were bringing Jewish myths and other unprofitable tales into the Church -- he was to teach and preach sound doctrine -- just what the Scripture said. And the doctrine -- the teaching of the Scripture -- is for all persons in the Church -- the old, the young, men, women, slaves, and free -- all of the Scripture applies to all of them.

In the section before our Scripture, Paul says that they should live out the doctrine they are taught in such a way "so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior" or "so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior" (NRSV).

Why do we put ornaments on the Christmas tree? Why don't we just leave the tree bare? What do the ornaments do? The ornaments attract us to the tree, do they not? They say, "look over here: it's a Christmas tree." Ornaments put an object in a spot light. Why do we wear jewelry? Why do we wear make-up? It's all done to drawn attention.

Paul said that the way these Christians lived out Titus' teaching should draw attention to the doctrine they were taught and the God and Savior in Whom they believed. Teaching in the Church and the sermon are not to put the spotlight on me, or you, but on God our Savior, Jesus. Every sermon should say within it, "Look at Jesus! See Him for Who He is!"

And then Paul says, "For" or "because" "the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people." The Christians on Crete, and the Christians here this evening ought to live out what is taught in the Church in such a way that it draws attention to Jesus, because, God in His Grace, has granted us -- old, young, men, women, slave, free -- every type of person that there is in the Church -- God has graciously granted us His Salvation.

Why? Why did God grant us salvation? Why did the Son Incarnate? Why was He born on earth two thousand years ago? Paul gives us three reasons -- three purposes:

First, God granted us His Salvation that He would "train[] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this age." We remember what John wrote: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world -- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions -- is not from the Father but from
the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever" (I John 2:15-17).

We are an ornament to Jesus as we are trained to renounce sin and all its ways and live according to all the commandments of God.

Second, God grants us His Salvation that we would be able to "wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." As Peter wrote: "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (II Peter 3:10-13).

We are an ornament to Jesus as were are trained to be patient with the sure hope of the return of Jesus, in glory, with every promise fulfilled.

Third, God grants us His Salvation by giving Himself for us that He would "redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." God the Son gave up His Life to purchase us from God the Father. He lived a perfect life, which we could not, and that was part of the payment for us, and then He endured God's Wrath on the cross, to complete the transaction for everyone who would ever believe.

And now, God the Holy Spirit indwells us and is purifying us -- He is making us holy for Jesus, and He is leading us in good works as a response to what God Alone has done for us in Salvation. Paul put it this way: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).

We are an ornament to Jesus in that He has redeemed us from our sins and is purifying us for Himself, and making us zealous to do His good works, in response to His Work.

Tomorrow is Christmas: we rejoice and celebrate because Jesus is purifying for Himself a people. In this Scripture, we have New Year's resolutions that we can make and we will keep, because it is not we that accomplish them, but Jesus.

Jesus is purifying a people -- us -- all those who believe -- for Himself, so we will renounce impiety and worldly passions and live upright and godly lives. We will wait with assurance on that blessed hope we have in the return of Jesus and the manifestation of His Glory. We have been redeemed and we are being purified and we will be zealous for the good works He has set before us.

We -- His people -- are His gift to Himself. Jesus received gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh as a Little Baby, but they were pale ornaments -- shadows -- of His Glory. In coming to earth that first Christmas, He made legal claim on those He has chosen to be His people, and in purifying us for Himself, we are become ornaments that reflect back some of His Glory upon Himself. As He purifies us, we glorify Him, until that final day, when all is revealed, and we behold the fullness of His Glory in joy forever.

Let us pray:

May God Almighty, Who by the Incarnation of His only begotten Son drove away the darkness of the world, and by His glorious Birth enlightened this day,
drive away from us the darkness of sins
and enlighten our hearts with the light of Christian graces.


And may He who willed that the great day of His most holy Birth should be told to the shepherds by an angel,
pour upon us the refreshing shower of His blessing,
and guide us, Himself being our Shepherd, to the pastures of everlasting joy.


And may He, Who through His incarnation united earthly things with heavenly,
fill us with the sweetness of inward peace and goodwill,
and make us partakers with the heavenly host;
for the glory of His great Name.


Thomas Thellusson Carter (1808-1901)
A Treasury of Devotion, 1869
From A Chain of Prayer Across the Ages: Forty Centuries of Prayer,
2000 B.C. – A.D. 1923

Published in London by John Murray

Monday, December 24, 2007

Worship Tonight

All are invited to our Christmas Eve worship this evening at 7 PM. Come join in celebrating the birth of our God!

"He Will Bring Good News" Sermon: Matthew 11:2-11

"He Will Bring Good News"
[Matthew 11:2-11]
December (16) 23, 2007 Second Reformed Church

This morning's Scripture is, among other things, a lesson in perspectives.

We're told that John the Baptist was in prison. Matthew records for us that "Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because John had been saying to him, 'It is not lawful for you to have her.' And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet" (Matthew 14:3-5). So John the Baptist had be thrown in prison for telling King Herod that it was wrong to commit adultery with his brother's wife.

Then we're told that John had heard about the miracles Jesus was performing, so he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was indeed the One Who was prophesied to come -- the Savior -- or, was someone else yet to come. "Jesus, we've heard about the works You are doing, and we just want to make sure: are You the long awaited Emmanuel? Or is there someone else coming?"

Who was asking the question? Who wasn't sure about Jesus?

The text is written in a way that suggests it was John the Baptist, himself, who was having doubts about Jesus. But is this the correct perspective? Remember, as we saw last week, John was declaring to know the One Who is the Savior, and John said he was not worthy to carry his sandals. And then, "'the next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John bore witness, 'I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God'" (John 1:29-34). Was this same John now doubting Jesus? It's possible.

Another perspective on this could be that John's disciples were doubting, so John sent them to Jesus to get proof from Him, just as God had proven Jesus to John. And John's disciples did go to Jesus and put the question to Him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"

Jesus' answer could have been for John, John's disciples, or both of them: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."

They might have remembered the first time Jesus spoke in the temple -- some of them might have been there. Luke records, "And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering the sight of the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.' And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.' And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, 'Is this not Joseph's son?'" (Luke 4:16-22).

The Scripture of the day that Jesus read and preached on from Isaiah comes in a section that speaks of the coming glory of Israel when the Savior will come with healing and good news and restoration for Israel. And Jesus said, "I am the Savior Who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in Him. I am the Savior Who miraculously heals. I am the Savior Who brings good news." And the response of the people was to be amazed at His preaching and then to ask, "Wait a minute, isn't this Joseph's son?"

Jesus told John's disciples to remember this prophecy and see and hear that He has fulfilled it -- miracles are occurring -- and the people are thanking God and recognizing that He is the Savior by His works. He also fulfills the prophecy of being He Who will bring good news for the poor.

The poor are not the financially poor, but the poor in spirit -- the humble -- those who are receptive to the preaching of the Savior. And the good news is that He brings salvation by the cross -- through His Blood Sacrifice of Himself. As Hilary wrote, "What does it mean that the poor have the good news preached to them? Poor people are those who have abandoned their lives, who have taken up his cross and followed, who have been made humble in spirit. For such is the kingdom of heaven is prepared. Because all experiences of this kind come together in the Lord and because his cross was to be a source of offence to many, he declared that the people are blessed if their faith is not threatened by a cross or death or burial" (ACC, NT 1a, 219).

The good news that Jesus preached, as He promised, is offensive to most people -- that's why he said those are blessed who are not offended by Him. The good news was not, as some thought, a human miliary rule -- a great earthly kingdom of Israel, as the Pharisees and Sadducees thought. No, the Good News is that the Savior would live and died and rise from the dead, to the Glory of the Father and for the Salvation of the people He was given. The good news Jesus brought allows His people to say, with Paul, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). In other words, the meaning of life, the worth of life, is found in knowing and telling others about the salvation of Jesus, but even greater than living that life, is dying and being with Jesus. This life is a glorious service to Christ, but death, in Christ, is so much greater -- greater than everything else.

Understand, this is not being morbid or suicidal. This is a love of living for Christ, living no matter what suffering comes for Christ's Sake, but looking forward to that glorious day of death when Jesus calls us to be in Paradise with Him. The Good News is that believers live for Christ, suffer for Christ, and look forward with joy to dying in Christ. That's why This Little Baby came -- that we would have no fear in life or in death, but have joy in all things in Jesus. Have you heard this Good News?

Let's conclude this morning by taking a quick look at what Jesus did after He explained this to John's disciples: Jesus turned to the crowd and asked the crowd what their perception was on John. Last week, we saw that John was an odd character -- one who was recognized as a prophet by the people -- and Jesus asked them, "What did you go to see?"

"When you went into the wilderness to see John, were you going to see a reed shaking in the wind? Were you going to see a fool? Were you hoping to have a good laugh at his expense?"

"When you went into the wilderness to see John, were you going to see a show? Some crazy eccentric? A wealthy man in soft clothes seeking an audience that he would bless with some sort of gain?"

Jesus asked them if they had gone to see the "Jerry Springer Show." "Was that your perspective? Did you go to see a bunch of nuts and freaks to make yourself feel better? To prove to yourself that you are better than they? Is that why you went to see John?"

"Or did you go because John is a true prophet?" And Jesus proceeded to tell them three things about John:

First, John was a true prophet and much more than a prophet. John was the fulfillment of the one in Isaiah who was to be the messenger of the coming Savior; he would prepare the way for the Savior who was coming. John was the greatest of the prophets, because he was honored to prepared the way for Jesus; he had the honor of announcing, "Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world!"

Second, John was the greatest merely human being ever born. We mentioned this last week -- John was the greatest merely human being every born to a woman. He was highly honored and favored among mere men, especially in his service in preparing the way for Jesus.

And third, the least person in the kingdom of God is greater than John.

What? How does that make any sense?

Jerome offers this explanation: "Let us interpret it simply to mean that every saint who is already with God is greater that anyone who remains expectant, as yet in battle. For it is one thing to possess the crown of victory, another to be still fighting in the ranks" (ACC, NT 1a, 223).

In other words, John was still alive, still living for Jesus, still fighting the good fight, but those who have completed their race, those who are with the Lord, in Paradise, they are greater because they no longer sin and they exist in the Glory of Jesus twenty-four seven.

Jesus was telling them that John was the greatest prophet, the greatest living mere human, but the good news let you understand and know and confess, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

Have you heard the Good News of the Baby Jesus? It's the cross! The Good News of the Baby Jesus is that He came to live and die and rise again.

I love being an ordained minister -- not because I "only work one hour a week" -- but because I have the high honor of handling the Word of God. For me to live is Christ -- but I long to be where my father is -- to die is gain!

As each year passes, the Advent and Christmas Seasons draw me more strongly toward the Return of our God. And as each year passes, I can confess more strongly, and delightedly, the words of Job, "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me" (Job 19:25-27).

Let us pray:
God, our Father, in the midst of our Christmas celebration, let us not forget the Good News that You brought and bought for us by Your Blood. May we rejoice in remembering Your Birth, be drawn strongly to the Good News that is confirmed in Your Life, Death, and Resurrection, and look forward with expectant joy to that day when we are with You and You Return for Your people. In Hope, we pray, in His Name, Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Worship Today

Due to the icy roads, the Consistory has decided to close the church today. D.V., we will gather for worship next Sunday, the 23rd, and then again on Christmas Eve (24th). Stay safe today. (Perhaps use the time to fashion a whip for self-flagellation.) [to the uninitiated...my sense of humor...]

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On Matthew 3:11 --

"Whosoever are baptized inwardly by the Holy Spirit, are also baptized with fire, that is, by a more penatrative power and vertue, then what water at first doth show; which vertue must go through the whole man, unto through mortification of sin; that is it which by way of explanation is imported, when he saith, with the Holy Ghost and with fire, taking baptism by fire here, not for any extraordinary gift of miracles, but for that which is common to the Regenerate."

-- David Dickson, Matthew, 26.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"He Will Burn" Sermon: Matthew 3:1-12

"He Will Burn"
[Matthew 3:1-12]
December 9, 2207 Second Reformed Church

Jesus is a problem. Well, He's a problem for people who only want the Hallmark Jesus -- the Jesus Who is hardly distinguishable from Santa. Our hymns are even misleading on this: In "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" we sing, "Peace on earth, good-will to men, from heaven’s all gracious King." In "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" we sing, "Glory to the newborn King, peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!"

A friend of mine once told me that he wasn't worried about not believing in Jesus because the Bible says, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men." He figured that meant that, even though he didn't believe in Jesus as the Only Savior, Jesus made everything right with everybody and God. But I told him that’s not what the Bible says -- the Bible says, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased" (Luke 2:14). It's not everybody -- it's a specific group of people to whom God gives peace and is at peace.

In this morning's Scripture, we are introduced to the adult John the Baptist, the son of Elizabeth, Jesus' cousin. And in this passage, we learn four things about John's preaching, as well as something about his cousin, Jesus.

First, we see that John preached repentance. "Repent!" The word means to turn completely around. It means to go from doing one thing to doing the exact opposite. Here, we are talking about sin -- John was calling people to leave sin behind, leave behind all those things that are against God, in rebellion against God, and turn to those things that are pleasing to God and according to His Ways.

The commentator, David Dickson, writes, "The Gospel finds men mad, and out of their wits, in an evill way; when it is sent unto them, they are men who must return to their wits, as the originall of the word repent importeth" (Matthew, 21-22).

We remember in what is commonly called, "The Parable of the Prodigal Son," the son who had gone out and spent his inheritance on "riotous living," comes to a point when his "friends" are gone and he is face done in a pig trough, and Jesus says, "But when he came to himself" (Luke 15:17) or "When his senses returned to him" or "When he returned to his right mind" -- what? -- he renounced his sin and started back to his father's house.

This is the season of "the one with the most toys wins." We're mad -- especially in America. We want the quick fix, the easy answer, salvation in seven stops. And it's true -- for the moment, sin satisfies, it feels good, it's fun -- but it's only for a moment. And the madness is that Jesus is standing before us with eternal joy and eternal salvation. We’ve been following after instantaneous gratification with a grand sense of entitlement, and we get it -- whatever it is for us -- and it's a rush, and then it's over.

John's message is "Deny yourself that sinful, easy pleasure, and, instead, wait for the glorious, eternal, joy in salvation that is coming in Jesus, the Savior." And in John's day, there wasn't long to wait: "the Kingdom of God is at hand" -- it was this close -- it was breaking through as he spoke. So it would be all the more mad not to turn around -- repent -- when salvation is here and now, today.

Repent of your sins. Deny yourself sin. In its place, take up the salvation of Jesus. It's two thousand years after John the Baptist, and the Kingdom is even more fully among us now. And it is almost finished coming. And when it has fully come, our God and Savior will appear, not as a little Baby, but as the Once and Future King.

Second, John preached preparation for the Lord. As we saw in I Peter, as we saw last week in our look at Jesus' Second Coming, as we see now in the ministry of John the Baptist, we are to be prepared and preparing for Jesus. The people in the day of John ought to have been preparing for the first Advent of the Savior -- Jesus; we ought to be preparing for the second Advent of Jesus. We, like they, are in a period of waiting for the day when our Savior shall appear. We, like they, ought to "make his paths straight."

If we're a people looking for the coming of Jesus, we ought to be doing everything we can to make His Gospel clear, to make the way understandable, to keep obstacles from being in anyone's way. The pot-holes must be filled, the construction must be finished, the debris must be cleared off the road. We, like John, are called to call all to repentance and belief. Jesus was not born to invent toys or Santa or debt. Jesus was born to glorify His Father by becoming our Savior, and if we believe in Him Alone for our Salvation, we are saved.

The people listened to John and responded to John's call on them because they recognized him to be the prophet of God. In fact, John was the final Old Testament prophet. They looked at him and saw a man dressed in strange clothes, eating a strange diet -- and if that were all they had seen and heard, we could dismiss him as a nut and them as gullible -- but he also spoke only the Word of God. He preached the Word of God simply, straightforwardly, and the people understood that what he said was what the prophets had said for generations. Do people know when we are speaking the Word of the Lord? Do we tell others the things of the Bible -- the things of Jesus -- in a way that they can understand -- in a way that shows we believe it?

Third, John preached that a true faith results in good works. The Pharisees and the Sadducees came to the Jordan for baptism. They came to profess their repentance of sin. But John was full of the Holy Spirit and know that they were hypocrites -- they had come for the show, but they didn't believe in God's Word, they didn't believe in God's Savior, they were not repentant of their sins. No, they came because they wanted to be seen confessing and receiving forgiveness, but John would have none of it.

John spoke by the Holy Spirit and condemned their evil act: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire."

In calling the Pharisees and Sadducees "vipers," John connects them to the lineage of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, and denies them the name of Abraham that they desired. John told them they were all talk -- they mouthed the words of repentance before the crowds and then they went right back to their houses of prostitution and money-laundering.

Now, let us understand -- we all have our "favorite" sins -- sins that we are more prone to follow and fall into. John is not condemning people who confess their sins and then fall into the same sins -- we all do that. What John is condemning is people who sin and confess their sin though they have absolutely no intention of stopping whatever sin they follow. These are people who mouth the words of repentance while intending to commit the same sin as soon as they have the chance. The difference is hypocrisy.

And before they could object, John told them that their family line will not save them. It doesn't matter how much money your family gave to the church, or how many generations your family has been part of the church, or, in this case, that you are a blood descendant of Abraham to whom God gave the promises. No. If you are not, yourself, sincerely repentant, you are a hypocrite and still dead in your sins.

And John warns them, and us, the axe is at the root. If we are hypocrites, we shall be cut down and cast into the fire. On the day of judgment, all will be known, and the truly repentant will be separated from those who sat in the sanctuary and gave their money and participated, but never truly believed and never truly repented. With the coming of the Kingdom, there is judgment.

Fourth, John preached that he was not the Christ -- the Savior. John explained that he baptized with water -- he officiated at the sacrament -- at the symbolic washing away of sin, but John could not actually make anyone right with God -- only the Savior could do that. Only the Savior could make atonement between God and man. Only the Savior could make God an man right with one another.

The Savior, John explained -- the One Who was coming -- the One Who now has come -- is greater than John. John said he wasn't worthy to carry This One's sandals. How do you view Jesus? Yes, Jesus is our Friend, but is there any sense of awe about Him?

Jesus said, "I tell you, among those born of women none is greater then John" (Luke 7:28a). Jesus said that john was the greatest merely human being ever born, and John said that he was not worthy to carry Jesus' sandals. And then there is you and me -- what shall we think of Jesus?

John said that the Savior Who is coming -- Who he later identified as his cousin, Jesus -- "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." What does that mean? John's baptism was a symbolic washing away of sin, but the baptism that Jesus gave was two-fold -- not only does Jesus forgive us for our sin through His Work of Salvation, but he also gives us the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit -- the Third Member of the Trinity lives in every Christian -- to guide and instruct us -- and to apply the fire of God. We are gifted with the purifying fires of God. As we saw in I Peter, God is at work in us to purify us, to remove the dross -- the impurities -- the sin -- to make us into the Image of His Son.

John preached that he merely, symbolically washed away the sin of the repentant sinner with water, but it is Jesus Who truly forgives, saves, and changes us -- through the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and through the often painful fires of purification. John pointed the way to Jesus.

And he told us one more thing -- something we might not expect of this little Baby: "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Wheat was cut down and dried. Then it was beaten on the threshing floor, so the kernels of wheat would fall off of the stalk. Then the stalk was discarded and a large wooden fork -- like an over-sized pitchfork was used to pick the kernels up and throw them into the air. The actual kernel would fall to the ground, but the chaff, the light, papery cover would come off and float down. The harvesters would repeat this process until he good, wheat kernels were separated from the worthless chaff. The kernels would be gathered into the barn to make flour, but the chaff would be gathered up and burned.

Humanity is the wheat, and this little Baby is returning as the Winnower Who takes up His winnowing fork and separates us -- the kernels from the chaff. The kernels shall be saved, but the chaff will endure unquenchable fire.

The author of Hebrews reminds us, "Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Elsewhere Jesus called the chaff "goats" and said, "...'Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels'" (Matthew 25:41b).

John preached that we must repent of our sin. He preached that we must prepare for the coming of the Savior. He preached that true faith will be followed by good works. But John was not the Savior. The Savior is Jesus, Whose Birth we remember this season each year. Yet we must keep before us the Truth that He is coming back -- and when He does, He will burn.

Let us pray:
Almighty Savior, make us ready. Let us rejoice in remembering Your Birth and the Salvation You give us, but let us also prepare by doing good works and telling others, simply that Jesus is the Only Hope and Salvation -- this Christmas and for all of eternity. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"He Will Surprise" Sermon: Matthew 24:36-44

"He Will Surprise"
[Matthew 24:36-44]
December 2, 2007 Second Reformed Church

When Jesus, the Savior, was born, people were surprised. They didn't expect Jesus to come then. They had the prophecies, but they had neglected them and settled into living "normal" lives. Matthew tells us, "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.' When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it was written by the prophet: "And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by now means the least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel"'" (Matthew 2:1-6).

Would we have been ready? Would we have recognized the signs and remembered the prophecies and known Jesus for Who He is? Would we have been ready?

It's easy with twenty-twenty hindsight to say, "Of course I would have been ready. I'm not Bible scholar, but I know the major passages and prophecies about the coming of Jesus. I wouldn't have been taken off guard. I wouldn't have been surprised."

Are you ready this morning?

"For what?"

Well, our Scripture this morning is about Jesus' Return -- His Second Coming -- His Coming as Judge -- are you ready for that?

"Oh, sure. When He comes -- it'll be no problem."

Really. What if He came during the service this morning? Would you be ready?

We remember from I Peter that only about thirty years after Jesus' Ascension, even people in the Church were wondering what happened. Jesus didn't return. They were asking if their faith was in vain, and Peter told them to stand strong in their faith, because God's time was not like our time -- Jesus would return when He was ready, when the time was right. Will you be ready?

Jesus prophesied that the Temple in Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed, and it was. And then his disciples asked Him when the end of the age was going to come, when these things that He was talking about would happen, when His Return in judgment would be.

And let us notice that Jesus did not say, "O, you've got it wrong, I am not actually returning -- I mean, I am not returning in My Physical Body. This Return is just a spiritual metaphor." No, the angel in the book of Acts said that Jesus will return in the same way that He left -- through the clouds, in His Perfected, Human Body.

So let us be sure, on this first Sunday of Advent, that we understand that Jesus is going to return. And when He returns, it will be as Judge.

Jesus told the disciples, that they, and we, are not to speculate as to when His Return will be, "But concerning that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." We have signs to look for, but the actual date and time of His Return, we are not to know. God has not seen fit to give us the time and the date that we can mark on our calendars. Instead, He expects that we will be ready for His Return whenever it occurs.

People have speculated on the date of Jesus' Return since the Ascension, and they have always been wrong. People have even tried to excuse their search for the date by saying that Jesus said no one would know the day and the hour, but He didn't say that we couldn't discern the month and the year. But that is foolishness -- it is disobedience and sin. We are not given when, but we are to be ready, whenever.

And we may wonder why Jesus said the Son did not know when He was returning, but only the Father did. How can that be? If Jesus, the Son, is the same God as God the Father, wouldn't God the Son know what God the Father knows?

We need to remember that Jesus is both 100% human and 100% God -- He is Two Natures in One Person. There is surely mystery in how this can be. Yet, it follows from the fact that Jesus has two complete, distinct natures, that one nature could keep information from the other. Jesus' Divinity knows when He is going to return, but His Humanity has not been allowed to know. So, Jesus is fully God, the God Who knows when Jesus will return, and He is also fully human, a real human being Who has not been given that information.

And Jesus told the disciples that the day of His Return will be just like the days of Noah -- people will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage -- right up until the Ark door shut, and so they will be until the moment Jesus is visible in the sky. Understand, the problem is not that they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. Those are all lawful and good things. The problem was that God came to Noah when Noah was 500 years old and told him to build the Ark. Noah and his sons worked on the Ark for the next hundred years, and we can presume that they warned their neighbors and called them to repent and turn to the Lord and enter into the Ark. But when Noah entered the Ark at age 600, their were only eight passengers -- his neighbors did not believe that the judgement was coming (cf. Genesis 5-7). They didn't believe the Word of God. They believed in eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage. So the judgment of God was swift and sudden: the rain fell for forty days, and every other person on the planet drowned.

The day Jesus returns with judgement will be like the days of Noah: most people will not believe the Word of God. They will not believe that judgement is coming. And the judgment that comes will be swift and sudden.

Jesus told them that when He returns, the judgment will come upon humanity like two women grinding grain at the mill: suddenly one will be taken and one will be left behind. Rather than Noah gathering two and seven of the animals and also his family, Jesus, Himself, will gather up His people. The judgement will be exacting -- it will be particular. One will be chosen, another left behind, according to the Will of God.

So, Jesus told them, "Stay awake!" "Be alert!"

The commentator David Dickson, says that this warning against immoderate sleep should remind us of the wicked general, Sisera, and how he sought a place to hide in the tent of Heber. And when Sisera had fallen asleep in the tent, we read the following, "But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness, so he died" (Judges 4:21). Sleeping at the wrong time can cause us to lose our life. If we are not ready when Jesus returns, we may find ourselves impaled by the Angel of God.

Jesus told them again that His Return will be like that of a thief to a man's home. Anyone who knows the hour that the thief will come to his home will stay awake and prevent his home from being broken into. But, Jesus warned them that when He comes with judgment, most will not be ready -- He will surprise them, and then it will be too late. The judgement that He brings will be spiritual -- of greater value than a thief breaking in and stealing material possessions.

When Jesus Returns, it will be with judgment. When He meets out that judgment, it will be swift and sudden. It will be particular -- for one and against another. And it will be a surprise -- at least to those who do not believe -- like a thief who breaks into the house in the middle of the night.

But He ought not surprise us, brothers and sisters: Jesus said we should be awake. We should be alert. We should be prepared for His Coming. We should be looking for the signs -- patiently waiting for Him, hoping in Him, warning others of Him, calling them to His Salvation. We ought to be alert, spreading the alert, calling others to alertness.

How ought we prepare?

Well, how do we prepare for a friend or a family member coming to visit?

First, we know who's coming. We are likely to prepare in different ways depending on who's coming. So, if Jesus is coming, we should know that, believe it, look to the Scripture to see Who this is, as well as meeting Him in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Second, we prepare things that will please our guest. We prepare food, arrange the house, dress, etc., in ways that will please the person coming to visit. Likewise, we ought to be about those things that will please Jesus. We should not be doing anything that we would be embarrassed to do if Jesus walked through the doors right now – or in the moment your are doing whatever it is that you do. We should always be doing those things that we would be glad to have Jesus walk in on and see.

If we do those two things, we will be ready; we will be alert; we will not be surprised when the trumpet is sounded and Jesus appears in the sky as the Judge of all men.

But, if we do not know Who He is, or we do not prepare for Him -- if we fall asleep or spend our time engaged in things that would be embarrassing before Him -- He will surprise us, and when He appears in the sky, we will shake with fear.

Let us pray:
Soon and Coming Judge, we thank You for revealing signs -- for choosing some to be Your people -- and for giving us Your Word that we might be prepared and not surprised on the day You Return. Stir a fire within us, that we would warn others and call them to repentance before it is too late. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Prayer Request

Please keep the Rev. Rett Zabriskie and his family in your prayers. (Rett is the Stated Clerk of the Classis of Passaic Valley, RCA.) His beloved wife, Astrid, was suddenly and unexpectedly received into glory after a fall last week. "I believe in the resurrection of the body!"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"A Righteous Branch" Sermon: Jeremiah 23:1-6

"A Righteous Branch"
[Jeremiah 23:1-6]
November 25, 2007 Second Reformed Church

The prophet Jeremiah witnessed the terrible destruction of Israel and Judah and Jerusalem which culminated in 586 B.C. He lived through war, conquest, starvation, torture, and seeing the people of Jerusalem reduced to cannibalism before the city and the temple were finally captured and destroyed. The book of Jeremiah is the collected messages of the "weeping prophet." He warns Judah against sin. He explains why they are suffering at the Hand of God and the Babylonians. Yet, he also tells them that a day will come when everything will change.

Chapter twenty-three begins with an explanation of why they are suffering:

The Lord declared that evil shepherds had caused the flock to be scattered -- into captivity and throughout foreign lands. The cause of the destruction, the cause of the captivity in Babylon, was ministers doing evil. Rather than tending the flock, rather than being tender towards the people of God, rather than feeding them, rather than exercising oversight over them, the shepherds had lorded themselves over the flock -- the ministers had pressured the people of God and made unreasonable demands of them until the people scattered and fell victim to the Babylonians.

Ministers are called to preach and teach the whole Word of God, in the pulpit, in the classroom, and in the home. When they neglect their duty or abuse their call, they have sinned against God and God’s people. And surely, trouble is coming.

Churches in the West are in trouble largely because those whom churches have called to be ministers are unfaithful to their call. And there are a variety of ways to be unfaithful: there are people in the ordained ministry who do not believe the Bible is true; they do not believe that salvation is in Jesus Alone. There are people in the ordained ministry who believe that to be a minister means that you are healthier, wealthier, and free to do practically anything you want, as compared to the sheep, or as compared to "the world." Etc. The Lord condemns all those who claim to be ministers who unrepentantly pursue evil.

However, no merely human minister is completely faithful: I have sinned against God and against you and I repent of my sin, and I ask God to forgive me and that my sin will not hurt you or this church. I ask for your prayers that I would be faithful to the call that God has put on me, not matter how I or others might try to dissuade me.

When we looked at I Peter, we were directed to the warning of James, the brother of our Lord, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). Ministers receive a stricter judgment on that final day. The ordained ministry is a dangerous call, both for the minister and for those to whom the minister is given charge. It is not a call to be entered into lightly or rashly.

Then the Lord turned to those evil, unfaithful ministers who had been carried off into exile, after years of abusing their call and abusing the people of God, unrepentantly following after their evil ways, and the Lord said He would repay them for their evil. If we know ourselves at all, we should tremble at the idea of God giving us what we deserve. God promised to give them back what they gave.

On that final day, if we have believed in Jesus Alone for our salvation, then we will receive back according to His Work. But, if we do not, then we will receive back according to our own works, measured against the standard of God's Holiness.

However, to the flock of Judah, the Lord promised that He would bring back a remnant of the flock that He scattered and He would cause them to be fruitful and multiply. And I hope we all just thought, "wait a minute." We just looked at the idea that it was the unfaithful ministers following after their evil that caused the flock to be scattered, and because the ministers unrepentantly followed after their sin, the Lord would repay them in kind, but now the Lord says that He scattered the sheep. What's going on?

It is true that Judah was scattered due to the sin of her ministers, but it is also true that God scattered Judah because they were unfaithful and sinned against God. The ministers sinned and oppressed the people and they scattered. The people sinned against God and God scattered them. Both occurred. The ministers and the people sinned; God did not.

So the Lord promised that He would bring back a remnant -- God would bring some of the people back to the land, and God would cause them to be fruitful and multiply -- the nation would quickly be repopulated. And God promised that He would set faithful shepherds -- faithful ministers -- over them, and they would no longer be afraid or in dismay, and none of them would be lost.

God makes us them same promise today: out of all of humanity, God has chosen a remnant to bring back, some who will believe in Him, and they shall have His Peace and Assurance. And, God will not lose one of the remnant -- every single person that God had chosen to be brought back to Him will be brought back -- God will not fail. And out of that remnant, God has chosen some to be faithful ministers. Not sinless, but faithful. A faithful minister repents of his sin, and he guides the sheep in all of God's Truth and he protects the sheep from anything and anyone that might harm them. So ministers ought to be versed in the false teachings of the world to be able to present an argument against them, and also in the Word of God, that he might present it well and in a way that can be understood.

The promise of the remnant's return to the land did occur, but there is a second promise in the morning's reading that wouldn't come to pass for about six hundred years. The Lord promised that the day would come when He would raise up a righteous branch from the line of David. The day would come when there would be a king of David's lineage Who would reign on the throne of His father and deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness in the land. In the days of this King, Judah would be saved and Israel would dwell secure.

And the exiles -- the remnant -- would have understood, immediately, that Jeremiah was talking about the Messiah -- the Savior. There is absolutely no other way to understand verses five and six, but as referring to the Promised Savior.

Hear this Good News: "And [Gabriel] said to [Mary], 'Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear 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 shall be no end'" (Luke 1:30-33).

And the Lord said, "And this is the name by which he will be called: the Lord is my righteousness." What does that mean? What is righteousness? "Righteousness" is "moral innocence." So, if the Name of the King, the Savior, is "the Lord is my righteousness," that indicates that our righteousness doesn't come from ourselves. That indicates that we cannot be righteous in ourselves. No mere human being can be morally innocent -- and that is what the Bible teaches -- since the Fall, since the sin in the Garden, every mere human being has been conceived and born a sinner. So, our righteousness, which is necessary for salvation, comes to us from the Lord. The Lord credits us with Jesus' Righteousness. The theologians say that believers have an "alien righteousness" which means that we don't do it -- we don't achieve it -- it is credited to us from Another. And that Gift should inspire all who believe to faithfulness.

Jeremiah delivered the Word of the Lord to the exiles in Babylon, telling them that they were in captivity because their ministers had unrepentantly lived evil lives against their call, so God would repay their evil. Yet, they were also in captivity because they had also sinned against God. Still, God promised that He would restore a remnant, return them, and give them ministers who were repentant sinners, who sought to live out the call God had put on their lives.

And even better than that, the Messiah -- the final King of Israel -- was coming, and He would grant His people security and His Righteousness, that they might be His forever. We celebrate and worship this King this morning: Jesus the Christ. He is our Lord and Master, our Savior, and the Only Hope for humanity.

As we prepare for the Advent season and the celebration of the Birth of our God on earth, let us keep in mind that this same Little Baby is also the King of All, to Whom we owe all allegiance.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and King, we thank You for revealing Yourself to us, that You are not merely a Perfect Man, though You are, but You are also God, the King. Help us to see You and understand You in the fulness of Your Being. And may the knowledge of You give us clarity and wisdom to live as Your people in this day. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Reasons to Be Thankful" Sermon: Psalm 100

"Reasons to be Thankful"
[Psalm 100]
November 18, 2007 Second Reformed Church

Have you ever heard someone say that they have no reason to be thankful? I was talking with a woman who was complaining on and on about everything you could possibly think of, and I said to her, "Why don't you focus on the things you have to be thankful for?" And she said, "I don't have anything to be thankful for: no one has ever given me anything. I work hard for everything I get and no one has ever helped me." I suggested she could be thankful that she was able to work, that she was in good enough health to work, that she had a job, and so forth. And she cursed at me. I felt very sad for her.

Do you have anything to be thankful for? Before you say, "No!" Think about all of the things and people in your life -- about this church and what Christianity means for you. You might take time this next week -- as we celebrate Thanksgiving as a nation -- to list what you are thankful for -- to remind yourself. The list doesn't have to be only the most profound and life-changing things -- if you're thankful for cocktail hotdogs, then give thanks for them.

And when you give thanks, give thanks to all those involved in getting cocktail hotdogs to your plate, and especially God, without Whom there would be no cocktail hotdogs. As we saw last week -- everything was created by God, everything is God's, every good thing comes to us from God. So, if we are thankful for cocktail hotdogs, we ought to recognize and give God thanks that He chose to give us cocktail hotdogs. And, if we can learn to give thanks for cocktail hotdogs, perhaps our eyes will to open to the blessings upon blessings that God has given us, and we will understand how blessed a life we have and how many things we have to be thankful for.

Psalm 100 is a psalm of thanksgiving; it is a psalm in which the psalmist gives us reasons to be thankful. And let us notice immediately that the psalmist calls us to be thankful -- it is a command from God that we be thankful. Why? Because when we are filled with joy from God’s blessing and offer up thanks to God, He is magnified -- He is seen more clearly -- He is glorified for Who He is.

"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth." Shout for joy to YHWH, all the earth.

We, and all of the Creation, ought to be thankful because God is. God's Very Existence should cause us to be thankful, because God lets us know that He is the Good and Unchangeable God. We and all of the Creation see God in nature -- we understand what kind of God God is just by looking around us, so we ought to respond to what we have seen in His Creation and Preservation with the thanks that are due Him.

And that thanks is no half-hearted "thanks." No, the psalmist says we ought to jump for joy, we ought to stand up -- give a standing ovation -- as though the King had entered the room -- and He has. We know something of the character of God through nature and we who believe know even more through the Bible. So we ought to be enthusiastic in our thanks to God.

"Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing."

We ought to be thankful, because you and I have the unparallel grace that we are able to come into the very presence of God and live. You and I can come before the Only True God, He Who holds all things in His Hand, and He has not struck us dead for our sin. We ought be awe-struck that God not only allows, but invites, sinners to stand safely before His Holiness.

"Know that the Lord is God." Know that YHWH is Elohim.

We ought to be thankful that God interacts with us on all levels: we do not merely know God emotionally, but we also know Him intellectually. God is the Creator and Maintainer of logic, and He calls us to use our minds -- to rationally interact with God and His Word. Christianity is not an irrational religion -- we are called to think, and to give thanks that we are able to us our minds to better know God. And we ought to be thankful that we can use our minds in all the ways that we should use them.

"It is he that made us, and we are his, and we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture."

You and I we not created by accident! The other night I had dinner with someone who said, "I believe the Big Bang occurred, and all these atoms flew off, and I evolved out of them." If we are merely accidents, then there is no one to give thanks to, but if the One and Almighty God chose to created each one of us -- we have our very existence from God and ought to thank Him for it. We are creations of His Hands, not an accident that by chance accidentally by chance accidentally became us!

Before the Creation, God decided to created Barbara Bell and Maria Rivera and Peter Butler, Jr., and that is enough reason to give thanks, but God has also chosen, out of all of humanity, some to be His people, some to be His sheep, some He would especially care for and provide for -- and if you believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation -- you are one of those people. You are one of the people of God; you are a lamb of God. Knowing that our future without God is Hell, how great this salvation is and our thanksgiving ought be.

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise, give thanks to him, bless his name."

We ought to be thankful because God's Name is Holy -- He is Holy. Our God cannot be anything other than Perfect, Beauty, and Righteousness. It is not in His Nature to be less than the Greatest Possible Perfection and Pure Holiness. When we glimpse Him, we are filled with awe. Knowing that He is more -- the Absolute Ultimate of more -- we can respond in no better way that to praise His Name as Holy, to give thanks to Him for being Holy, for allowing us a glimpse of that wonder.

Have you ever stood before a natural wonder and been stopped -- that you had to utter "thank you" for the moment you were experiencing? How much more, when we are before the Holy ought to be transfixed and offer up thanks?

"For the Lord is good."

Can you imagine what would happen if God were only partially good -- or if He were evil? This why we ought not to put human beings on pedestals -- each of us has mixed motivations, not one of us is holy and completely good, as God is. Since God is Wholly Good, we can trust Him, believing that everything that occurs to us is ultimately for our good and the fulfillment of God's Holy Plan. Knowing that is also reason for us to give thanks.

"His steadfast love endures forever."

There is no good English translation for the Hebrew word hesid. We try with expressions like "steadfast love," "everlasting kindness," "loving-kindness," but they all fall short of what this great attribute of God is. Perhaps, the clearest example is to say that it is God's hesid that caused Him to give up His Son. It is that perfection in God that caused Him to be pleased to sacrifice His Son in the most horrific way, for our sins, that we would be saved from God’s Wrath, and God would receive the glory for this Work. And the psalmist tells us this hesid is forever -- it is eternal. God never takes it back. It was the right, good, and glorifying thing to do, and He continues in it. Is this not another reason to give thanks?

"And his faithfulness to all generations." Or, "and He perpetually dwells in steadfast truth."

God is the Eternal True Truth. Our God does not change. Everything He has said and promised is always forever exactly what will be in Him. Surely, this is another reason to give thanks: if God was good, but kept changing His Mind, we would be left in perpetual terror, not knowing from one moment to the next if the Promises would remain. We have surety in God because the Word in Genesis is the same as the Word in the Psalms and it is the same as the Word in Matthew, and it is the same as the Word in Romans -- from the Creation to today to the Second Coming and the New Jerusalem and the new earth -- every Word that we have been given is the same, unchanging, and True. We can be confident in that, and we ought to give thanks that it is true.

What are you thankful for?

I'm thankful for my cat, but I am also thankful that the One True God, My Savior, the Eternal and Holy Truth reveals Himself to all of the Creation through the Creation, and has revealed Himself to me in Salvation through Jesus Alone. I am thankful that this Same One God is forever Good, Holy, and Unchanging Truth, that I can turn to Him and trust Him and know that He will never fail me, nor leave me, because He chose me, for His Sake, to be one of His people, a lamb in His flock.

Shout for joy and give thanks if the same is true for you.

` Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for giving us Yourself. We thank You for making Yourself known in the Creation and savingly in Your Son, Jesus. We thank You that You have chosen us and are pleased to have us come before You in worship, with praise and thanksgiving. We thank You for making Your Character known to us that we would know we can trust You and believe You forever. Cause us to take these joyful thanksgivings and tell them to our friends and neighbors, that they might join together with us in offering everlasting thanks to You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Puritan Wisdom

On Haggai 2:3 --

"We see by experience, that mens lives are daily shortened. Naturall reasons whereof may be these. 1. Untimely marriages. 2. Cloying our bodyes with variety of meates, and so digging our own graves with our own teeth. 3. Much ease and delicacy."

-- John Trapp, An Exposition on the Prophecie of Haggai, 481.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Updates

There are some changes in our scheduling department, dear people:

The church property clean-up will begin at 10 AM this morning, not at 9 AM as previously announced.

The Consistory will meet today at 1:30 PM, despite the noted conflicts.

"The Blazing Center" study will neither meet today nor next week, due to happy conflicts regarding families and Thanksgiving. Watch this blog and the bulletin for the final two sessions of "The Blazing Center."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Everybody Work" Sermon: Haggai 2:1-9

"Everybody Work"
[Haggai 2:1-9]
November 11, 2007 Second Reformed Church

Some forty years before the prophet Haggai preached, the prophet Jeremiah had witnessed the Babylonian army descend on Israel and capture and destroy Jerusalem and the temple of God. The people were carried off into captivity, and nothing but smoking ruins were left as far as the eye could see.

Jeremiah said, in part, "How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street. The precious sons of Zion, worth their weight in fine gold, how they are regarded as earthen pots, the work of a potter’s hands Even jackals offer the breast; they nurse their young, but the daughters of my people have become cruel, like ostriches in the wilderness. The tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives it to them. Those who once feasted on delicacies perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple embrace ash heaps. For the chastisement of the daughter of my people has been greater than the punishment of Sodom, which was overthrown in a moment, and no hands were wrung for her. Her princes were purer than snow, whiter than milk; their bodies were more ruddy than coral, the beauty of their form was like sapphire. Now their face is blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets; their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as wood. Happier were the victims of the sword, than the victims of hunger, who wasted away, pierced by lack of the fruits of the field. The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they have become their food during the destruction of the daughter of my people. The Lord gave full vent to his hot anger, and he kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its foundations" (Lamentations 4:1-11).

Forty years after this devastation, in about 538 B.C., King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and sent Ezra and the first wave of exiles back to Israel -- to Jerusalem, and we read, "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 'Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel -- he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem'" (Ezra 1:1-4).

This morning's reading, from the prophecy of Haggai, takes place nineteen years after the people have returned to Israel. It is now the second year of the reign of Darius. And in the first chapter of Haggai, we're told that the people did return to the land and did begin to rebuild the temple, but then they got distracted and spent their time and abilities and resources building fine homes for themselves, establishing their crops and business and making a good life for themselves. And God became angry with Israel and told them that until they rebuilt the temple, until they set their eyes on God and His Work first, God would cause there to be a famine and no rain. God told them, "You've put your trust in your crops and your money -- in the things that sustain you -- and you have turned your back on the Me, the Sustainer, so I will take away your food and rain until you come to your senses and repent."

This morning's reading occurs one month into the famine. God sent Haggai, the prophet, to deliver a message to Israel, and Haggai gathered Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest, and all of the people who remained, and he asked them a question, "Do you remember how glorious Solomon's temple was? Do you remember what it looked like? Do you remember how awe-inspiring it was?" And there would have been some who were old enough to remember, but there also would have been those who had only heard the stories.

Second Reformed Church, do you remember when this sanctuary was full of people? Do you remember when the Sunday School classes were full? Do you remember a time when people came through the doors because they longed to hear the Word of God preached and taught? Some of you may.

Haggai told Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the people: be strong, be courageous, be full of faith. Have faith in the Lord Who is with you and do His Work. God knew that Israel needed homes to live in and food to eat, but once God provided homes and food for them, they continued to work to better their lives financially and socially while they neglected the Work of the Lord -- they didn't have faith that if they followed after the Lord and concentrated on His Will that they would be provided for.

Understand, Haggai is not saying it is wrong to have a nice house and a good job and a good social life -- those things are fine. What he is saying is that since God has provided for our needs, we ought to faithfully be about the Work of the Lord. It is our duty as the people of God -- each one of us -- to help maintain the church building and the minister -- and that's not just with money -- that's also with time, with prayers, with taking part in worship and Bible study and whatever else we find to do.

Some of us can and should give more financially; some of us are giving sacrificially already. The Scripture tells us that we must give joyfully, cheerfully. God says we are to begin with an offering of ten percent of our gross income. We each ought to go before God in prayer and determine what we can honestly, joyfully, cheerfully give.

Do we pray for this church? For me? For each other? For Irvington? We should.

Do we gather to read and learn from God's Word? We should want to hear from God and know Him better. If you can't make it Sunday morning or Saturday afternoon, tell me when, and I will do everything I can to make sure we have a study then -- or a prayer meeting. The minister's call is to preach and teach -- let's gather together to know our God and follow after Him.

Israel was making excuses for not rebuilding and maintaining the temple and the Work of the Lord. Let us stop navel-gazing and listing what we don't have and instead spend our energy in faith, with courage, by the strength of God, doing all that He has called us to do.

In verse five, Haggai told Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the people to be assured. Our pew Bible translates it, "according to the promises." The text literally says, "according to My Word, My Covenant." Moses records, "And God spoke all these words saying, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exodus 20:1-2). It is by the Word that God has made an agreement, a covenant, a treaty with His people and promised that He and He Alone saves them from their slavery. So, Israel could take hold and rest on that assurance that no matter what happened to them, no matter what the future might bring, their salvation was secure because it was wholly the Work of God the Word.

That message of assurance should sound very familiar to us, because it is the same message we have in Jesus, the Word of God. It is the message that we heard in I Peter. It is the message that we are hearing in our Saturday afternoon studies. Even if you are the person who suffers more than anyone else ever does on the face of the planet, if you have received salvation in Jesus Alone, you are assured of salvation, so that whatever you face here and now, no matter how painful it might be, you can face it with joy, knowing that what is coming, in Jesus, is so much greater.

Jesus and the assurance of His Promises and His Salvation are sure, because He bears all the weight for bringing them to pass. So, we can be assured in Him and not be worried about what is happening around us. Is the globe warming? My salvation in Jesus is sure. Will the terrorists come? My salvation in Jesus is sure. Are there corrupt politicians? My salvation in Jesus is sure. Are there gangs and drug dealers in Irvington? My salvation in Jesus is sure. Is there poverty and false religion in Irvington? My salvation in Jesus is sure. The point is not that we should ignore the problems and threats around us, but recognize that Jesus is going to keep His Promises.

Haggai also told Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the people that God the Holy Spirit was with them, so they should not fear. There were still robbers in the land. There were still enemies around. There were squabbles among the Israelites. But God told them to do the work He had set before them -- to be His people in the world, and not to fear.

Now, God certainly doesn't mean that we should go about obliviously. God is not telling us to remove the alarm system from the church and leave the doors unlocked. No, we ought to take precautions, to know the dangers and avoid them. But we are not to become so terrified that we do not do the work God has given us. The other day, I arrived to find a gentleman smoking a crack pipe on our stairs. I approached him cautiously, but I did approach, because I needed to get in the building. I did not see him, and then and there resign from the ministry

Haggai told them: Be strong. Be courageous. Have faith. Be assured. Do not fear. In verse four -- in the Name of the Lord God -- the Father. In verse five, in the Name of the Word, Who is the Son, Jesus Christ. And in the Name of the Holy Spirit.

And still there are some who ask why? How?

And Haggai told them in verses six through nine:

The Lord will shake the Creation. We are not called to restore the Creation, we are called to be faithful stewards of all that God has given us. And truth be told, none of us have. Let us this Stewardship Sunday go home and pray and seek God’s Wisdom and leading in how each of us can be the faithful steward we are called to be.

The Lord will fill His House with splendor. If the work seems too much for us to accomplish on our own, you're right. We are called to be faithful stewards, but the Lord our God will finally and fully fill His House with His Splendor.

Israel did rebuild the temple, and after three months, God ended the famine and brought the rain again. But the temple was only about half the size of Solomon's. It was nowhere near as impressive or as ornate. The fulness of this prophecy did not come to pass among them -- and this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. The author of Hebrews wrote, "See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, 'Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.' This phrase, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of things that are shaken -- that is, things that have been made -- in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:26-29). This prophecy, brothers and sisters, will be fulfilled when Jesus returns.

And -- the silver and the gold are the Lord's. Money is necessary, but money does not guarantee that all will be well. God knows our needs and God will provide for all of our needs. Remember, "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17). Remember these words of Jesus: "'And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: "The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you in prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death'" (Revelation 2:8-11).

Let us pray that Second Reformed be the like church of Smyrna: let us be good stewards, putting our faith in the Lord, Our Strength and Our Courage. Let us find our assurance in the Work and the Promises of Jesus: He will do it. And let us not fear what man and devil can do, but work -- let everybody work -- in the joy and to the glory of our God Who calls us.

Our pew Bible has verse nine say that the Lord will give "prosperity." The word there is "shalom" -- "peace." This then is the promise: "The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord."

Do you believe the Lord? Then let us work hard to be faithful stewards, in joy and to the glory of our Only Savior.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, from the first day humans walked on the earth, you called us to be faithful stewards of all of the Creation and to walk in the ways You have prepared for us. Cause us to know You more fully, that we might be courageous, strong, full of faith, assured in Your Work and Promises, and without fear. Cause us to live from this day forward and until Your return in true faith. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Today's Study

We have decided to cancel today's session of "The Blazing Center" in order not to conflict with the Gospel Concert at Blessed Sacrament Church in Newark. We encourage everyone to attend the concert. D.V., we will continue our Saturday studies next week at 3:30 PM.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"Praise the Lord" Sermon: Psalm 149

"Praise the Lord"
[Psalm 149]
November 4, 2007 Second Reformed Church

We opened this morning's worship by singing, "Sing Praise to the Lord," which is a setting to music of the Psalm which is our Scripture this morning. How did you sing it? Did you sing it something like this: "Ah, sing praise to the Lord, yawn; come, aaahh, sing a new song. Amidst all his saints his praise prolong, yawn – ah..."

This morning's Scripture opens and closes with a command, "Praise the Lord." And we ought to notice that -- it is a command. It is not a suggestion. It is not just good advice. We are commanded, as the people of God, to praise Him. And the psalmist gives us two big reasons why we ought to obey this command -- and we find them as we look at this psalm:

First, we have reason and a duty to praise the Lord since Jesus has saved us from sin and the Wrath of God. And second, we have been given the two-edged sword of the Word of God to put down liars and false teachers until all the enemies of Christ are made a footstool for His Feet.

We have a tendency to forget God until we are in trouble. We don't come before Him to praise Him, even to be thankful for all the common and ordinary things: How often to we wake up in the morning and thank God that we woke up? That we are still breathing? We have so much to be thankful for that if we actually took the time to give thanks for each thing we have been given each day, we would do nothing but give thanks and praise Him. God understands that we are bound in time, yet we are still commanded to praise Him.

Now, the psalmist says that these things should be done by Israel. We ought to understand that this psalm was originally written to be sung and obeyed by ancient Israel; the nation of God. However, since the Incarnation, we understand that Israel is no longer a nation; Israel is all those who believe in the Promised Savior, Jesus. The Church is Israel, not modern-day Jews or the residents of the land of Israel. So, this psalm applies to us because we are the continuation of Israel, in the sense that we have believed in the Promised Savior.

So, the psalmist tells us that we are to come into the sanctuary singing a "new song." What does that mean? Does it mean that the songs we have sung for two hundred years shouldn't be sung any more? Does it mean that we should sing only those songs that we don't know? No, what the psalmist is telling us is that we are to sing is a way that the songs are fresh, meaningful, worthy of our God. We can sing this psalm, choking on our yawns, not considering the words, and that is not pleasing to God. Or we can come, singing this psalm, listening to its meaning and believing these words, offering them up before God as our life and desire. That would be singing it in a new way.

Then the psalmist says that we are not to neglect assembling together to sing praise to the Lord. It is not possible to be a Christian by yourself. We are told over and over in the Scripture that we are to assemble together; we are to worship together, as a people, as the Kingdom of God. God has given us the Church and told us that we are to worship Him together as the Church. (Yes, we can sing and praise Him on our own, but we must also gather together for corporate, public worship.)

We do well to remember, especially on this All Saints' Sunday, that we humans living on earth are not the only ones who praise God. When we gather for worship, we join together across dimensions, with those saints who are in glory. The saints who are in glory, are perpetually worshiping and glorifying God, with all of the heavenly beings. And when we gather for worship, we join with them in praising our God.

When we gather to worship, we ought to acknowledge that our God is the Maker -- the Creator -- of everything that is. Nothing exists that He did not create. You and I are not the products of chance, or merely biology, but of the Almighty God calling us into existence, as He did with the rest of the Creation. And we have not just been created once, but twice -- we have been made a "new creation" through Jesus (II Corinthians 5:17). So, He is our King, our Lord, our Maker, our Creator, and we owe our praise and allegiance first and always to Him.

In our pew Bible, we read, "let the children of Zion rejoice in their king." The word that is translated "rejoice" is actually bigger than that -- it is "shout with joy" or "shriek ecstatically." We should be excited in worship -- excited to be in the presence of our God and Savior. Don't worry, we do not have to literally shout and shriek, though it would not be wrong if someone did as a true response and a praise to God. But, if we are alive -- spiritually alive -- we ought to be spiritually moved in the presence of God, even if we are "traditional" and "reserved" in our physical stance.

Yet, the psalmist says we are to come, praising the Lord with dancing, playing the tambourine and the lyre. Get up! Dance! Who has a tambourine or a lyre with them? Don't panic, we need to obey the spirit of the Law. What does that mean? It means that we can use different body parts to express our praise -- we can sing, rather than dance. And we can use other instruments -- in our case, the piano and organ. What God is commanding through the psalmist is that we praise God with our whole body and with music. It is right and good and commanded that our whole self -- heart, soul, mind, and strength -- our body -- give praise to God -- and that will be expressed by different persons in different ways in different churches -- and that is good. Likewise, different communities will have persons gifted in different instruments, so the instruments used in worship will vary -- and that is good, too.

And then the psalmist writes "For the Lord takes pleasure in his people." We ought to praise God because He receives pleasure -- He receives glory -- from His people. Why? How is this so? "He adorns the humble with victory" -- the word "victory" in our pew Bible is actually, more generally, "salvation." So, "He adorns the humble with salvation." So, what is he saying?

God receives pleasure -- He is glorified -- in us -- because He has saved us. Seeing His Work of Salvation in us, He receives pleasure and glory. Because God saves -- in war, in any variety of life's circumstances -- and most greatly in eternal salvation -- because God has done that in us, when that work is seen, He is magnified and glorified. It's like using a telescope to look at the moon -- we can see something of the moon with our eyes, but when we are given a telescope, the moon is seen much more clearly and in greater detail. So when God gives us salvation, He is better known and receives glory for Who He is. And He is to be praised for all of His Salvation.

And this is a life-long pursuit: we are called to exalt in His Glory -- to function as telescopes before God, magnifying Him so others will know Him better. And we are to cry out -- to sing -- for joy -- and our pew Bile says "on their couches" -- this is referring to the thing we lie down on and sleep on, so we may understand this as a bed. We are to sing for joy on or in our beds. Notice there are no limits -- the psalmist did not say that we should sing for joy on our beds before we go to sleep -- though that is certainly included. We ought to praise Him on our beds when we go to sleep and when we wake up. And we ought also praise Him in our sick beds and on our death beds. He is always worthy of praise.

We always have reason and a duty to praise the Lord since Jesus has saved us from sin and the Wrath of God.

The second part of this psalm gives us another reason to praise the Lord:

We are told to lift high praises to God from the depths of our throats -- from the very depths and all of our being -- as we saw in the first part. And, we are to take up two-edged swords in our hands. What? Is the psalmist saying that we should be violent -- kill -- as a way to praise of God? Well, yes and no.

Yes, in writing for the original nation of Israel, he is literally reminding Israel, encouraging Israel, as God commanded them, to kill all the pagans in the land -- to take all of Canaan in the Name of God and for His people. We see this played out in the Old Testament. They did kill with the two-edged sword. They did capture and bind kings, place them in irons, execute them in accordance with God's Law, and so forth, as the psalmist says.

However, we are not the ancient nation of Israel. God's Promises to us are not tied to land. Besides we are told, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'" (Romans 12:19). That is not to deny our part in the final judgment, because Paul writes, "Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?" (I Corinthians 6:2a). But it is not our place, now, in this life, to slaughter the pagans.

So what shall we do with the second half of this Psalm? Our use of the two-edged sword must be understood as metaphorical. It is symbolic of something else -- that being the Gospel -- the Word of God. The author of Hebrews wrote, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thought and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12-13).

John saw Jesus in His exalted state and described Him like this: "Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands, one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like flames of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength" (Revelation 1:12-16).

So, we share in the glory of Christ and praise Him as we use the two-edged sword of the Word of God -- through preaching and teaching the Gospel -- that all will come to know the Truth of our Savior, Jesus. We have been given the two-edged sword of the Word of God to put down liars and false teachers until all the enemies of Christ are made into a footstool for His Feet.

God promised Jesus, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet" (Hebrews 1:13b). That will occur at the end of days -- at the last judgment.

So, we understand that we have been given the two-edged sword of the Word of God to put down liars and false teachers until all the enemies of Christ are made a footstool for His Feet. We are to be learning and spreading the Word of God so that all peoples understand that Jesus is the Truth, and as we do that, as He is known for Who He is, praise is directed to Him.

Thus, God commands us through the psalmist: Praise the Lord.

Let us pray:
Almighty and Praise-Worthy God, we thank You for coming to us, for making Yourself known to us and raising us from spiritual death. We ask that You would continue to inspire us and lead us in Your Praise. Teach us more of Yourself that we might better communicate Your Gospel to the world. As we meet You now in this Supper, we ask for Your strength and wisdom, by Your Grace. May You receive all the Praise, for it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Celebrate the Reformation Tomorrow

This Wednesday, October 31st, buy a hardcover Reformation Study Bible (ESV) from Ligonier Ministries for only $15.17. (Click on the link at the side!)

To order, call 800-435-4343 or visit our web site.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany, which addressed the abuses of the sale of indulgences and provided the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther is one of the more important figures in Western history, as his thought has impacted family life, politics, church-state relations, individual liberties, and a host of other societal issues. His powerful expositions of the Gospel remain one of his most important legacies. In an era when the Gospel had been eclipsed by a system of human merit, Martin Luther and the other reformers were able to remind the people of God that we are declared righteous in the sight of the Lord through faith alone in the person and work of Christ Jesus.

The widespread acceptance of watered-down doctrine and uncritical ecumenism in our day demonstrates how we cannot take biblical teaching for granted. Luther was willing to die if necessary for the biblical Gospel, but many today simply ignore the doctrine of justification through faith alone by grace alone because of Christ alone. This year, let us remember the work of our forefathers on Reformation day and strive, as they did, to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Join us in celebrating Reformation Day with a one-day special! On Wednesday, October 31st, buy a hardcover Reformation Study Bible (ESV) for only $15.17. Prefer a leather Bible? Purchase one for only $26.83 more.

To take advantage of this special offer, please call our resource consultants at 800-435-4343 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST or order online. Orders may only be placed on October 31st.

Saturday Study

D.V., we will continue our study based on Rev. Dr. John Piper's video series, "The Blazing Center" this Saturday at 3:30 PM. Come join us, even if you have not been able to make it thus far. This Saturday, we will be looking at how our suffering can be for our joy and to the Glory of God.

November Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

11/4/07 Communion/All Saints' Sunday Psalm 149 "Praise the Lord"
11/11/07 Stewardship Sunday Haggai 2:1-9 "Everybody Work"
11/18/07 Thanksgiving Sunday Psalm 100 "Reasons to Be Thankful"
11/25/07 Christ the King Sunday Jeremiah 23:1-6 "A Righteous Branch"

Come join us for Bible Study at 9 AM and morning worship at 10:30 AM.

Monday, October 29, 2007

"The God of Salvation" Sermon: Psalm 65

"The God of Salvation"
[Psalm 65]
October 28, 2007 Second Reformed Church

Wednesday is the 490th anniversary of a very important event. Do you know what it is? On October 31st, 1517, an Augustinian monk, by the name of Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church. 490 years ago, Martin Luther presented the Church and the scholars with a list of 95 propositions for discussion. We mark this event as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation; this spark set the fire which created the Protestant Church, of which we are a part.

Well, what was Martin Luther wanting to debate? What was his problem with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church? Martin Luther challenged the Church saying that they had lately perverted the Gospel -- that salvation is not a joint work of God and man, but salvation is wholly, completely a work of God -- humans contribute nothing to their salvation.

On this Reformation Sunday, let us look at Psalm 65, a Psalm of David, and may these inspired words guide our eyes to God, where they belong, and may we swell with joy and thanksgiving, because our God is the God of Salvation.

"Praise is due you, O God, in Zion;"

When you came into the sanctuary this morning, did you desire to praise God? Were you drawn to this place this morning out of a need to join together with your sisters and brothers and praise God for Who He is?

If you didn't, pray that God would open your heart and cause you to desire to praise Him. Pray that God would open your eyes that you would see that God is worthy of praise -- praise is due God -- praise is owed to God by anyone and everyone who ever comes into His Presence. If you know Him, you must praise Him, you are compelled to praise Him. John Piper, in our Saturday afternoon studies, made the point that the normal, natural response for a Christian is to praise God and worship Him, to long for pure worship on Holy Mount Zion. And Dr. Piper says that God can't help it -- He's just that magnificent; He's just that beautiful. When you know Him, when you come into His Presence, you can't help but worship and praise and lift up His Name. Our God is worthy of praise.

"And to you shall vows be performed,"

When we worship God rightly, we make promises to Him. All of us who are Christians have promised God that we will repent of our sin, we will turn from it and not do it any more. We will pursue holy living; we will become like Jesus in every way. And God has indwelled us in the Person of the Holy Spirit that we might be able to accomplish those vows we make -- to flee from sin, to repent, to forgive, to live holy lives, to pray for each other, to support the work of God's Church -- the vows each member makes in becoming a member are made to God, as well as to the congregation. Our God is worthy of obedience, of our keeping the vows we make to Him.

And there are those who will object and say, "Well, God has never done anything for me." Or, "You have your God and I have mine."

"O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come."

One of the things that set the nation of Israel apart from all of the pagan nations, is that they understood that there is Only One God. All other gods are creations of our sinful minds or demons posing as gods. There is One and Only One God. He is the God Who answers every prayer that is prayed to Him in faith. God does not sleep, like the other so-called gods. God does not forget, like the other so-called gods. Our God answers every prayer that we raise to Him in faith. Doesn't that give us pause to be amazed?

And this One God is not just the God of Israel, or the God of America -- our God is the One God Who calls all peoples to Him. And every type of person -- man, woman, black, white, Jew, Gentile, slave, free -- God is God of every type of person that exists and persons of every type that ever exist will come to Him. There is no prejudice or preference in God’s Eyes -- all people are equal in God's Eyes, and all people are equally called to repent and believe in Him. So it ought never come to our mind, much less our lips, to say that any person from any background is not welcome in God's Church. Every person of any and all backgrounds is called and welcome to worship our One God together with us.

I heard someone ask, "Well Second Reformed is a white church, isn't it?" No, this is not a white church, this is not a black church, this is not a female church, not is not a male church -- this is a church where anyone of any background is welcome to worship the One God, our Savior. And we better make sure that people know that. God help us if we are known as a racist church.

Still, there is a problem, and David raises it: "When our deeds of iniquity overwhelm us," We are born -- we are by nature -- overcome by our sinful self, by our sinful deeds. We don't naturally desire to worship God. We don't naturally desire to keep our vows. Remember how Paul quotes from the Scripture, "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of the ages is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:10-18 NKJV).

This is known as the doctrine of total depravity -- we are born sinners, every part of us has been infected by sin, no part of us has been preserved innocent and blameless before God. Most people think that God will welcome them into His Kingdom because they have been "good enough." God's standard is perfect holiness. If you are not perfectly holy, you cannot be received by God into His Kingdom. So, let us ask ourselves, have we ever done anything that was wrong? Have we ever sinned? The point is easily made.

But what about little children; babies? The Scripture tells us that we all inherit a sin nature from our father, Adam. Every human being is born a sinner, even before he or she commits a single sin. Adam was our representative and he freely, consciously, chose sin.

If you've ever have contact with a little child, test him. My nephew, Ty, was two back in March, and he loves cars and trucks. Now, if you take one of his trucks from him, even if he wasn’t playing with it, his normal response is, "MINE!!!!!" Now, some might say that he just hasn't learned the proper way to act in our society, but I say to him, "See, Ty, you are exhibiting total depravity." Because, for him, his whole universe is about himself -- "It's all about me!" And until we have been saved by Christ, even if we become very civilized and socially acceptable, in the end, the seventy-five year old woman will say, "It's all about me -- and what I deserve!"

So there's our problem: humans are born with their eyes locked on themselves -- so it is not possible -- as Paul just told us -- it is impossible for a person to turn, to repent, to even help God with salvation. And that's what Martin Luther was saying.

I take the time to stress this at length because it is not what American advertising would have us believe: "You deserve a break today." "This Bud's for you." "Have it your way." "We built this car with you in mind." American advertising says, "The sinful self is right -- it's all about you."

David tells us, that, if we have come into the presence of God -- the One, True God, we will see how common and miserable all those things we once strived for are. God is the most beautiful, the most magnificent, beyond our ability to describe. But we do not have the natural capacity -- the natural ability -- to come to God on our own, or even in co-operation with God. Hear the message of Reformation Sunday:

"You forgive our transgressions. Happy are those whom you choose and bring to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple."

God Alone forgives us of our sins. God Alone chooses us at out the mass of humanity for Himself. God Alone brings us into the courts of His Kingdom. God Alone satisfies us with His Goodness.

If you have come to worship this morning, believing in Jesus Alone for your Salvation -- that is a glorious work of God Alone in you, and it's just one more reason to praise His Name Our joy, our satisfaction, our life, our salvation, are found in God Alone. So, if we want joy and satisfaction, we ought to spend every moment in pursuit of God. There's nothing better; there's nothing else that will last.

"By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas."

Is there a more awesome story to be told, that God would Incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ, live under His Own Law, be put to death by sinful men, enduring the Wrath of God for our sins, to be raised and ascend and deliver all of His people? Is there any more amazing Truth, that for the sake of His Glory, God delivered us from God’s Wrath by taking our place? John cries out with mixed joy and amazement: "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us; that we should be called the children of God" (I John 3:1).

Can you believe it? God calls us His children. God has changed us from cosmic rebels to children. God freely chose to make us His for His Sake. How can we not be amazed?

David says that we don't have to be a great theologian. We don't have to have a PhD. All we have to do is look at nature to understand that there is a God -- a Great God -- Who is worthy of praise and obedience:

"By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might."

Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Philosophers of the forget-God school are too much engrossed with their laws of upheaval to think of the Upheaver. Their theories of volcanic action and glacier action, etc., etc., are frequently used as bolts and bars to shut the Lord out of his own world" (The Treasury of David, vol. 2, 92).

In other words, when we look at the mountains, we can discern the volcanoes and glaciers and others actions that caused the mountains to form as they did, but Who is behind those actions, Who caused those actions so the mountains would be formed as they are?

"You silence the roaring of the seas, and the roaring of the waves, and the tumult of the peoples."

Who has the ability to silence the sea and the waves? Who can bring calm to the storm? Who can stop wars and silence the mouths of fools? Who can say "Be still!" and have all of the creation immediately obey?

"Those who live at the earth's farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy."

Have you ever watched the sun-rise or the sun-set? Have you felt the power of God in the moment of the sun creeping over the horizon, and slipping down below? Who causes the planets to work in this way, that everyone on this planet can watch the sun-rise as the gates open and the sun-set as the gates close? Have you ever considered that sun-rise and sun-set are one of the Creation's ways of drawing our attention to God, that we, with Creation should cry out, "Joy! Joy! Hallelujah!" because we know the Only One Who is capable of doing these things?

"You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the River of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water it's furrows abundantly, setting its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness."

David tells us to consider the crops that feed us: God is the One Who brings the rain. Yes, water evaporates and collects in the clouds and gets heavy and is released down to the ground again. But Who causes the process and makes sure it continues? Who was it that punished Israel with a drought of three years (I Kings 17)? Who caused the rain to fall yesterday?

God is the One Who makes the soil fertile. Yes, we know the chemical make-up of soil that will bear fruit, and we can buy "Miracle-Grow" and other such things. But Who composed the elements in the soil in the first place? Who designed the seeds that they would respond and grow in such a medium?

Who set the cycle of life in a year that so perfectly suits the plants and animals that year after year all of our needs are provided for? We could talk about the devisers of calendars, but what of the One Who created the seasons? Who flung the planets in space? Who set all things in their motion and makes sure that they are sustained according to His Will?

He is our One God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote, "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:20-21 NKJV).

And David wrote, "The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy."

The Creation suffers due to our sin, but the Creation looks forward in hope, because the same God Who is alone our Savior, has promised that the Creation will be delivered from its suffering and be brought into the glory that Jesus has prepared for us. In response to that great news, the Creation physically responds, doing all it is able to cry out to God, "Glory! Joy! Praise Him!"

If the Creation knows God in this way -- that it should respond in constant praise and obedience for the sake of joy -- and the Creation does not need a Savior like we do, how ought we respond, as those who have been chosen to be saved by God Alone and have been brought into the Kingdom of God? Shall we not be filled with awe and joy, and live to praise God and obey Him?

Let us pray:
Almighty and Awesome God, when we consider Who You are and all You have done, we are amazed. We do not have the words to thank You for saving us by Your Life, for we were not able. When we truly stop to look at Your Creation, we can do nothing less than fall down and worship You. Train our eyes upon You that we might receive joy as You are glorified. And may all praise be to You Alone, now and forever. In Jesus' Name, Amen.