Second Reformed Church

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Affliction shows us more of our own hearts. Water in a vial looks clear; but set it on the fire, and scum boils up; so when God sets us upon the fire, corruption boils up which we did not discern before." -- Thomas Watson, 174.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Hypocrites serve in the pleasure boat: they can serve God in prosperity; but when we can keep close to him in times of danger, when we can trust him in darkness, and love him when we have no smile, and say, 'Thy will be done,' that is the trial of sincerity God is only trying us; and what hurt is there in that? What is gold the worse for being tried?" -- Thomas Watson, 173.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

This Sunday, the 30th

We will have (D.V.) our second-quarter pot-luck lunch. (Just like Jesus did.) Come, join us for worship at 10:30 AM, and stay for lunch. If you're a regular, please bring something to share. See you then!

Puritan Wisdom

"If we would do God's will aright, let us labour for self denial. Unless we deny our own will, we shall never do God's will." -- Thomas Watson, 165.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Let us examine our actions whether they do quadrare [square with], agree to the will of God. Are our speeches according to his will? Are our words savoury, being seasoned with grace? Is our apparel according to God’s will? 'In like manner that women adorn themselves in modest apparel;' not wanton and garish, to invite comers. I Tim ii 9. Is our diet according to God's will? Do we hold the golden bridle of temperance, and only take so much as will satisfy nature than to surfeit it? Too much oil chokes the lamp. Is our whole carriage and behaviour according to God's will? Are we patterns of prudence and piety? We pray, 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' Are we like our pattern? Would the angels do this if they were on earth? Would Jesus Christ do this? It is to Christianise, that is to be saints of degrees; when we live our prayer, and our actions are the counterpart of God’s will." -- Thomas Watson, 164.

"To Conclude" Sermon: Psalm 115

"To Conclude"
[Psalm 115:1-18]
March 23, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Christ is Risen! To Him be the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever. Amen.

This is our tenth and final sermon on the Lord's Prayer. We have been trying to understand over these past weeks, what prayer is, what it does, and how to pray. We have seen that prayer changes us, not God. And we have looked at the model of prayer that Jesus gave us and seen that when we pray we are to address our prayer to God, the Father, Who loves us and chose us to be His people. Then, our petitions -- the categories of things we ought to ask for -- are to be: First, that God is known and honored as holy. Second, that God's Glory and Grace would be fully known. Third, that all creation would obey God's Revealed Will and submit to His Secret Will. Fourth, that we would pray that the whole Body of Christ would understand what our needs are, that our needs can only be fulfilled by God, and that we would trust His Promise that He will fulfill all of our needs for each day on a daily basis. Fifth, that we would be forgiven, based on the Merits of Jesus Alone, and commit to not sin again and to be a people who forgive others. And sixth, that we would learn to recognize temptation, that we would not be overcome by temptation, that we would say "no" to temptation, and that we would know the way to escape from temptation.

The Lord's Prayer ends with a doxology -- a word of praise -- "for Thine is the kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever. Amen." We come full circle in the prayer -- beginning by recognizing God for Who He is and ending with the sure praise of the God Who we are confident will answer our prayer.

On this Easter Sunday, we come to rejoice and praise our Risen God, the God Who has declared, "It is Finished," and through His Resurrection has secured the salvation of everyone who believes in Him Alone for salvation.

Let us briefly consider Psalm 115 as a fitting response to the news that Jesus is Risen. This is a Psalm that is sung at Passover, so Jesus would have sung it with the disciples on Maundy Thursday. It is a Psalm the reminds us of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt by God's Mighty Right Hand, and it also symbolizes the deliverance of God's elect -- the Church -- from sin and Wrath by Jesus' Perfect Sacrifice. Let us hear it in another translation:

"Not unto us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness Why should the nations say, 'Where is their God?' Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases."

We humans love to hear people speak well of us, but it is not we that deserve any glory, but God Alone -- our Savior, Jesus Christ. All glory is to be given to Him, to His Name, to His Whole Being because the whole Creation is His Kingdom and He, Alone, of all the gods of the world has any power.

Jesus prayed, "Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed" (John 17:1b-5 ESV).

To Him Alone belongs the glory!

"Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them."

When we put our trust in anything other than the one true God, we make an idol. We make a god that looks like us and acts like us and fails like us. We bow down in stupid thanks to gods that we have created, and they do nothing and say nothing and accomplish nothing. How can we put our trust in blocks of wood or coins -- it's all chasing after the wind.

There is only One we can trust; there is only One who provides for us each day. Peter wrote, "Know[] first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, 'Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.' For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. By the same word the heavens and the earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (II Peter 3:3-9 ESV).

To Him Alone belongs the glory!

"O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield."

Trust in the Lord; trust in the Lord; trust in the Lord -- three times indicating the highest level of emphasis in Hebrew literature -- the highest level of urgency. We must turn and trust in the Lord, because His is the power; His is the strength that creates and sustains us.

Solomon commanded, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV).

And Paul gives us additional reasons to trust: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved -- and raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 22:4-10 ESV).

To Him Alone belongs the Power!

"The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the Lord, both great and small. May the Lord give you increase, you and your children! May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth!"

Trust Him, and understand that since everything is His and He is Good, He will provide for our every need each day. Let us lean on His Promises and recognize Him as the reigning King of Creation. He cares for His people and will provide for us like He provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.

"So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, 'Are you the King of the Jews?' Jesus answered, 'Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?' Pilate answered, 'Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?' Jesus answered, 'my kingdom in not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of the world.' Then Pilate said to him, 'Then you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.' Pilate said to him 'What is truth?'"(John 19:29-38 ESV).

To Him Alone belong the Kingdom and the Power!

"The heavens are the Lord's heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence. But we will bless the Lord from this time forth forevermore. Praise the Lord!"

Through His Life, Death, and Resurrection, Jesus has brought His Kingdom among us and has given us part of it to be our dwelling. We have earned none of it, but He has graciously provided for us and made the Way for our salvation.

"Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being a great prophet, and knowing that God has sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God rased up, and we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascended into the heavens, but he himself says, 'The Lord says to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make all of your enemies your footstool.' Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:29-36 ESV).

"Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.' So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, 'Greetings!' And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me'" (Matthew 28:1-10 ESV).

"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age'" (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

God's Word to us this morning is that to Jesus belong the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory, forever and ever. So, let us pray confidently after the pattern of the Lord's Prayer, assured that God will hear us, and let us go forth to make disciples of all nations, with the Good News that Jesus is Risen. Amen.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, Risen Christ, Our Father, we ask that You would arm us with the pattern of the Lord's Prayer and with the command to go forth with the Good News, and let us go, with You, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, and be Your Witnesses -- to Your Kingdom, Your Power, and Your Glory. Amen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"When a Christian has done his best, still he has sins, and wants to bewail." -- Thomas Watson, 138.

"Petitions 5 & 6" Sermon: I John 2:1-2; I Corinthians 10:1-13

"Petitions 5 & 6"
[I John 2:1-2; I Corinthians 10:1-13]
March 21, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Jesus said that when we pray we are to address our prayer to God, the Father, Who loves us and chose us to be His people. Then, our petitions are to be: First, that God is known and honored as holy. Second, that God's Glory and Grace would be fully known. Then that all creation would obey God's Revealed Will and submit to His Secret Will. And fourth, that we would pray that the whole Body of Christ would understand what our needs are, that our needs can only be fulfilled by God, and that we would trust His Promise that He will fulfill all of our needs for each day on a daily basis.

Tonight, on this Good Friday, we take a quick look at the fifth and sixth petitions: "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This is an appropriate night to consider the petitions about sin and evil, because on this night we remember that Jesus took on Himself our sin and evil -- He became the curse for us, and suffered God’s Wrath and Hell for us. Paul wrote, "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 all 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 ESV).

Paul argument is this: if we are relying on keeping God's Law for salvation, we are all damned to Hell, because no one (except for Jesus) can keep all the Law of God. Rather, our salvation is through faith alone. We can be saved through faith alone because Jesus, Who kept God's Law Perfectly, freely chose to take on our guilt and sin and evil and become a curse by suffering crucifixion.

And as we look at these petitions, let us notice, once again, that Jesus told us that we are to pray for "us" -- not "me." In these petitions, we ask that we, all, would be forgiven for our sin and that we, all, would be kept from sinning.

So, let us look at these petitions:

First, "forgive us our debts." We are to pray, asking that God would forgive the sins of all of His people -- of the whole Body of Christ. And let us understand that just as our mothers wouldn't forgive us when we said, "sorry," not meaning it, neither will God. A few verses before this evening's Scripture in I John, we read, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9 ESV). We must truly be sorry for our sins and desire and work hard not to sin them again -- we must "turn around" as the literal meaning of "repentance" suggests. If we express true repentance and a change in the way we live, then we have the promise that this petition will be heard and we will be forgiven and cleansed.

And we may ask, "Why?"

There are two answers in our scripture from I John: Jesus is our Advocate and Jesus is our Propitiation.

"But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (I John 2:1b ESV). Another word for "advocate" is "lawyer." Jesus is our Lawyer before God the Father, our Judge. The Father knows the sin and evil we have done, but Jesus argues that we are legally innocent, because He has already paid our debt and credited us with His Righteousness.

"He is the propitiation for our sins" (I John 2:2a ESV). What does "propitiation" mean? To "propitiate" is to appease God, or to make right with God. So Jesus, as our Propitiation, appeased His Father; He made us right with His Father -- through His Sacrifice that first Good Friday.

So we can ask God the Father to forgive our debts -- our sins -- because Jesus has kept God's Law on our behalf and suffered God's Wrath against our sin on our behalf, and, as the author of Hebrews puts it, "[Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:24-25).

But, we haven't looked at the whole petition: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." We are asking that we would be forgiven by God in the same way, in the same measure, to the same degree, that we forgive our brothers and sisters. Jesus said, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV). Jesus is making the point that if we are asking the Almighty and Holy God to forgive us for our sins, we ought to forgive those who have sinned against us. Surely, if God is willing to forgive us, we ought to be willing to forgive all of the sins of our fellow humans. We have not understood sin and its forgiveness until we are able to forgive our fellow humans.

So, in the fifth petition, we ask that we, all, would be forgiven, based on the Merits of Jesus Alone, and we commit to not sin again and to be a people who forgive others.

Second, we are to pray, "lead us not into temptation" -- and that should cause us to pause: does God lead us into temptation? We are praying to God, our Father, so, the implied leader is God the Father -- "God, our Father, lead us not into temptation." Does God try to trick us into sinning? James wrote, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one" (James 1:13 ESV). It would be hypocritical -- it would mean death for God -- if God tempted us to sin, because God is Holy -- He cannot sin and would never tempt us to sin.

So, what are we asking for?

We are asking that God would prevent us -- again, all of us -- from being so overcome by temptation that we give in to it and sin. We are asking God for the strength -- the grace -- to say "no" when we are tempted to sin.

So, who does tempt us? Some temptation comes from ourselves, and some temptation comes from the devil. It is not always clear from which temptation is coming, but the point is that we recognize temptation. Remember what Peter wrote, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world" (I Peter 5:8-9 ESV).

When we do what God has forbidden or do not do what God has commanded, that's sin. When we think, "Well, I'm not a rapist or a murderer, so God will surely forgive this little sin -- this little peccadillo," we are encountering temptation. When we rationalize that we're better than most people, so God will give us a little slack, we're encountering temptation. When we say, "I know it's in the Bible, but I don't think it's true," we're encountering temptation. There are myriad ways that we and the devil tempt ourselves. We ought to recognize it as temptation and not give in -- we ought to refuse any suggestion that would cause us to sin.

God gives us strength, through His Grace, which we receive through the reading and preaching of His Word, through the sacraments, and through prayer -- as we have already seen.

The petition continues, "but deliver us from evil" or "but deliver us from the evil one." We ask, not merely that we will recognize temptation, not merely that we will not be overcome by temptation, not merely that we will say "no" to temptation, but that God will provide for us myriad ways of deliverance from the evil we and the devil lead us to. We are asking for more than just knowledge, more than just strength, but for specific ways of escape that we can take to keep from sinning.

We find some of those ways in our second Scripture this evening. Paul explained to the Corinthians that they should look to the Scripture for examples of what happened to Israel and find ways of escape there. Paul began chapter ten of I Corinthians reminding the Christians in the Church at Corinth that God had led them out of Egypt, through the Wilderness by a Cloud, God delivered them through the Red Sea, baptizing them through Moses, through whom God gave them not only physical food and drink, but spiritual food and drink -- God gave them His Grace and taught and matured them in the Wilderness, and God sent a Rock to follow them through the Wilderness and that Rock was Christ. But most of Israel was not pleased with God -- most of Israel did not receive propitiation -- so God killed them. Paul then told them to learn from their sin and not to do like them. Rather than be ungrateful for God's Grace, be thankful. Rather than groan that God's Provision wasn't what they would have chosen, be thankful that God persevered them at all.

The Church in Corinth had a problem with sex -- they saw nothing wrong with having sexual relations with everyone they desired. Paul told them that Israel had indulged in sexual immorality in the Wilderness and God killed twenty-three thousand because of it -- take a hint. The sinned by complaining, and God sent serpents -- don't be like them.

One way of escape God gives us is the example of men and women who came before us. We can read the Scripture and learn the history in it, and when we are faced with a temptation, God will bring to remembrance that so-and-so also had the same temptation -- and we don't want to end up like them -- or, and we want to follow their example.

Paul warns the Corinthians and us, not to think that we are better or stronger than the men and women in the Bible, lest we fall into the same sins they did. Hear again the promise: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (I Corinthians 10:13).

In other words, your temptations and my temptations are nothing special -- we are tempted by the same things that have tempted humans for our whole history. And God promises that He will always provide us with a way of escape from temptation. God does not allow us to be tempted such that we cannot but give in to sin. God promises that we will always have a way out -- so God has made it such that we never have to sin. "The devil made me do it." "I couldn't help it." Those excuses don't fly. God has made it so we never have to sin. If we sin, it is because we choose to say that our sin is worth more to us than the salvation of Jesus. If we sin, it is because we choose to say that our sin is worth Jesus suffering all the torments of Hell. We're saying, "Kill Him again, Lord!"

"Deliver us from evil." Read the Bible; learn the examples God has given us. Seek out a friend you can trust when you are feeling weak. Pray. Think about what Jesus suffered for our sake and consider if you want to be part of the laughing crowd, calling "Crucify Him!" Consider who God is and what power He has to deliver us, trust and look to Him. Thomas Watson writes, "There is a great deal of succor to the tempted in the names given to Christ. As Satan's names may terrify, so Christ's may succor. The devil is called Apollyon, the devourer. Rev ix 11. Christ is called a Saviour. The devil is called the 'strong man.' Matt xii 29. Christ is called El Gibbor, the mighty God. Isa ix 6. The devil is called the accuser. Mtt iv 3. Christ is called the Comforter. Luke ii 25. The devil is called the prince of darkness. Christ is called the Sun of Righteousness. The devil is called the old serpent. Christ is called the Brazen Serpent that heals. John iii 14. Thus the very names of Christ have some succor in them for tempted souls" (The Lord's Supper, 286).

Let us seek the ways of escape that we might not sin against Him.

In the sixth petition, then, we ask God that we all would learn to recognize temptation, that we would not be overcome by temptation, that we would say "no" to temptation, and that we would know the way to flee from temptation.

On that First Good Friday, Jesus was beaten, ridiculed, and nailed to a cross. And as He hung between Heaven and earth, the Creation waited to see what would happen -- was He really the Savior?

"After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), 'I Thirst.' A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus received some of the sour wine, he said, 'It is finished,' and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (John 19:28-30).

"It is finished." Jesus accomplished the Law and the Prophets. He made us able to call God, "our Father," and to pray after the six petitions of the Lord's Prayer, knowing that God will receive that prayer in mercy and change us to His Glory.

Let us pray:
Our God and Father, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." We thank You for Your Life and Death, that we might be able to pray those words and receive Grace and forgiveness from You. As we receive the elements of the Lord's Supper this evening, may we better understand the depth and breadth of the sin You have forgiven through the cross. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Though the ways to heaven be up-hill, you must climb the steep rock of mortification; and though there be thorns in the way, you have gone the greatest part of it, and within a few days’ march of the kingdom, and will you not persevere? Christian, pluck up thy courage, fight the good fight of faith, pursue holiness. Ere long you will put off your armour, and end all your weary marches, and receive a victorious crown; your salvation is nearer, you are within a little of the kingdom, therefore now persevere, you are ready to commence and take your degree of glory." -- Thomas Watson, 134.

"Petition 4" Sermon: Matthew 6:25-34

"Petition 4"
[Matthew 6:25-34]
March 20, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Jesus said that when we pray we are to address our prayer to God, the Father, Who loves us and chose us to be His people. Then, our petitions are to be: First, that God is known and honored as holy. Second, that God's Glory and Grace would be fully known. Third, that all creation would obey God's Revealed Will and submit to His Secret Will.

Notice, the first half of the Lord's Prayer is concerned with God. Jesus said the first half of our prayer is to be about God -- not about us getting things. That's not usually the way we think about prayer. This evening, we move on to the fourth petition, in which we are to ask, "give us this day our daily bread."

Let us notice four things:

First, when we pray this petition, we are confessing that we have nothing; everything we have is a gift from God.

James reminds us, "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).

In this land of possessions, we have become numb to the fact that everything comes from the Hand of God. We created nothing; everything is on loan to us as a gift from God. The clothes you are wearing are a gift from God, the money you earned to buy those clothes was a gift from God, as was your job. Your body is a gift from God. The oxygen you are breathing is a gift from God. The pew and the sanctuary you are sitting in is a gift from God. Everything that is is God's, so we only have it as a gift and on loan from Him. That is why we go to God to ask Him to give to us.

Second, when we pray this petition, we are asking it in the context of the second great commandment. That is, we are asking for "us."

Again in this prayer, we are reminded that we are a people chosen by God. We are the Body of Christ; the Church. We are united together through the communion of the saints with Christians present, past, and future, throughout the world. We are not lone Christians; we are one with all other Christians. So, it is only right that when we ask God to give, it is not just for "me" -- Jesus does not give us the opportunity in this pattern of prayer to ask for things solely for ourselves. No, we are to ask God to give to the Body of Believers.

It should not be strange that this is so, since Jesus said the Second Great Commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Surely, if we love our brother and sister in Christ, then if we pray for a good thing for ourselves, we would also want the same for our brother and sister. So, we ask God to give us "our" -- to give to all those He loves.

Third, when we pray this petition, we are asking for this current day only.

There is a strong emphasis in the prayer that we are to ask for this day and this day alone. Our prayer ought to concern this day’s concerns; we a re not to worry about the future. And we may wonder, then, if Jesus approves of any type of planning. James wrote, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit' -- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that'" (James 4:13-15 ESV).

Would Jesus tells us to sell our stock? To get rid of our 401k's? To stop paying for long term care insurance? No, Jesus and James are not saying it's wrong to plan, what they are saying is it is wrong to worry. We are being taught to rely on and trust God for the needs of this day.

In this evening's Scripture, Jesus puts forth and implies a number of questions that tell a great deal about our trust: Jesus draws our attention to the birds and God's care of them, and then He asks us if we are worth more to God than the birds. Here is a clue to the answer: Jesus only died to save humans; He did not die for the rest of the Creation -- not even the birds.

Then Jesus asks about our clothing and food and drink for tomorrow -- where shall we get our food and clothing and drink? And Jesus points us to the flowers of the field. God is the One Who dresses the field in beauty. If God provides for them, and they quickly die and are thrown away, doesn't it make sense that God will provide for His children?

Now, let us not be confused -- we are not being told to sit back and do nothing and wait on God for food and clothing and drink to fall from the sky. For the law of God is this: "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (II Thessalonians 3:10b ESV). God most often provides for us through natural means, such as our working a job.

The other extreme of this error is the very slippy slope that goes from preparing and planning in a righteous manner -- in a way that shows trust of God for our future -- and the sin of hoarding up treasures on earth.

We have the example of Israel in the Wilderness: "And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, 'What is it?' For they didn't know what it was. And Moses said to them, 'It is bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded, "Gather of it, each of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of persons that each of you has in his tent."' And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever had gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. And Moses said to them, 'Let no one leave any of it over until the morning.' But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bread worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted" (Exodus 16:14-21 ESV).

Hear we see the issue was trust; the sin was unbelief. God told Israel that He would provide enough manna for them every day, but only one day at a time. They were not to store some up for later use. (Except the day before the Sabbath.)

So Jesus tells us to look at this day and trust for this day, and we are to pray for this day. Jesus said, "Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:34 ESV).

Again, it is right to pray for things that will happen in the future. The point is that today has plenty enough troubles to work through, so we ought to be primarily focused on today and the issues and needs of this day. And we ought to trust that God will provide for everything that we need.

And fourth, when we pray this petition, we are not merely asking for bread, but for every daily need.

Bread in the prayer is symbolic of all needs, and we can ask for wants as well, but the prayer and the promise are about what we need. And, of course, the needs will be different from one person to the next, and the needs may not always seem to be what a person needs. For example, there may be a sick person in our congregation, and one of their perceived needs is to get well. If it is in the Plan of God for that person to get well, then that person will get well. Then we will know it was a need for them to get well, just as it was their need to get sick for a time. However, it may be that it is not in the Plan of God for that person to get well; it may be God's Plan that that person remain sick for whatever reason.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that God had given him great visions and because he had those great visions, God fulfilled a need that Paul had -- God gave Paul "a thorn in the flesh." Paul doesn't explain what it was, but there is good evidence that God damaged Paul's eyesight. Listen to what Paul wrote, "So to keep me from becoming too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, them I am strong" (II Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV).

Sometimes it is not immediately obvious what our need is. On that first Maundy Thursday, we read, "Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During the supper, when the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from the supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, do you wash my feet?' Jesus answered him, 'What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.' Peter said to him, 'You will never wash my feet.' Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.' Simon Peter said to him, 'Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!' Jesus said to him, 'The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.' For he knew who was to betray him; that's why he said, 'Not all of you are clean'" (John 13:1-11 ESV).

Peter didn't understand what he needed. It was custom in Jesus' day that the host of a dinner would wash the feet of his guests, because they had walked wearing sandals through the dusty roads. But impetuous Peter didn't want his Teacher to perform such humble job. "You will never wash my feet." He didn't know that this was part of God's Plan, something beyond footwashing that he needed. So Jesus told him he had no share with Him unless he submitted. So Peter jumped to the other extreme, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" But Jesus told him that he still didn't understand and to submit and he would understand later.

Understand from Peter and Paul that God tends to be reserved in His Giving. He surely gives most of us more than we need, but He pulls the reigns back on those He loves, because it is easier for us to fall into sin if we have too much.

In the fourth petition, then, we recognize that everything we have is from God. That, when we pray for our needs, we ought to pray for the needs of the whole Body of Christ, showing love for one another. We ought to trust God and focus on the needs we need to have provided to accomplish God's Will for this day. And we ought to pray that we would understand what our needs really are, receive God's Merciful Provision, and be thankful.

Let us pray:
God, our Father, we thank You that we can trust You to give us all of our needs each day. We ask for You Wisdom in knowing what our needs are. And we thank You for the gift of the Lord's Supper, which we are about to celebrate. You know we are weak, and through the elements, You give us strength. Meet us now. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"We read when Moses' hands were heavy, and he was ready to let them fall, Aaron and Hur stayed them up. Exod xvii 12. A Christian who is ready to faint under temptation, and lets down the hands of his faith, by conversing with other Christians is strengthened, and his hands are held up. A great benefit of holy conference is counsel and advice. 'If a man,' says Chrysostom, 'who has but one head to advise him, could make that head a hundred, he would be very wise; but a single Christian has this benefit by the communion of saints, that they are as so many heads to advise him what to do in such a case or exigency.' By Christian conference the saints can say, 'Did not our hearts burn within us?' Communion of the saints we have in our creed, but it is too little in our practice. Men usually travel fastest in company; so we travel fastest to heaven in the communion of saints."

-- Thomas Watson, 128-129.

Holy Week Worship

Join us for worship on Maundy Thursday at 7 PM and then again on Good Friday at 7 PM. The sermon information is listed in a previous post, and we will be receiving the Lord's Supper both nights. (D.V.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Petition 3" Sermon: Psalm 103:17-22

"Petition 3"
[Psalm 103:17-22]
March 16, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Jesus said that when we pray, we should begin our prayer by addressing it to God -- God Who is Personal, Loving, and has made some His children by adopting them through Jesus' Blood. Then, we are to ask God that, above all else, His Name -- His Being, would be known and treated as holy. Then, we are to ask that God's Grace would continue to be given through the preaching of His Word and that God's Glory would come, by being fully seen on earth in God Himself and in the restoration of the Creation.

Then, we have the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer: "Thy Will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven." And here we need to understand two things: what is the will of God? And what does it mean that God’s Will would be done on earth as it is in Heaven?

When we talk about the Will of God, we are talking about one of two wills: either God's Secret Will or God's Revealed Will. God's Secret Will is that Plan of God that He chooses not to reveal to humanity. God's Revealed Will is that Plan that God reveals to humanity -- first through speech and inspiration, and now, only through the Word of God, the Bible.

For example, when Israel was enslaved in Egypt, God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let Israel go. It was the Revealed Will of God that Moses go and tell Pharaoh to let Israel go -- we read in the Bible that God verbally told Moses to go and demand their release from Pharaoh. What Moses did not know -- what was part of the Secret Will of God -- was that God was going to harden Pharaoh's heart so Pharaoh would refuse to listen to Moses.

Another example: we are told in the Scripture to go into every nation and make disciples. That is the Revealed Will of God. Jesus said it; it is in the Bible for us to read. However, we don't know who the elect are -- we don't know whom God has chosen to believe, to respond to the message of the Gospel and believe. That is in the Secret Will of God. OK?

So, we could pray the petition this way: "Let everything that You have taught and commanded be done -- by me and everyone else." In this petition, we are asking for two things: Obedience to God's Revealed Will and submission to God's Secret Will.

First, we are asking that God would grant us the will and the ability to obey God's Revealed Will -- everything God has taught and commanded in His Word, the Bible. And we ought to obey because God, our Creator, the Sovereign has commanded it.

And someone may object, "I don't need God to enable me to do what He said in the Bible; I'll do it if I want to, and if I don't I won't."

And if that person objecting is a Christian, then what he has said may be true, but if he is not a Christian, then he is deceived. Because the Bible tells us that it is not possible for a non-Christian to do and respond rightly to God's Revealed Will. Paul wrote, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10b-12 ESV).

Since every human being since Adam, with the exception of Jesus, was born with a sin nature -- with original sin -- that we inherited from Adam, we are all born incapable of keeping God's Revealed Will -- the Bible. Humans are born incapable of doing anything pleasing in God's Sight.

"Well, then," someone may object, "God can't hold it against me if I can't do God's Revealed Will. And there's really no reason for me to pray this petition."

The non-Christian cannot pray this petition, but the Christian can and ought to desire to. As we saw last week, God has already made Christians new creatures through Jesus Christ. God has changed us and is changing us. He has changed our will, so now we are able to follow God’s Revealed Will. And God has indwelled in us the Person of the Holy Spirit to help and guide us. And God gives us His Grace -- He strengthens and teaches us -- as we listen to the biblical preaching of God's Word and receive the sacraments. The more we sit under biblical preaching and the more we receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the stronger Christian we will become, as the Holy Spirit works in us to mature us in all things. Such that Paul wrote, "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me" (Philippians 3:14 ESV).

"But can I reach a state of sinlessness on earth? Can I read and hear the Bible preached enough, and receive the Lord's Supper enough, that I will become unable to sin in this life? And does God require sinless perfection under the Law before we can be received into His Kingdom?"

We cannot reach a state of sinless perfection in this life, but God expects that we will be doing everything in our power, aided by God the Holy Spirit, to obey Him and follow Him according to the Bible. Thankfully, our salvation is not based on our perfectly keeping God's Law, it is based on Jesus' Perfectly keeping God's Law, and Jesus' Righteousness -- this perfect keeping of the Law is credited to our accounts, so when God looks to judge us for salvation, He looks at Jesus' Works. Paul put it this way: "This is why [Abraham's] faith was counted to him as righteousness. But the words 'it was counted to him' were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Romans 4:22-25 ESV).

In praying for obedience to God's Revealed Will, we are recognizing that God has enabled us, by the Holy Spirit and through Jesus, to follow what God has revealed in the Bible. And we are asking that our desire, our will, and our ability to do so would increase. And the best way to achieve that is through prayer, reading the Bible, hearing biblical preaching, and frequently receiving the Lord's Supper.

And second, we are asking for the grace to submit to God's Secret Will. Now, if the Secret Will of God is something good, say, that this church will grow in numbers and spiritual maturity, that we will greatly influence this neighborhood for Christ -- and I do pray that that is part of God's Secret Will -- I pray that is God's future for us -- that's not difficult to submit to. That's not difficult for us to accept, should it come to pass.

But what about the difficult things -- the hard things -- that are part of God's Secret Will? If we believe that God is Sovereign, and we confessed that we do just a few weeks ago when we confessed the definition of the providence of God in The Heidelberg Catechism, "The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures, so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand" (A. 27) -- can we also receive whatever comes from God's Hand and accept it as part of God's Secret Will?

Now, we're not talking about suffering for our sin. That was addressed when we looked at I Peter a few months ago: if you suffer for your sin, that's your own fault.

But what if it is not due to our sin? What if for reasons we don't know, for purposes we don't know, we suddenly lose our job? Or we're suddenly diagnosed with a chronic or terminal disease? Or one member of our family after another is struck down with disease? Or dies? Can we look at these situations and be upset about them, concerned, devastated, confused, not understand what is happening or why it is happening or what the purpose or good could possibly be of it, and still submit, recognize, understand, it to be part of the Secret Will of God? That's part of what we're praying for in this petition.

When the little boy, Samuel, woke up the Eli, with the message from God that Samuel was a prophet and God was going to kill Eli and his sons, can we respond with Eli, "It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him" (I Samuel 3:18b)? Notice, Eli did not say, "How wonderful! God is going to kill me and my family. Hallelujah!" No, he recognized that the word that came from Samuel was God's Word, and He knew that God is Good, so he accepted that somehow this was the Good Plan of God.

One of the most famous lines in the book of Job -- a messenger came to Job and told him that his servants had all been killed by cattle rustlers, and all of his cattle had been stolen, and the roof had given way on their house and all of his children had died, and Job was heart-broken, and he didn't understand, but he answered this way: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21b). And let us no dare hear that as "Easy come; easy go." What Job was saying, in the midst of his pain and confusion was this: "Everything I had was given to me by the Lord, and He has taken it away for His Reasons. Nevertheless, He is Good and Worthy of Praise." Could we say that in similar circumstances? That's part of what we are praying for.

And Jesus, a mere four days after He rode triumphally into Jerusalem, is found praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that the Will of God was for Him to suffer crucifixion and die, and, in His Humanity, praying to God, asking if there might be another way, because, in His Humanity, He did not want to die. Yet, when God makes it clear to Him that there was no other way, He answered, "your will be done" (Matthew 26:42b ESV).

God does not ask us to enjoy suffering, but we are to understand that some suffering comes from the Hand of God for which we will not know the reason in this lifetime. What we do know, what ought make us able to recognize these things as being from the Secret Will of God is what Paul tells us in that famous verse, Romans 8:28, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (ESV). And we cry out, "But how?" And for such things, we receive silence.

Paul tells us that we will not always know why things happen the way they do. But what we do know is this: God is Sovereign and Good; God has a Plan and it is unfailingly coming to pass. And God has promised that everything that happens to the elect -- to Christians -- will work together for good in the end. How is that possible? How does it work?

Paul was taken to Rome as a prisoner and decapitated. I'm sure Paul would say that he didn't want to have his head cut off. But, in the Secret Will of God, his death in that way worked together for good in the end.

In this second part of the petition, we are asking that, no matter the suffering and lack of understanding, we will understand that our Father, Who we pray to, loves us and is working all things together for good for us, such that we ask God's help in submitting even to the hard things that come from His Hand, saying "Thy will be done."

And now we ask the second question: what does it mean when we say, "on earth as it is in heaven"? Thomas Watson put it this way: "We must make the angels our patterns, and not our neighbors" (The Lord's Prayer, 163). The angels follow God's Will perfectly and without hesitation. They do not sin and they do not question God's Holy Plan. They receive what God gives and they praise and glorify Him.

On that final day, when we are glorified, we will be made like the angels in the sense that we will not longer be able to sin. Until that day, we are to strive to be like them in their sinless obedience and submission to the Will of our Father.

We see the aspects of this petition in the Scripture that we read this morning: hear it in another translation:

"But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments" (Psalm 103:17-18 ESV).

God is Good and grants us righteousness that we would be able to obey and submit to His Will.

"The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19 ESV).

God is Sovereign, so His Plan -- His Will -- will unfailing come to pass.

"Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word" (Psalm 103:20 ESV).

The angels are examples of perfect obedience and submission for us.

"Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!" (Psalm 103:21-22 ESV).

Thy Will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven.

Let us pray:
Almighty and Good God, we thank You for the privilege of prayer. We thank You that You have revealed so much to us about Yourself and Your Plan in the Bible. We ask that You would cause us to desire it more, to read it more, to hear it biblically preached more, and to receive the Lord's Supper more, that we would receive Your Grace to understand and stand strong. And we ask that when we are overwhelmed and don’t understand what your Will is and what Your Plan is, we ask that we would lean on those promises that You are Good, You are our Father, Who loves us, and You are bringing all things to pass, according to Your Will and for our good. May we be more like the angels in our submission to You. For You have never lied to us, and You cannot. And so we have the hope of glory. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Consistory Meeting

The Consistory will meet (D.V.) tomorrow after morning worship. Please plan to be there, Consistory members.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"If any one sin reign, it will keep us from reigning in the kingdom of heaven. Especially keep from sins of presumption, which waste conscience, vastare conscientiam (Tertullian); and the sin of your natural constitution, the peccatum in deliciis (Augustine); thy darling sin; 'I kept myself from mine iniquity,' that sin which my heart would soonest decoy and flatter me into. Psa xvii 23. As in the hive there is one master-bee, so in the heart one master-sin: Oh, take heed of this!"

– Thomas Watson, 117.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Petition 2" Sermon: Matthew 13:44-50

"Petition 2"
[Matthew 13:44-50]
March 19, 2008 Second Reformed Church

"Thy Kingdom Come." "Your Kingdom Come."

We continue our look at prayer and the model of the Lord's Prayer, and we come today to the second petition. Remember that the model of prayer that Jesus gives us opens with an address to the God of all of those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation. This God is our Father. He is trustworthy, and He is always here for us, and He loves us.

Last week, we saw that in the first petition, the first thing we should pray for, the first category of thing that we should prayer for, is that God, in His Whole Being, in His Name, would be known, respected, honored, and seen as holy.

The second petition, the second category of request, is that the Kingdom of the Father would come. And that tells us, first of all, that God, our Father, is King. God is the Sovereign Ruler of the whole creation. He is the Lord and Master of all. He has the last word in all matters.

This petition also tells us, that there is at least one other kingdom than God's Kingdom. In sweeping terms, we can say that there is the Kingdom of Satan -- the Kingdom of the Devil -- and there is the Kingdom of God. Now, let us not get confused -- the Kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God are not equals. They do not meet on the same playing field to fight, like we might see two sports teams fighting. The Kingdom of God is far greater, far mightier, far more glorious than the Kingdom of the Devil. In fact, the Devil only has a kingdom, because God has given it to him, for a time.

Right now, all humans beings are born dead, in slavery to sin and the devil. We are born totally depraved, infected and affected in every part of our being by sin, seeking only evil and the ways of the Devil. But the day will come when the Devil and his angels and all those who follow him will be thrown into the lake of fire and suffer eternally in their bodies and souls in Hell. When Jesus throws them into their torment, Satan will not even have the little power he has now -- the Devil does not rule Hell -- he will be one more suffering soul in that horrible place.

When we pray, "thy kingdom come," we are recognizing that God, our Father, has delivered us from the Kingdom of Satan through Jesus. As Paul wrote, "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14, ESV). We are part of His Kingdom now.

But, a third thing we see is that the Kingdom of God has not fully come. Even if we say it has come in part because we have been transferred into it, if we are to pray for it to come, it cannot yet have fully come.

Matthew tells us that after Jesus' time of testing, "From that time Jesus began to preach saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matthew 4:17). When Jesus began His Ministry, He said that the Kingdom was right here, very close. What does that mean?

Jesus was talking with His disciples, "And they asked him, 'Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come [before the Savior]?' And he said to them, 'Elijah does come to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him'" (Mark 9:11-13, ESV).

The prophets said that Elijah would come again, and he would restore all things, and then the Savior would come. This has confused people, because some have looked for a resurrection of the prophet Elijah who served in the days of Ahab and Jezebel, but that's not what the prophets meant. The angel Gabriel explained about John the Baptist, "And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared" (Luke 1:16-18, ESV).

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, and the inbreaking of the Kingdom, by turning the hearts of the people of the Lord back to Him. It was nothing short of a reformation. We read how people from all over Israel were coming to the Jordan, to repent of their sins and receive John's baptism for forgiveness. (Cf. Mark 1:1-8). They were turning to the Word of God, and God Himself, as they had not for years. And then Jesus came, also preaching repentance, but proclaiming that the Kingdom was now at hand.

What is the Kingdom? What does it consist of? We already seen it, in a round-about way. The Kingdom of God consists in the Grace that comes through preaching, and it's results by the Holy Spirit. And it consists in the Glory that comes in the restoration of the Creation.

The Kingdom of God consists, first, in the Grace that we receive from God when God's Word in preached. This Grace leads, according to God's Sovereign Good Pleasure, in the coming to belief in Jesus Alone for salvation. It's the becoming of new creation: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (II Corinthians 5:17, ESV). It is a recognition that Christ is better, more valuable, that the Kingdom of God is better, than anything and everything else in the world. It is the growing realization that death is not to be feared, but, in the sense that we will be with Jesus, it is to be looked forward to. This is what Jesus was talking about in the first two parables that were read this morning.

In the first parable, Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is like this: it is like a man who found a treasure in a field. Now, the field did not belong to the man; it belonged to someone else. So, if he took the treasure, it would be stealing, so, he sold everything he had to raise enough money to buy the field, so the treasure would legitimately be his. And Jesus said that the man sold everything he had in joy -- he's not sorry to give up anything and everything from his life up to this point, because the treasure he had found was that wonderful, that valuable!

In the second parable, Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant who had gone out to buy pearls -- perhaps he made jewelry and he was looking for good pearls for a piece he was making. But he came across the penultimate pearl -- the greatest, most perfect pearl there would ever be. And he was so excited, he went home and sold everything he had that he might buy that one amazing pearl.

Paul wrote, "It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account" (Philippians 1:20-24, ESV).

Notice, Paul said that his first goal was that Christ will be honored -- that the Name of God will be honored -- whether he lives or dies. (Because Paul was thrown in prison many times and his life was threatened many times as well.) And he said that his preference was to die, but not because he was sick of the world and the suffering he has endured, but because he was so excited, so drawn, so filled with Grace, that he knew and longed to be with Jesus.

The Grace that we receive, that we would repent and believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation, that we would be transferred from the Kingdom of Hell into the Kingdom of our Loving Father, that God the Holy Spirit would live in us and cause us to be able to follow the whole Word of God and be matured and changed into the image of Jesus, God the Son, is worth more than everything else together. It is the Kingdom coming near, being at hand, it is the beginning of the Promise that God made in the Garden, "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).

When we pray, "Thy Kingdom come," we are praying for the Grace to believe, to follow after the Word of God, and to be transformed into the image of Jesus, such that we desire to be with Him more than everything else that the world can offer.

Second, the Kingdom of God consists in that Glory that we have begun to glimpse and will fully see in the restoration of the Creation and in the sanctification of God's people. We've noted this before, as Paul wrote, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 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 adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved" (Romans 8:18-24a, ESV).

We're waiting for glory; we're waiting for the restoration. We're waiting for the Kingdom to fully come. "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 man, 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 their be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away'" (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV).

That's the Glory that the Kingdom brings with it: the Creation is restored, we who have believed become without sin -- we are made holy. We and the Creation will be returned to a state like the Garden, but it will be Paradise, because it will no longer be possible for us to sin.

Jesus said in the third parable we read this morning, that God has thrown out a net, like a fisherman, and He is collecting humanity, and when the end of the age comes, when He has gathered all of humanity in His net, the angels will separate us: those who have believed will enter the Glory of the Kingdom in all its fullness. Those who do not will be "thrown into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

When we pray, "Thy Kingdom come," we are asking two things: we are asking that God's Grace would continue to come upon us and change us and make us holy, that we would know Jesus as worth more than everything else. And we're asking that God would glorify Himself and bring us into His Glory, by finally conquering sin, restoring the Creation, and bringing us into His everlasting Kingdom.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, Creator of the Creation, we ask that the hope of Grace and Glory would grow in our lives and sustain us until You Return. Help us to see and believe in the Grace and the Glory You have and will give to us. Amen.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

One of the commentaries I am using as I preach through the Lord's Prayer is Thomas Watson's The Lord's Prayer. This is an extensive commentary, very rich with Puritan wisdom.

"Death is a worm that is ever feeding at the root of our gourd:..."

-- Thomas Watson, 93.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

"Petition 1" Sermon: Exodus 20:7

"Petition 1"
[Exodus 20:7]
March 2, 2208 Second Reformed Church

Last week we looked at the address of the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father Who is in Heaven." And we saw that we are able to call God, "Father," and come before Him boldly, because He has adopted us as His children through Jesus' Salvation Work. He is "our Father" because Jesus died to save the elect, the Church, from His Father's Wrath and their sins. And He is "in heaven." Our Father is not a god created by human hands; He is the Almighty, Self-Existent God, Who created everything that is.

What a privilege this invitation to come and pray is! We come before One Who is able to do all good things, One Who loves us, Who we can trust and rely on always and forever. This is the God Jesus calls us to pray to; the God about Whom Jesus has given us this pattern of prayer.

After the address, the Lord's Prayer has six petitions and then a conclusion. The six petitions are the six areas of request we are to lift up to God in prayer. Today, we are looking at the first of these petitions; if the Lord is willing, we will look at the rest of them over the next few weeks.

It is a truth of the Scripture that if God gives us a command, there is a corresponding prohibition, and if God has forbidden something, He has also given us a command to do something. In the Lord's prayer, we find the command, "Hallowed, or holy, be Your Name." In this morning's Scripture, we hear the prohibition, "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name" (NRSV). The word that is translated "wrongful" and "misuses" is the same Hebrew word, shav, which means, "empty, worthless, vain." So, the positive command could be stated, "Make the Name of the Lord as Holy" or "Present the Name of the Lord as Holy." And the negative command could be stated, "Do not make the Name of the Lord empty, worthless, or vain" or "Do not present the Name of the Lord as worthless, empty, or vain."

So, Jesus said that the first thing we should be concerned about, the first thing that should be on our lips in prayer, the most important thing for us to be praying for, is this: that God's Name would be Holy. That sounds like Jesus and the prayer are saying that we make God and God’s Name Holy, which of course is blasphemous. God is holy, holy, holy, and He always has been. He does not need us to make Him Holy. Even though we use the expression "make His Name Holy," let us understand what we are really saying.

Thomas Watson wrote, "In this petition, we pray that God's name may shine forth gloriously, and that it may be honored and sanctified by us, in the whole course and tenor of our lives" (The Lord's Prayer, 38). In other words, the goal of our lives, the goal of our prayer, is, first, that in everything we and all of the creation does, that God is seen as glorious. The most important thing is that all of the Creation falls down and honors God. The first petition asks that the whole creation would come in line with the four living creatures in Heaven: "Day and night without ceasing they sing, 'Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come'" (Revelation 4:8, NRSV). The first thing we are to pray for is that we and the whole Creation would enter into a state of perpetual praise and recognition of God in all His Holy Attributes.

It is not merely, God's Name, Itself, that we considering in the first petition; as one looks at the use of the "Name of the Lord" in the Scripture, one finds that the expression is much bigger than the Name, Itself. It refers to the Essence of God, to everything that is God, everything that God is without which God could not be God, and everything that can be known about God. The Name of God is synonymous with the Being of God, in this case.

So, how do we "hallow" the Name of God? How do we make or present the Name of God as holy? How do we keep from making or presenting the Name of God as empty, worthless, and vain?

Thomas Watson cites at least sixteen ways, and he is comprehensive enough that I am going to use his categories (39-46):

We make God's Name Holy when we profess Him Alone as Savior and bear His Name. We are called, "Christians," "little Christs." If we are Christians, people ought to look at us and see something of the holiness of our God and Savior. I was talking to someone this week who said that he doesn't believe in religion because every religion is the same bunch of liars, hypocrites, and sinners -- and I agreed with him! Humans are the same; I had a professor at Drew who said, "sin happens." No matter the religion, people are all the same. But Jesus is different, and if we are Christians, something about us ought to point away from ourselves and point to He Who is Holy, because Christianity is not about me, is not about you, it's about Him It's about Jesus! What a difference there is if someone comes to me and asks about this church and I say, "Well, I'm fat and sick and single, and we're small, and old, and poor," and if I say, "we gather to worship the Almighty God, we come into His Presence, and hear about the Only Savior Jesus Christ!"

We make God's Name Holy when we have a high appreciation of Him and hold Him in high esteem. Do you love Jesus above everything else? Do you want Him above everything else? Can you say with Paul, as we have come back to so often in recent months, "For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain"? If you think that highly of Him, you hallow Him.

We make God's Name Holy when we trust Him. Do you turn to Him, no matter what the circumstances and raise up your voice, "Lord, I trust You. In the days of joy and in the days of tribulation, I cry out with Job, 'The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the Lord!' Because You promised that all of life is working together for the good of those who love You." Trust doesn't mean we understand, it means, whether we understand or not, we know God is trustworthy.

We make God's Name Holy when we refuse to use it in a common or a profane way. This is what we usually think of -- not using God's Actual Name as a curse word or as a by-word. The ancient Hebrews held God's Actual Name in such high honor that they would not print the vowels or pronounce that Most Holy Name that was given to Moses. How far we have fallen. Come to know God in His Word and through worship that you remove His Actual Name from common and profane use. Would you mind if someone used your mother's name in a crude way? Would you say something if someone used your mother's name as a curse? How can we tolerate, and use, our God's Name in that way? I challenge all of us, in the Name of Jesus Christ, to do something very difficult, if a friend of family member uses the Lord's Name like that, politely, privately, ask them not to do that any more. Tell them it is offensive to you -- it hurts you. You may get laughed at. You may be cursed at. But we are to rejoice if we suffer for Christ.

We make God's Name Holy when we love Him. Show your love to God by consciously dedicating every part of yourself to Him and His Glory. Pray that God will show you how to love Him with all of your mind and heart and soul and body. Take care of the self God has given you and use it at every possible moment to show that God is worthy; He is glorious.

We make God's Name Holy when we worship Him, recognizing His Attributes. When we join together in worship, we make God's Name Holy, as we lift up and believe and celebrate that He is our Savior, that He is Almighty, that He is Unchanging, that He is Good, and so forth -- for everything that is True of God. We ought to lift each attribute up and celebrate God in the fulness of Who He is.

We make God's Name Holy when we hallow the Sabbath. We obey God by taking one day in seven to be different. When we set aside a day for worship, when we could be joining the world in building our portfolio or sleeping in, because "you deserve a break today." God has called us to worship one day in seven, and He says it is for our benefit. We spiritually, physically, and mentally, need a break from doing the same thing we do every day. And God is surely worthy to have us come before Him one day in seven to proclaim Him as a people.

We make God's Name Holy as we give God the honor for all that we do. When we recognize that everything we have, all that we can do and be, is from God, by God, though God, and for God, He receives the Glory and the Honor. If you come before God in worship this morning, and the Holy Spirit applies God's Word to your heart, I am grateful that God has used me as the minister, but it is God's Word, God’s Promises, it is God Who has gifted and called me to this work -- it's all about Him, and we must not neglect to thank God for everything we have and receive and are.

We make God's Name Holy when we obey Him. If we believe God is the One and True God, our Savior, then we do right to obey Him by the power we have by the Holy Spirit. If we are Christians, God the Holy Spirit lives in us, and gives us the ability to carry out all those things God has called us to do, and when we do, we show that we believe that God is Real and True and Worthy of obedience.

We make God's Name Holy when we praise Him. What more appropriate response can there be to knowing God? If we have received His Salvation and have come to know Him -- and we continue to know Him better day by day -- we are propelled by the knowledge to praise Him. If you don't desire worship more over time, you should be concerned. Let us come, desirous of knowing Him more and better, and praise Him for all that we know of Him.

We make God's Name Holy when we are sympathetic with Him -- when we rejoice when He rejoices and are grieved when He is grieved. When we learn something of God's character, we know the things that give Him joy and the things that cause Him to grieve. We ought to have joy and grieve over the same things. For example, the Scripture says there is joy in Heaven when a person repents and believes, and we ought to be filled with joy at seeing someone come to belief. And, as we have already seen, using the actual Name of God in vain is offensive to God, and it ought to offend us as well.

We make God's Name Holy when we honor the Trinity. When we read the Scriptures and appreciate the Work of God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, when we have some understanding that though there is only One God, yet He exists at the same time in Three Persons, this makes His Name Holy. Let us seek to understand How God in all Three Persons is involved in the History of Redemption.

We make God's Name Holy when we stand up for His Truth. And that should follow directly from some of the others: if we trust God, if we believe Him, if we are obeying Him, we will find ourselves standing for His Truth. When others say that thus and so is true, and it contradicts the clear teaching of the Scripture, we will explain that they are wrong. We need to learn to be able to present what we believe, and to stand for His Truth.

We make God's Name Holy when we seek salvation for others. If we tell others the Truth of Salvation in Jesus Alone, if we explain to them why He Alone can save us, those who respond positively and believe bring glory to God, and we make His Name Holy together. This is yet another incentive for us to tell others about Jesus: the more we tell, the more God will be glorified as some respond.

We make God's Name Holy when we prefer His Honor above all other things. This is another one that follows from things we have already said. If God is worthy more to us than anything, we will seek to have Him be honored in all ways above and before all others.

And we make God's Name Holy in holy conversations. When we discuss the Scriptures in Bible study, in worship, in small groups, on the phone -- wherever -- these discussions hold God and His Word up and make His Name Holy among us.

"Holy be Your Name." Let us, in all these ways and others, seek to know God as fully and rightly as we can. And then let us seek to love Him with everything that we are. That is, after all, what we are asking for in the first petition.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, Holy Father, we thank You for the format of the Lord's Prayer. We thank You that You have made it known that Your Holiness, the knowledge of it and the presenting of it are a top priority for You. We ask, now as we prepare to turn to the Table, that we would seek to know and love You in the elements. Help us to remember the Work of the Trinity in our salvation. Let us rejoice in the Plan of the Father, in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son, and His really meeting us here in the elements, and may the Holy Spirit apply these things to our hearts and lead us forth in the good works You have prepared for us. And may it all be to Your Glory and the hallowing of Your Name. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Larry Norman 4/8/47 - 2/24/08

I first heard about Larry Norman when I was in high school. A friend of mine's younger brother brought home Larry's album Something New Under the Son. Their father was one of our pastors, and when he saw the album, he blew up and told his son to get rid of it. When he asked why, his father said that Larry was a "Christian Satanist." I thought that was rather curious, and I decided I needed to get the album for myself and see what this was all about. For me, it has been almost thirty years of learning and loving this gifted man. I am now a minister; Larry is in Paradise, and the devil doesn't have all the good music. I'll see you over Jordan, Larry. Thank you for your ministry, and I thank God for you, Larry.