Second Reformed Church

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:7 --

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

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

-- John Rogers, 550.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

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

Philippians 2:5-7a.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray:

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


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


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


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

Published in London by John Murray

Monday, December 24, 2007

Worship Tonight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What? How does that make any sense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Worship Today

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

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

On Matthew 3:11 --

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

-- David Dickson, Matthew, 26.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 02, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready this morning?

"For what?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How ought we prepare?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer Request

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