Second Reformed Church

Friday, December 26, 2008

"That Thing That Took Place" Sermon: Luke 2:1-20

“That Thing That Took Place”
[Luke 2:1-20]
December 24, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Mountains. That thing that took place. Advent has led us to this place. As the hours pass into what we call “tomorrow,” Advent will be over and we will celebrate that thing that took place on that first Christmas.

In talking about the prophecies concerning Jesus, I asked us to consider looking at a mountain range, or at a number of objects over a great distance. As we look at them from the distance, they look like they’re right on top of each other, when, in reality, they are very far apart. So it is with biblical prophecy: we often find that a single prophecy refers to more than one event, often to events that take place years apart. We looked at the prophecy of a child being born to a “virgin” in the book of Isaiah, and we saw that the prophecy had to refer to the birth of a child in Isaiah’s time. We saw that the word that is sometimes translated “virgin” in Hebrew can refer to a young woman, so while it was a sign in the days of Isaiah, it was not the miracle that we associate with the birth of Jesus. (If the Lord is willing, on Sunday we will consider why Mary had to really be virgin and never had physical relations with a man before the birth of Jesus.)

We heard Luke’s record of the birth of Jesus; let us hear Matthew’s as well, because it mentions the fulfillment of this prophecy: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matthew 1:18-25, ESV).

Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy. The birth of Jesus – of God Incarnate – is that thing that took place on that first Christmas – that thing that took place that was revealed to the shepherds as we heard from Luke.

Very quickly this evening, let’s look at our text and see four things about that thing that took place that we should know, and then consider two responses:

First, that thing that took place is good news of great joy for every type of people.

Some of the Jews of the first century had draw the wrong conclusion about the Promised Savior: some had come to believe that the Savior was only for the Jews, for the children of Abraham. Some had come to believe that the Gentiles, the non-Jews, were completely lost and unsaveable. We would never do that, would we? We would never think that such and such a type of person is beyond God’s Salvation in Jesus, would we? We would never think that it was so obvious why God would save me, but so and so is beyond that Hand of the Almighty, would we?

That was not the promise and the prophecy made to Father Abraham. Listen to what God said: “‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Genesis 12:1b-3, ESV).

All the families of the earth shall be blessed – the Jews and the Gentiles; the Jews and the Non-Jews. That thing that took place is good news of great joy for every type of people.

Second, that thing that took place fulfilled the promise and the prophecy made to our first parents.

Earlier this year we looked at the opening chapters of the book of Genesis, and we saw that after Adam and Eve sinned, both as individuals and as our representatives, God punished the entire Creation, and every mere human born from that day forth is born a sinner, destined for eternal Hell. But we also saw, in the midst of the punishment, God made a promise – what the theologians call, “the first Gospel,” and we find it in the cursing of the serpent:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV).

We came to understand that this prophecy and promise was fulfilled in Jesus: in God being born of a woman, living, dying, and rising from the dead, defeating the devil, and securing salvation for all those who would believe in Him. That thing that took place fulfilled the promise and the prophecy made to our first parents.

Third, contrary to the popular American understanding of faith, that thing that took place does not call for blind faith – for an ignorant acceptance of what occurred.

Notice what we are told in this evening’s Scripture: the shepherds were out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks, when an angel appeared to them and told them the Good News of the birth of the Savior, and the angel gave them a sign by which they would know the Child. Then a multitude of angels joined in praising and glorifying God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

They had been told the Good News, the fulfillment of prophecy, and then what? They said to each other, “‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this things that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’” The shepherds went to see the evidence. They went to check that this Baby existed, just as the angel had said. They went to see that thing that took place. They went to get proof.

Having faith does not mean turning off our brains. Yes, there are things that are beyond our comprehension, but most things we can understand and check to see if they are true. Remember how Paul complemented the Berean Christians – that they didn’t listen to his preaching and just accept it, they went back to the scrolls – to the Bible – and they checked to make sure that the things he said were true – that they matched up with God’s Word.

One of the greatest problems with Christians, and Americans in general, in the anti-intellectualism that we have embraced. We believe the news and the paper, but we are unwilling to read or think or investigate anything ourselves. I was talking to a friend the other day who was telling me that the Gospels contradict each other throughout, so they are not to be believed, and, in fact, there was little or no evidence for most of what they claimed. I asked her to tell me more about it, but she remember nothing – it was a PBS show she saw that said all these things. I told her I had actually read the Gospels and can’t find a single contradiction, and there is plenty of archeological and historical evidence to support almost every word of the Gospels. She told me she couldn’t believe that someone with so much education was so ignorant.

God is not offended when we seek to prove His Word to be true Read it. Learn it. Compare it to the historical, archaeological records and evidence. Compare one book of the Bible to another. See that it is all true – wonderfully true Beloved, that thing that took place does not call for blind faith – for an ignorant acceptance of what occurred.

Fourth, that thing that took place is amazing.

The shepherds found their way to the manger and saw exactly what the angel had told them, and they told Mary and Joseph and the others who were there everything that had heard and seen – about this Baby – the long-awaited Savior, Who is also God in the flesh. And our Scripture tells us that they were amazed.

Are we still amazed? Do we listen to the Christmas history and consider that the Almighty God, Who had never had a physical body, became enfleshed as a human being, to glorify the Father and to save all of us that are His? Do we still gasp out, like John, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are” (I John 3:1, ESV). That thing that took place is amazing.

Two responses to that thing that took place – two ways in which we ought to respond:

What did Mary do? “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Knowing and believing in that thing that took place ought to cause us to ponder – to meditate – on what happened and what that means for us. What Mary did – what we ought to do – is to employ Christian meditation about the things of God – about what we are taught in the Scripture. When we talk about Christian meditation, what our text calls “treasuring” and “pondering,” we do not mean “emptying ourselves,” as Eastern meditation teaches. No, what these words literally mean – what we ought to do – is to “preserve them in our memory” – memorize Scripture and to “throw them together” or to “think them through in great detail, with great care, in comparison with others.”

Let us learn the Scripture. Study the Scripture. Work hard to understand the Scripture.

And then, what did the shepherds do? After they told everyone, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen....” Again, let us consider the words: glorifying – we may define that as “enhancing the reputation of one.” Like that telescope we have talked about, they looked through the lense which brought God more clearly before them, and they let others know – as they understood better and more about God and His Salvation, they told others, so others would better know God and His Salvation. And they praised Him – the responded to their knowledge of God by exclaiming His Worth and giving Him thanks.

As we learn more about God and His Salvation and know them better, let us tell others. Let’s not hold back, but exclaim His Worth and give Him thanks.

Where do you plan to be tomorrow? Who will you be with? Make sure Jesus is mentioned. Make sure everyone knows about that thing that took place. And make sure they know why it matters to you.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for Your Incarnation, for becoming Man through the Virgin. We ask that tonight, and henceforth, we would not be bigoted about Your Salvation and that we would make an effort to know what things are really true. We ask that you would help us, that the Holy Spirit would teach us and help us to learn Your Word. And we ask that You would make us a people who love to tell others about You, to praise You, and to give You thanks. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

One Week Left!

Don't forget to register for the Banner of Truth Conference while it is still available at 2008 prices -- just through the 31st!

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The Banner of Truth 2009 U.S. Ministers' Conference
May 26-28, 2009
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P.O. Box 621, Carlisle, PA, USA
Telephone: 1-800-263-8085

www.banneroftruth.org

Christmas Eve Worship

Come join us for worship this evening at 7 PM, D.V. We plan to have a service of Christmas hymns, Scripture, and candle light. Come, worship the Newborn King!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Today's Worship

I regret to post that due to the snow and ice on the roads, we are not opening the church today. Please join us for worship, D.V., Christmas Eve, Wednesday, at 7 PM.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Holiday" Party

Second Reformed Church will be hosting a "holiday" party for one of our local politicians this Saturday at 6:30 PM. If you are a "holiday" person, or just like "holiday" parties, come and celebrate a "holiday" with us, enjoy a free dinner, and look over some of the nick-knacks and "holiday" items that will be for sale. And then join us for worship Sunday morning at 10:30 AM!

"The Bridegroom" Sermon: John 3:22-36

“The Bridegroom”
[John 3:22–36]
December 14, 2008 Second Reformed Church

What is Christmas about? Is it about Christmas carols and hymns? Is it about children and Santa and presents? Is it about angels and shepherds? Is it about Rudolph and Frosty? Is it about candy and family and friends? It is about going to church? Is it about measuring the health of the economy? Is it about there being more money in the offering plate? What is Christmas about?

Last week, we saw that John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus – he prepared the way for His Coming. Let us remember what John said about himself and about Jesus:

“And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said.

“(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole 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 1:19-34, ESV).

We’re told in this morning’s Scripture that after these testimonies about himself and Jesus and what occurred at the baptism of Jesus, John and his disciples went into the Judean countryside and continued to baptize.

And we’re told that a Jew, or some of the Jews – in fact, the very ones who had questioned him about who he was – were now questioning John’s disciples about what he had said and done. “Rabbi John, do you see what has happened? You testified about this Jesus and baptized Him back at the Jordan, and now everyone is going to Him and His disciples to be baptized. You’ve got to have noticed how small your congregation has gotten; they’ve all left you and started following Jesus. What are you going to do about this?”

The Jews asked him, “Rabbi John, you were the talk of Israel, everyone flocked to you to hear you and be baptized by you. And now this Jesus that you testified to and baptized has taken your followers away. Does that really seem fair? Don’t you think you should do something about this? You’ve got your reputation to think of.” They were trying to get John to sin through envy.

But John didn’t sin. Instead, John said, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” John said, “Everything a person has and is is given to him by God.” Jesus’ biological brother, James, would write the same thing, “Every good gift and every 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, ESV). John is saying, “God has given and gifted to each person according to His Will; it is not for us to be envious of others, but to be faithful and obedient with what God has given to us.”

Do we understand? God has given each of us everything we have and made us everything we are, and the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Are we being faithful?” We ought not to look at others and be envious and wonder why we are not like them.

John gives us the cure for envy as we continue in our text: John explains to the Jews that he already told them that he was not the Christ, but he is the forerunner of the Christ. John told them that the ones who follow the Bridegroom are the bride, so it is right that Israel follow after Jesus, because Jesus is the Bridegroom and those who follow Him are the bride.

John explained that when you go to a wedding, the friends of the Bridegroom rejoice as the Bridegroom is lifted up – as the Bridegroom is the center of attention. Weddings are not about the friends of the Bridegroom, they are about the Bridegroom. So, the joy the friends experience increases as more and more attention is paid to the Bridegroom and less to the friends of the Bridegroom.

In the same way, you and I are filled with joy when Jesus is more and we are less. Our joy in Jesus increases as we make much of Him. John Piper uses the example of a telescope: when you look through a telescope, it helps us to see something for what it really is. When we look through a telescope, our attention is not on the telescope, but on being able to see more of what the thing is that we’re looking at. So it is with Jesus: we are Christ’s representatives, but our joy is not found in drawing attention to ourselves, our joy is found in making Jesus more clear to everyone else. This is not about us; it’s all about Him!

John said that in focusing on the Bridegroom, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” The commentator, A. W. Pink, explains it this way:

“‘This my joy therefore is fulfilled’ (v. 29). How precious is this! Joy of heart is the fruit of being ‘occupied with Christ!’ It is standing and hearing His voice which delights the soul. But again we say that the all-important prerequisite for this is a cessation of the activities of the flesh. His voice cannot be heard if we are rushing hither and thither in fellowship with the fearful bedlam all around us. The ‘better part’ is not to be like Martha – ‘cumbered about much serving’ – but to ‘sit’ at the feet of the Lord Jesus like Mary did, hearing His word (see Luke 10:38-42). Notice, too, the tense of the verbs in John 3:29: ‘standeth and heareth.’ The perfect tense expresses continuous action: again and again, daily, this must be done, if our joy is to be filled full. Is not our failure at this very point the explanation of our joyless lives?

“‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (3:30). Blessed climax was this to the lovely modesty of John, and well calculated to crush all party feeling and nip in the bud any jealousy there might be in the hearts of his own disciples. In principle this is inseparably connected with what he had just said before in the previous verse. The more I ‘decrease’ the more I delight in standing and hearing the voice of that blessed One who is Altogether Lovely. And so conversely. The more I stand and hear His voice, the more He will ‘increase’ before me, and the more shall I ‘decrease.’ I cannot be occupied with two objects at one and the same time. To ‘decrease’ is, we take it, to be less and less occupied with ourselves. The more I am occupied with Christ, the less occupied I will be with myself. Humility is not the product of direct cultivation, rather it is a by-product. The more I try to be humble, the less shall I attain unto humility. But if I am truly occupied with that One who was ‘meek and lowly in heart,’ if I am constantly beholding His glory in the mirror of God’s Word, then I shall be ‘changed into the same image from glory to glory, even by the Spirit of the Lord’ (II Cor. 3:18).” (The Gospel of John, 148-149).

John explains further, beginning in verse thirty-one, telling the Jews that Jesus came from Heaven, whereas John and the Jews came from earth. Jesus came from Heaven and has all authority, so the bride belongs to Him. Paul explained it this way, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:4-5, ESV).

Jesus, Who is God, and has all authority, came from Heaven, first to the Jews. So John tells the Jews that he is not envious of the Christ and that Israel is going to be baptized by His disciples, because that is the way it is supposed to be. The Gospel is not about John, it is about Jesus.

Even so, we know that most of Israel did not believe in Jesus – more of the Jews rejected Him. John said, “no one receives his testimony.” Of course some did receive Jesus, so John means, compared to the whole population of Israel, no one received His Testimony.

But, John says, those who do receive Jesus “set [their] seal” – they confirm – they believe – “that God is true.” They believe that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Coming Savior. They believe in Him whole-heartedly. And, John explains, this makes good sense because Jesus speaks the words of God, because God the Holy Spirit has fully indwelt Jesus – without measure. Each Christian in indwelt by the Holy Spirit and He gives us gifts and graces as it pleases Him, but Jesus received all of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. Whereas each Christians receives a measure of the Holy Spirit, Jesus received the Holy Spirit without measure. Why? Because “the Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.”

The trap of envy that the Jews set before John is really all about the question of Who Jesus is. If Jesus is the Savior, God Incarnate, the Perfect God-Man, then there is nothing to envy. Instead, John, and we ought to find ourselves bowing before Him, doing everything we can to draw attention to Him, spending every moment learning more about Him, focusing on Him, finding our joy in Him.

Paul answers the question this way: “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth of in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:15:20, ESV).

The testimony of John and all the Scripture is that Jesus is God Who came to earth in human form on that first Christmas. John, and we who believe in Jesus Alone as Savior, are friends of the Bridegroom, and Jesus is the Bridegroom. And the more we are focused on Jesus, the more we are centered on Jesus, the more time we spending knowing Him and worshiping Him, the greater our joy will be and the smaller our problems will seem.

Well, the economy is so bad, I’m cutting back on my giving – everyone is getting smaller gifts from me this year. But I better get what I want, or Christmas will be ruined. I’ve worked hard and I deserve to get what I’m expecting. God knows how hard I’ve worked, and I’ve been suffering a lot physically this year, so I expect everyone to be generous and really thankful to me this year. And I hope so-and-so is busy and can’t make it to our Christmas party, or Christmas will be ruined. So-and-so is so annoying; everything has to be about so-and-so – never lets anyone else be the center of attention.

Advent is a season of preparation: what are we preparing for? What is Christmas about?

Christmas is about the Bridegroom. It’s about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, as we prepare to celebrate and remember Your Coming to earth in the flesh, we ask that You would help us get our eyes off ourselves. Help us to focus on You and help us to tell others that Christmas is all about You. And may our joy increase in You as we celebrate You as the Bridegroom. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Consistory Meeting

Consistory members, please remember that we are meeting after worship this Sunday (D.V.)

For Small Church Pastors

On John 3:23 --

"'John also was baptizing.' There is a word of great practical importance here for many a servant of God. The Lord Jesus was there in Judea in person, and His disciples were with Him, baptizing. The crowds which at first attended the preaching of John had now deserted him, and were thronging to Christ (v. 26). What then does the Lord's forerunner do? Does he decide that his work is now finished, and that God no longer has need of him? Does he become discouraged because his congregations were so small? Does he quit his work and go on a long vacation? Far, far from it. He faithfully persevered: 'John also was baptizing.' Has this no message for us? Perhaps these lines may be read by some who used to minister to big crowds. But these are no more. Another preacher has appeared, and the crowds flock after him. What then? Must you conclude that God has set you aside? Are you suffering this experience to discourage you? Or, worse still, are you envious of the great success attending the labors of another! Ah, fellow-servants of Christ, take to heart this word -- 'John also was baptizing.' His season of popularity might be over: his light might be eclipsed by that of a greater: the crowds might have become thin, but, nevertheless, he plodded on and faithfully persevered in the work God had given him to do! 'And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not' (Gal. 6:9). John performed his duty and fulfilled his course."

-- A. W. Pink, The Gospel of John, 142.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Here Is Your God" Sermon: Isaiah 40:1-11

“Here Is Your God”
[Isaiah 40:1-11]
December 7, 2008 Second Reformed Church

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are turning again to the prophet Isaiah, and we may remember that Isaiah was preaching during the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom – about eight hundred years before Jesus. He preached before the Babylonian captivity and before the Persian captivity.

In our text, we find four promises from God. For promises to the people of Israel and to all those who believe in Jesus Alone as their Savior.

After prophesying to Hezekiah that the kingdom would be taken into captivity by Babylon, Isaiah spoke God’s very words to the king, telling him that the people should take comfort (and this is actually in the future tense in the Hebrew). Isaiah says that Israel should take comfort because, in the future, God will comfort her, God will speak tenderly to her, her warfare will come to an end, her sins will be pardoned, after she receives a double punishment from the Lord.

God tells Israel through the prophet, that they should not be distressed by the war and the captivity that will follow in the generations to come, because God loves His people. Rather, they ought to understand that those who humble themselves before God – before the cross – will experience comfort, despite the extent of the distress they would go through. God promised that after the captivity, after they had suffered for their sins, they would receive God’s comfort.

Now, we might wonder what Isaiah and God meant by saying, in verse two, “[Israel] has received from the Lord’s hand double for her sins.” There are two ways we can interpret this: we could understand this to mean that God punished them twice as much as their sin deserved. But that cannot be the right understanding, or else that would leave God sinning. The other possibility is that this means that God punished them twice as much as usual, but still not necessarily as much as they deserved. This is the interpretation that makes sense, since God is Holy and Just – God punished them twice as much as usual, but still less that what they deserved.

So, God’s Promise is that after a period of time, God will comfort His people.

And that promise is for us, as we look forward in hope and remember this familiar Scripture: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their 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 21:1-7, ESV).

In verses three through five we hear the second promise in our text, as we hear this very familiar text of a voice crying in the wilderness. Luke records its fulfillment this way: “And [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the words of Isaiah the prophet, The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:3-6, ESV).

God promised to send a prophet to prepare the way and to prepare the people for God’s Savior.

But we need to remember something: when the prophets gave their prophecies, it was like they were looking at a series of mountains before them. And if you’ve ever looked at a bunch of mountains, they can look like they’re very close – or even right on top of each other – when they are very far apart. The same is true with biblical prophecy: often, a single prophecy deals with more than one issue and/or time period. That is the case here.

It’s clear from the rest of Isaiah’s prophecies, that Isaiah is the prophet “crying in the wilderness”, and the savior that Isaiah is talking about in this section of the text, is Cyrus, King of Persia, who will set the people of Israel free from captivity over one hundred and fifty years after Isaiah. So, Cyrus is the first mountain, if you will.

Then, we have the confirmation in the Gospels that John the Baptist is also the prophet “crying the wilderness” who prepares the way for Jesus, as the Greatest and Final Savior of God’s people. Whereas Cyrus freed Israel from slavery to other nations, Jesus frees us from our slavery to sin. So, Jesus is the second mountain.

And at this point, we may wonder about the mountains and valleys: There are still mountains and valleys. They haven’t all been flattened and filled up. So what is going on with Isaiah’s prophecy? John Calvin, in his commentary, explains that the mountains and valleys in this prophecy are part of a metaphor. What Isaiah is prophesying is that God will remove all obstructions from His accomplishing the salvation He intends to bring. Isaiah is not saying that the earth will be as flat as a pancake one day; he is saying that nothing can stop God from saving His people.

Yet there is a third mountain to consider, because Jesus’ Work was not finished (in history) in His First Coming to earth: the prophecy says that all flesh – all people – all nations – shall see the glory of God – or the salvation of God. That has not occurred yet. Not everyone on the planet has seen the glory of God – not everyone God intends to save has received His Salvation. That will happen at Jesus’ Second Coming: “For as the lightening comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the heavens, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:27-31, ESV).

The third promise is found in verses six through eight, where we find God telling the prophet Isaiah to make the pronouncement that all flesh is like grass and like flowers – we have a finite life – we will, one day, unless the Lord tarries, die and return to the dust.

Peter quotes this text in his first letter: “‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever”’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (I Peter 1:24-25, ESV). And James uses the same theme in his letter: “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because, like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits” (James 1:9-11, ESV).

The fading, failing human flesh is the contrast to the promise: the Word of the Lord will stand forever. No matter what you and I face in this world, no matter how many people and teachers and ministers and friends and family members fail us, the Word of God never fails. It is always authoritative. It is always true. We can always go to it to find out what God has done and promised and will surely do. We can always go to it to find out how we are to live and how we can be right with God.

Then God tells Isaiah to go up to the highest peak, to Mount Zion, to the highest point in Jerusalem, as the herald of Good News and to cry out to Israel, with strength and not fear: “Here is your God.”

Israel was being ravaged by the Assyrians. She would be taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and then ruled over by the Persians, until Cyrus came to power. And in the midst of this, surely the people were crying out, “Where is our God?” And the answer from God through the prophet Isaiah is, “Here is your God.” “Your God is allowing the Assyrians and the Babylonians and the Persians to punish you for your sin, but the day will come when I will comfort you. The day will come when I will send a prophet and a savior to you. But for now, you have My Word, which shall never fail. My Word, in which every word is Truth and I commit myself to keep.”

And, as the fourth promise, God promises to return for His people with might, as their Ruler. He will come to receive the people that belong to Him; salvation shall be the reward to all those who believe in Him Alone for their salvation. He will be a shepherd to them. He will protect them and care for them and love them as his own.

Jesus said, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that never went astray” (Matthew 18:12-13, ESV). And “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I received from my Father” (John 10:14-18, ESV).

And remember what the author of Hebrews wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:8, ESV). We often hear the first part of this verse – that it is impossible to please God without faith. But notice what it says in the second part: in order to draw near to God, we must believe that He is Who He says He is in His Word, and that He will reward those who seek Him in faith. And Who is that reward? Isaiah tells us that the Savior is the reward of all those who seek the God of the Bible in faith.

As we continue through this Advent season and remember the first coming of our God and Savior Jesus, let us remember that our God is here, and He has made promises to His people. After we have suffered on this earth, He will comfort us. God has sent a Savior to all who will believe, and He is coming again. God stands behind the everlasting authority and truth of His Word. And God promises security for His people in His Love and Care.

We might add a fifth promise as we prepare to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: Jesus has promised to be with us here spiritually, and as we receive the bread and the cup, He ministers to us by giving us His Grace, strengthening us to be able to do all that He has called us to do and giving us understanding. Amen.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we continue to celebrate the Advent of Your Birth in human flesh. We ask that You would renew our hope and trust in Your Promises as we look forward to Your Second Coming. And we ask that we would receive the grace we need to be Your people as we receive the elements of the sacrament. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

December Sermons

D.V., I will preach:

12/7/08 Communion/Advent 2 Isaiah 40:1-11 "Here is Your God"
12/14/08 Advent 3 John 3:22-36 "The Bridegroom"
12/21/08 Advent 4 Luke 1:26-38 "How Can This Be?"
12/24/08 Christmas Eve 7PM Luke 2:1-20 "The Thing That Took Place"
12/28/08 Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7 "Now"

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Maranatha" Sermon: Isaiah 64:1-9a

“Maranatha”
[Isaiah 64:1-9a]
November 30, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Maranatha!

The prophet Isaiah prophesied during the Assyrian conquest of Israel – about 740 B.C. And his prophecies condemned the divided kingdom and said that God was going to send Israel into captivity, and she would remain there until the rise of Cyrus the Persian, whom God would use to restore the nation. These things all happened over the ensuing hundred and fifty years or so. His prophecies also spoke of the coming Savior that God had promised back in the Garden to our first parents. These prophecies would come to pass some seven hundred years later.

Throughout the book of Isaiah – and all his prophecies – he reminds Israel that it is her own sin that has caused her destruction. She had no one to blame but herself for the fall of the nation. But he also reminds her that God continues to be faithful, and if they repent and turn from their sins and follow after God, He will forgive them and restore them, according to the promises and the prophecies that He inspired.

Chapter 64 of Isaiah actually begins in the midst of a prayer. Beginning in verse fifteen of the previous chapter, Isaiah prays that God, the Holy God from Heaven, would look down upon His people with compassion, because He is their Father. Isaiah admits that Israel has sinned so greatly that Abraham would not recognize them – Israel, herself, would not recognize her if she would look at what she has become. So, Isaiah asks that God would return – that He would not harden them forever, but that God would change them and make them the people He called according to His Name once again.

The first four verses of chapter 64 have Isaiah asking that God would reveal Himself like He did in the past – that He would come down to earth, tear open the heavens, cause the mountains to quake, the brush and water to catch fire, and all the nations to know that the God of Israel is the One True God.

Isaiah is asking that God would come again as He did on Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. We may remember what happened, “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightening and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’ The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21, ESV).

God did not come to earth in the days of Isaiah, and He did not come with all of the natural disturbances that He did in the days of Moses, but we remember during this season of Advent that He did come, quietly, about seven hundred years after Isaiah.

Paul reworks Isaiah’s words as he writes, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9, ESV). What has God prepared for those who love Him?

In the years after Jesus’ crucifixion, some people in the Church wondered if He would really return, as He promised. Would Jesus keep His Promise? Or were they wrong to believe in Him? John assures his readers that they are not waiting in vain – we are not waiting in vain – and, though the first Advent was quiet, as God came as Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant,” the second Advent will be more like God’s appearance on Sinai, as He returns as the conquering King. And this is what he has prepared for all those who confess faith in Jesus – all those who love God, “And now, little children, abide in [Jesus], so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (I John 2:28-3:3, ESV).

God has come. God will come again. And He is keeping every promise He ever made. Maranatha!

In verses five through seven, Isaiah confesses, on behalf of the whole nation, that if they had followed after righteousness – if they had lived as God called them to live – they would have found joy in God, but, instead, they sinned. And it was not just sinning once, but, as we see through the Old Testament, Israel sinned and sinned and sinned again – just like you and me.

And God was rightly angry with Israel – punishment had only begun – exile would follow for them. And Isaiah asks the question, “We have sinned generation after generation, will Your Anger, God, ever be satisfied? Will there ever be salvation for those who confess and repent and turn back to God?”

And the answer, which the prophet well knew, as David put it, “[The Lord’s] anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5, ESV).

Isaiah is correct, as he presents the sin of Israel before God: Isaiah says that Israel has become unclean – which meant that she would be cut of from the temple. The best deeds she did were like filthy garments. Israel faded away in her sin like the leaves on the trees in the Fall – we see them now, changing colors, and eventually, dying and falling to the ground, where the wind blows them away. Israel had neglected the worship due God – she had been unfaithful in the temple and to the priests – she had not called out to God – so God had turned His Face from them and allowed them to wallow – to melt – in their sin.

Yet, we may wonder if the prophet has gone overboard in questioning the possibility of salvation. Perhaps he questioned because he was on the other side of the cross from us. But we should have no doubt – whereas God turned from Israel for a “moment,” we remember the mysterious horror that occurred on the cross, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46, ESV). Somehow, God the Father turned – forsook – abandoned – the Son – while God’s Full Wrath – not for the sin of one man, or for the sin of one people, but for the sin of everyone who would believe in Him throughout time and space – while all that Wrath descended upon Jesus – He was separated from the eternal intimacy He had forever had. We cannot begin to imagine the horror He endured.

Because Jesus endured Hell on the cross, the answer to the prophet is, “Yes, Isaiah, yes Everyone who repents and believes in Jesus will be forgiven. There is no question, no doubt, no hesitation – Jesus has paid it all.” As Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and your will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 38b, ESV).

God has come. God will come again. God has taken on the punishment for our sins, so everyone who believes in Him is forgiven. Maranatha!

As we turn to verses eight and the beginning of verse nine, we see that Isaiah may have been voicing the despair of the people and not his own despair over the possibility of God’s forgiveness. He calls out to God, calling Him, “Father.” Isaiah was given the wisdom to know that God has chosen and adopted a people for Himself, so we are the sons and daughters of God, and He is our Father.

Isaiah also calls God, “the potter,” His creation being the clay. We are whatever God creates us to be. All things happen according to His Plan, and since He is our Father, we can have hope in Him, even in the midst of our affliction. In the midst of what would be almost two hundred years of war and destruction and exile, the people of Israel, if they repented of their sin, could look to God in hope, knowing that He is Sovereign and He is Father. And that is true for us today.

Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his
grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mysteries of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:3-10, ESV).

And the author of Hebrews wrote, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11, ESV).

God has come. God will come again. He is the Sovereign of Creation, and the Father Who loves His children. Maranatha!

This first Sunday of Advent, let us remember the lessons of this part of the prophets prayer: God came to earth 2,000 year ago in the Person of Jesus Christ, and He will keep every promise and prophecy ever made. Jesus took the whole of God’s Wrath upon Himself, so all we who believe in Him would be forgiven. And God is our loving Father, so no matter what we endure, for our sin, for fatherly discipline, we have hope: Come, Lord Jesus!

Let us pray:
Almighty God, on this first Sunday in Advent, we remember the prophecies of Your first coming, and we thank You for the witness of Isaiah amidst the invading Assyrians. Cause us to stand strong on Your Word and in the hope of Your coming again. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Jesus Reigns" Sermon: I Corinthians 15:20-28

“Jesus Reigns”
[I Corinthians 15:20-28]
November 23, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Today is Christ the King Sunday – the Sunday we emphasize that Jesus reigns as Sovereign over all. We are turning to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to consider this, and we may remember that the Corinthian church was a mess. In the first century, it was an insult to call someone a Corinthian because they engaged in every type of strange and sinful behavior imaginable. Corinth was at a crossroads in the trade route and they received, not only every type of goods in the world, but every type of philosophy and religion that was popular.

In the section we are looking at, Paul is defending the resurrection of the dead. There were some who were arguing – as some do today – that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, but the resurrection is merely a spiritual idea – that Jesus’ Spirit was received into Heaven and His disciples saw His Spirit in the days that followed His burial.

In the section preceding our reading, Paul argues that if Jesus did not really – physically – rise from the dead, then we – His followers – will not really – physically – rise from the dead. And if Jesus did not really – physically – rise from the dead, and if we do not really – physically – rise from the dead, then our peaching and our faith means nothing – worse than that, we have been telling and believing lies about God. And even worse than that, we are still dead in our sins, and Christianity is the most pitiful of beliefs. This is the heart of the Gospel: if Jesus did not physically rise, Christianity is a lie.

“But in fact,” Paul tells us in our Scripture, Jesus did physically rise from the dead. Paul was an eyewitness to Jesus being alive, and there were hundreds of others alive at that time who were also eyewitnesses. And Jesus is the “firstfruits” of those who died believing in Him. In other words, just as the “firstfruits” of the harvest or the flock are the first growth or the first born, Jesus is the first to be raised from the dead with the perfected body that all who believe in Him shall receive in the Kingdom. Jesus is first; all those who believe in Him follow.

Paul explains that all humans die because of the sin of Adam – Adam leads his children to death, and all those who believe in Jesus for their salvation – Christ leads His children to life, and life eternal. And it will be at His Coming, when He returns, that the dead in Christ shall be raised in their perfected bodies.

Remember what Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3, ESV).

And Paul wrote, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will raise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18, ESV).

Then, Paul tells his readers, the end will come. When Jesus returns, the end will come. But it will not be the end as some talk about it. It will not be destruction of all things physical. No, what will end will be all the temporary things, all the corrupt things, all the sin-damaged things, including our governments, human laws, ranks, distinction of class, discrimination, and so forth, all of these things will pass away.

Paul says that Jesus will deliver the Kingdom to the Father “after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” Sin and its effects will be removed, and we shall all be of pure equality with each other. The last of the effects of sin that Jesus will destroy – remove – is death. The first consequence promised in the Garden will be the last one removed. But on that day, death will be done away with – there will never be any more death.

Now consider this: if those Corinthians were right that there is no physical resurrection, that the life eternal is merely a spiritual existence, then death would be meaningless to them – it would be a meaningless consequence of sin, because death of the body would simply be freedom of the spiritual self. Unless the death of the body is a disruption of what was intended, it is not a punishment.

But, if they were wrong, as Paul says they are wrong, and the physical body was created to last eternally, then the removal of death as the last enemy makes sense. Since the body can die, the removal of death means that the body won’t die. It means that the end of death, and the resurrection of the physical body, is the apex of the restoration of the Creation.

Paul tells us that Christ must reign until all these – His enemies – are under His Feet – until they are destroyed. Christ is now seated at the Right Hand of the Father in power and glory and He is reigning over all, working out His Salvation Plan for His people. And once all His enemies are under His Feet, it will be the sign and seal of His Authority and His Reign over all, including them.

Paul wrote, “according to that working of [God’s] great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at the right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:19b-23, ESV).

The good news is that Jesus has conquered death, so all of His enemies are under His Feet – we have just not seen the fulness of that worked out in history, but we know in rising from the dead, Jesus conquered death. So death is no longer deadly to believers – our death is entrance into the Kingdom. By dying, we enter into life.

Jesus said of His Authority, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27, ESV), and “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18, ESV).

Jesus has full authority now, as God, reigning over all of Creation, having put all of His enemies under His Feet, and now that is working itself out in history, and will conclude with Jesus’ Return.

Paul describes the difference between the future of the believer and the enemy of Christ: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is their destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 3:18-4:1, ESV).

If physical resurrection is true, and Jesus has physically risen from the dead, then we shall physically rise from the dead, as He promised. And if Jesus has physically risen from the dead, then He has already defeated death, and all His enemies are under His Feet, and He is reigning over all Creation, working out His Plan of Salvation. And we have hope and joy, secure in our future in His Kingdom.

Then Paul says something that we might find very curious, beginning in verse twenty-seven, “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet. But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”

Paul says that God put all things in subjection under Jesus’ Feet, except for God Himself. Jesus, Paul says, is subjected to God. How can that be? We confess One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Three Equal Persons of the One Divinity. How can One Person of the One Divinity be subject to Another?

You may remember from past sermons, or you may remember from the evening class we just had on the first seven ecumenical councils, that the Scripture teaches us that before the Creation the One Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit always are, were, and will be. Each Person is the Same One God, but a different Person – that is the mystery of the Trinity. However, after the Son Incarnated – after the Son was born on earth of the Virgin Mary – the Son took on the real full human, Jesus. So, Jesus, the Son of God, is One Person with two natures, a full human nature and a full divine nature. Jesus is, at the same time, 100% God and 100% human.

So, we can understand Paul to be saying that Jesus, in His Divinity, is co-equal with God the Father, but, in His Humanity, He is subjected to the Father. Other than saying that, it seems we must leave this in the area of the mystery of the Trinity.

The final phrase, “that God may be all in all,” means that everything will be brought back into its rightful relationship with God. The Creation will be restored to the state it was before the Fall – before our first parents’ sin – all will be as God initially Created it, with God, our Savior, reigning on His Throne.

So let us rejoice on this Christ the King Sunday: Jesus reigns. He is Sovereign over all Creation. All His enemies are defeated – under His Feet – history is just working out God’s Plan. And, as Christ was raised, we shall be raised, and death shall be no more. And we shall live forever with our God and Savior, Jesus, in His Kingdom without end.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending Your Son to live and die and rise to Your Glory and to be our Salvation. Cause us to live lives of confidence knowing that Jesus is sovereignly reigning over all, bringing His Plan to pass, and there is nothing that happens by chance, but all occurs according to Him Who gave His Life for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Thanksgiving" Sermon: Psalm 90

“Thanksgiving”
[Psalm 90]
November 16, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Many of you will have noticed that I tend to preach through books except during the holidays. During the holidays, I tend to use the Scripture selected in the Lectionary. The Lectionary is a device that divides most of the Scripture into readings over three years. One of the readings for today is the ninetieth Psalm.

The ninetieth Psalm was written by Moses while he was leading the people of Israel in the wilderness. It is one of the oldest pieces of literature in the Bible, and one of the oldest hymns of the Church. Moses wrote this Psalm so all who sing it would remember who God is and who humans are and our relationship with Him. Moses considered, as we shall see, the fact that almost everyone that God delivered from Egypt was going to die in the wilderness for their sin.

What does this Psalm mean for us on this Thanksgiving Sunday?

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Moses begins by reminding Israel – and all those who would believe in the Savior – that the rightful dwelling place of humans is with God. Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden. God is our refuge; we were created to be with Him, and our being separate from God – at odds with God – is an unnatural state. We are not meant to be apart from God.

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth
and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

And Who is this God? This is the Creator God – He Who before everything was created, existed eternally before everything and eternally before time itself. God always is and was and will be.

“You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’

We know, as we have looked at the opening chapters of Genesis recently, that we were not created to die, but due to the sin of our first parents, we all now return to the dust from which we were created. All humans are mortal and all humans die, unless the Lord intervenes. We remember that Elijah was caught up in the whirlwind and never experienced death, and Enoch walked with the Lord and one day was not, as God took him into glory without physical death, and all those who believe and are on the earth when Jesus returns will be taken, right then with Him into glory – but most of us – most of humanity – experience death. So, we are told to turn back – to repent – to find hope, at least, after the death of this body.

“For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watching in the night. You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

This is the Psalm that Peter quoted from to the scoffers who scoffed at Jesus’ Return – that He had not returned after thirty or so years – now we have been waiting over two thousand years, and the scoffers have multiplied. So, understand the difference in perspective between humans and the Everlasting God: a thousand years with God is like an evening past to us. When God destroyed the earth with the flood, it was but a moment to Him. Humans are like the grass that grows up in the morning and withers away at night – that is really the length of our lives, isn’t it? Have you ever said, “Where has the time gone?”

“For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance. For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

We die as a result of sin – remember the Law, “The wages of sin is death...” (Romans 6:23a, ESV). And God knows all our secret sins – nothing is hidden from Him, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “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 4:13, ESV).

Our days have been cut short – Moses knew as the author of the first five books of the Bible, that humans beings were created and lived eight hundred, nine hundred, years when God created us, but after the flood, those years were cut down to one hundred and twenty, and as Moses had led the people through the wilderness and they sinned and sinned and sinned in their ungratefulness for God’s deliverance, God promised that except for Joshua and Caleb, everyone who came out of Egypt would die in the wilderness – which meant that most people died in their seventies – or perhaps, eighties, if the Lord was willing.

And they knew then, as we know now, even a life of a mere seventy or eighty years is not a life of ease, but a life of trouble, especially as we grow older, as our body ceases to work properly, and eventually dies. We don’t like to think about death in our culture – we do what we can to still look young, to pretend that we are young – yet this decay is only one effect of sin – of God’s Wrath for sin.

“Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

Moses says that the Wrath of God is upon humanity for our sin, and it is overwhelming. Yet, none of us has experienced the Wrath of God in it fullness, except for Jesus, as He suffered Hell on the cross for the sake of everyone who would believe. We experience a little of it – we have a taste of it – but Jesus took on the fulness of it, to the point of being forsaken by the Father in the depths of receiving God’s Wrath for your sin and my sin.

So, we ought to consider our sin. We ought to consider the anger that it stirs up in our Holy God. We should consider what we have brought upon Jesus – that we might be thankful to Him and also have a reason to refrain from the depths to which we are prone to descend. We ought to consider our sin, God’s Wrath, understand that sin is why we die, and we will all die, unless the Lord tarries.

How are we spending the time that God has given us? Where – in what – are we seeking our satisfaction?

Moses continues:

“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

Of course, Moses is not saying that there is a way or that we should figure out exactly how long we will live – God has a date marked for each person and then and then alone we shall face death. What Moses is saying is that believers ought to live every moment with purpose – for Jesus and His Gospel – which is all that will remain.

Moses had wealth and power as the adopted grandson of Pharaoh. Yet, hear what is recorded of him by the author of Hebrews: “By faith, when Moses was grown up, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God that to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25, ESV). Did we hear that? Moses is being heralded as an example of faith for making the better choice: he could have stayed in the palace, enjoyed a lifetime of being served, riches, possibly even becoming Pharaoh himself – but that was fleeting – that was nothing, compared to be able to suffer with God’s people. We don’t think like that – “Little Johnny, you can live with so and so the billionaire, have an easy life, everything you could ever want, you can do what you want, or you can go with so and so to be part of a missionary family and likely die completely unknown – which do you choose?” In Moses’ case, we know that the power and the glory of the Pharaoh’s court was worthless – it was sin – compared to the call of God on his life and God’s Salvation for him.

Instead, Moses says we ought ask for wisdom. We may remember that God came to Solomon over a thousand years later, when he had inherited the kingdom of his father, David, and God asked Solomon what he wanted – anything at all – and God would give it to him. What was Solomon’s response? “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David, my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or to come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (I Kings 3:6-9, ESV). Solomon asked for wisdom, and God was pleased. May God be pleased to grant us wisdom to be His people.

“ Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.

So, repent and receive the mercy of the Lord. Be satisfied with Him and give thanks for the steadfast love of the Lord – every morning. And then, and this may sound strange, Moses says we should pray that God would make us glad when He afflicts us. And why are we afflicted? For the years of our evil. Moses wanted Israel to understand that God was afflicting her for her sin – they were dying in the wilderness for their sin – sometimes we suffer – now – for our sin. And Moses says, “rejoice.” Why? We ought rejoice when God afflicts us because God deals with us as a Father and not as a judge; God punishes us for our good, not for our destruction. No one enjoys the discipline of a parent, but it is for our good. God disciplines us because He loves us.

“Let the work be manifested in your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands – O prosper the work of our hands ” (Psalm 90, NRSV).

Moses ends his Psalm with a prayer for Israel – for all of God’s people:

First, he prays that the Lord’s work would be shown to us to do. May God be pleased to give us the wisdom to know what God wants us to do and that we would do it.

Second, he prays that God’s Glorious Power would be known to succeeding generations. May God raise up faithful parents who will teach their children everything that God has taught us and told us, that they would know Him and follow Him.

Third, he prays that God’s favor would be upon all those who believe. May God bless His people, and may everyone know that it is God who has blessed His people for His Own Sake.

And fourth, Moses brings the prayer full circle, praying that God would cause us to do the work He has set before us – that He would provide for our needs and enable us to do all that He has called us to do. May that prayer be a promise fulfilled in each one of us.

How may we apply this Psalm to Thanksgiving?

Let us understand the difference between the Eternal and Holy God and finite humans who have sinned against Him – let us understand how great our sins and miseries are.

Let us understand how we may be delivered from all our sins and miseries – by turning back to God through Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice.

And then let us give thanks to God for His Salvation. Just as God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt, we have been delivered from slavery to sin, and God continues to bless us. God continues to guide us and give us His Wisdom. God has given us work to do as Second Reformed Church – beginning with telling others about Him.

Let us be filled with thanksgiving, now and always.

And let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for bringing us into the Promised Land, for making us the people of Your Kingdom, Your sons and daughters, and for giving us work to do. Cause us to live up to the call You have put on each of our lives, and may we always find reason to rejoice and give thanks to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

"I Hate; I Despise" Sermon: Amos 5:18-24

“I Hate; I Despise”
[Amos 5:18-24]
November 9, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Is God pleased with us when we do everything right? If we have an appropriate order of worship. If we sing hymns that have the right words to good music, if we confess true confessions, if we read the Bible and preach from it alone, if we give generously of our time, talents, and money, will God be pleased with us?

The divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah thought the answer to these questions was, “yes.” Under Uzziah in the North and Jereboam II in the South, Israel and Judah were at peace. Their economies prospered. Their people were happy. They worshiped in the temple and gave of their blessings for the maintenance of the work of God. They followed the ceremonial and civil laws of the land, and all seemed well to them.

The people could be found in the temple, listening to the Word of God and responding to it, crying out, “Come, Day of the Lord Come, Messiah ” They were of the line of Abraham; they had inherited the promises; they were ready for God to bring His Justice to earth – to fulfill the long ago promise made to our first parents in the Garden. If there was ever a time when the sons and daughters of Abraham were ready to meet God – this was it!

But they weren’t ready: they were hypocrites. Everything seemed right. They were wealthy and happy, doing everything that seemed right according to the Word of God. Yet the prophet Amos came among them and revealed that underneath their pristine exterior was idolatry, greed, and dishonesty.

Amos heard them rejoicing and calling out for the Day of the Lord – for God to come with justice on all peoples, and Amos pronounced judgment upon them: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”

Amos told them that they were hypocrites – they put forth a show of being right with God – they did what they thought God wanted – but they had missed the point: all these good works, without a change of heart, are nothing. It is, as Jesus said, washing the outside of the cup while leaving the inside dirty. The last thing someone in their condition should want was for God to come with justice!

If God came to them with justice, and their heart was not changed, they would be facing God as sinners, deserving only of His Wrath, and that would not be the day of light and glory that they thought they would be received into. No, they would be received into gloom, into darkness, into terror, and there would be no escape. The Day of the Lord for those who have not repented of their sin and had their heart changed, will be like a man who runs from a lion only to be killed by a bear, or who runs from a bear only to be killed by a serpent – there is no escape.

Hear the word of Amos: you can be the best person in the world, you can be better than everyone that calls themselves a Christian, you can do everything that is right in the eyes of men and according to the Word of God, but if you do not believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation, if you have not repented of your sin, if your heart has not been changed, you will not be met by the smile of the Savior on that last day, you will be met by the Son of Wrath, with His sword of justice.

And the inhabitants of Israel and Judah cried out, “But wait, we have kept all of the holy days, we have made all of the appropriate sacrifices, we have offered up the best of the best of our animals, we have sung all of the Psalms, and had the best instrumentalists to accompany our singing, and we have become prosperous. Surely, God has heard us and accept us as the sons and daughters of Abraham.”

Amos delivered the Word of the Lord to them: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”

God is not shy in saying “I hate; I despise” – God is not only displeased with them, He is sickened by them. Israel and Judah prided themselves on doing everything right – on making sure God got His grain and His fat offering. They thought God would be satisfied, but they missed the point: God didn’t need their food – God wanted them to understand that they were sinners, in need of a Savior – that they needed to repent of their sin – to change their ways, their hearts – to be right with God.

Hear the word of Amos: it is right to take part in the life of the Church, in worship, the sacraments, in everything that is offered for our benefit, and in giving of our time, talent, and money, but God doesn’t need any of those things from us. God is Holy and Self-sufficient. If we think we are benefitting God by doing these things, God is disgusted and rejects our offerings. God wants us to understand that each one of us is a sinner, separated from God by our sin, in need of a Savior, the One and Only Savior, Jesus, and then we are recognize our need and give thanks for our salvation by taking part in all these things that God has told us to do – all those things that God offers us and calls us to do and be in His Church.

Amos continued to speak for God saying, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” Amos told Israel and Judah that they had to begin – not with calling for God to judge the earth – but with their relationship with God. They needed to humble themselves and come to God in repentance, seeking their own holiness, seeking that they, themselves, would be bringers of justice. They needed to come to God with a pure and a sincere heart. That is what they ought to be doing – that is where their life ought to begin and end in God.

In the next generation, the prophet Micah would bring a similar message. He would say to Israel and Judah, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, ESV).

Hear the word of Amos: On this stewardship Sunday, we ought to understand two things: if we have not repented and believed in Jesus Alone for our salvation, all the good works and gifts we bring are worthless. God hates and despises them and calls us to justice and righteousness in our own hearts. But, if we have received Jesus Alone for our salvation, then we ought to be about doing all these good, merciful, just, and loving things that God has called us to do, and we ought to do them in humility, as for God and not men.

What kind of steward have you been? Have you come back to God through Jesus Alone? Or are you still trying to earn your way to being right with God? God doesn’t need anything, so our gifts and services will never make you right with Him. But God chose, from before the foundation of the world to send His Son, so that everyone who would believe in Him would be saved – forgiven for their sin – counted as righteous in Him – that they would be right with God – received by Him as His son or daughter. And Jesus died to make that happen for each one who will believe. And then He rose from the dead and ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of God. Do you believe? Have you repented and believed in Him Alone for your salvation?

If you have, then receive this promise of God, that “to all who [do] receive [Jesus], who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13, ESV).

And as His children, now purpose to give back to Him your whole self and your whole life, including generous giving from all you have been given, as you love the Lord your God and your neighbor, and as you take part in the work of Jesus Christ in this church.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we give thanks to You for all the blessings we have received. Keep us from trying to buy You with those blessings, and make us understand that Your Salvation is free through Jesus Christ Alone. And for all who have received His Salvation, we ask that You would lead us in faithful stewardship, as a thank offering, and an acknowledgment that everything is Yours. May Jesus Christ be Praised, Amen.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

On the News

A commentator serious said, "It seems a forgone conclusion that either Senator Obama or Senator McCain will win this election, but I wouldn't want to prognosticate until all the votes are in."

Go VOTE!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"Future Blessings" Sermon: Matthew 5:1-12

“Future Blessings”
[Matthew 5:1-12]
November 2, 2008 Second Reformed Church

You have heard what we call “the Beatitudes” this morning. “Beatitude” simply means “blessing.” You have heard the blessings this morning. These are nine future blessings that come to Christians. So, “rejoice and be glad,” if you believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation, good news – you are blessed – you will receive future blessings!

On this All Saints’ Sunday, as we remember those who have died and joined Jesus in Paradise, waiting for the culmination of all things and the full indwelling of the Kingdom, let us quickly consider these promises of future blessings from our God and Savior, Jesus.

“And [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are we when during affliction we submit ourselves humbly to God, considering everything in this world to be empty – nothing – compared to that which we long for in Jesus. If we are humble, if we turn to God – to Jesus – at all times, we will receive eternal life with Jesus. If everything that occurs to us – good and bad – fades away into nothingness when compared with Jesus and the glory that comes with Him, then we will be with Him eternally.

Paul wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV).

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Mourning prepares us for eternal joy: this world is a world of mourning, a world of suffering, a world that is not what God created it to be. Human sin has plunged the world into darkness. And as we endure through mourning, and with the mourning of our brothers and sisters, we understand all the more profoundly how much greater the comfort to be found in Jesus is.

We may remember an episode of “All in the Family” where Mike, the atheist son-in-law, was arguing that evil in the world proves that there is no Heaven. He asks Archie, his father-in-law, “If there is a God, and a Heaven, why does God allow evil?” Archie turns to his wife, Edith, for an answer, and she says, “Well, maybe so when we get there, we’ll notice the improvement.” The answer is not quite right, but it does suggest the point of this beatitude: those who mourn shall be comforted, and the worst mourning – suffering – that we endure – will be met in Jesus with comfort to surpass it. Our mourning now helps us to see – and hope for – so great a comfort.

Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we also have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).

‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are we who are mild, gentle, ready to endure anything for the sake of Christ, but never willing to follow after the wicked. We who calmly, quietly do the work of the Lord and refuse to follow after evil and sin, shall inherit the earth.

We looked at this as we went through Peter’s letters and asked the question of what this could mean, since so many teach that the planet will be destroyed and we will just live as spirit-beings. And we saw that this is not so, that we will be resurrected and restored. The life after this life is a physical life. Hear again Paul’s words:

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 819-25, ESV).

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are we whose greatest desire is for Christ and His Righteousness. Blessed are we who consider everything other than Christ an unworthy treasure. We shall find our satisfaction in Christ – He will satisfy us by giving us Himself – and accomplishing His Work in us.

David expressed this when he wrote, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So have I looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and your glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:1-8, ESV).

And we hear this promise in Paul, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:26, ESV).

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are we who are not merely willing to bear with our own afflictions, but take on the afflictions of others. Blessed are we who sympathize and empathize with others in their distress. We shall receive mercy from God. It is for us that Christ bore our afflictions.

Paul reminds us of this duty: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, ESV).

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are we who are innocent – we who are not practiced in deceit. Blessed are we who don’t know how to lie and trick and deceive. For we shall see God on that final day. We shall come into His Presence and see Him and live – and live eternally with Him.

We remember Jesus’ warning, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, so be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV).

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.

Blessed are we who seek peace – we who seek to settle disagreements – we who try with all that we are to keep there from being strife. Blessed are we who seek to grow love among all our neighbors – that love that we find in Christ. We, then, shall be called the sons and daughters of God. We shall bear His Name correctly and show Him as He is.

Our God is a God of peace – not the peace that the world gives, but the peace that only comes through Jesus. His is not a peace that throws away the Truth, but makes the Truth the grounds of peace. “May the God of peace be with you all. Amen” (Romans 15:33, ESV).

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are we when we suffer for Jesus’ Sake – for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of defending Who Jesus is. We saw this in Peter’s letters, as the Christians were escaping the persecution of Nero, Peter told them that if they suffered for the sake of Christ, it was a good and blessed thing, but if they suffered for their own sins, well, that was their own fault, and they should take no pride in that.

If we live for Jesus, we will be persecuted in some way: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12, ESV).

Peter wrote, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled’ (I Peter 3:13-14, ESV). For such shall have life eternal with Jesus.

‘Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’”

And we are blessed when the hypocrites accuse us of all kinds of evil for the sake of Christ – not if we have done evil, but if they accuse us as hypocrites – falsely charging us with crimes because of our testimony for Christ – rejoice We will have received the same treatment that the prophets received – the same treatment that the saints in glory received. We are in good company – did they do any less to our Lord and Savior, Jesus?

Peter wrote, “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if it should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (I Peter 3:15-17, ESV).

Nine future blessings for Christians, which also tell us to expect this life to be unfair. We should expect this life to be hard. We should expect this life to be full of disappointments, suffering, and hardship. And if we do – if we understand that Christ does not promise us a “bowl of cherries” in this life, we can bear with what happens here, by trusting Jesus, by trusting in His Promises, by looking forward to those blessings, and to the glory that is coming soon with Him when he returns.

The world without Jesus looks at war and economic strife, racism, sexism, ageism, inequality, pain, and suffering, and has no where to go with it. They are trapped, and either have to deny reality or fall under it. An atheist friend of mine and I were talking about the world and its trouble, and I asked him where his hope was, and he answered me honestly, with the only answer he could give as an atheist, “Hope is unrealistic.”

Brothers and sisters, we have hope! We have the sure promise of future blessings – blessings that the saints in glory are already beginning to enjoy. We can look forward in hope, in surety, and confess with Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, ESV). The worst we endure for the sake of Christ is nothing compared with the promises – the glory – that awaits us in Him. So hold fast to those promises, to those blessings that await us in Jesus. Let us remember that all those who have gone on before us in Christ await us in that glory. And we can live for Christ because we have hope, because Jesus took our place and shed His Blood, crediting us with His Righteousness and forgiving us for all our sins.

Let us prepare to meet Him at the Table, and let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, our Hope and Future Blessing, You are worthy of everything we are and everything we can give. Use us for Your Sake. Glorify Yourself through us. Magnify Yourself. And keep the Hope of Jesus before us – that in Him, we have life eternal, to the everlasting glory of God. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Classis of Passaic Valley

will meet tonight (D.V.) at Athenia Reformed Church in Clifton, NJ at 5:30 PM. Don't forget! (Though, since our agenda is about money, sex, and Roman Catholicism, turnout will probably be high...)

November Sermons

D.V., I will preach:

11/2/08 Communion/All Saints' Matthew 5:1-12 "Future Blessings"
11/9/08 Stewardship Amos 5:18-24 "I Hate; I Despise"
11/16/08 Thanksgiving Psalm 90 "Thanksgiving"
11/23/08 Christ the King I Corinthians 15:20-28 "Jesus Reigns"
11/30/08 Advent 1 Isaiah 64:1-9a "Maranatha"

Join us each Sunday at 10:30 AM for worship!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"A Full Reformation" Sermon: Exodus 22:21-27

“A Full Reformation”
[Exodus 22:21-27]
October 26, 2008 Second Reformed Church

This church, Second Reformed Church, is part of the denomination, the Reformed Church in America. We hold to the Dutch Reformed Standards: the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. And today, by the way, is Reformation Sunday. This is the day we remember that Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517 – the “start” of the Reformation.

Reformed. Reformation. What do we mean? It’s not as difficult to explain as it sometimes seems: re-form. Ours is a tradition that constantly seeks to re-form itself according to the Scripture Alone. Martin Luther said he didn’t care what the popes and councils said, because they could be wrong, we have to go back to the Bible – most of which is understandable – comprehensible – by most people. Being Reformed means that what we believe and do is based on going back to the Bible, understanding what God has said to believe and do – because the Bible is God-breathed – it is the inerrant, infallible, Word of God. Our answer to anything being brought before us ought to be, “Well, what has God said about this in His Word?”

Sometimes Reformed churches have gotten a bad reputation as being all about believing the right thing, having unreadable documents that explain things that no one understands. But that’s not what being Reformed is about. Being Reformed is about knowing what God has said is true in His Word – yes – but it is also about living those things out – doing those things God has said to do. The Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – who were Reformed – taught what they called “experimental faith.” That is, it is not enough to believe all the right things, those things we believe must be “experimented on” – they must be lived out.

Understand, it is of utmost importance that we return to the Scripture and ask if what we are being taught is true. Luke commends the Bereans as he records, “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11, ESV). The Bereans listened to the preaching of Paul and Silas, but they didn’t just leave it at that and think, “Well, it’s Paul and Silas, they must be right.” No, they opened their Bibles and checked to make sure that what Paul and Silas said was what God said. We must do likewise.

But it is also of utmost importance that we live out those things we learn from the Scripture. As James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have good works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).

Being Reformed, then, is about have right credenda and right agenda – right belief and right action. We are to “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] strength and with all [our] mind, and our neighbor as ourself” (Luke 10:27b, ESV). We begin with a right understand of Who God is and who our neighbor is and what it means to love them and, then, we actually love them – we do something beyond mere understanding and belief.

In our text, we see four of the laws that were given to the nation of Israel while they were wandering in the wilderness after God had freed them from Egypt. Now, Reformed or not, we in the twenty-first century are not ancient Israel, and the ceremonial and civil aspects of the law that God gave to ancient Israel do not apply to us. However, the moral law and all the moral aspects of the law, apply to all people throughout time and space.

So, on this Reformation Sunday, let us look at a few “experimental” ways we are to live out the Reformed faith among our fellow humans:

First, “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppose him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

God told Israel that she was not to wrong a visitor in Israel; she was to do good to the visitor in Israel, because she had been a visitor – a stranger – in the land of Egypt. She was to deal honestly with anyone who came into Israel, to care for them, to show them the God of Israel, to help them, provide for their needs, do whatever they could to help the stranger and then send them on to where they were going. She was not to cheat them or harm them or do anything that would diminish them.

If people from another country visit, or from another state, or just not from around here, we should be on our best behavior. We should show them what a Christian looks like. We ought to do those things which lead them to want to know about our God and Savior. We ought to be as helpful to the stranger – the visitor – as we can, because our Salvation is in Jesus Alone. Well, how does that make sense?

Paul wrote, “And [Jesus] came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:17-22, ESV).

In other words, we were all once strangers to Salvation in Jesus, but He saved us and made us His Own, part of His Holy Temple, so we, likewise, ought to receive everyone else in Jesus’ Name and for His Sake. Anyone and everyone who comes into God’s House looking for Him is welcome – no matter who they are, no matter what their past is, no matter what they look like, no matter where they come from.

If someone comes into this sanctuary that you don’t know, greet them. If someone new moves in next door or into your building, greet them, invite them to worship. Be friendly towards all those you come in contact with. And, if someone has a real need that you can meet, especially within the church, do so. As Paul wrote, “So then, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10, ESV).

On the other hand, each of us must be honest. Whenever and wherever we are the stranger, we are not to take advantage of the hospitality and love of others. We do wrong to take when we don’t need. Otherwise, that is stealing and abusing others. Likewise, we must not assume that others should do for us or that others can do for us. We are to care for ourselves to the extent that we can, then, we may look to others for help. Our country and our churches are plagued with people who take when they do not need.

If you have believed in Jesus Alone for your Salvation, part of what it means to be Reformed, part of what it means to be a Christian, is to do whatever good we can for others, and to refrain from doing harm.

Second, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

Within the covenant community of Israel, and now within the covenant community of the Church, we are to do whatever we can to make sure the needs of the “weak” are met. The widow and the orphan tend to have additional needs and need help, so the Church is to step up and help. James wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27, ESV).

Now, does that mean that widows and orphans should just kick back on the welfare list and live off begging from the Church? Of course not All people, including widows and orphans are to work for their sustenance, as much as they are able, and if there are any family members at all, they are to assist their relatives in meeting true needs. After this, then the Church is to come in and do whatever she is able.

There are people who are not able to work for one reason or another – some are physically or mentally incapacitated. But if you have a need and you can work, you must work. And there are those who have relatives who refuse their duty and will not help. But if you have relatives, you must appeal to them for help with your real needs.

Then, the Church is to address the needs of her widows and orphans that are not being met and find ways to fill them. And we do well to note that, although we are generally to do all we can for all people, we are to first use our blessings and gifts to address the needs of those in the Church.

So, if you are a Christian this morning, part of being Reformed, part of having received Salvation in Jesus Alone, is being available to address the needs to those, especially within the Church, who are unable to fill their needs on their own, by whatever means you are able. This especially refers to the widows and orphans in our churches.

And notice the seriousness with which God treats this: He says that if we harm the stranger, if we do not do good to the stranger, to the widow, to the orphan, to those truly in need, unable to find help elsewhere – if we are able to help and we refuse – God says, “I will kill you with the sword.”

Third, “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.”

If someone was a member of the nation of Israel, and he had fallen on hard times, this law meant that he would be able to borrow money, at no interest, until a set time. Why? It’s part of the same principle we have just discussed – doing whatever we can to help others in need. Of course, if someone doesn’t truly need a loan, he shouldn’t apply for it or accept it.

This law is not a way to get out of debt free. It is not a way to avoid your responsibility. It is not a way to force others to clean up your mistakes. And it does not mean that it is always wrong to charge interest – Israel rightly charged interest on loans to Gentiles. Jesus said that it was right to put money in the bank to earn interest.

The problem being addressed here is two-fold: first, it is saying that usury is wrong; it is wrong to charge exorbitant amounts of interest. The word that is translated “exact interest” can be literally translated, “you shall not be a man-eater.” And secondly, if a person is honestly poor and in need, it is more kind and loving to loan a brother or sister money at no interest. But pay your loans back on time and with thanks

If Carlos was suddenly in trouble with the wine business and came to me for a loan, truly in need, with no other way to survive except to ask me for a loan, it would be right for me to give him a loan of what I could afford to loan him. It would be right for it to be a straight loan with a due date, which he would pay back in full on that date. It would be a sin for me to charge him 40% interest. It would be a sin for him to take my money when he had a million dollars in the bank. (It is a sin for banks to make loans to people who cannot repay them. It is a sin for people to take a loan when they know they cannot repay it.)

But, if you are a Christian this morning, if you believe that your Salvation in Jesus is worth more to you thank your bank account and your stock, and your love your brothers and sisters in Christ, consider an example: If a sister in the church comes to you and explains to you that she lost her job six months ago, and she has gone through her savings, and she has diligently been applying for a job, but nothing has panned out, and she has a car payment coming due, which she cannot afford to pay, and she has been living frugally, not charging up anything and everything she wants at every whim, and you have plenty of money in the bank, and your spouse is in agreement with you, it would be right and appropriate and godly to loan that sister the money she needs, and she ought to repay the full amount – at no interest – at whatever point you agree to have it repaid. Does that make sense?

The point is to do whatever we are able to do to help others in need – lovingly, responsibly, honestly. And each person must only claim a real need, as Paul wrote, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28, ESV), and “...aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependant on no one” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12, ESV), and “For even while we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (II Thessalonians 3:10-12, ESV).

Fourth, “If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear him, for I am compassionate.”

Ancient Israel did not have centrally heated homes and many people lived out of doors, at least for part of the year. This law takes that into account: there may be times when a deal is made even though a person does not have the full or correct item in trade. In such a case, something else might be taken in pledge until such time as the proper trade could be made. Here, the law is about taking the nighttime cloak, what we might think of as the bedding, in pledge. And the law is saying that it is alright to take someone’s bedding in pledge, but, out of mercy for the person, it is to be returned in the evening, and then taken back the next morning, so the person is able to sleep safely and warmly.

How might we show that love and concern in making a deal? Well, let’s say someone with masonry skills was in financial trouble, and you didn’t have any extra money, but you happened to have a great deal of food. You might make the trade of food for masonry work on your property and to make sure that the person didn’t slack off on the job, or leave, you might take their cell phone in pledge. But, when the day was done, you would give the cell phone back, so he could get his messages and call who he needs to. You would not keep his cell phone for days on end without allowing him to check his messages, because that would put him in worse shape than when he first came to you.

Here, the agreement is a serious one – a real one – but it is not abusive to the person who is needy. Again, it is about being loving and doing what we can to help each other and not abuse each other, especially in our need.

These are but a few examples. There are many more in the Scripture. What we need to understand today, on this Reformation Sunday, is that we are right in believing that our Salvation is all of God, through Jesus Alone. We are justified by faith alone, not by our works – that was one of the major Reformation understandings. However, that faith, that belief, that Salvation in Jesus Alone, ought to lead us to be a different kind of people – a people who live to love God and our neighbor. And by loving our neighbor, we mean that we do not harm others, if there is any way around it, and we do everything we can to make everyone’s life better, especially those within the Church. We are to understand that God has gifted us and blessed us – not just for ourselves – but so we can help others in their true need.

Let us learn and believe what is True and Right – everything God has said in His Word. And then let us live those things out – let it be a full reformation within us – that we believe rightly and act rightly. And may it all be to the glory of God.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for giving understanding to Martin Luther and the other major figures of the Reformation. We thank You for the understanding that Salvation is all of You and nothing of us. We thank You that You chose to save us and have done so by Your Mighty Right Hand through Jesus our Lord. We ask that you would lead us now in good works, always looking for ways to show Who You are and the Salvation that comes only through Your Son, as we meet others where they are, in response and for the sake of what You have done for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.