Second Reformed Church

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Would You Spare Twelve Clicks?

If you could click your mouse and relieve hunger, donate mammograms, support child health, increase literacy, save the rain forest, and save abandoned animals -- at NO COST other than your mouse clicks, would you do it? Would you do it every day? I was asked to click on one of six connected sites by a friend, and I thought I might as well click on all six. Then I saw they had a free daily reminder, and I thought that there was no reason I could not spare the time to click twelve times to make a difference. You can do the same. Please do the same! More information is available on the sites. Start by clicking on The Animal Rescue site -- on the left, in favorites -- and click on the "Click here to give -- it's free" icon. There -- two down, ten to go. Click on all six sites. Sign up to be reminded to do it every day. Go ahead. Do it now, I'll be here when you get back. Thanks!

June Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach through the book of II Peter in June, July, and August. (I preached through I Peter last year.) The June schedule:

6/1/08 Communion II Peter 1:1-2 "Faith, Grace, & Peace"
6/8/08 II Peter 1:3-4 "Called"
6/15/08 II Peter 1:5-8 "Be Effective & Fruitful"
6/22/08 II Peter 1:9-15 "Make Your Calling & Election Sure"
6/29/08 Anniversary Sunday II Peter 1:16-21 "God-breathed"

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Finally" Sermon: II Corinthians 13:11-14

"Finally"
[II Corinthians 13:11-14]
May 18, 2008 Second Reformed Church

This morning we are looking at the closing and benediction of Paul's second letter to the Church at Corinth, and it might serve us well to know something about this church and why Paul wrote the letters he did.

In the first century, the city of Corinth was the center of the trade route for the civilized world. Everything passed through Corinth -- not just goods from all over the known world, but every type of philosophy and religion. So Corinth was known to be a very "tolerant" city -- in a very modern sense of the word -- every sort of belief and practice flourished among every other type of belief and practice. Paul founded a church in this city.

Although there were true believers in the Church at Corinth, there was a great deal of challenge, confusion, and division over what to believe and how to act as a Christian. They were now representing an exclusivist religion in an inclusive society, and issues kept arising.

Paul wrote his letters to them to correct false teachings that had crept into the church: in his first letter, he told them that Christians cannot have sexual relations with whomever and whatever they want, he taught them the difference between true and false spiritual gifts, he explained that some people can eat food that had been offered to idols without sinning, while others can not, and he explained that the resurrection was not just a spiritual happening, but the physical body also rises from the dead. In his second letter, he argued against false apostles that he is a true apostle, and he taught them that they were wrong to hoard their money away, but God calls Christians to give generously to the Church.

In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he taught them that they must be unified in the teaching of the Church, and especially those doctrines concerning salvation. In the second letter, he taught them that they must be unified with other churches that believe the same things they do. These general themes are the same for us today: we are to be unified in the teaching of the Church -- we are to believe what has always be taught by the Church from the Bible. And, we are to be unified with other churches that hold the same beliefs that we do -- we are to work with and pray for all churches that teach that Jesus is the One and Only Savior and Salvation is through Him Alone.

And nothing has changed. One example from our denomination, the Reformed Church in America: We confess that the Bible is the Word of God. Ordained ministers swear to uphold the Word of God and the standards, so long as they conform to the Word of God. God has clearly said in His Word that committing homosexual acts is sin. We, as a denomination, are in the midst of a several year study to determine what the meaning of "is" is. And, when this issue is voted on, if those voting decide that the meaning of the word "is" is "is not, if it is a loving relationship," then we shall ordain practicing homosexuals to the ministry, and it will be impossible to say it is wrong to have loving, sexual relations with one's brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, uncle, or dog. We will be the Church at Corinth.

This morning's Scripture contains the final comments and the benediction of the second letter:

Paul tells the Corinthians, first, to rejoice. After these letters of correction, he tells them to rejoice. Why? Because they have believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and there is nothing that fills a person with more joy than to know Jesus and His Salvation. So, in the midst of being corrected, in learning that what we have always done isn't right, we can rejoice, because we are Christ's forever and always, safe and secure.

Then he says to "aim for restoration, comfort one another" (ESV). Just this week I talked with a minister of a church in another reformed denomination who told me about how one family was disrupting the church -- trying to run the church -- against the will of the Consistory. People were up in arms, some left the church, but this past Winter, the family left the church, all of the issues were settled, and they are worshiping in peace. When there are disagreements and misunderstandings and sinful refusals to obey God's Word, there is turmoil in the church. We ought always to be aiming for restoration of the unity of the church on those things which are clear and necessary for Salvation, and we ought to be a comfort to one another after the issues have been settled. When we agree in unity on the fundamentals of the faith, we experience and know that the God of love and peace is with us.

Finally, he says to "greet one another with a holy kiss" (ESV). We've seen this in other places in the New Testament -- kissing each other, in a non-sexual way, was a familiar greeting in the first century. We can adapt that to our time by saying that we ought to use our bodies -- in a non-sexual way -- to show our love for each other. Some kiss, some shake hands, some hug -- these are all appropriate when done to greet others in the love of Christ.

Then Paul gives the benediction, and we're tempted, after hearing the end of the instruction to read, "All the saints greet you. Yada, yada, yada, Paul." But we ought to be careful not to skip over the benediction: there is much to learn and rejoice in in these words.

The first thing we should notice, on this Trinity Sunday, is that this is a Triune benediction. Paul ends with a "good word" regarding all Three Persons of the Trinity. And in this benediction, the distinctness of the Persons of the Trinity is emphasized. He prays/commends that these three things be with all of them:

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (ESV). What do these mean?

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." The primary Gift of Grace that Jesus gives us is Himself for our Salvation. Peter said, "But we [Jews] believe that we will be saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus, just as [the Gentiles] will" (Acts 15:11, ESV). Paul wrote about how sin came into the world through one man, Adam, and the free gift of Salvation came into the world through One Man, Jesus: "But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many" (Romans 5:15, ESV). He puts it again this way: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you by his poverty might become rich" (II Corinthians 8:9, ESV). Paul, in his benediction, prayed that all the members of the Church at Corinth would come to believe in Christ through His Grace -- that they would all receive Salvation in Jesus Alone.

We ought do the same: we ought to pray for the Salvation of all those who attend our worship service, because not everyone who attends worship is a Christian. Not everyone who sits in our pews week after week has received Jesus Alone for Salvation. Just because someone is present in worship week after week does not prove that he is a Christian any more than going to McDonald's week after week would make him a hamburger. Salvation is not attending worship, Salvation is in receiving the Grace of Jesus Christ, believing in Him Alone for Salvation.

For those who have received Him, there is a second Grace: Paul wrote of it to Timothy, "You, then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you heard from me in the presence of many witnesses..." (II Timothy 2:1-2a, ESV). Jesus gives us His Grace and strengthens us in the faith, as we read God's Word and hear it preached and receive the sacraments and pray. As we spiritually meet with Jesus, He ministers to us and strengthens us so we can go and tell the world His Gospel.

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of our Salvation be with you all -- that you might be saved this day and eternally through Jesus Christ, and that He might strengthen you day by day to do the good works He has planned for you to His Glory.

"The love of God." What is the greatest showing of God's Love for His people? Paul wrote, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person -- though perhaps for a good person one would even dare to die -- but God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8, ESV). God showed His Love for us by saving us when we were His greatest enemy and wanted nothing to do with Him. When we were in cosmic rebellion against Him, when we said we neither wanted Him nor needed Him, while we cried out, "Be gone!", God sent Jesus to live under God's Law and die for our sins, saving us and making us His children. John was dumbfounded by this: "See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are" (I John 3:1a, ESV).

God loved all of us who would believe throughout time and space so much that He sent His Son to live and die for our Salvation. It is that Love that causes Jesus' Grace to be irresistible to those of us who believe. He loves us and draws us to Himself and makes us His own. May that Love conquer you and change you and give you eternal life.

"The fellowship of the Holy Spirit" The past two weeks we have noted that God the Holy Spirit lives in every Christian -- the same One God -- in the Person of the Holy Spirit lives in you and you and you and me. He lives in us and unites us in the faith -- we are one body, we are a holy temple, a holy people, we are brothers and sisters and co-heirs with Christ. Paul wrote, "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation [fellowship] in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind" (Philippians 2:1-2, ESV).

Paul was not unrealistic; there are times when Christians need to receive Church discipline, and Jesus gave us instructions for how that is to be done, and Paul knew that some people would tend to like each other and do things together, and others would do likewise. And we are not commanded to always do everything together -- we do not have to be best friends with every person in the church. But, since we are united by the same God the Holy Spirit, we have fellowship with one another -- and with all Christians. The word that is used is koinonia, which means a sharing of all things. Now, that doesn't mean that Paul wants us to be communists. What it means is if we are loved by the same God, if we are saved by the same Jesus Christ, if we are united and indwelled by the same Holy Spirit, we must love each other, we must sympathize with each other, we must pray for each other, etc.

Understand, there will be Christians in every church that you don't have as much in common with as others, there will be Christians who rub you the wrong way, there are Christians who you will disagree with on issues -- that's alright; it's normal. However, we must be able to worship together. We must be able to express sympathy when someone is sick or a family member has died. We must be able to congratulate them when they get a degree or a raise. We don't have to have every Christian to our home for tea, but if God the Holy Spirit indwells each one of us, we must be able to put aside our petty differences for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must get over ourselves and humble ourselves before God and man, showing that we have received God's Grace and Love and we now exist together in fellowship.

For example: this week I was invited to hear a certain minister speak. He is a world-renown scholar, and he is someone with whom I have profound disagreement in the area of Christian Ethics. I politely declined the invitation, because I knew if I went, I would be tempted to sin against this speaker -- my back would have gone up, and even if I never spoke I word, I would have been fuming and full of pride. Since I do believe the man in question is a Christian, I prayed for him -- that he would speak in accordance with the Pure Word of God, and I prayed for myself -- that my attitude would change towards him -- that we would both grow in Christ-likeness. That is how we ought to deal with those in the Church we aren't best friends with. Keep yourself from sin; pray for the brothers and sisters you don't see eye to eye with. Confess your sin, and pray that God would change and mature you in the faith.

May the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all -- with the whole Church of Christ. May we all realize that we are united in God the Holy Spirit for the sake of the Gospel, which is far greater than any of our differences.

In the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, may the Love of God and the Grace of Jesus Christ shine through us and be seen by the world that God would get the glory. For there is Only One God and One Salvation. Praise Jesus.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, we confess that You are the One and the Same Only God. We rejoice that You have revealed to us that You come to us in history in Three Persons. We thank You that You do not leave Your Church to its own devices, but continue to give us Grace and Love and unite us through Yourself, even as You change us into Your Image. Use us to Your Glory. Amen and amen.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Nihil sic revocat peccata quam creba mortis comtemplatio [Nothing restrains from sin so much as the frequent thought of death]. Augustine." -- Thomas Watson, 322.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"The word shows the damnable evil of sin; it furnishes us with precepts, which are so many recipes and antidotes against sin. When Christ had a temptation to sin, he beat back the tempter and wounded him three times with the sword of the Spirit: 'It is written.' Why do men live in sin, but because they either do not read the word or do not believe it?" -- Thomas Watson, 321.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"O remember that saying of Augustine, Momentaneum est quod delectat, aeternum quod cruciat [The pleasure is momentary, the torture eternal]. The pleasure of sin is soon gone, but the sting remains." -- Thomas Watson, 314.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Sin is deicidium [the killing of God]; it would not only unthrone God, but ungod him; if sin could help it, God should not longer be God." -- Thomas Watson, 302.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Repentance gives the soul a vomit." -- Thomas Watson, 301.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"We Are Not Drunk" Sermon: Acts 2:1-21

"We Are Not Drunk"
[Acts 2:1-21]
May 11, 2208 Second Reformed Church

Jesus ascended to the Father. After spending forty days with the disciples -- some five hundred persons who saw Jesus alive in the flesh after the resurrection -- Jesus ascended in His Body, back to the throne of the Son, where He reigns almighty over all.

We saw last week that Jesus made three promises to the disciples: first, that they would be indwelled with the Holy Spirit. Second, that the Holy Spirit would give them the power to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and meet the needs of the Church. And third, that they would be witnesses to Jesus and His Gospel both in word and deed.

It was a mere ten days later, as the disciples waited in Jerusalem, that these promises came to pass, during the festival of Passover, on what we now call the day of Pentecost.

We see in the opening verses of chapter two that the disciples were together when the sound of a mighty, rushing wind filled the house where they were, and tongues of fire appeared and then rested on each of them, and "all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit" (NRSV). The Holy Spirit, God Himself, indwelled each one of them, just as He indwells every person who has believed since that day. God lives in every Christian.

Then, in verse four, we see power being given to the disciples: "and [they] began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability" (NRSV).

Now, remember, we saw that the power that the Holy Spirit gives is the power to preach the Gospel and to meet the needs of the Church. Here, of course, we are seeing the first example of the Holy Spirit providing power to preach the Gospel. In verses five through eleven, we see that there were Jews from all over the world in Jerusalem. They had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and they spoke a wide variety of languages. This was a problem for the disciples: they knew Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, but not all the languages of the civilized world, so they were unable to preach the Gospel to all of the people there.

We remember that in the beginning there was only one language, but the people had become prideful and began to build a tower that would reach, they thought, heaven itself. God was angry at the sin of humanity, at their pride and presumption, so God caused all the people to speak in different languages, so they couldn't understand each other, and they couldn't continue to build their tower of sin -- Babel (Genesis 11). Since that day, the peoples of the world have been separated by language.

But on the day of Pentecost, God wanted all of the people to be addressed -- to have the Gospel preached to them -- so God, the Holy Spirit, gave the disciples the power -- the spontaneous ability -- to speak in all of the languages of those present. The Gospel cut through the babble, and every person was able to understand in his or her own language. There was no time for the disciples to learn all the languages of the world, so God overcame their inability by giving them the ability to speak in all languages without having learned them. And then they preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Many were amazed, both to hear the disciples speaking their languages, but even more so to hear that God came to earth in human form, lived under His Own Law, was crucified, dead and buried, and rose from the dead, and ascended back to God the Father -- securing salvation for all who believe, the forgiveness of sins and the crediting of the perfect keeping of the Law from Jesus to all who believe.

And we learn that over five thousand persons believed on Jesus after they finished speaking (Acts 4:4).

Yet, there were some who said, "These men are just babbling. They aren't really speaking in all languages. They're drunkards, mouthing the few words they know."

Then Peter took center stage and spoke to all, telling them that they were not drunk, in fact they were keeping the Passover and were not eating or drinking until the afternoon. No, Peter explained that what they were seeing was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel.

Little is known about Joel, except that, from his prophecy, he seems to have been a prophet in Judah, the southern kingdom, before the Babylonian captivity. So, somewhere between 800 and 500 B.C. Joel preached to Judah after a disastrous invasion of locusts, and he urged Judah to repent of their sin, lest something worse come upon them -- the Babylonian captivity. In the center of his prophecy, he spoke the words that Peter quoted in his sermon, saying that this prophecy of Joel was fulfilled that day:

"And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs in the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (ESV).

What does this prophecy mean?

Joel said that these things will happen in the "last days," and Peter said that they came to pass on the day of Pentecost. Therefore, the "last days" began about 33 A.D. -- about two thousand years ago. The "last days" are the days of the Gospel, the days of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

God said that He would pour out His Spirit on all flesh -- men and women, old men and young men, slaves and free. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not based on gender or position. The Pharisees taught that the Holy Spirit only abided with the wise and the wealthy -- and of course, men. But God says that the Holy Spirit indwells everyone and anyone who believes in Jesus Alone for salvation. Including you. God lives in everyone who believes.

Then we read that they will prophesy, and we need to be careful, because the primary definition of "prophesy" has changed. In the Old Testament, we remember that Saul went to be taught at a school for prophets -- that would have be akin to a seminary. He was being taught how to preach, how to present, proclaim, God's Word. And when we read the word "prophesy" up until the eighteen century or so, we ought to understand it to primarily be referring to being able to speak, to make a presentation, not, as we think of it today, as telling the future. The prophets did proclaim the future from time to time in the Old Testament, but that was not their primary function. Their primary function was to call the people to repentance and to teach them what God had said.

So, God is saying that He will use all people, male and female, of every age and station, to tell others the Gospel -- to let others know that there is salvation in Jesus Christ Alone -- that the Savior -- the Messiah has come, and you can be saved if you repent and believe in Him. And that means that God will use you to proclaim His Gospel.

What do we do with the next passage? "And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs in the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day." This is a passage about the future -- it did not take place on the day of Pentecost, but it was something God said, "I will...[do these things]...". When? This is the one place where Peter changes an adjective in the text: Joel says this will occur before the "awesome" or "terrible" Day of the Lord. Peter says this will occur before the "magnificent" or "glorious" Day of the Lord.

The change of adjective is not too difficult: Joel is saying that the Day of the Lord will be horrific for the unbelieving world, whereas Peter is saying that the Day of the Lord will be a Day of Glory for Jesus.

The Bible was completed in the 60's A.D., and it never says that this part of the prophecy was fulfilled., so we cannot say with total certainly what this text is referring to, except that it will occur before Jesus returns. However, we can make the argument that this part of the text referred to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

Josephus, the Roman historian, records that there were many strange signs in the sky during the year before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, including a fiery comet which stood above Jerusalem for the whole year before the Romans destroyed the Temple (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 2068). Besides these signs in the sky, there was blood flowing in the streets and fire and smoke as Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple for the final time in 70 A.D.

We can understand this would be "terrible" -- all the death and destruction that was caused by Rome. But how was this "glorious"? In this way, the Temple and its sacrifices were done away with as a sign that Jesus had fulfilled all of the Old Testament sacrificial Law, and there would never again be an animal sacrifice, because Jesus, the Greater and Perfect Sacrifice had been offered once on the cross for all those who would believe. That is the point of the book of Hebrews -- Jesus is Greater. Jesus is more Glorious. The Temple and its sacrifices are done away with. Jesus has fulfilled it all. No longer do we need to offered up sacrifice after sacrifice that never really covered all our sins. Now, Jesus, the Glorious One, has done what thousands of animals could never do -- His Blood has cleansed all who believe, forever.

Let us not get stuck on what verses nineteen and twenty refer to, but look to verse twenty-one, which is as clear as clear can be: "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (ESV). From the day of Pentecost forward, everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord, everyone who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation, will be saved. Jesus has done all the work, and He has saved us, and everyone who believes until the day He returns will eternally be saved.

Do you believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation this morning? Do you trust in Jesus and His Work to make you right with God? Or are you still offering up good works -- sacrifices -- hoping that you can do enough to earn God's favor? God said if you've sinned once, you're damned, and an eternity of good works will never be enough to clear the slate and merit salvation -- you cannot save yourself. Believe that Jesus has already done everything needed for you, and you will find that you have been saved, God the Holy Spirit lives in you, and you are now given the power to go and tell others.

Jesus Ascended to the Father to complete His Work of Salvation. And on the day of Pentecost, Jesus and the Father sent God the Holy Spirit to indwell everyone who believes and to provide each one with what is needed for each of us to witness in word and deed to those we come in contact with. If you are a Christian this morning, you are called and you have the ability, by God the Holy Spirit, to let others know that our Only Hope is Jesus Christ Alone. There is no other way; there is no other salvation.

Not everyone is called to be an Ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament, but every one of us is commanded and empowered by God to let others know. And God knows our every excuse -- I don't speak well, I don't know what to say, I don't know anyone -- but God made it clear on the day of Pentecost that God will not be hindered by our inabilities, in fact, He will gift us as He wills to make us able. God overcomes our excuses and tells us to go -- in our world, in our own way, with the abilities that God gives us -- but go "be my witnesses in Jerusalem and to all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8b, ESV).

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for equipping us for ministry. We thank You that You make us able to tell others about Your salvation. Overcome our fear and our excuses, that You would be glorified as You bring people to Yourself and add to Your Church day by day. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Luther says three things make a good divine, prayer, meditation, and temptation." -- Thomas Watson, 299.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Water in a glass looks pure, but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up; so in temptation a Christian sees the scum of sin boil up, of passion and distrust of God, which he thought had not been in his heart. Hereby a Christian sees more of the wiles of Satan, and is better to withstand them." -- Thomas Watson, 299.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"When Paul was lifted up be revelations, he was in danger of being lifted up with pride; then came the messenger of Satan to buffet him: that was some sore temptation to humble him. The thorn in the flesh was to prick the bladder of pride. Better is the temptation that humbles me than the duty that makes me proud. Rather than a Christian should be proud, God lets him fall into the devil's hands awhile, that he may be cured of his swelling." -- Thomas Watson, 283.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Meditation is chewing the cud; it makes the word digest and turn to nourishment; it is the bellows of the affections. The devil is an enemy to this. When Christ is alone in the wilderness, giving himself to divine contemplations, the devil comes and tempts him. He will thrust in worldly business, something or other to keep men off holy meditation." -- Thomas Watson, 276.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"[Satan] makes the duties of our general and particular calling hinder and jostle out one another. Our general calling is serving God, our particular calling is minding our employments in the world. It is wisdom to be regular in both of these, when the particular calling does not eat out the time for God's service, nor the service of God hinder diligence in a calling. The devil's art is to make Christians defective in one of these two. Some spend all their time in hearing, reading, and under a pretense of living by faith, do not live in a calling; others Satan takes off from duties of religion, under a pretense that they must provide for their families; he makes them so careful for their bodies, that they quite neglect their souls. The subtlety of the old serpent is to make men negligent in their duties either of the first table or the second." -- Thomas Watson, 269.

Monday, May 05, 2008

"Why Are You Looking?" Sermon Acts 1:1-11

"Why Are You Looking?"
[Acts 1:1-11]
May 4, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Luke begins his second volume on the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Scripture that was read this morning, and I want to make one translation note: in our pew Bible, verse one reads, "I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning," (NRSV) and while that is not an impossible translation, there is a better one: "I dealt with all that Jesus began to teach and do" (ESV). The difference is subtle, but important: the way our pew Bible is translated can suggest that Jesus did and taught certain things and stopped, whereas, most other translations show Jesus to have done and taught certain things, and those things continue to be done and taught.

Jesus rose from the dead, then He spent forty days with the apostles and the disciples. He let them touch Him. He ate and drank with them. He continued to teach them. He showed them the place where the nails had been in His Hands and Feet and where the spear had been thrust through His Side. Jesus was alive. After the gruesome crucifixion, after having been declared dead and sealed in the tomb, Jesus' followers thought it was all over -- that they had been mistaken, but here He was, alive again, though there was something different. Over those forty days, our text tells us, Jesus offered up all of these "convincing proofs" that everything He had ever done and said was true: He is the Messiah -- the Savior; He is God in the flesh. And it was time for Him to ascend to the throne that the Son left in Heaven.

Paul wrote, "[God] worked [his great might] in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at the right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:2–23, ESV).

Jesus led the disciples "out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them" (Luke24:50, ESV). And Jesus told them that they were to go back to Jerusalem and wait there. And there, He promised that three things would happen:

First, He said, "You will be baptized with Holy Spirit." What does this mean? Jesus explained, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. ... These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:15-17; 25-26, ESV).

"You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" means that the Holy Spirit will indwell you. Notice: the Holy Spirit is not the Spirit of God, nor the Spirit of Christ, nor our spirit -- the Holy Spirit is a distinct Person of the One God. Just as the Father is God and the Son, Jesus, is God, so the Holy Spirit is God. And the Holy Spirit is not an "it." He is a Person. So, God, Himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit indwells each Christian. Why? To remind us of everything that Jesus did and taught and to help us understand everything Jesus did and taught. God, Himself, lives in us, teaches and reminds us, that we would be able to read the Bible and hear it preached and understand most of what God has said without difficulty.

Let us recognize that God the Holy Spirit "came upon" people in the days before Jesus, but He rarely indwelled people. As the chosen people of God, we have been granted this amazing gift, that God Himself is always with us, always instructing us, always helping us to remember all that Jesus said and did.

It was a mere ten days later that the Holy Spirit first indwelled the people of God, and, if the Lord is willing, we will look at that next week. And from that day forward, the Holy Spirit indwelled everyone who repented and believed on Jesus -- even the Gentiles -- the non-Jews, as Peter reported to the Church: "'As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, "John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." If then God gave this same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?' When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, 'Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life'" (Acts 11:15-18, ESV).

And then the disciples interrupted Jesus and fell back on their old question, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" "Lord, does this mean that You will now rip the nation of Israel from Rome and all her oppressors and set up an earthly reign?" And Jesus told them that they didn't need to know when such things would occur.

The Holy Spirit would remind them, once He indwelled them, of an interchange Jesus had with the Pharisees, "Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, 'The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, "Look, here it is!" or "There!" for behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you'" (Luke 17:20-21, ESV).

What they didn't understand on the day of the Ascension was that the Kingdom of God is spiritual, not a literal, earthly kingdom, and it was already in their midst. Yes, there will be a physical restoration of the Creation, but the Kingdom of God is spiritual and it is here, now, in our midst, and every Christian is part of it, united in the Body of Christ.

In a similar way we understand the bread and the cup that are before us -- the elements that we shall receive in the Lord's Supper: we eat the bread and drink from the cup, but the physical elements do not, themselves, do anything to us this morning that they do not do to us should we consume them at any other time or place. However, Jesus appointed the bread and the cup to be the elements of this Supper, that when we receive them, Jesus is really, spiritually here, and He ministers to us, and give us His Grace, strengthening us in the faith. Although we use the physical elements that Jesus appointed, the Lord’s Supper is a spiritual event, where Jesus Himself ministers to us and prepares us for the works He calls us to perform. And so we understand that if we are to be stronger in the faith and more mature in the faith, we will receive the Lord’s Supper frequently, to meet with and be ministered to by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Second, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." When the Holy Spirit indwelt the disciples, and when He indwells us, we receive power from God. Power to do what? Luke explains: "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need" (Acts 4:33-35, ESV).

What did we hear? The apostles -- the ministers -- were given the power to give their testimony to the resurrection. They were given the power to preach. And others -- including the deacons -- were given the power to make sure that the needs of all those in the Church were met.

Remember what we saw when we looked at the Gospel of Mark, "And [Jesus] said to them, 'Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick and they will recover'" (Mark 16:15-18, ESV).

Remember, we said that the point here is not that every Christian must be able to cast out demons, spontaneously speak in foreign languages, drink poison and survive, and heal the sick. No, the point, in the context of the whole Scripture, is this: God will give each one of us everything we need to proclaim His Gospel. The point is not the miraculous works; the point is that God will overcome our inabilities -- even extraordinary ones -- so that each one of us will be able to tell others, through word and deed, that Jesus Christ is the One and Only Savior of those who believe. That is the power that the disciples, and we, are given.

And that leads directly into the third, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus directed them." (This is before this morning's Scripture.) "And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 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 28:16-20, ESV).

Just as the disciples were indwelled with the Holy Spirit, and given power through the Holy Spirit, each other them was called to spread the Good News of Jesus -- that through Him Alone, there is a Way to be right with God, to escape His Wrath for our sin -- and every Christian today is called to the same task. In word and in deed, we are to live our lives and speak and talk and purposefully tell others about Jesus. We are to live self-conscious lives, as the name-bearers of Christ, knowing that everything we say and do reflects on Jesus and His Salvation.

After Jesus had given these three sure commands, these three things that will happen, He blessed the disciples. "While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven" (Luke 24:51, ESV). They saw Jesus, this flesh and blood Man Who they had spent the past forty days with, eating and drinking, examining His Wounds, and learning His Teaching -- they watched Him float up into the air, in His Body -- we may remember that the prophet Elijah was sucked up into the air while he was alive -- and they watched Him go up, up, through the clouds, and out of sight.

Have you ever done that? Have you ever watched a plane or a rocket or a bird or a balloon or a baseball or a UFO go up through the air and disappear from sight? Picture any one of us, floating up through the sky, through the clouds, and out of sight -- that's what Jesus did. And like as with all these things, the disciples watched Jesus go up, up through the air and disappear, but the just kept standing there, staring up into the empty sky -- perhaps waiting to see if He would return.

And two angels appeared and said, "What are you doing? Why are you looking into heaven? Jesus will return in the same way that He ascended. But for now, you have work to do."

Jesus did ascend, and He will return. John wrote, "Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, the ruler of the kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. ... Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades'" (Revelation 1:4b-7; 12-18, ESV).

When will the day of His Return be? We don't know, but we should be ready and we should be watchful. Jesus said, "But concerning the day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake -- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning -- lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all. Stay awake" (Mark 13:32-37, ESV).

However, even though they were to be ready -- awake -- the angels told the disciples to stop staring up at the sky. Being prepared does not mean spending your life standing around waiting and staring -- hoping someone else will do the work that Christ set before us. No, Jesus said, "You will be my witnesses...." Jesus has ascended to the Father and resumed His Throne and reigns supremely over all creation. Jesus had kept His Promises: we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We have received power and continue to grow in fath and maturity.

So, are we standing around, staring at the clouds, or are we being faithful witnesses? Jesus said, "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is the servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if the wicked servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed,' and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put his with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:45- 51, ESV).

Jesus is seated on His Throne in power. He has sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us, and we have received power. The question before each us this morning is this: "What are we doing in response to Jesus' Ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit and power?" Are we staring at the clouds -- or the TV? Or are we being witnesses to the Gospel in all that we say and do?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we worship You, Ascended Savior. We rejoice in the convincing proofs and eyewitness testimonies You have left us of Your Life and Work. We thank You for the gift of the Holy Spirit and for the power that we receive in reading the Bible and in hearing it read and preached. We thank You for maturing us in the faith through these means of grace and through the workings of the Holy Spirit.. We thank You that we have the sure promise of Your Return, so we shall not fear, and we have purpose in life through You, so we will not waste our lives. Make us desire to be Your witnesses and make Yourself known through us. And may all be to Your Glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen.