Second Reformed Church

Sunday, November 25, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear this Good News: "And [Gabriel] said to [Mary], 'Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end'" (Luke 1:30-33).

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Reasons to Be Thankful" Sermon: Psalm 100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"For the Lord is good."

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

"His steadfast love endures forever."

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

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

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

What are you thankful for?

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

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

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

Puritan Wisdom

On Haggai 2:3 --

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Updates

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And still there are some who ask why? How?

And Haggai told them in verses six through nine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Today's Study

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"Praise the Lord" Sermon: Psalm 149

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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