Second Reformed Church

Friday, June 29, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 1:17 --

"Its better to be a living Dog then a dead Lyon; thank God thou hast yet an hour, and use it well."

-- John Rogers, 113.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"I Will Do It" Sermon: Isaiah 65:1-9

"I Will Do It"
[Isaiah 65:1-9]
June 24, 2007 Second Reformed Church

Over the past few weeks, as we have begun to look at the book of I Peter, we have seen Peter explain that Christians are exiles, we are strangers, in this world. We live in a world that is broken by sin and in need of a savior. And God has graciously given us the only possible hope -- the hope that is found in salvation in Jesus Alone.

We have come to know that this is a world in which people suffer for a variety of reasons -- and no one in his right mind enjoys to suffing -- but Peter explains that the Christian can endure suffering for the sake of Christ, because, as we suffer, we are being purified and made holy -- like unto the image of God the Son. So, if we suffer for His Sake, it is suffering that can be endured as we look forward to that much greater glory that is coming.

We saw the greatness of our salvation in understanding that we were ransomed by the Holy, Precious Blood of Jesus. We were made right with God -- our sin was forgiven and we were credited with His Righteousness -- as God sent His Son to die for us.

And we have seen that our response to all of this is what we learned in the summary of the Law: love God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind and all of your strength -- which means that we ought to strive to obey all the commandments of our God -- and to love our neighbor as ourselves -- which means we ought to do everything we can to make each other's lives better, especially in the things of God, and we ought to treat each other with at least as much care and concern and compassion as we give to ourselves.

This morning, as we celebrate the gift of ninety-one years as a church in this place, let us remember what we have seen and learned thus far in Peter and see what God said in the final prophecies of the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah prophesied during the Babylonian captivity of the sixth century B.C. -- more than twenty-five hundred years ago. After three waves of conquest, most of Israel had been carried off into captivity, and in the final two-year battle, as the Israelites were starved out of the city and reduced to cannibalism, they watched with horror as the holy city of Jerusalem and Solomon's temple were destroyed. And for those taken early in the waves, they had spent over seventy years in captivity. Many had died and a new generation had come up who didn't know what they had lost, but the had heard.

In the chapters just before this morning's reading, Israel cried out to God, begging Him to return to them, to set them free, to finally forgive them for their sin for which they had been suffering.

And God tells Israel in chapter 65 that God had come to the point where He was ready to be sought out by Gentiles -- by people other than the Jews. God was ready to receive people into His kingdom who didn't come from the house and the lineage of David or Abraham. So God told Israel that He turned to a nation other than Israel and announced, "Here I am. Here I am."

God was telling them, as it had been prophesied in earlier chapters, and as history bears out, that Israel was going to be delivered from the Babylonians by Cyrus, King of the Medes and Persians. A pagan, gentile king was going to be the savior that God sent to Israel at that time. And Cyrus would conquer the Babylonians, and he would set Israel free and send them back to their land and give them money and tools and supplies to rebuild.

Let us understand from this that God uses people that we and the world would never expect or choose. We talked about this recently in our adult study, that God does not usually choose the people we would pick to accomplish His Plan. When I was in seminary, some of my friends told me that my health wasn't good enough to be an ordained minister -- they suggested I pursue something less taxing, like being a seminary professor.

When the early church began it's work of preaching the Good News and calling all people to repentance, there were those who argued against preaching to the Gentiles. This first council is recorded in Acts. And we learn that God uses people that we and the world would never expect or choose.

On this Anniversary Sunday, let us then understand that all people, every person, is welcome and commanded to come into this sanctuary and hear the Word of God. No person who has come to hear the Word of God is to be forbidden. No matter who that person is or what he or she has done.

And let us also immediately see that God has a Plan, and we're told that it is a Plan for good to all those who love God (Romans 8:28), and God will accomplish His Plan in His Time and in His Way. God will not be stopped and salvation in Jesus Christ Alone will not be stopped.

Secondly, this morning, we see that even though Israel was in captivity, even though she was crying out to God for deliverance, even though we are holy in Jesus Christ, we are still sinners, and we need to confess our sin before our God and Savior.

God told Israel that He had His Hands out all day long. Again and again, God opened His Arms, ready to welcome rebellious Israel back -- like that father in that parable we call "the Prodigal Son" -- the father's arms were open, ready and waiting, before the son said a word, and God waited and waited on Israel, and this is what God observed:

Israel had turned her back on the Law of God; she was doing whatever pleased her. She figured if she was in captivity, she didn't have to keep all of the moral law -- she was in some sort of "do what you want to" zone. She thought God would prefer her to be happy, momentarily excited, by the sin she engaged in.

She provoked God to His Face, over and over: she offered up sacrifices in her gardens, when God had said sacrifices were only allowed in specific places, and they offered their sacrifices, not to God, but to the gods of the Babylonians. Likewise, they offered incense, not in the proper way, but on bricks and to false gods. They worshiped in tombs and called upon the dead, and they did things to and with each other in the dark that are unlawful. They broke the kosher laws, eating swine and keeping a broth of abominable things in their vessels.

They sinned in the Face of God. They did not keep themselves separate and distinct as God had commanded them too. Instead, they boasted about how holy they were and how others -- even God -- dare not approach them. They were arrogant and prideful. And God told them that their sin wafted up to Him like smoke and burnt His Nostrils.

And God told them -- and He tells us -- that sin has a wage -- sin costs something -- sin must be paid for. Sometimes, we don't reap the results of our sin, or at least not right away, but someone has to pay. Do we consider the value of the Blood of Jesus? Do we really, seriously think of Him and what He suffered before we sin? Does it mean nothing that the Holy God was tortured and suffered and murdered?

And let's not argue or put up a fight, the account of our sin has been written down, and all of the evidence has been placed before God, as before the judge of a court, and the Judge says that He will not keep silent, He will not sweep these sins under the rug, He will not turn a blind eye. There will be payment, payment that will fall in your laps, payment that will come in flesh, and if we choose to follow after the sins of our fathers, we will receive judgment for those sins as well.

We must stop offering incense to false gods on the mountains. We must turn and repent and seek after God with everything that we are. And then, perhaps, God will be merciful. Perhaps, if we understand that we are all sinners, ever single person here this morning is a sinner -- you have offended God -- and a debt now must be paid -- perhaps God will be merciful.

We are still sinners, and we need to confess our sin before our God and Savior.
And there we have the Good News -- there is a Savior.

And God explained to Israel that wine is found in the whole cluster of the grapes and it would be foolish to destroy all of the grapes because there are some rotten, moldy grapes in the bunch. Instead, the grapes are grown to harvest. Those that are foul and unsalvageable are thrown away, but the grapes that are left -- the remnant of the cluster -- they are made, as Isaiah records it -- "into a blessing."

Right now, we, Christians, here at Second Reformed Church, giving thanks to God for ninety-one years -- we are exiles, waiting to return home to the Kingdom of God. And we are not all of the proper and highest birth -- God has chosen people for Himself Who will accomplish His Plan, and we will be surprised by the people God uses. And understand, there are people who are surprised that God uses you -- and me -- so we ought to be a people who welcome all who come to hear the Word of God.

And right now, we, Christians, here at Second Reformed Church, giving thanks to God for ninety-one years -- are sinners -- if we don't understand that, then there is no Hope in the Good News. And Jesus is the vine-dresser. Jesus is growing us, His grapes, and some of the grapes that hang on the bunch will be pruned away one day, but the rest, He is making them into a blessing.

Israel hope was found -- our hope is found -- in the second part of verse eight and verse nine: our hope is that God said, "I will do it." Not the annoying, weirdo, sinner sitting next to you, but God. God will forgive and God will save and God will accomplish His Plan.

"So I will do for my servants' sake, and not destroy them all. I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall settle there."

Thanks be to God for our past, or present, and our future, because He will do it.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, forgive us for not loving You or obeying You wholeheartedly, with all of our hearts and souls and minds and strength. Forgive us for not loving others at least as much as we love ourselves. Forgive us for our sin, and turn us back to You. Thank You for the years and the history of this church. Thank You for using us to proclaim Your Good News and may You be pleased to continue to use us. Give us confidence and hope to live right and for You, knowing that we are forgiven because You paid our debt and we can be Your holy people because You are making us a blessing. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Classis Meeting

The Classis of Passaic Valley will be meeting, D.V., tomorrow night, Tuesday, at Faith Reformed Church in Midland Park, NJ. Dinner is at 5:30 PM. This is "Random Response"'s church...and it is rumored that he has chosen Hosea 2:5 as his sermon text...or was it Zechariah 10:2-3...well, I'm not sure, but everybody be there, ya hear!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Celebrate!

Second Reformed Church will celebrate (D.V.) its 91st Anniversary on Sunday, June 24th. Come join and give thanks to God at 10:30 AM in worship and then at a potluck lunch, which will follow.

Concert!

The Newark School of the Arts will hold (D.V.) their Annual Recital at Second Reformed Church, 132 Elmwood Ave. (at Florence Ave.), Irvington, NJ 07111, on Saturday, June 23rd at 6 PM. Tickets are $15.00. A reception will follow. Come and enjoy a wonderful evening!

Consistory Meeting

The Consistory will be meeting (D.V.) at 7 PM on Wednesday the 20th. Please remember to attend, Consistory memebers!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Of Imperishable Seed" Sermon: I Peter 1:22-25

"Of Imperishable Seed"
[I Peter 1:22-25]
June 17, 2007 Second Reformed Church

If you are a Christian, if you believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation, you have been born of imperishable seed. What does that mean? And how ought that knowledge cause us to live?

Peter was writing to Christians on the run from Nero and his armies; their lives were at state, and they were running from Israel and hiding throughout the world. Peter wrote to encourage them that everything that we endure for Christ is worthwhile: our faith is being purified, and we are being made ready for eternity.

We saw last week that those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation have been ransomed by His Precious Blood: God ransomed us back from the just penalty of His Wrath for our sin by putting His Son to death. The Holy Trinity, before time and space existed, in Their love for Each Other, chose to create us and save us from our sin by sending the Son to earth, to live and die, for our sakes, and to the glory of the Father.

What amazing love is this? Who could ever have conceived such a plan? That the Holy and Almighty God would choose to resurrect His dead enemies through the shed blood of His Precious Son.

This, Peter tells us, is then a call to holiness, to leave everything behind, every sin, everything that offends God, everything that is not His Will -- we must cast in away, lost in wonder and joy -- and God, the Holy Spirit, Who lives in us, is changing us, making us more into the Image of Jesus, God the Son, and we will be received into His Glory on that final day.

So, now, it only make sense, it is only simple thanks, to obey God, to seek to glorify Him at every turn and in every way, to submit to Him, to live lives that reflect Him and His Holiness. We can endure all things for Him, because what He has given us in Christ is so much greater than everything else.

And, Peter tells us, in this morning's Scripture, that love is an outgrowth of that obedience; it is an outgrowth of holiness. We love God and we love others. And we know that -- it's the summary of the Law -- that we love God with all of our hearts and all of our souls and all of our minds and all of our strength and our neighbor as our self.

We are to show love for and to one another that is genuine, constant, and earnest. We are to do whatever we are able to do to better each other's lives. We all have gifts and abilities, and we are to use them, unsparingly, to enrich each other's lives. As we do those things that God has called us to obey, our souls are purified, and we live in obedience to the truth, and as we live in obedience to the truth, we love others.

Our God is so un-American! Our motivation is more often then not, "How will this make my life better?" And it's not wrong to desire a good life -- but the only good life that is told us by God is the life of knowing Him, salvation in Jesus Alone, loving God and neighbor. That is the good life.

Even in the Church -- why did you come this morning? I fear most of us came for ourselves. Understand, it is good that you are here, it is good if you profit in the Grace of God, it is good if your learn and are drawn closer to God, if you are brought to repentance and belief, but if your primary reason in coming into this sanctuary this morning was not to worship and glorify our God, you have come for the wrong reason.

Peter tells us that we were not born of a perishable seed -- just as we were not ransomed by perishable goods, as we saw last week -- we were born of an imperishable seed -- when we heard and received the preaching of the Word of God.

We remember Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus: "Jesus answered him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I say to you, "You must be born again." The wind blows where it wishes, and your hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit'" (John 3:3-8).

Every human being is born of a perishable seed: we are all conceived and born alike in the flesh. But every believer in Jesus has been born again by an imperishable seed. God has resurrected our dead selves and given us a new birth in Him that cannot perish -- since we have been raised and birthed by God, we cannot die. Just as the Word of God is living and abiding, we who believe in Christ are eternal beings to life; we shall live forever with our God, in His Glory, in His Love.

Since that is true, we can love God and others. We can look at each other in this sanctuary, and even if we think another is a pain in the neck, we can and ought to love each other and do all we can to better each other in every way, but, especially, in the things of God. What does that look like?

Paul put it this way: "Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil. But give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, of it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:9-21).

Is that how you live?

Do we hear both sides of the command: "Love your neighbor, as you love yourself." It is assumed and right that we care for ourselves, that we seek to have our needs provided for, that we do not neglect ourselves to the point where we are no good to anyone -- and some of us tend that way. But most of us are very good at caring for ourselves. Compared to the rest of the world, Americans are fat and rich, but it's never enough.... The command instructs us to care for others, to love others, with the same care, the same zeal, the same effort, that we put into caring for ourselves.

"Why should I? What have they done for me?"

Maybe nothing. Maybe they have hurt you. That's not the point. The point is this: if you have believed in Jesus Alone for salvation, you have been ransomed by the Precious Blood of Jesus and you have been born again of an imperishable seed, and now you are called to obedience and love.

"But I'm old; I'm sick; I'm poor." Each one of us has been gifted in different ways. Each one of us has been blessed in different ways. And we are to love earnestly in those ways that we are able -- it will be different for each of us.

"I'll do something once the kids are out of college, once my house is paid off, once I have enough money to retire, once I have my long-term care insurance paid up..."

Peter reminds us, quoting from Isaiah, that our time on earth is short. "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flowers fades."

We who believe are now of imperishable seed, but this corrupt and fallen world is fading away, our bodies, racked by sin, are falling away -- and we look forward to the day we our bodies are restored, changed, and imperishable, like our souls, and with all of the Creation -- but for now -- how many tomorrows do you have?

The commentator John Rogers wrote, "Alas, we are as bubble, a vapor of no continuance, so vain a thing is man, lighter then vanity: A little too much heat or cold, a little blow with a Horse foot, a bad favour, or the like, can quickly make an end of us: Alas, we carry the matter of many diseases daily about us, in our bosoms and bowels; insomuch that all must dye: Its so appointed, It cannot be shifted, It's the way of all flesh, high and low: This grim Sergeant knocks at every door, spares none, will not be bribed by any, Money, Physick, Wit, Wealth, cannot free us from it; even Methuselah dyed; where are all our Forefathers? Where all the mighty Monarchs? Long since gone, and so must we, there’s no remedy: yet we know not when, to day or to morrow, this year or the next; nor where, home or abroad, in our bed or in the fields, by sea or land, nor how of a natural or a violent death: Here to day, to morrow gone; The fairest flower may be soon welked: A few years ago we said, Our Fathers and Mothers are dead, and shortly our Children will say so of us, one Generation passeth, another succeedeth" (Rogers, 172).

And if that were then end of the story, perhaps we could go home depressed and spend our savings and eat, drink, for tomorrow we die. But you know better, Christian:

"'But the word of the Lord remains forever.' And this is the good news that was preached to you."

We do well to remember that we shall die, but it is within the whole context that we find the joy of living and the hope that is of imperishable seed. Peter quoted from Isaiah, who said this, "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for her sins. A voice cries, 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plane. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.' A voice says, 'Cry!' And I said, 'What shall I cry?' All flesh is grass and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Get up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, 'Behold your God!' Behold, the Lord comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young" (Isaiah 40:1-11).

If you have believed in Jesus Alone for your salvation, you have been ransomed with His Precious Blood and you have been born again of imperishable seed. Now, you ought to live a holy life, obey the commandments of God, love God, and love everyone else -- the same way that you love yourself. Why? Because the only hope for this world -- this world is dying -- is hearing and believing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Everything else is dying and will be lost in the fire.

If you have believed in Jesus Alone this morning, then live for Him, love for Him, obey Him, live a worthwhile life by doing everything for Him; spread the Good News, and be thankful and take hope that you are of imperishable seed.

If you have not believed, understand, you are going to die.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, Precious God and Father of Your people, we thank You for raising us and giving birth to us -- a life that is imperishable. Continue to draw us close to You, cause us to walk in love, living holy lives, lives that reflect Your Glory. And may we be witnesses who clearly show in how we live and love and speak, that hope is only found in the Good News of Jesus Christ. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 1:17 –

"Pass the time. That is, the whole time, for he names no part of time, he will have all, as who made all, who is worthy of all, if it were more and a great deal better, and we owe nothing to any, but to him; we owe the World, Flesh, and Devil nothing: What fruit and joy shall we have to do with that which must again undo or unsay, and vomit up our sweet morsels: Is there any service to the Kings service? Can we spend our time better then in Gods? There is no part of it that God allows to spend in vanity; even our youth must be employed for God, which is the best time of all, when wit is freshest, and the memory best, yea, the whole man every way fitteth to serve God."

– John Rogers, 108.

"Ransomed With Blood" Sermon: I Peter 1:17-21

"Ransomed with Blood"
[I Peter 1:17-21]
June 10, 2007 Second Reformed Church

We return again to our look at I Peter this morning, and we do well to remember what we have already seen: Peter was writing to the elect of God, the chosen of God, those the Triune God chose to become Christians, who were now on the run from Emperor Nero and his men. Peter encourages them -- and us -- to continue in our Christian faith, in the hope that we have in Jesus Christ, despite our circumstances, because everything that occurs to us comes, in one way or another, from the Hand of God, and our suffering now, tests and purifies our faith, like fire purifies gold.

Peter tells Christians that suffering for Christ is worthwhile, not just because we are being purified and proven for Him, but because this salvation, that is only in Jesus Christ Alone, is the Good News that the whole world, the Creation, has been waiting for. And since this news is so great, and since God the Holy Spirit indwells all those who believe, then, we are called to live lives of holiness before God.

Then, in this morning's Scripture, Peter tells us that we are to live holy lives in fear of God and to His Glory because He is our Father, because He is our Judge, and due to the costliness of our salvation.

Peter says that we call on God, calling Him, "Abba, Father." We relate with God as with a father, but He is our Perfect, Heavenly Father, so the fear that Peter is talking about is not the fear of a child to his abusive father, it is not the fear of a child to a father who treats him like a slave, it is a reverent fear, an awe. God, our Father, is Perfect, Holy, full of Truth and Goodness, and we, as His children, ought to find ourselves compelled in love to please Him, obey Him, to keep from all those things that would offend and anger Him. We ought to find it our joy to do those things which make our Father happy, and we ought to be pained to do anything that would grieve Him. So, we find ourselves in this unique relationship with the One God, through Jesus Christ, and we call Him, "Our Father."

However, Peter warns us, that our Father, much as He loves us, is still our Judge. We shall still stand before Him on the last day and every one of our works will be judged -- all that we do, all that we neglect to do, every word that is spoken, and all that is held back. Now, as His chosen children, we know our salvation is in Jesus Alone -- our salvation is not based in any way upon our works. This judgment will not determine whether we are right with our Father, because if we have believed in Jesus Alone for our salvation, we are forever right with God through Jesus Alone. Still, our works will be judged. We shall see how well we have lived before God. We shall see how faithful we have been to the One Who did not spare His Own Son, but gave Him up for us all. The works we do in this exile will be judged and rewarded or condemned. Understand, this is not about salvation -- salvation is through Jesus Alone, not based on our works. Still, our works will be judged to prove our faithfulness or lack thereof.

Understand, then, that what we do matters -- not for salvation -- but for faithfulness before our God and Father, while we are sojourners -- exiles -- strangers. And we are strangers in a strange land, aren't we? This world is not our home. God has given us this earth, but we long, as we've seen in Romans 8, for the new Heaven and the new earth and the new Jerusalem, and the restoration of the Creation. We are waiting, longing, for the day when we will be able to return to the City where the Lamb is our light, and we live in a world without sin or sorrow or suffering. How were you taught to behave in a stranger's house? Were you not taught to take special care, to be on your best behavior, to present yourselves as representatives of your parents, to show that you did not just roll out of the pig sty, but were raised to be a respectable person? What kind of children are we? Do we show obedience and faith to our Father that others can see? And remember, we're not just talking about representing our human parents in the world, because our human parents may not have raised us as well as they might, they might not have been perfect in every area of life, they may have failed us at times, but our Father in Heaven hasn't. If we have believed in Jesus, we are representatives of the One and Almighty God before this corrupt and fallen Creation -- can they tell whose we are?

Peter then gives the greatest reason for our need for holiness, and this is that we were not redeemed, we were not ransomed, from the futility that we were born into, from the futility that were inherited from our father, Adam, we have not be saved from eternal Hell and the Wrath of God, by things that perish, like silver and gold, but by the Precious Blood of Christ.

Sterling Silver is 99.999% pure. Gold is pure in varying degrees. But Jesus Christ is Pure, Holy, 100%, all of the time, from before the creation, and throughout all of eternity. It was not any perishable thing, any impure thing, that could ransom us. God doesn't need our silver or our gold. God doesn't need our things. Well, in reality, it's all His anyway. But none of the things of earth -- not even the entire Creation put together -- would be enough to ransom us -- it would always fall short, it would always be too little.

Our Only Hope is the Lamb, Who is without Spot or Blemish. Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the Passover meal. Jesus Christ, the Holy God, Incarnate, Who lived, suffered, died, and shed His Blood for everyone who would believe. For each one who would believe, Christ's Blood was taken and spread on the lintels and door posts of our lives, so the angel of death would pass over us. God put His Own Son to death to ransom us back from the just penalty of God's Wrath against us for our sin.

Peter tells us, if we need an argument to be obedient, to be faithful, to be holy -- here's the ultimate argument: Jesus Christ is Holy, and God killed Him for you.

Peter tells us that this was God's Plan from the very beginning: Jesus was foreknown before the Creation. The Holy Trinity have always existed, and it was their Plan that the Son would become Incarnate in the human, Jesus, and He did, in these last days -- two thousand years ago -- after all the years of waiting and prophecy, He came -- for your sake. And because He came and was sacrificed upon the altar for our sins, "we through Him are believers in God," we have been made eternally right with God, and He is now our Father, the same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory.

With this, God has given us faith and hope -- faith and hope to believe in Him, to believe in Jesus, to believe the words of the prophets, and to look forward to the day when everything God has promised will come to pass. We are filled with that faith and hope, and we have the Holy Spirit -- God Himself -- living in us.

How then shall we live? Shall we sell ourselves, like prostitutes, to every whim and pleasure that comes our way? Shall we not worry about sin, since our salvation is not based on our works? Shall we simply enjoy ourselves with whatever gives us pleasure? Shall we keep most of God's Word and believe that is good enough?

Or should we be afraid of sin? Should we hate sin? Should we despise anything that takes away from the glory and honor of our God and Savior? Shouldn't we desire above everything else to find our joy in making God great in the eyes of the whole Creation?

Then why do Christians find it such a chore to worship?

In the Garden, Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to pray with Him, and they fell asleep. And Jesus rebuked them, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?" (Mark 14:37b).

On Mount Sinai, God said, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God" (Exodus 20:8-9b).

Paul wrote, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).

Why? Because we have been ransomed with the Precious Blood of Christ.

That's why God is our Father. That's why we can call on Him. That's why we have faith and hope, even while we are in exile, waiting for the restoration of the Creation. That's why we are eternally saved and right with God. That's why we ought to live lives of holiness by the Power of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us.

One of the most terrifying things Jesus ever said was, "When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).

Have you been ransomed with the Blood of Christ?

If you have, are you living a holy life?

Don't lose heart, Christian, if you are truly striving with everything that you are to live a holy life, and you sin, you can call upon our Father and ask Him for forgiveness, and when He hears your confession, He will say, "Yes, my child, you are forgiven, that is why I shed My Precious Son’s Blood."

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, we are amazed again to hear how You offered up Your One, Precious, and Holy Son, to pay the debt for our sin and make us righteous in Your Sight. We thank You for not leaving us to our own futile ways, and we ask that You would cause us to desire and to live holy lives before You. We ask that You would disturb us and upset us when we follow after sin, cause our consciences to ache until we repent and receive Your Forgiveness. Help us to understand the enormity of Christ’s Sacrifice and Your Love, and make us holy. Increase our joy as we glorify you through Holy Living, and continue our faith and hope as we look forward to that glorious day of Jesus' Return and the restoration of the Creation. For it is in Jesus' Name, we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 1:14 --

"The Devil, like the Harlot, would be contented with the one half, but God, like the true Mother, will have all or none." -- John Rogers, 85.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

"How Majestic Is Your Name" Sermon: Psalm 8:1-9

"How Majestic Is Your Name"
[Psalm 8:1-9]
June 3, 2007 Second Reformed Church

David begins and ends this Psalm with the same cry of rapturous joy: YHWH, Mighty Elohim, O Lord, our Lord, O Lord, our Sovereign: how majestic is Your Name in all the earth David leads the singers of this Psalm into the throne room of God, to worship before our God, our Triune God, the God of our Salvation, and he begins with a chorus of praise. He begins with the only proper response to the knowledge of Who God is: God Who is a Person, God Who is Almighty, God Who is One and Three, God Who is our God, we praise You, we magnify You, we lift up Your Name. Glorious are You, worthy are You, majestic are You, God Who is greater and more beautiful than anything and everything else in all of Creation.

How do we know that?

David tells us at least three things about God:

First, God has set His Glory above the heavens and uses the weak and the small to defeat His enemies and showcase His Strength.

David tells us that God has set His Glory above the heavens, and that doesn't mean that it is merely physically above the heavens. David is saying that God’s Glory is known to us as greater than the heavens, greater than the greatest things we can know in all of Creation. God is Greater. God is more Majestic. And we see God's Strength -- God showcases His Strength -- God, in fact, defeats His enemies, by using the weak and the small, the unlearned and the fallen. God uses babies, infants, children, to declare Who He is, and what He has come to do.

We remember when Jesus cleansed the temple, "the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them, but when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' they were indignant, and they said to him, 'Do you hear what these are saying?' And Jesus said to them, 'Yes, have you never read, "Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise"?'" (Matthew 21:14-16).

The young children were crying out, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" that is "Salvation comes from this Son of David, Jesus." The children we crying out, acknowledging, praising Jesus as the long awaited Savior, and the chief priests and the scribes were angry, and wanted to know if Jesus was going to denounce the children. And see what Jesus did, he quoted from Psalm 8 to answer them, "God is using the children to declare the truth about Me: I am God the Savior."

God chose to use children to identify Jesus before the religious scholars, who should have known Who He is. And God uses Christians, now, to spread His Gospel. And Paul reminds us, "For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many of you were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'" (I Corinthians 1:26-31).

We were chosen because our lack of wisdom, our lack of strength, our lack of ability, would showcase God's Wisdom, Strength, and Ability. God usually uses common people and people that the world considers on the bottom rung of society. God does not often use big, powerful, and well-known people. God usually uses people through whom He can emphasize His Glory. Look at Paul: yes, Paul was well-educated, but he was a murderer, the chief persecutor of Christians, and God chose Him to write so much of the New Testament, to travel such great distances to preach the Salvation of the Jesus he had persecuted. Look at Peter: an uneducated fisherman who trembled and lied and betrayed Jesus before a little girl in the night, and God chose Him to be part of the inner-circle of the disciples, as well as write the Epistles we are examining.

So we see that, God has set His Glory above the heavens and uses the weak and the small to defeat His enemies and showcase His Strength.

Second, God is the Creator of the Universe, and He especially cares for humans.

David, the shepherd, had days and weeks and months and years of tending to the sheep, protecting them from wild animals and the weather, and he had nights to watch the sky. And David was awe-struck, he was filled with wonder, that this God Who created everything that exists, all of the heavens, the moon and the stars, everything that God formed and molded with His Fingers, everything that God has established and set in existence, planned their times and seasons, their growth and livelihood -- this same God of the Universe, the Creator of all, cares for humans beings. He takes notice of us. He engages us. He is involved in our history. And, of course, so much more -- God is intimately involved with every detail of all of the Creation, but we humans, He especially cares for.

And David raises the question, "Why?" Why us? Why humans? Look at the rest of the Creation. The various and glorious things that God has brought into existence. Why are we the ones that God cares for? Why does God condescend to enter into covenant, into relationship, with us? Even if we were perfect in all our ways, would we ever conceive that God would engage us in relationship? And especially since we know we are not perfect, in fact, we are the only members of the Creation who sin against God, and despise Him, and reject Him, and refuse Him. Why would God choose to care? Why would He do anything for us?

David, in Psalm 62, describes humans like this, "Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in their balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath" (Psalm 62:9). And Paul quoted from the Psalms, when he wrote, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God: All have turned aside, together thy have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they uses their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:10b-18). Ought we not be in awe with the Psalmist?

The Psalmist doesn't give an answer to the question; he moves on to the place and the responsibility of humans. But, we may find some answer in the confession of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon: "[the Most High God's] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" (Daniel 4:34b-35). In other words, God does what God pleases, according to His Will. And it pleased God, in accordance with His Will, to care for humans.

Thirdly, God created humans as the height of the physical creation and gave us the responsibility of dominion over the earth.

Our text says, "Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor." Now, the word "God" in this text is Elohim, which is usually translated "God" or "gods," which is what the NRSV has chosen to do, and they were mistaken to do so. Every other translation that I looked at translates Elohim, in this case, as "heavenly beings" or "angels," and the NRSV does put that in a footnote. And we might question whether this is really a point worth debating, since, either way, humans are less than God and "greater" than the rest of the Creation. But it does matter, for this reason: we understand and believe that the Bible is inerrant, and it cannot contradict itself. It is the Word of God, and God has made sure that it has been recorded, over thousands of years, without error or contradiction. And the rule of thumb is this: interpret the less clear passages by the clear passages.

The author of Hebrews quoted this Psalm when referring to the fact that Jesus' Salvation is for humans, not angels, or any other beings, and he wrote, "What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet" (Hebrews 2:7-8a). The author of Hebrews translated the Hebrew word Elohim as the Greek word angelous, which means "angels" or, more generally, "messengers." It cannot mean "God" or "gods." So, if the texts are not to contradict, and they cannot, as the Word of God, the NRSV is mistaken in their translation.

Understand, I take the time to go over this, not because the meaning of the text changes significantly, but because it makes a difference as we keep in mind that the Bible is the Word of God and cannot contradict itself.

So, let us read verse five: "Yet you have made them a little lower than the angels, and crowned them with glory and honor." Human beings are the height of the physical Creation. We know that also in Genesis, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'" (Genesis 1:26a). Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God -- no other member of the Creation has been created in the image and likeness of God. We are unique and blessed in our creation.

And we have been given a unique responsibility by God, "And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth" (Genesis 1:26b). And David says the same thing within this praise to God, "You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas."

What does that mean? Many think it means that the earth and all its creatures are ours to do with them whatever we want. But that is most certainly not what God is saying -- that is not the responsibility that we have been called to -- the words that are used in Genesis and this Psalm that are translated as "dominion" have to do with be governing stewards. We are called to rule the earth on God's behalf, care for the planet on God's behalf, care for the animals on God's behalf.

How have we done, stewarding, governing the earth on God's behalf? Have we lived and governed and managed and cared for the Creation in a way that has brought glory to God? Have we cared for the rest of the Creation in the likeness of the care that God has shown to us? The ability to govern like this on God's behalf is part of what it means that we were created in His Likeness. It brings glory to God when we do what is good and right and pleasing in caring for the Creation -- like God cares for the Creation and especially cares for us.

So, we see that God has created humans as the height of the physical Creation and given us the responsibility of dominion over the earth.

It is because these things are true -- that God has set His Glory above the heavens and uses the weak and the small to defeat His enemies and showcase His Strength, that God is the Creator of the Universe, and He especially cares for humans, and that God has created humans as the height of the physical Creation and given us the responsibility of dominion over the earth -- that David looked at the Creation and humanity -- he looked at himself -- he knew his sin, his failure -- he knew that his only hope before God was in the Savior that God promised. And in that hope, and in complete amazement, he cried out again:

YHWH, Mighty Elohim, O Lord, our Lord, O Lord, our Sovereign: how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!

As we come to the Lord's Table, we know that God is the Creator of everything that is, and He has chosen to use us for His Glory and to put down His enemies. We know that He created us in His Likeness, with a place a honor in Creation, and with a special responsibility to be His caretakers of Creation. And we know that He cares for us. Yes, even that He loves us, and gave us His Son that the debt for our sins would be paid, and we would be made righteous and holy, for His Sake and for His Glory. So we can come before Him and partake of Him and receive Him without fear, and in hope.

So let us pray:
Almighty God, we are amazed, with David, that You choose to use us, that You have made us in Your Likeness, and have given us great responsibility. We are amazed that You choose to care for humans and even love Your people. This is not a Creation or a plan that we would ever have devised. So we say with David, "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!" In Jesus' Name, Amen.

June Sermons

As the Lord is willing, I plan to preach:

6/3/07 Communion/Trinity Psalm 8:1-9 "How Majestic Is Your Name"
6/10/07 I Peter 1:17-21 "Ransomed With Blood"
6/17/07 I Peter 1:22-25 "Of Imperishable Seed"
6/24/07 Our 91st Anniversary Isaiah 65:1-9 "I Will Do It"

Join us each Sunday for worship at 10:30 A.M., and stay on the 24th to celebrate and enjoy a pot-luck lunch!