Second Reformed Church

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:1 –

"To mortify our corrupt nature is called suffering in the flesh; and the truth is, its hard to say, whether it is harder to suffer bodily torments and pains, or to mortify a mans lusts: O it’s a death to part with them; yes, when a man after long strife between the grace of God and his corrupt nature, in the work of his conversion grace prevails, its even as the pangs of death; as when the Devil went out of the childe, he threw him down, and he lay foaming as if he had been dead; O its not so easy a matter as the blinde and profane world imagine"

– John Rogers, 522.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 3:18 –

"This confutes the Papists, who make Christs suffering imperfect two ways, namely, by teaching that we ourselves suffer the punishment of our sins (hence all their masses, penances, pilgrimages, almsdeeds, and charitable Works, to take away the punishment of their sins after Baptism) and by their renewing of Christs Sacrifice in the Mass, which is (as they say) a Propitiatory Sacrifice for the sins of the quick and the dead: Their distinction of bloody and unbloody is but a shift."

– John Rogers, 493.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 3:14 –

"A godly man is blessed, happy in whatever condition forever; He is happy not onely in prosperity, but even in sufferings, even in the very lowest abasement, nothing can make them miserable; having God and a good conscience, though they meet with affliction from God, or persecution from men (as here) they are happy: Imprison him, fetter him, let not creature come at him, put Lyons to him, &c. yet the heir of Heaven, a Kings son, &c. and how can he be miserable that hath the Comforter within? For the wicked, nothing can make them happy, let a wicked man have Samsons strength, Absoloms beauty, Ahasuerus wealth, Nebuchanezzers stately Babel, Dives his costly apparel, &c. yet he is miserable, he is under the curse of God, there’s but a flap between him and Hell: As Jonah was asleep whilest God was offended with him, the winds raged against him, the Whale was ready to swallow him, so do the wicked eat, sleep, and are jovial, while God is offended, Heaven is shut up against them, Hell gapes for them, and the Devil waits on them as his prey: Their security will end in a fearful wakening, they shall be snatched from their bodies of ease, and cast into everlasting torments."

– John Rogers, 463.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Blessed Insults" Sermon: I Peter 4:12-19

"Blessed Insults"
[I Peter 4:12-19]
September 23, 2007 Second Reformed Church

Have you ever been insulted for being a Christian? Have you ever been told how naive you are for believing the Bible? I have a friend who says she can't believe that such a well-educated person believes this nonsense.

If you have been insulted for being a Christian, have you felt blessed after such a conversation? Have you felt the need to praise God after someone has dressed you down for believing in Jesus? Peter says we should.

In this morning's Scripture reading, Peter ties together the good news of the end coming soon -- that we looked at last week -- and the fact of suffering as a Christian, at the hands of Nero and his armies, and in other ways.

Let us note that Peter begins this section of the Scripture calling his readers, "beloved." Peter loved his fellow Christians. A pastor ought to love his flock. And we ought to love each other.

Peter says we ought not to be surprised if we suffer for the Name of Christ. We ought not to be shocked, scandalized, overwhelmed by the fact that non-Christians insult and ridicule the Christian faith. We ought not even be surprised that, in some countries, Christians are put to death for their faith, even today.

Remember what Jesus said, "'If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you'" (John 15:18-19). The promise of Jesus is if we love Him and follow Him, we will be hated.

No, we should not be surprised; we should expect insults, suffering, even death. And we should prepare ourselves for it. We ought not to throw a sheet over our heads and plug our ears and wait for the end to come. No, Paul wrote, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm" (Ephesians 6:10-13). Then Paul goes on to explain what it means to put on the whole armor of God -- he explains how we prepare ourselves for this battle that continues until Christ’s Return.

Shall we suffer as Christians? We ought to expect it. We ought to prepare for it. We ought to know what to say and how to act, because, if the day has not yet come for you, it will. My friend, Scott Petersen, late pastor of Fairfield Reformed, told me of a time when he was defending the Bible as the Word of God on the floor of the Delaware-Raritan Classis, and another minister jumped up and screamed at him that he was a Nazi. The Pope called Martin Luther a "drunken German" who would come to his senses when he sobered up, and when Luther didn't change his preaching, he was excommunicated.

For four thousand years, humanity had waited for God to send the Messiah -- the Savior, and when Jesus came, the vast majority denied and rejected Him. They killed Him, and then they set out to slaughter His followers. And Peter told them, and he tells us, we are blessed, and should rejoice. Why?

If we suffer for the Name of Christ, it is a blessing:

It is a blessing because it proves we belong to Christ. We could not and would not suffer for Him if we did not truly believe. If we are suffering for Christ, it is a proof that God the Holy Spirit lives in us and is making us more like Christ and leading us in His Ways. So, our suffering for Him is a blessing as it gives us assurance that we are truly His.

It is a blessing because it shows that the Gospel, the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Alone, is being proclaimed by us. We are making the Word of God known -- even if that Word is rejected -- it is a blessing that we have been enabled to speak and live out the Gospel.

It is a blessing because it shows we are being sanctified -- we are becoming holy. God uses these trials as a means to perfect us. As we have seen in previous weeks, it is only through the melting down and the burning off of the dross that gold and silver are purified and made holy. So God uses the sin of His enemies as part of the means to purify us.

Likewise, if we suffer for the Name of Christ, we should rejoice in Him:

And let us understand that if we suffer, we rejoice in Jesus and Who He is and what He has done. We ought not to rejoice in the fact that we are suffering, or that our loved ones are suffering, or that anyone is suffering for that matter. We are not called to enjoy suffering.

No, if we suffer for Him, we ought to rejoice because we know that Christ has already suffered for us, and He suffered so much more than we could ever have suffered, and He suffered as a completely holy and perfect human being, unlike us, who suffer, at best, mottled with sin.

Still, we ought to rejoice because, in our suffering, Christ's Glory is being made known. As we speak and are insulted and rebuked and hunted down, those who reject the Gospel get to hear the Good News again and again. They get to see more of Jesus through our words and actions. And Jesus gets the glory.

We ought to rejoice, as well, because we know that this suffering is not forever: we have the sure promise of Jesus that the day will come when "He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4). And Paul also reminds us that he "consider[ed] that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). No matter what we endure as Christians, the life which is to come is exponentially better in every way -- more than we could possibly imagine. That is our hope and Jesus' Promise.

So, if we suffer for the Name of Christ -- and we all shall, someday, in some way -- we are blessed, and such suffering should lead us to rejoice in Christ. But let us not forget, that we are to be ready, to prepare ourselves, according to the Word, that we might endure the fight and the trial when it comes our way.

However, if we suffer for our sin, there is no blessing, no glory in that. If we suffer for committing murder, that does not honor the Name of Christ. If we suffer for stealing, that does not honor the Name of Christ. If we suffer for any kind of evil-doing, that does not honor the Name of Christ. If we sin by sticking our noses in other people's business when it is not wanted, that does not honor Christ. If we suffer for sin, we ought to confess our sin, repent and turn to Christ.

Peter tells us that we ought to also understand that God's Judgment begins with the Church. Judgment begins with the House of God. That is, God lovingly chastises Christians, now, first, before the judgement of the wicked in order that He might change us. And, we should expect that chastisement to increase, not just continue, as we near the end of all things.

The commentator, John Rogers, puts it this way, "Whatsoever troubles befal us in this life, either afflictions from the hand of God, for chastisement or perfection from the world, for our tryal, &c. that they come not to us by chance, or the will of the Devil or man without God, but by the determinate purpose and counsel of God" (611).

The judgement is for our benefit and to the Glory of God, but what of the judgment that comes after for those who do not obey the Gospel -- those who, in fact, have rejected Jesus and His Gospel. What is to become of them?

Peter quotes Solomon, "If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?"

What is he saying?

First, let us understand that the righteous are not those who are righteous by their own works -- because there is no such person except Jesus! The righteous are those who are seen as righteous through Jesus crediting us with His Holy and Perfect Life. We are seen as righteous, because when God looks at us He sees the Work of Jesus that has been applied to our accounts.

Second, when Solomon and Peter say that the righteous are "scarcely" saved, he is not saying that there are few who are saved, nor is he saying that Jesus' Salvation is a weak salvation. What he is saying is that the Salvation of Jesus is the Only Salvation -- there is no other way.

So, we could say, "If those who are seen as righteous are only seen as righteous because of Jesus' Salvation and His applying it to their accounts, what hope is there for those who reject the Gospel -- for those who deny Jesus and refuse His Salvation?"

Jesus describes their end like this, "'The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth'" (Matthew 13 41-42). For them, there is no end to the suffering. How much more grateful ought we to be that we are saved by God’s Grace Alone from that end?

Can we suffer for the Name of Christ? Can we learn to understand it as a blessing and to rejoice in Jesus when such trials come?

Peter says, "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will" -- let us understand that whatever occurs to us occurs to us by the Sovereign Hand and Permission of our Loving Father. Nothing can ever happen that He has not included in His Plan, and He loves us -- so much that He suffered and died for us.

"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator" -- God is faithful and trustworthy, so much so that we are better trusting ourselves to Him than to ourselves. If we are left to our own devices, we will end up in Hell. But the God Who loves us and created us calls us to trust Him now, to recognize that every part of our being is in His Hands, and that is the best possible place it could ever be. As Christians, we are safe -- eternally safe -- in the Hands of our Living God.

"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good."

Even if Nero's armies bear down on us, even if we are arrested and tried and tortured for the faith -- for the Name of Jesus -- let us recognize how blessed we are to be the people of God, those of His Own Redemption. And let us direct all praise and glory to Him, knowing that He is trustworthy above all others, and we are being brought into His Glory by His Fatherly Hand. And then, let us do good. In the Name of Jesus Christ, for the Sake of Jesus Christ, for the Sake of the sufferings of Jesus Christ, let us strive always and everywhere, to be about doing what is good in the eyes of God.

And let us keep our hearts and minds trained on our Glorious Savior, so when we are hurt and tired and don't think we can go on, we will see Him right before us, and we will remember what He endured and what He has given to us, and we will see what a small thing it is that He calls us to do. So, let us go forth in the Name and the Power of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we have been foolish and bought the world's notion that if You are God, our lives must be roses and sunshine. Thank you for the witness of Peter and the early Church. We ask that you would help us to be prepared for the trials and the suffering we shall endure for Your Name’s Sake. Teach us to understand it as blessing and cause us to rejoice in You for Your Sake. May we be focused on You and Your Glory, doing good in Your Name, as the things of this world, even our trials and suffering, "become strangely dim," as we trust in You and Your Loving Salvation. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 3:10-11 --

"Means to evil may be these, 1. Labor to understand the ten Commandments, and so what is good and what is evil. 2. Labor for faith, which purifieth the heart from evil, even the affluence of Gods love to us, which may work in us love to his Majesty, and to an hatred of all evil. 3. A sanctified heart, the inseparable companion of true faith. 4. Attend on Gods Ordinances publikely, the Word and Sacraments, and in private use meditation, conference, prayer, &c. 5. Watch and pray, that we enter not, neither be led, into temptation. 6. Make we a Covenant against evil, as Job and David. 7. Call to minde the fearful wrath of God, and the wages of sin, and the examples thereof on many, both in Scripture and our own experience, as also the hour of death (when it will trouble us and be heavy on our conscience) and the day of Judgement, when and where we would be loath to meet with it."

-- John Rogers, 442.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"The End is Near" Sermon: I Peter 4:7-11

"The End is Near"
[I Peter 4:7-11]
September 16, 2007 Second Reformed Church

What would you do if you knew that the world was going to end today? What would you do if you knew the world was going to end soon? How would you live if you knew that you didn't have long to live? Would this knowledge change what you would do?

In the passage before the one that we read this morning, Peter argued that since Christ suffered in the flesh, purchasing our salvation, Christians ought to be putting sin to death in their lives -- we ought to be working hard to root out sin in our lives, until we come to the point where we have ceased from sin -- which will happen when we are glorified in the Kingdom. And, by the Power of the Holy Spirit in us, since we are now raised from the dead, we ought to be spending our lives doing the good works that God has set before us, to His Glory.

Then, in this morning's Scripture, Peter says, "The end of all things is at hand." What is he talking about, and how does that relate to ceasing to sin and doing all that is good and glorifying to God?

When Peter says that "the end of all things is at hand," he means that this evil, fallen world is coming to an end. The corrupted universe will soon see the Return of Christ, then the end of sin and suffering, and the restoration of all things. "The End is Near" is good news! It means that Jesus will return soon. It means that the whole Creation will be freed from its suffering and enter with us into the "freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:23b). The fulfillment of our hope is soon: soon, we and the whole Creation, will be wholly free, perfected, holy, right, and good. Knowing this would be an encouragement to the Christians who were on the run from the armies of Nero: the time is short -- pain and suffering and sin and evil, will all be swept away from us, and we will be received into the Kingdom of our God and Savior, Jesus. Knowing that the time was short, they could endure life on the run and even being tortured to death, if it came to that.

And the skeptic will say, "But it didn't happen! It was a false hope! Jesus didn't return; the suffering and evil didn't end. They were fools, and you are fools to look to these words that were written two thousand years ago." Even the people in the first century began to question where Jesus was -- how long does it take to return "soon." Some wondered if they were wrong, and the doubt and questioning began to permeate the Church, so in Peter's second letter, he explains:

"This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of a reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandments of our Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, 'Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.' For they overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

"But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and all the works that are done on 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 3:1-13).

Peter explains that Jesus is returning soon. But we have to understand that God is outside of time -- time is part of the Creation -- and God exists outside of time -- so God and humans have a different perspective on time. God has not lied; God is not late; God just has a different perspective on time.

Peter explains that the end is truly near, just as the prophets prophesied and their words came to pass, so will the rest of the prophets' words come to pass, because their words are the Word of God. And God Who spoke the word that caused the entire planet to be flooded, so every human, save eight, drown, this same God will speak the word and the heavens and the earth will be refined like gold and silver in the refiners' fire. The Creation will, at God's Voice, catch fire and melt, and God will removed the impurities from it and restore it, new, good, and perfect.

So, Peter says, if the end is near, and God has not lied, and God will burn up the creation and restore it in the Kingdom, we ought to be inspired with awe of our God to put away sin and pursue holiness. We ought to be focused on God and the eternal and be changing, readying ourselves for His Kingdom.

"Therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded" -- or clear-headed. We ought to turn our backs on all kinds of lust and greed and covetousness. We are not to be building up great riches on earth -- the one with the most toys does not win. We ought not to be engaging in the sinful pleasures of the flesh. With the Word and the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to be discerning what is good and true and right and be about doing those things.

"For the sake of our prayers." That is, we always have reason to pray -- every day, every moment, in praise and thanksgiving, in repentance and sorrow, for wisdom and discernment, for others and ourselves -- we always have a reason to be in prayer, and if we are self-controlled and sober-minded, we will pray better, more after the Will of God, and thus, we shall see our prayers answered.

Peter moves from here in this morning's text to give us a general example and four specific examples of how to live knowing that "the end of all things is at hand":

First, generally, and "above all" -- that is, above everything else regarding human interaction, we ought to love each other earnestly -- fervently -- zealously. This is the second "great commandment." As Jesus said, "The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Mark 12:31a).

And let us remember that it is not, as the songs and pop psychologists teach us, "we must learn to love ourselves." God knows that we love ourselves very well, which makes the commandment quite strong: we love ourselves and seek our preservation and pleasure. We are to love others with at least the same zeal and fervency and earnestness as we seek for ourselves.

And Peter gives us a reason to love in this way: "love covers a multitude of sins." Understand, Peter is not saying that such love makes us "forgive and forget." He is not saying that such love "merits forgiveness." No, what Peter means is that if we truly love each other in that way -- at least as much as we love ourselves -- then, when others sin, we will call them to repentance, and when others sin against us, we will forgive them, as we have received mercy and been forgiven for our sin by Jesus, and when we sin, we will quickly turn and repent.

Then Peter gives some specific examples:

First, he says to "show hospitality to one another without grumbling." That means, to the extent we have the ability to provide for the needs of others, we ought to do so, lovingly, willingly. We ought to welcome anyone who comes through the doors of this building -- everyone who has come to worship is welcome in the house of the Lord. There is no excuse for sending someone away or making someone feel unwelcome because he is not like us, or because we don't sense much financial impact. This is the house of God, and God calls every human to repentance and worship.

The author of Hebrews wrote, "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:1-2). And Jesus said, "'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me'"(Matthew 25:40b). The words of Jesus are, "Let the hungry come. Let the thirsty come. Let the stranger come. Let the naked come. Let the sick come. Let the prisoner come. Receive the Word, the salvation of our God -- the God Who will meet all your needs."

Secondly, Peter reminds us church folk, that each one of us has been given gifts by God, and we are to use those gifts for each other. Since we are stewards by God's Grace, we are to use what we have been given for all the people of God, and especially those in this community. If God has given us much materially, God expects us to use that to make other peoples' lives better. And we are to us abilities God has given us to make other peoples' lives better.

Ministers, as a third example, have been given the ability to handle and preach and teach the oracles of God -- that is, the Word of God. The primary call of a minister is to preach and teach all of the Bible. So, ministers ought to us their gifts to teach and preach the Word of God Alone -- not their opinions, or politics, or personal stands, but the Word of God, clearly. And, if the minister is to teach and preach the Bible alone, he ought to spend the majority of his time studying and praying and preparing to teach and preach the Word of God.

And fourthly, all those who serve in the Church do so "by the strength that God supplies" -- you and I cannot do the work that God has put before us without God giving us the strength to accomplish it. And, if God gives us the strength to accomplish the work He has given us -- and God does give us strength -- then we can accomplish all that He has set before us.

And someone may be asking himself, "Why should I invite someone into my church that I don't like? Why should I work to love someone that is difficult to love? Why should I forgive him after what he did? What about doing things for myself? When am I supposed to look out for number one? Why should I live a life of self-sacrifice?"

"In order that in everything God may be glorified." You and I and everything that is exist does so to glorify God -- that is our chief end -- our most important work -- our purpose. So, if we live lives of self-sacrifice -- loving others, being forgiving, using our gifts for others, serving, doing those things we were created for -- if we do those things -- God will receive the glory and we will be filled with joy.

"The end of all things is at hand" -- it is closer today than it was two thousand years ago. Jesus is returning, and when He does, He will purify all of the Creation -- the heavens and the earth and all those who believe. Since we know that that day is soon to come, let us all the more seek to glorify God -- to show Him for Who He is, through Jesus Christ. For "to him belong the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

Let us love each other, zealously, truly, as brothers and sisters, seeking the best for each other. Let us keep these doors open, calling all people to repentance and belief and worship, receiving anyone who would come to worship in spirit and in truth. Let us use all of the gifts God that we have received for the benefit of each other, and let us praise God for each other and the gifts He has given us to share. And let us do what God has called us to do -- let us each fulfill our purpose, that God might be glorified, and then we shall receive joy. Even on the run from Nero.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, it is easy to believe that everything will continue as it always has and forget about You and Your Soon Coming Return. Convict us that You are Truth and You will return as You promised. Help us to be a people for You. Help us to love and serve and forgive each other, that You would receive the glory. Give us Your Humility. Make us merciful as You have given us mercy. Glorify Yourself. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 3:10-11 --

"What got Achan, Gehazi, Judas by their booties?"

-- John Rogers, 441.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Mortification & Vivification" Sermon: I Peter 4:1-6

"Mortification & Vivification"
[I Peter 4:1-6]
September 9, 2007 Second Reformed Church

"Since, therefore." Since what we saw last week is true, since we believe the Gospel, since "Christ suffered in the flesh," and died, and rose, and ascended -- we understand and believe these things:

Jesus, the Righteous One, the Holy One, has made us, who were the unrighteous, the unholy, right with God. Through Jesus' Work Alone, we who believe in Him have been brought back to God, and God is now our Father.

We are now united in Christ. We have been symbolically buried with Him in baptism. And we have truly been raised from spiritual death to spiritual life; He has credited our accounts with the fulness of His Holy Life. And the Holy Spirit has been given to us: God, Himself, lives in us to instruct us and guide us and remind us of what Jesus said and did.

And Jesus ascended to the throne of the Son, where He reigns Supreme Victor over all.

Since we know and believe those things, and they are true. Therefore, Peter tells us four things in this mornings Scripture:

First, we are to be like-minded with Christ. What does that consist of? In this passage, Peter tells us that those who have suffered in the flesh -- those who are united with Jesus in His Passion -- have "ceased from sin," and they "live for the rest of the time in the flesh...for the will of God."

If we are like-minded with Christ, we have "ceased from sin." That sounds impossible. Surely, we have read that Peter, himself, sinned, and he considered himself to be one with Christ. So what is he saying?

Peter is telling us that those who are like-minded with Christ, those who are united with Him, those who believe in Him for Salvation Alone, they are no longer dead in sin, they are no longer slaves to sin, they no longer happily, unrepentantly persist in sin. No, these fight against sin with everything in their being. This is called "mortification."

If we are truly Christians, we are free from sin's hold over us, and we ought to be doing everything we can to put our sinful inclinations to death. We ought to resist them and not follow after them. We ought to deny sin, to refuse temptation, to die to that part of us that thinks we can get away with sin -- that sin has no cost.

Paul wrote, "How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:2-4). "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24). "Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm" (Ephesians 6:13).

Mortification is this putting to death of sin -- it is a life-long process -- one that we will be engaged in if we are truly Christians. How do we engage in this? John Owen, a Puritan minister, wrote about mortification, and he said that to mortify sin, we ought to first, understand what sin is, the dangers it brings, and how we may be made right after sinning, and keep these things before our mind. Second, he said that we need to know God’s Law, our call to holiness, and what holiness is. Third, we ought to long and pray to be delivered from sin. Fourth, we ought to give special attention to our favorite sins – those we so easily return to. Fifth, we ought to avoid those things that lead us into sin. Sixth, when we are tempted to sin, we ought to fight against it with everything we are. Seventh, we ought to keep before our mind the majesty and infinity of God. Eighth, we ought not to be at peace with ourselves about sin until God, Himself, speaks peace. Ninth, we ought to place our faith in Christ -- that He is willing and able to deliver us from sin. And tenth, we ought to rely on God, the Holy Spirit, Who lives in us and is working in us to bring us to sanctification -- holiness.

Also, if we are like-minded with Christ, we will "live for the rest of the time in the flesh...for the will of God." This is known as "vivification" -- the process of becoming fully alive in Christ. This happens as a result of Mortification and through the Work of the Holy Spirit in us.

Paul wrote, "Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one, and take the helmet of Salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6:14-20). "[Christ] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (II Corinthians 5:15). "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:11-14).

If we are Christians, if we are like-minded with Christ, we will, on the one hand, be mortifying -- we be doing everything possible to keep ourselves from sin, and on the other hand, we will be vivifying -- we will be doing everything that God has called us to do -- all the good works that He has prepared for us. This is a hard, life-long work. Are we up for it? Our friends won't understand what's wrong with us -- they'll look at us like we’re sick, when we refuse to do the things we used to do. Can we say, "no," to the sin set before us?

Someone has said that we [Christians] have made little progress towards holiness, not because our goal is too lofty, but because we have been satisfied with so little. We think if we have kept from murder and rape, all is well. But the bar that God has set before us is that we stop sinning altogether and, instead, that we do everything He has commanded and do so in perfect holiness. And we make excuses that we are at least better than most, we are better than we have been, we can be allowed one small indiscretion...

No! Peter says, secondly, that if we are like-minded with Christ, we will understand that the time for unbridled sin is no more: if we are Christians, we may not live as non-Christians any more. We may not lust any more. We may not get drunk any more. We may not have discreet sexual encounters or join in orgies of flesh and food and drink. We may not engage in any form of idolatry. We cannot put anything above God or in God's Place, not even our feelings, not even our good intentions, not even our sympathy. If God has said that we may not do such and such, we ought to fight against ever doing that thing with everything that we are. If God has said that we are to do such and such, we ought to be about doing those things with everything that we are. Do we really believe that the wages of sin is death? Do we really believe that, apart from Jesus, the person who is a mass-murderer ends up in the same Hell with the person who stole a handful of pens from the office? There is no more time to engage in the sins of the world; if we are Christians, we must fight to deny them, and we must work hard to do all that God has called us to do. We have tended to say, "Believe in Christ, and nothing more will ever be required of you." While it is true that Salvation is through faith in Jesus Alone, it is not a faith that is alone. After we have believed, we have life-long work. There is no retirement in the Kingdom of God; there is no more time to play with the sins of the world.

Because, third, if we are like-minded with Christ, we know that the Day of Judgment is coming. The day is coming -- soon -- when every human being will be called before the Throne of God to be judged. And anyone one who has committed one sin, no matter how small, if he does not have Jesus, the answer from the Throne will be "Hell." This is not a game; we cannot leave the proclamation of the Gospel to someone else. Everyone we know should know that we believe that the only hope is salvation through Jesus Alone.

Because, fourth, if we are like-minded with Christ, we know that the Gospel is preached to the spiritually dead -- like we once were -- that they may live. Life comes one and only One Way -- through Jesus Christ Alone. This world is filled with walking corpses, and we are to tell them Who Jesus is, through our words and deeds, and God may be willing to bring them to life as well.

Dying to sin and living for Christ are not easy -- the Christian life is hard work. But Jesus has suffered in the flesh and brought us back to God -- we are forgiven of all of our sins, and we have been credited with Jesus' Holy Life. Jesus rose and ascended to His Throne on High, and we have been brought back to life and will rise on the last day, and we have been given the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, so we can resist temptation, deny sin, and live, doing all the good works that God has set before us.

Paul was specifically addressing sexual immorality, but we can understand the summary of our call in these words: "For this is the will of God for your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles, who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man, but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you" (I Thessalonians 4:3-8).

Let us pray:
Sovereign God, when we consider the greatness of the Gospel, we are ashamed at the excuses we have given for giving in to sin and for avoiding the work You have set before us. Continue to mature us, continue to strengthen our desire for You and for being like-minded with Jesus. Turn us back to You, keep us from sin, and help us fight hard after holiness. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Study With Us

D.V., we will continue our study "The Blazing Center: The Soul-Satisfying Supremacy of God in All Things" today at 3:30 PM. Feel free to join us, even if you haven't been able to come to the earlier sessions. Today we plan to consider: Is God a megalomaniac?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

Having just sent in my quarterly estimated taxes, these words seem appropriate:

On I Peter 3:10-11 --

"Q. Whether may we pray for riches, and great prosperity, or not?

"A. We have no such Warrant in Gods Word, neither commandment, promise, nor example; of moderation we have, as in Jacob and Augur: And for great wealth without admirable grace, its exceeding dangerous: Its hard for a rich man to enter into Heaven, not many such are called; to be thus is no mark of a childe of God: If God send it, we are not to refuse it, but to be thankful, and crave great grace to govern it, and our hearts therewithal, but we have more cause to fear it, then desire it; but for competent prosperity we may pray, yet conditionally, because being an outward thing, we know not but it may prove hurtful, we are to leave it to God that knoweth whats best for us; there with we must also crave the right use thereof, and to be bettered thereby."

-- John Rogers 435-436.

Some Links

To view the memorial service for Dr. Kennedy, click on www.truthsthattransform.org and for more information about his life and ministry and the ongoing work of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, click on www.coralridge.org.

Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy

Thomas More Law Center sent me the following e-mail regarding the death of Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy, a godly man:

ANN ARBOR, MI -- Dr. D. James Kennedy, an internationally renowned Presbyterian minister, religious broadcaster, and Christian warrior, passed away early Wednesday morning. He was 76.

Longtime pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Kennedy preached his last sermon on Christmas Eve 2006. Four days later, he suffered a cardiac arrest and had been unable to return to the pulpit since. On August 26, 2007, Coral Ridge Ministries announced Kennedy’s retirement as senior pastor.

After arriving at the modest mission church of 45 people known as Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in 1959, Dr. Kennedy transformed it into 10,000-member Christian epicenter, with services broadcast to three million Americans and 200 nations. In addition, his commitment to cultural renewal and evangelism led Dr. Kennedy to found several organizations focused on training Christians to carry the Gospel into all parts of society.

"Dr. Kennedy was a true Christian leader for our time, and we are grateful for his example, wisdom, and uncompromising commitment to spreading the Kingdom of God. He was an outspoken foe of the ACLU and activist judges who were de-Christianizing our nation. He will be missed," said Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.

The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. It does not charge for its services. The Law Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization. You may reach the Thomas More Law Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at www.thomasmore.org.

Monday, September 03, 2007

"United in the Passion" Sermon: I Peter 3:18-22

"United in the Passion"
[I Peter 3:18-22]
September 2, 2007 Second Reformed Church

We remember that Peter was writing to Christians on the run -- Christians that the Emperor Nero had condemned to death. Peter was writing to encourage these Christians -- to let them know that their faith was not in vain -- that they should stand fast in their confession of Jesus as the Only Savior, no matter what came their way.

And it was likely that some of them would meet their death at the hands of Rome. But Peter told them not to worry -- that suffering for Christ, even unto death, was a gracious thing in the eyes of God. Therefore, he told them that they were not to do evil or suffer for evil, but recognize that each person has an authority over him, and Christ is the authority over all. So, Christians ought to live like the holy people we were called out to be, doing good, that God would be glorified by our lives, our confession, and our deaths.

In this morning's Scripture, we see that Christ is righteous and did not think it too much to suffer for the Glory of God and for the good of the unrighteous -- our good. Peter tells us that Christ, the Holy One, suffered once, in life and death. Because Jesus is Holy, He only needed to suffer once for all of the sins of everyone who would ever believe in Him. And He suffered this willingly, to the Glory of the Father and to bring us back to the Father, even though it meant He was put to death in the flesh.

So, Peter asks those Christians on the run, and he asks us this morning: if our Holy God was willing to suffer for unrighteous sinners like us, if Jesus Who had never done anything wrong, Who committed no sin, willingly gave Himself up to die for we who sin again and again, shall we not also be ready and willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

At this time in history, we have it easy in the United States. But there are countries in the world now where Christians are put to death for confessing Christ. Let us pray that they will continue to stand strong in their confession; let us pray that when the day comes, we will be willing to lose job, home, family, even our lives that we might confess that there is no salvation except through Jesus Christ Alone.

Peter explains that though Christ was put to death in the flesh, He remained alive in the spirit. What spirit is he talking about? He cannot be talking about Jesus' Spirit or Soul, because he goes on to say that this spirit preached to those in Noah's day. Peter must be referring, in verse eighteen, to the Holy Spirit, Who inhabits Jesus, just as He inhabits us.

So, Peter tells us that the Holy Spirit witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Peter's day, and in our day, in the same way that He did in the days of Noah. In the days of Noah, there was gross wickedness over the whole earth, and the Holy Spirit witnessed, as Peter puts it, "to the spirits in prison." Now, who is this?

We know that everyone is born a slave to sin, so, here, we may understand Peter to be referring to all the people of Noah's day. People who were slaves to sin, imprisoned by sin, unrighteous, and continuing in their unrighteousness and disobedience. So, there was a witness to salvation in the Savior Who was to come, even in the days of Noah, and in these days, we know that this Savior is Jesus -- we have a fuller understanding of the Gospel. Still, it is the same Gospel that is presented to the spirits in prison in 2007 as it was in the days of Noah.

But God is not patient forever, and He will not be patient with this generation forever. And here, Peter draws a parallel between Noah and Jesus: We remember that God called Noah to build the Ark and to call all the people of the world to repentance and to save two and seven of every unclean and clean animal, respectively. So Noah built the Ark, and he preached the Gospel, and he collected the animals -- and what happened? The humans -- the spirits in prison -- mocked Noah, they didn't believe his Gospel, they didn't believe the judgment was coming. And Noah entered the Ark with his family, eight persons in total, and every other human being drown.

Likewise, Jesus came to preach the Gospel, to call the world to repentance, and to save the elect. Christ came, He lived, He preached, and the response of most of the world is to mock Him and deny Him, to not believe His Gospel, and not believe that the judgment is coming. So Jesus was put to death and entered into the Ark of His tomb, bringing with Him all those across time who had and would believe in Him Alone for salvation.

Then Peter tells us that the eight in the days of Noah were brought to safety -- or salvation -- through the water. And in Peter's day -- and our's -- baptism saves us. And the Roman Catholics and the Nazarenes, and certain other denominations say, "Aha! If a person is baptized, he's saved, no matter what he believes."

But that cannot be: if salvation is a matter of the work of baptism, then we save ourselves, or the minister saves us, or the parents save us. No, Peter cannot be saying what the text sounds like it is saying.

It will help us to remember why Paul said a Christian cannot persist unrepentantly in sin: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4).

Paul is saying that we are united in the passion of Christ. Just as Christ actually suffered and died and was buried. In baptism, we symbolically die and are buried. But just as it is not the Jesus' Actual Death and Burial that caused His Resurrection, so our symbolic death and burial does not cause our resurrection to new life in Christ, and, one day, to life in the Kingdom in all its fulness.

Jesus died for our sins and was buried, so we would die to sin, and we are symbolically buried in baptism. But we are united in Christ, and we are saved in Christ, through His Work, not our work. We are saved through His suffering, death, and burial, not through our baptism. Baptism reminds us of the Work of Christ, and in the believer, it seals that Work and Christ's Promises to us, so we know that we have been raised and will rise from the dead on that final day.

And we have confidence in that truth, because Jesus ascended to the heaven and is seated at the Right Hand of God. That is, Jesus ascended back to His Throne in Heaven and received back the fullness of His Glory as the Son, that He had put aside in the Incarnation (Philippians 2:6). After Jesus ascended, He again received the glory that was due Him as the Son of God.

And Peter brings this encouragement full circle, reminding us that Jesus is the Authority above all authorities, "with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him."

In our Scripture, then, we see Peter encouraging these Christians to stand for the Gospel and not deny their confession for several reasons: first, Jesus is Holy and suffered for the sins of the unholy -- us -- to make us right with God. Second, the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we find in the Scripture is the same Gospel that was preached since the beginning, and even in the days of Noah; there is One Gospel and One Salvation in Jesus Christ Alone. And thirdly, Christ's Work, His Passion, saves us and unites us with us -- and we symbolically remember Christ's Word and meet with Him in the sacrament of baptism.

We also meet with Jesus, Himself, spiritually, as we receive the bread and the cup in the Lord's Supper. Jesus is present with us, giving us His Grace as we receive the elements. So, let us prepare to meet Him in the sacrament, and let us not be "ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16b).

Let us pray:
Almighty Savior, we ask for Your Grace to stand firm in our confession of Your Gospel. Open our mouths to confess that there is no other Savior but You Alone. Make us a glory to You in all that we do, even if we suffer. Give us courage and persevere us for Your Glory. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.