Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

February Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

2/3/08 Communion/Transfiguration Genesis 1:1-2:4 "And It Was Good"
2/6/08 Ash Wednesday 7PM Acts 16:16-34 "What Is Our Greatest Need?"
2/10/08 Lent 1 Matthew 6:5-15 "Why Do We Pray?"
2/17/08 Lent 2 James 1:16-18 "Does Prayer Change God?"
2/24/08 Lent 3 Romans 8:14-16 "The Address"

Monday, January 28, 2008

"God Created" Sermon: Genesis 1:1-2:4

"God Created"
[Genesis 1:1-2:4]
January 27, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Last week we began what, if the Lord wills, will be a three week look at beginnings. Last week we saw that God is Eternal and Triune. God existed before the creation and before the creation of time. And we saw that God created because it pleased Him to created -- not because He had any need to create.

Last week we thought about the "when" of creation in the sense of what it told us about God. Keeping that in mind, let us now think about Who created, how the creation occurred, and what was created.

Who created? Well, the sermon title is, "God created," so there is not much mystery in this question. In our Scripture, we are told that "in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." But let's remember that we saw last week that God is a Single Being Who exists in Three Persons -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Which Person created? Or did more than one Person create?

In the first verse of Genesis, we are told that God created. The word that is used for God is Elohim. This is a plural word in Hebrew. Out of context, we would translate this word as "gods," but since we know that the Hebrews only believed in One God, we translate it as "God," yet there is an understanding that there is a plurality in the One God.

Look at verse twenty-six of chapter one: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'" That is a correct translation, God speaks to Himself in the plural because God is One God, but Three Persons, as we know from the doctrine of the Trinity.

So, more than one Person of the Trinity was involved in the creation, but were two Persons involved, or all three?

In II Kings 19:15 we read, "And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: 'O Lord the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth, you have made the heaven and the earth.'" In this Scripture, Hezekiah uses the Name, YHWH, to address God -- that most personal, most Holy Name of God.

When we come to the New Testament we read, "And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, 'Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them'" (Acts 4:24). The Hebrew word, YHWH, is replaced with the Greek word, Theos. And in I Corinthians 8:6a, "yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist." Here, we are told that Theos is the Pater. This God is the Father.

The testimony of the Scripture is God the Father created.

Let us look at Genesis 1:2 -- in our pew Bible, we read "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the waters." You may have noticed a footnote that reads, "Or while the spirit of God or while a mighty wind." Technically, out of context, these are all correct, the word ruach means "life-force, wind, breath, spirit, Holy Spirit," and one must determine which it is from the context.

Other than our pew translation and some modern scholars, Christendom has historically understood ruach to be referring to the participation of God the Holy Spirit in creation. That's why I have altered the reading of this Scripture for the past two weeks. It makes more sense in the context that "God the Holy Spirit was hovering over the face of the deep" than to say that is was windy.

The question of the participation of God the Son is much clearer: "there is...one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (I Corinthians 8:6b). "For by [Jesus] 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" (Colossians 1:16).

Thus, all Three Persons of the Trinity -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, created all that is.

But how?

If we believe the science text books in our public schools, billions and billions of years ago, there was this infinitesimal speck of dense matter that always existed, and it blew up. It spread throughout the universe, and accidently, by chance, formed into one-celled organisms, which, over time, accidently, by chance, became human beings. Of course, science also denies that matter is eternal, and there is not one shred of evidence to support a speck of dust accidently, by chance, over time, becoming me...

"By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible" (Hebrews 11:3). The Scripture tells us that God, Who is a Spirit, and always existed, outside of time, before time, before the creation of anything, including matter -- God said, "Let there be..." and there was. By the power of God's Word, time and matter came into existence -- everything that is. God spoke all that is into existence. God didn't take stuff that was and make it into everything that is -- no, once there was God and nothing else, then God spoke the word and creation occurred.

How did God create?

We can believe the textbooks, that scientists say that though they don't believe in the eternality of matter, there was at least once piece of eternal matter that, one day, for no reason, blew up, and accidently, by chance, created everything that is...

Or, we can believe that God is so great a Being that God spoke the Word and brought everything into existence for His Pleasure.

God created everything other than Himself. Hebrews 3:4, "For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God." Revelation 4:11, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

Now, let us understand that "in the beginning," God created everything that is by His Word, but let us also understand that God also uses secondary causes to create. In other words, God created and continues to create with matter and through others now. The initial creation was spoken into existence -- creation ex nihilo, we say -- but God now also uses matter and others to create through.

We see this in our Scripture, after God brought the animals and plants into existence, God commanded them to be fruitful and multiply -- the creation was continued through the plants and animals reproducing through their own systems of reproduction, rather than God calling each one into existence.

And God did not call humans into existence, we're told that Adam was created out of the dirt in the Garden of Eden: "Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature" (Genesis 2:7). Also, Eve: "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man" (Genesis 2:20-21).

But, what exactly did God create?

God created time, space, and matter.

God created light and darkness.

God created water and the heavens.

God created dry land.

God created plants and trees.

God created the sun, moon, and stars.

God created the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and every other creature that exists on land and sea and sky.

And God blessed all the living and told them to multiply -- God continues His creation through the course of reproduction through plants and animals.

And God created humans -- male and female -- you and me.

God created everything that is -- except for Himself.

What shall we say to this? That the Triune God created everything that is by the power of His Word and continues His Work of creation through natural reproduction?

We've heard the most appropriate response already: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Revelation 4:11).

Let us praise our God. Let us look at and consider the creation and praise our God.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, Mighty Creator, He Alone Who is worthy of all praise from all creation, we lift up Your Name and praise You and rejoice in You this morning. Great are You, O God, and worthy to receive everlasting praise from us for everything that is, for the love and joy and awe You instill in us through Your creation. May we be a pleasure to You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:14 --

"For the Spirit of glory and God resteth upon you.] He proves what he affirmeth; If ye suffer for Christs sake, Its an argument ye have the Spirit of God in you, which is a glorious Spirit, and makes you glorious. notwithstanding the ignominy and reproach the world casts upon you, as though you were of all others the vilest; whereupon you must needs be blessed, which Spirit is on their part ill spoken of, but on yours that suffer is glorified; So that as the Spirit makes you glorious, you glorifie it by your constant and joyful suffering."

-- John Rogers, 589.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:14 --

"See that wicked persecuters make Gods Servants happy, yes, more happy then they should be, so that in seeking their hurt, they do them good in many ways; They purge and try them, make them the more dear to God, and set the greater Crown upon their heads; what a privilege have the Servants of God, that all things, even their persecution should work together for their good; Its not so with others, yet are not we to thank the wicked for this, who intend no such thing: The Caldeans and Sabeans were an occasion that Job had twice as much goods given him as he had before, but no thank to them, for they took from him what they could; Its God who blesseth the more those whom the wicked curse."

-- John Rogers, 588.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:13 --

"O how should this [the affliction of God's servants] not make us patient onely, but joyful in persecution: If we sow in tears, we shall reap in joy: If we suffer for Christ, we may rejoyce and be glad, for great is our reward in Heaven: If we forsake father, or mother, or house, or land, &c. for Christs sake, we shall have life everlasting: Is not this an happy change? This made the holy Servants of God set light by all they had, not that they were fools, and knew not what they did, or were senseless; no, the assurance of an eternal joy and inheritance in Heaven, swallowed up all, and so should it be with us."

-- John Rogers, 586.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"In the Beginning" Sermon: Genesis 1:1-2:4

"In the Beginning"
[Genesis 1:1-2:4]
January 20, 2008 Second Reformed Church

It's one of the best known Scriptures: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." And, if the Lord is willing, as we are at the beginning of a new year, it seemed an appropriate time for us to spend a few weeks considering beginnings, as we find it in the first chapter, or so, of Genesis.

Today, let us consider only one item -- that is, the "when" of creation. We are not going to consider the date or the year of the creation, though there are both good and not-so good arguments about that "when" of beginnings. What we are going to look at is "when" in the sense of what it means -- what it tells us about God -- if creation occurred "in the beginning."

We're going to love God with our minds this morning, so share your heads -- whatever you need to do to get your brain flowing.

If I said to you that I am going to preach this morning, you would understand that I exist before I preach, right? In order for me to preach, I must exist, and I must exist prior to my preaching.

You are here to worship this morning. If you are here to worship, it means that you decided to come to this church -- to this sanctuary -- to worship. It means that you existed before you came to worship, before you decided to come to worship, right?

So, if God created "in the beginning," God existed before the beginning, right? If God created everything that exists "in the beginning," God existed before everything else existed. OK? Before the creation, God is -- God existed.

Moses tells us in Psalm 90, "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust, and say, 'Return, O children of man!' For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as the watch in the night" (Psalm 90:1-4).

And the Psalmist wrote, "Your throne is established from old; you are from everlasting" (Psalm 93:2). And again, "You, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. Of old you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end" (Psalm 102:12, 25-26).

God speaks of Himself to the prophet Isaiah, "Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last, I am he" (Isaiah 41:4)

And Paul writes to the young minister, Timothy, "To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. ... he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen" (I Timothy 1:17, 6:15b-16).

All of these Scriptures tell us that God existed before the beginning -- that God is before the beginning. God is An Eternal Being Who has neither a beginning nor an end. God always was, God is, and God always will be. God is immortal.

And we may say, "Yes, that's true, but didn't C. S. Lewis once say, 'You have never seen a mortal man'? And wasn't he making the point that humans beings, though we die, we shall all be raised to live eternally, suffering in Hell, or worshiping before the Throne of God?"

It's true: all of us live, most of us will die in our bodies, and all of us will be raised to life eternal -- in one place or the other. All human beings are eternal creatures. Every human being in the sanctuary will live eternally.

So the question being raised is, "So what's the big deal about God? God is Eternal; God is Immortal. So are you; so am I."

The difference is that at one time, you and I were not. There was a time when you and I did not exist. You and I came into existence in the moment of conception, before that we did not exist. We exist from the moment of conception throughout all of eternity -- present and future.

But God always was and is and will be. There was never a time when God did not exist and there will never be a time when God does not exist. God exists infinitely, eternally, backwards through time -- and before the beginning, before time existed -- and infinitely, eternally, forward through time.

Every human being exists as a arrow from conception onward. But God exists infinitely and eternally, an arrow pointing in both direction from now and forever, and before and before time.

You see, before the beginning, before God created, there was no matter -- there was no suff, and there was also no time. Time is a part of the creation; it did not exist prior to the beginning. God always is, in time and before time, in time and in timelessness. God is the Only Self-Existent Being. Everything other than God is created by God or something that God created. But God is. He just is. That is what these Scriptures tells us.

And you may ask, as people have asked, "What was God doing before the creation?" The great church father, St. Augustine was asked, "What was God doing before He created the world?" And St. Augustine answered, "Creating Hell for people who ask stupid questions." Of course He was speaking tongue-in-cheek.

Before "the beginning," before the creation, God is. God Alone existed, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Before the creation God existed in perfect happiness with His Triune Self. He gloried in His Being, and that was all God needed.

And we find that difficult to conceptualize: we cannot form a picture of the Triune God existing with Himself, outside of time and space, with nothing else in existence. That is the truth that the Scripture teaches us, but it doesn't fit in our brains. It is a point at which we have to just affirm what we are taught and understand that there are things about God that are too wonderful for our understanding.

But then, someone might ask, "Well, if God was perfectly happy with Himself, prior to the existence of space and time and all things, including humans, then why did God create anything? Why did God ever create the beginning -- why did He start the clocks of eternity forward -- if God was completely fulfilled in Himself and didn’t need anything?"

The Scripture gives us this answer: God created because it pleased Him.

Solomon quotes the pre-Incarnate Christ about His Existence and His Relationship with the Father and the joy and pleasure They had in creating, "Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths, I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned the sea to its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundation of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man" (Proverbs 8:23-31).

God does what God does because it pleases Him.

So, Who is this God Who created "in the beginning"?

God is the Only Self-Existent Being; He has no creator.

God always was and always is and always will be.

God is before time, outside of time, and in time -- forever past and forever into the future.

God is the Triune God Who is always in perfect felicity with Himself.

And God is the God Who created "in the beginning," because it pleased Him to do so.

Let us pray:
Almighty, Eternal, Infinite God. We thank You for the revelation of Your Word. We thank You for the insight Your Word gives us into Your Character and Being. Help us to know You better, to be more amazed and humbled by Your Being, and to know when our minds are too small to say anything more. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:13 --

"If we be so dealt with at any time [to suffer for Christ], we need not think hardly, but rejoyce, not think hardly: He was the glorious Son of God, we poor mortal Creatures, dust and ashes; He most holy and righteous, and perfectly pure, we miserable sinners, which though not at mens hands which wrong us, yet at Gods have deserved all evil, both here and in Hell. If we turn to our opprobrious sufferings here, and perpetual torments of Hell, into a few short glorious sufferings, we have no cause to think hardly; yea, having suffered all for us, we may well suffer for him, we can never lose hereby, nor can ever suffer to much for him, as he hath done for us; nay, not onely we must not think hardly at our sufferings, but we have cause to rejoyce, that we are advanced to be like our Master, made conformable to our head Christ Jesus: He is a bold Servant, that is not content to fare as his Master fares; Those Worthies that have gone before us, have accomplished it their honor, and a special favor that they have drunk of this Cup."

-- John Rogers, 585.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Annual Meeting

This Sunday (D.V.) is our annual meeting and pot-luck lunch. We ask that all members be in attendance -- and bring lots of great food!

"He Will Please His Father" Sermon: Matthew 3:13-17

"He Will Please His Father"
[Matthew 3:13-17]
January 13, 2008 Second Reformed Church

When Jesus was about thirty years old, He left Galilee and went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. When John heard Jesus' request, John was upset and tried to refuse: "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" What did he mean? Why didn't John want to baptize Jesus?

Well, what was John doing? In his own words, "I baptize you with water for repentance" (Matthew 3:11a). John was carrying out the symbolic sacrament of running water over a person to symbolize that, in repentance, a person is forgiven for his sin. Just as water washes away dirt, so repentance washes away sin. John was administering the sacrament of baptism to those who confessed that they are sinners in need of forgiveness and cleansing. Now do we see the problem?

Peter wrote, "Jesus committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth" (I Peter 2:22). Jesus, though He is Completely Human, was not born with original sin, He never sinned Himself -- He never dishonored His parents, He never lied, He never lusted after the girl in school who smiled at Him, and so forth. Jesus never ever committed a sin, yet He came to John to receive the sacrament of baptism for the repentance of sin. Why?

Our Scripture this morning gives us two reasons:

First, Jesus said, "Let it be so now for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Well, what does that mean?

That means that Jesus kept all of God's Law perfectly. When we say that Jesus is righteous, we are saying that He not only did not sin, but He kept all of God's Law perfectly. Since we do not keep God's Law perfectly, in order for us to be justified before God, in order for us to be declared innocent and holy at the judgment, Jesus Righteousness must be imputed or credited to our accounts.

Therefore, everything that God requires in the Law must have been kept and never broken by Jesus for us to be righteous. We are required to be baptized as a sign and a symbol of our being saved by Jesus Alone. We are commanded to be baptized in the One Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, though Jesus did not need to be baptized due to His sin, He was baptized for our sakes, because we do sin. And in being baptized, Jesus sanctified baptism for us -- He made baptism a sacrament and a means of grace for Christians.

When we say that Jesus was baptized "to fulfill all righteousness," we mean that Jesus was baptized to prove or authenticate John’s baptism. Jesus was baptized so He would have experienced, first, the baptism that is required of every Christian. Jesus was baptized so that in every way it would be known that He kept and fulfilled every part and aspect of the Law of God. Jesus was baptized for our sakes, so we would know that baptism is necessary and commanded by God of all Christians, but only Jesus Alone saves.

In other words, Jesus was baptized to fulfill part of God's Law. He was baptized so we would know that we are to be baptized. (Since Jesus was baptized, baptism is a holy sacrament, and when the elect are baptized, we receive grace from God.) And He was baptized to show that our salvation is in Jesus Alone.

Second, Jesus, in all that He does, will please His Father. The Father spoke from Heaven after Jesus' Baptism and said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Jesus was baptized because it pleased His Father. Why?

Jesus' being baptized pleased His Father because in doing so, He kept His Father's Law -- as we have already seen. Jesus kept His Father's Law perfectly and experienced every aspect of keeping the Law before we were required to keep it.

The Father was also pleased because in Jesus' Baptism, the Holy Trinity was clearly seen as being One in Deity and Purpose. Jesus, God the Son, stood in the Jordan to be baptized, God the Father spoke His approval from Heaven, and God the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and remained with Him.

Similarly, it pleased the Father that Jesus was baptized, because it dramatized the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit that occurs for every Christian. Just as God the Holy Spirit indwells Jesus, so the Holy Spirit also indwells every true believer.

And this also pleased the Father in Jesus' Baptism: since every human being that God elected to believe in Him will come to faith and receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, none of them will be lost, since it is alone the Work of God. As Jesus said, "Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled" (John 17:11b-12).

So Jesus' Baptism pleased His Father because Jesus kept God's Law. It pleased His Father because God's Triune Nature was clearly shown. It pleased His Father because it dramatized and inaugurated the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit in each believer. And it pleased His Father because it sealed the Father's election of His people to salvation.

So what does this mean for us?

It means that every Christian should receive the sacrament of baptism -- once. If you are a Christian this morning and you have not been baptized, obey Jesus' Command -- ask me or one of the elders to schedule your baptism.

It means that we should understand that every Christian who receives the sacrament of baptism receives Grace from God to strengthen and mature him.

And it means that we should know and believe that Jesus was not baptized for His sin, because He is sinless. Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, to obey God's Law, to make the sacrament holy for us, and Jesus was baptized to please His Father.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, help us to understand the seriousness of baptism. Let us not believe it is something of no means or power. Help us to remember that Jesus was baptized to fulfill Your Law, to sanctify the sacrament, and to please You. Make us and all Christians desire to be baptized, not for our salvation, but as a sign and seal of what Jesus did for us. And may we receive Your Grace, and live all things to Your Glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:9 --

"If it be thus [that ministers are to use part of their resources to help others], then it was doubtless Gods minde, That a Minister should have wherewithal, even competent maintenance for himself and his, and to do good to others."

-- John Rogers, 566.

Consistory

The Consistory intends to meet (D.V.) on Sunday, after morning worship. Please plan to attend, Consistory members.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:7 --

"Its the fault of Christians, that they seek the world too eagerly, and neglect many good duties for it, run into unwarrantable couries, are unquiet, contentious, &c. whereby they make themselves and their Profession to be ill spoken of: O how ill doth this beseem Christians which have God to be their Father, and Heaven for their inheritance and portion! Fye on it; Is this to behave our selves Pilgrim-like: we should carry ourselves moderately in these things, that we may make the world see and say, we have riches that they know not of, as our Savior said, He had meat his Disciples knew not of; we must labor to grow in grace, and covet the best things."

-- John Rogers, 555.

Where's the Secretary?

Effective January 17th, 2008, the secretary will be in the office on Thursdays.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"He Will Be Worshipped" Sermon: Matthew 2:1-12

"He Will Be Worshiped"
[Matthew 2:1-12]
January 6, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Our Scripture this morning is likely a familiar one to most of us -- the visit of the magi. The magi were astrologers from the area of modern day Iraq and Iran. They were people who would have studied the stars to make predictions and interpret events, and they had seen a star, which was in some way fantastic, or significant, and some number of them -- we're not told how many -- followed the star to Israel. Now this was some time after Jesus' birth.

The magi understood the sign of the star to mean that a new and special king had been born, so they thought the place to look for the king would be in the palace in Jerusalem. They met King Herod, who was not pleased to hear that they were looking for a King of Israel other than he. So Herod called for his priests and scribes to see what they made of the words of the magi, and the priests and scribes thought that this must be a sign of the birth of the Christ -- the Savior of Israel, and the prophets said that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem.

Herod then spoke with the magi in private and asked them when the star appeared and charged them to go and find the Christ and then report back to him so he could come and worship Him. But we know from the verses following this morning's reading, that Herod's actual intent was to find the Christ and kill Him, so Herod would not lose his power as king.

So, the magi went on their way and followed the star, and it led them to the house in which Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living. Now, we're not told whose house this was, but they were now living in a house -- they were not still in the manger -- despite our beautiful creches, the magi came to the house they were living in some time after Jesus' birth.

And it is at this point in our text that we reach the point I want us to emphasize -- the point I want us to get this morning -- and it is this: Jesus will be Worshiped. He will be Worshiped. It is a matter of His Nature and Being that He will be Worshiped. Our only right response to coming into the knowledge and the presence of Jesus is to worship Him.

The magi, these pagan astrologers, walked into the house and saw Jesus, and what did they do, "they fell down and worshiped him." What an amazing thing! These grown men came into the presence of a very young Baby, and their response was to fall down and worship Him. Why? There can only be one reason -- they recognized that this Little Child was more that a mere human Baby: He is God Himself.

One author wrote, "If then they had been seeking a king of this world and thus had found him, they would have been more perplexed than delighted, because they would have undertaken an effort of so great a journey for nothing. Yet because they were seeking the heavenly king, even if they saw nothing regal in him, they were nevertheless delighted, content with the testimony of the star. Their eyes could not see an unworthy boy, because the spirit in their hearts was revealing him to them as an awesome thing. If, moreover, they had sought him as a king of this world, they would have stayed with him, as is often the case when people abandon one king and transfer their allegiance to another. Instead they adored him and returned home that they might have Jesus the just, heavenly king over their souls and the king of their home country as ruler of their bodies" (ACC, NT 1a, 28).

We also see in this that Jesus is to be worshiped by all peoples -- Jews and Gentiles. Against the idea popular among the Pharisees, the Christ was not coming for the biological Jews, but for the Israel of God which included both Jews and Gentiles -- in other words, every type of person there is on the earth.

Luke tells us of the Jewish shepherds: "And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them" (Luke 2:20). And he tells us of the prophetess, Anna, "And coming up that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). In these verse, we see that Christ did come for the Jews, but in verse eleven of this morning's text, we see that He also came for the Gentiles -- for all the other nations of the world and from them He also commands worship.

The magi gave the Baby Jesus three types of gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And if we know what these things are -- what strange gifts to give -- unless God had revealed to them Who Jesus is. Gold we are familiar with -- this would be the type of gift that one king or leader would give for the birth of a king. That is not too strange -- they understood that Jesus is King.

But frankincense is the incense that God commanded to be burned on the altar in the worship of Him: Moses wrote down what God spoke and taught it, "When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priests shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord" (Leviticus 2:1-2). The only reason they would give the Baby Jesus frankincense is that they understood that He is God.

And then, the third gift, myrrh, was, perhaps the most perplexing of all: myrrh was used for embalming. Why would they give a baby materials for embalming the dead? There can only be one reason: whether they understood it or not, God was foreshadowing the death of Jesus in this gift to Him as an Infant. For Jesus would be embalmed, as John recorded: "Nicodemus, also, who earlier came to Jesus by night, came [to bury Jesus] bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight" (John 19:39).

One author wrote: "For they opened their treasure chests, and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Thus, they were fulfilling the acknowledgment of Christ on behalf of all nations. They were signifying the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: 'All those who are in Sheba shall come, offering gold and precious stones and spreading the good news of the Lord; all the sheep of Kedar shall be gathered together, and the rams of Nebaioth shall come, and they will offer pleasing incense on your altar.' They recognized him at once. They opened their treasure chests. They displayed their offerings, gifts in themselves fit for nations to give. For, realizing that he was king, they offered him their elegant and costly first fruits, fit for the Holy One. They offered him gold they had stored up for themselves. Moreover, recognizing his divine and heavenly coming to them, they made an offering of frankincense, a beautiful gift like the soothing speech of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, understanding as they did that human life is but a sepulcher, they offered myrrh" (ACC, NT 1a, 28).

So we see that Jesus was worshiped by the magi. He was worshiped as God. He was worshiped as King. And He was worshiped symbolically through their giving of gifts that symbolized His Kingship, His Divinity, and the fact that God would accomplish His Work of Salvation through the Death -- and Resurrection -- of the Christ.

Now, Jesus is seated at the Right Hand of the Father. He is ruling over all things and getting ready to return. And to we who are here this morning, let the magi be an example to us, that Jesus is to be worshiped. He is to be worshiped for His Authority. He is to be worshiped for being the Incarnate God. He is to be worshiped because He Alone has achieved the Work of Salvation that saves His people from their sins and the Wrath of God.

And it is not just the people who believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation who will worship Him. No, the Scripture tells us that Jesus will be Worshiped by every human being who will ever lived. Some will worship Him in the Joy of His Salvation; others will worship Him in the horror and the damnation that comes from never receiving His Salvation. Paul wrote, "For we will all appear before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and ever tongue shall confess to God.' So then each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:10b-12). And again, "Therefore God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father" (Philippians 2:9-10).

Throughout the worship service, we worship Jesus through many different acts. We are about to worship Jesus through the receiving of the elements of the Lord’s Supper. We do not worship the bread and the cup; they are merely human elements, but Jesus meets us in those elements when we eat and drink, and He we worship. We worship Him because He has saved us and will bring us to holiness in His Likeness. We worship Him because He is here right now and meets with us and strengthens us as we receive the elements. And we worship Him because He will return again, and on that day, all will worship Him forever.

Let us pray:
Almighty and Worthy God, we come to this place to worship because You are Worthy. You Alone are God and King and Savior. Increase our joy in worship. Led us to tell others that there is a God and King and Savior Who is worthy of worship. And make us ready now to commune with You in this supper, and may You be glorified as we celebrate. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

January Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

1/6/08 Communion/Epiphany Matthew 2:1-12 "He Will Be Worshipped"
1/13/08 Baptism of Our Lord Matthew 3:13-17 "He Will Please His Father"
1/20/08 Genesis 1:1-2:4 "In the Beginning"
1/27/08 Genesis 1:1-2:4 "God Created"

"He Will Judge" Sermon: Matthew 25:31-46

"He Will Judge"
[Matthew 25:31-46]
December 30, 2007 Second Reformed Church

We've come to the end of another year. Has anything changed? We celebrated Christmas last week -- we rejoiced in remembering the birth of our God and Savior in history. This week I received my first Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day catalogs. Surely, the Easter catalogs will arrive next week.

And let us not think it's just the commercial world -- we in the church can get into a rut of doing the same thing every year, skating from holiday to event to holiday. And remembering is a good and biblical thing to do. But in reality, we don't move in circles, we move in a straight line, and we live, not merely on the surface, I hope, but there is depth and depths to be explored with and for each of us.

Last week, we considered the Baby Who came quietly, in mystery. "What Child Is This?" We thought about God Who lived among us and was not known by His own. And after He had lived among us, He was crucified, died, rose on the third day, and ascended back to His Throne, from whence He governs all things.

Today, we look at one point about His Return -- His Second Coming -- and we have mentioned this in the past few weeks as well -- Jesus is coming back again. And when He does, it will not be quiet, it will not be secret, no one will be confused as to Who He is. Jesus said, "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 24:30-31). And we read this morning, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne."

When Jesus returns, it will be with a shout, with trumpets blaring, He will have His whole retinue of angels with Him, thousands upon thousands, and He will descend on the clouds, on His Throne, blazing with glory, and everyone, all over the earth will recognize Him. And every person who has ever existed will be gathered before Him, and Jesus will judge.

And when Jesus judges, there will only be two, eternal outcomes: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will separate the people of the earth, as sheep from goats, and to the sheep, He will say, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom, prepared for you from the foundation of the world." And to the goats, He will say, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

Notice, Jesus says that the sheep, the elect of God, are blessed by His Father. Why are the sheep blessed? Why are you and I blessed if we are Christians -- if we believe in Jesus Alone for our Salvation? Jesus said, "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I come from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those who you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them" (John 17:6-10).

The sheep are blessed because God chose us to be His people and gave us to Jesus, and we have received Jesus and His Word -- His Salvation. The sheep are not blessed because we have done something, but because God chose us and made us willing and able to receive the Gift of the Salvation in Jesus.

And the sheep are given the inheritance of the kingdom -- the new earth and the new Jerusalem that appear at the restoration of all things. And this kingdom God has been preparing for the sheep from the Creation. What will the kingdom be like? Consider this: God created everything that is in six days, yet God has prepared the kingdom for over six thousand years. That's why Paul could confess "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 Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I have suffered loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:7-8).

Jesus says the goats, on the other hand, are cursed. Why? Paul explains, "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by the things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'the righteous shall live by faith.' But the law is not of faith, rather 'The one who does them shall live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree' -- " (Galatians 3:10-13). In other words, if you think you can be right with God by keeping His Law, by doing good works, by being "good enough" -- you're cursed -- because no one -- no mere human being -- can keep all of God's Law; it's impossible. The Law was given to us to show us that we cannot keep it, that we need a Savior. And if we choose not to receive Jesus and His Salvation, we are doomed under the curse of the Law.

And those who are cursed -- the goats -- will suffer for all of eternity in fire. And in order for fire to make you suffer, you must have a physical body -- this is another place where we see that our physical bodies will be raised to live eternally, like Jesus. But the goats will suffer physical, as well as all other types of torment, in the fire for all of eternity. And it is all the more pitiful to hear Jesus say that Hell was designed for the devil and his angels, not humans.

And someone will object to all of this and say, "But wait a minute -- the text specifically says that the sheep and the goats are separated by whether or not they have done certain acts -- whether they have fed and clothed the poor, welcomed the stranger, and visited the sick and the imprisoned. Jesus is saying that our eternal destiny is based on what we do or do not do. Our salvation is based on our works."

But that can't be what Jesus means, can it? Paul wrote, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should do them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Paul says, and we see again and again in the Scripture, that our salvation is a Gift of God, God's Work, we add nothing to our salvation, we can add nothing to our salvation. Yes, works must follow our salvation to prove that it is true, as James wrote, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother of sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:14-17).

So, what is Jesus saying? Are we judged based on our works? Is our eternal Salvation based on our works? The problem in considering Jesus' Words is that we have only been considering the works of the sheep and the works of the goats. The problem we run into in reading this text is merely considering the works of the sheep and the works of the goats. The solution is found in understanding that the sheep don't only have their works. Paul wrote, "For [Christ's] 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, that righteousness from God that depends on faith --" (Philippians 3:8b-9).

Understand, when we all stand before the Throne of Christ, the measure of God's Law will be held up against us -- and if we stand before Jesus merely with our works, we are cursed -- but if we have been chosen by God, if we have been saved by Jesus, then we have had Jesus' Righteousness -- His perfect keeping of the Law -- credited to our accounts -- so when Jesus holds the measure of God's Law against the sheep, He sees that -- in Him, through His Salvation, by His crediting His Righteousness to us -- we have perfectly fulfilled all of the Law. Does that make sense?

Look, if I were to stand before Jesus on the Day of Judgment and rely solely on my own good works, on my declaration that I have been "good enough" -- Jesus would hold the measure of God's Law up to me and say, "Not hardly, depart from me, you cursed." But, on that day, I will not confess my own righteousness -- my own good works -- since I have been saved by Jesus and credited with His Perfect Keeping of the Law -- the measure will be held up to Jesus Himself, and I will be welcomed as blessed by the Father -- for Jesus' Sake. Jesus took my place in receiving God's Wrath for my sin and Jesus took my place in keeping God's Law perfectly, crediting that perfection to my account, so, through Him, I can stand righteous on the Day of Judgment.

And some object, "If Jesus took God's Wrath upon Himself and kept God's Law perfectly, so He takes away our sin and credits us with His Righteousness, why should I bother to keep the Law? Can't I just do what I want?"

No. If we have truly believed in Jesus Alone for our Salvation, He has good works planned for us from the foundation of the world and we are to do them -- not for Salvation, but as a response to it.

So what shall we do? Let's begin today -- this new year -- with the categories that Jesus uses in talking about the final judgment. And let us start in the Church -- as Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me." We are One Body and Christ is our Head, so, as we do good for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we do it for Him, as well.

First, let us grow deeper in our faith and understanding -- in our belief in Christ. Let us learn from God's Word and each other. Let us come to worship and Bible Study and gather in small groups to study God's Word in each others homes. If you love Christ, if you are a Christian, you will read you Bible and be in study with your fellow Christians. It's good and right to read on your own, but it is also necessary to interact with other Christians. There is no Salvation outside of the Church. There is no Salvation outside of the Body of Christ. If you need help, see me. But let our priority be to grow deeper in our faith and understanding -- in our belief in Christ -- and in helping our fellow Christians to do the same.

Second, let us love each other. We will not always like each other. We will not always agree with each other. But in the Name of Jesus Christ and for the sake of the Gospel, we must love each other -- we must do everything we can to make each other's lives better, and refrain from doing those things that hurt. It won't always be easy -- there is a devilish delight in pulling others down, but we must stop. We can discuss; we can lovingly guide, admonish, and chide. But we must love each other.

And third, let us willingly practice self-denial -- to show contempt for the world -- for the cause of Christ and His people. What does that look like? Let us not hoard and amass the treasures of the world, but share some out of all the blessings God has given us with His Church and those in need. Let us say "no" to that T.V. show, that event, or that sin that would keep us from doing the good works that God has set before us. If God was willing to be slaughtered by human hands, perhaps we can miss our favorite show to visit someone who is sick or to attend a Bible study.

Will this year be any different? Will we be seen as the sheep of the Good Shepherd, now and on that final day? In response to Jesus' Salvation, we must now live for Him. After all, there are only 361 shopping days until Christmas.

Let us pray:
Good Shepherd, we rejoice and look forward to that final day when you come in glory as Judge. We thank You that You have not only taken our sin upon Yourself, but You have credited us with Your Holy Life so we can stand and be received as the blessed by the Father. Cause us to learn and love and live according to the good works You have set before us, and especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.