Second Reformed Church

Monday, June 30, 2008

"God-breathed" Sermon: II Peter 1:16-21

“God-breathed”
[II Peter 1:16-21]
June 29, 2008 Second Reformed Church

We have seen over the past few weeks that Peter was about to be put to death, so he wrote this letter to get the most important information out to the Christians scattered across the known world – to remind them of the Truth that was now being challenged, even in the churches. The Truth, Peter said, is this: Salvation is by Jesus Christ’s Work Alone, with no help or input from us, and we respond to, but do not add to, that salvation by thankfully doing good works. Salvation is completely a gift, and we respond to that gift by doing good works. That is something they – and we – need to hear over and over, because we forget and there are false teachers trying to get us to believe something other than the Truth of the Gospel.

In this morning’s Scripture, Peter is responding to one of those false teachings that was making it’s way through the first century church. If we look at Peter’s response, and we can figure out what the false teaching was. Peter wrote, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). So, the false teachers were saying that Peter and the apostles were teaching “cleverly devised myths when [they] made known to [them] the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter and the apostles were teaching that Jesus is going to return with power and majesty and glory, and as Judge. The false teachers were teaching that Jesus was not going to return and that Jesus certainly doesn’t care what you do.

The false teachers were teaching that Jesus was not going to return – after all, it had been more than thirty years. Wouldn’t He have returned by then, if He was going to return at all? And, they taught, Christians are free from the moral law and judgment – after all, Jesus forgave all of our sins, so, they said, we can do whatever feels good, whatever we enjoy, and we won’t be held accountable.

Peter argued against them saying that they had not spread myths: “they were eyewitnesses to his majesty.” Like Moses and Isaiah, Peter, James, and John had the unparalleled and rare experience of seeing some of the glory of God while they were still sinners, and they survived. As Peter summarized, “For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son,’ we ourselves heard the very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (ESV).

Peter is, of course, speaking of the Transfiguration, as Matthew records, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When they heard this they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (Matthew 17:1-8, ESV).

Peter told them, “James and John and I were on the holy mountain. We were witnesses to the Transfiguration. We witness a little of the unveiling of the glory and the holiness of Jesus. The false teachers did not We were terrified in the presence of the Glory of Jesus and when God the Father spoke from Heaven. If Jesus is holy, and we are eye-witnesses to His Holiness, then He cannot, by nature, allow sin in His Presence. And, after His Resurrection, Jesus said He would return, and this He said in the presence of witnesses. And, whereas the Law requires two or three witnesses for a thing to be believed (Deuteronomy17:6), in fact, “he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive” (I Corinthians 15:6a, ESV).

So, Peter’s first argument against the false teachers is that there are more than five hundred eye-witnesses, most of whom were still alive, that can attest to Jesus’ Promise to return and judge, plus, the witness of the three to Jesus’ Glory and Holiness, as they saw Him at the Transfiguration.

And we might imagine how the first century false teachers would respond: “Mass-hysteria. On the mountain, you three were stressed out and tired. You heard Jesus speaking, but you didn’t really see what you thought you saw. Neither did the five hundred disciples who were afraid of persecution after Jesus’ crucifixion.”

If we dismiss the eye-witness testimony, no one will ever be able to prove anything by eye-witness testimony again, and to so totally doubt our senses is irrational. Besides, even if someone maintained that no eye-witness testimony can be used as proof, such a person will demand that eye-witness testimony be used as proof if he is an eye-witness to a crime that effects him or his loved ones. Still, Peter has a second argument against them:

Our pew Bible has: “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed” (NRSV). That is at least a clumsy translation. What Peter says is, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word,” (ESV). Peter says, “If you’re seriously going to argue against five hundred eyewitnesses who are in agreement about what they saw, alright. But I have an even more compelling, more sure evidence: the Word of God.”

Peter’s second argument against the false teachers is to point them to the prophecies of the Old Testament. See how every prophecy about the Incarnation and the Birth of Christ came to pass exactly as the prophets said it would. There are no prophecies in the Bible that have turned out to be wrong. Every word of the Scripture is True Truth, in every sense that that can mean. And the Scripture says that Jesus will return as Judge.

And someone might argue today, “Well, the Bible says that God created humans out of the dirt of the earth, and science tells us that humans evolved from lower species. So, the Bible is wrong.” And we must say to this person, “You are half right: the Bible says that God created humans out of the dirt of the earth, and there is a popular scientific theory that tells us that humans evolved from lower species. That theory does not prove the Bible wrong.”

Peter argues that the Church ought to pay attention to the word of the prophets, to the Word of God – we ought to read it and know it, so we can recognize it as it comes to pass before us and be ready for the return of our Savior and Judge, Jesus Christ. After all, the prophetic word is “as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (ESV).

This world is clothed in the darkness of the anti-Christ, and the Only Light – not matter who bears it – the Only Light in the darkness is Jesus and His Word. The early church father, Justin Martyr said that any truth any false teacher has was stolen from Moses. In other words, all truth is God’s Truth, and there is no truth apart from the Truth of God. And when the Truth comes again, He will expose what has been in the darkness, as Jesus said, “So have no fear of [those who persecute you], for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matthew 10:26-27, ESV).

“Knowing this first of all” – Peter gives us two facts about the prophecies of the Bible: First, no prophecy is a matter of human interpretation. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says we can restate that as, “no prophecy of Scripture originates in the prophet’s own understanding of things” (Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, 95). The prophecies of the Bible are not lucky guesses – in fact, they didn’t come from the prophets at all, but God gave the prophecies to the prophets, which is the second point: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (ESV). Our pew Bible says, “men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (NRSV). The question in understanding what Peter is saying is what does he mean by “carried along” or “moved”?

Paul was a prisoner, on his way to Rome to be tried and executed, and they took him by ship. And we read in chapter twenty-seven of Acts, “Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. But soon a tempestuous wind, called a northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing the wind would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus we were driven along. Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison cargo. And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (Acts 27:13-20, ESV).

The ship was “driven” along by the tempest northeaster. The ship was “driven” towards the Syrtis. The prophets were “moved” or “carried along.” They’re all the same root word, pharo. Just as the ship did not will or desire or decide to travel as it did in the violent storm, in the same way, the prophets did not will or desire or decide the prophecies they wrote. Just as the violent storm took the ship wherever the storm went, so the prophets were taken by the Holy Spirit wherever He desired them to go.

And we moderns protest, “But the Bible is full of errors ” I challenge anyone to bring me an error. Not something like creation versus evolution, but a real error in the Bible. It’s never been done. It’s a popular myth that the Bible is full of errors. If it is so full, why has no one in my forty-one years been able to show me a single one?

“But what about The Da Vinci Code?” What about it? “Well, in the Preface, he wrote, ‘all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.’” Point of fact: that statement, like the utterly unsubstantiated blasphemy he wrote about, is fiction. Whether he is a liar or something else, I don’t know, but I have a stack of books showing that he misquoted and distorted and made up evidence throughout the novel.

“Well, what about The Gospel of Judas?” At the time of the “so-called” discovery of this text, in a bank safe deposit box, where Judas had left it two thousand years ago, I produced for us documents showing that this gnostic lie was known by the second century and easily debunked. And the current The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the text was mistranslated and sensationalized for profit and that the text actually “depicts a Judas who turned Jesus in as a sacrifice to a demon god named Saklas” (World, June 28/July 5, 2008, 12). All scholars now agree it is fiction.

The devil and the false teachers are counting on us not knowing the Word of God and not really believing that it is the Word of God. We must commit ourselves to the Word – to reading it, to knowing it – and to not accepting just anything anyone says is true without testing it. The Bible is True Truth – the Only Light in this darkness.

And Jesus is returning, and this time He is returning as the Judge of the world. Over five hundred eye-witnesses were around at the time the New Testament was written, who agreed that this is what Jesus said. And all sixty-six books of the Bible agree and have no errors in them, and every prophecy that was made about the Incarnation and Salvation and everything that has occurred up until this day was accurate. Because this is the Word of God. It is not something humans made up, it is what God the Holy Spirit drove the prophets to write.

The Christian musician, Larry Norman sang, “Some folks say that the Good Lord’s dead, that He doesn’t exist ‘cept inside your head. Well, I wonder how many gonna be surprised, when they look straight up and see Him coming through the skies. You gotta watch what you’re doing.”

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for giving us both eye-witnesses to Your Son and His Salvation and for Your Word, which God the Holy Spirit drove the prophets to write. We thank You that You cannot and do not lie, but You have built Your Church upon Your Word, where it alone stands. Now, drive us to Your Word, convince us, convict us, teach us, and help us to remember, as we confront the false teachers of this age, and those willing to peddle lies for a profit. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

You Don't Look 92!

Tomorrow, D.V., we will be celebrating the 92nd Anniversary of Second Reformed Church! Join us for Bible Study, worship, and a pot-luck lunch as we celebrate. Everyone is invited!

Monday, June 23, 2008

"Make Your Calling & Election Sure" Sermon: II Peter 1:9-15

“Make Your Calling & Election Sure”
[II Peter 1:9-15]
June 22, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Is it your heart’s desire to be seriously, urgently, zealously making every effort to live a godly and holy life? Are you seriously urgently, zealously responding to the salvation that God has given you by doing the good works He has called you to do? Are you seriously, urgently, zealously working to bring together all those graces – those virtues – that Peter names in the passage just before this one – through the conduit of faith, into a harmonious, balanced choir? We saw last week that if you are a Christian responding in this way, you are an effective and fruitful Christian in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

In this morning’s Scripture, Peter tells those Christians scattered throughout the known world – and us – that any Christian who lacks this response of good works, as he has described it, is so nearsighted as to be legally blind. That is, he has forgotten that his sins have been forgiven in Christ – that he has been cleansed by Christ’s Blood, and he is now to carry out those good works for which he was created.

Notice, Peter is talking about Christians. Peter says in verse nine, “for anyone who lacks these.” Anyone of who? Anyone of those Peter has been talking about – those who have an intimate knowledge of Jesus and have received His Salvation. So this is a warning to us: although it is not possible for a Christian to “lose” his salvation, it is possible for a Christian to become so deluded – so blinded – that he does not walk in the good works that God called him to walk in – for a time.

Let us remember the two extremes that Peter is warning against: there are two major false teachings about the relationship between our salvation and our good works: this first says that good works are a part of our salvation – that salvation equals faith plus good works – that God saved us part way and we save ourselves the rest. That is a lie of the devil. The second goes to the other extreme and says that we are saved by faith alone, and we never have to obey God or do the good works that He has called us to do. That is also a lie of the devil. What the Bible tells us is that we are saved by faith alone and then we must respond to that gift of salvation by doing those good works that God has called us to do.

Paul wrote, “[Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are jealous for good works” (Titus 2:14, ESV). And, “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 God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV).

Peter tells us that the Work of Salvation belongs entirely to God. It is God Who sent His Son to live and die and rise, having paid the debt for our sin and credited our accounts with His Righteousness. And the natural response of a person who has come to know Jesus in His Salvation through faith is to be thankful every moment for the rest of his life and to live out that thankfulness by telling others and doing other good works to the glory of God. Yet, amazingly, it is possible for a Christian, for a time, to not respond rightly to God.

Therefore, since it is possible for Christians – for us – to find ourselves in such a deplorable and unthankful state, he tells us in verse ten to “confirm your call and election” or “make your calling and election sure.” Peter says that Christians ought to find assurance of their salvation. Peter says we ought to all establish proof that God has saved us. The Scripture tells us that before the foundation of the world, God called and elected some to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God chose some to be His based solely on His Sovereign Good Pleasure. And Peter tells us not to be fools, not to be blind, but to be assured – to have proof – that we are the called and the elect of God.

How? By answering two questions: First, do you know and believe that Jesus is the One and Only Savior from your sin and the Wrath of God? And second, are you zealously pursuing good works as your thankful response to God’s Salvation? If you truly believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation, if you believe all that is written of Him in God’s Word, then you are called and elect of God. And if you are responding to that salvation by striving to do all that God calls us to do, then you may be assured that you are called and elect of God.

And, if you receive that surety – that assurance – then, Peter tells us “you
will never stumble.” Literally, it reads something like, “you will never fall, never at any time.” One of the problems these Christians were experiencing were false teachings coming into the Church, teaching things other than what the apostles taught. They were confused about what to believe, and some were following after the false teachers. So, Peter reminds them, and us, that if we are grounded in the Scripture, if we are learning more and more each day through the reading of God’s Word and hearing it read and preached and taught, then we won’t fall for the cunning arguments of the false teachers. If we know our Bibles well, we will not be fooled when some smooth-talking character gets into the Church and teaches things contrary to the clear Word of God.

And, Peter says, “for in this way” – if we are an assured people, a strong, believing people, a people who know our Bibles and can distinguish between false teaching and truth, a people who pursue the good works of God with every part of our being – “entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.”

What does that mean? Peter is saying that if we have been called by God to salvation, if we are elect to salvation, if we have believed and received His Salvation, and we have assurance and proof in our lives of His Salvation by the way we are living, then we can also be assured that Jesus has already richly provided for us entry into the kingdom of God. There is no doubt, Peter says, that every Christian will be received into the kingdom. How? Through the Precious Blood of Jesus. Through the riches He shed to cleanse us from our sin. In other words, we do not earn the kingdom, the kingdom is also a gift that Jesus worked for and gives to us. Paul wrote, “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14, ESV).

In verses twelve through fifteen, Peter tells these Christians why he is reminding them of these things – these foundational issues of Christianity. The reason is, humans have a tendency to forget. Humans have a tendency to forget. You and I have a tendency to forget – what we have been taught, what we have learned, the details of what we have believed. Would you agree that you sometimes forget? If you say “no,” would you be willing to summarize last week’s sermon for us?

I had a friend when I was in Drew Seminary who dropped out of the Masters of Divinity program because he decided that once he preached through the Bible, there would be nothing else to say. (He said that as though he could preach through the Bible in a rather short period of time.) I have no fear of that – for three reasons – first, I don’t believe I will live to preach through everything in the Bible. Second, even if I do live to preach through everything in the Bible, I will not have preached the fullness of the depths of the Bible – there is always more in God’s Word, which is why I can preach on the same text over and over, and it is one reason that we can hear two very different messages preached by two ministers on the same passage. And the third reason I have no fear of running out of preaching material is that you forget. And I forget. We need to be reminded week after week and for all of our lives, and then we will only have begun to understand everything that is in the Mind of God.

So, Peter tells these Christians that he is writing them, reminding them, because we are prone to forget. Peter tells them that he is reminding them, even though “you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you.” Peter is not writing these things to non-Christians – he is writing them to believers – people who have already heard these things and believed in them. However, false teachers had come into the Church, and humans tend to forget – and the Gospel is the most important thing we can ever hear and believe, so Peter tells them, even though they have heard this all before and believed it, he is going to remind them again, because it is likely that they have forgotten some, and they need to remember to be able to defend themselves against the false teachers. And the same is true for us today. There may even be more false teachers in the Church today. We need to know what we believe and be reminded of it again and again, so when a false teacher comes in, we can say “no” to his false religion. Jude tells us the same thing about the serious need to be reminded: “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5, ESV).

Again, Peter tells them that he thinks it right that he remind them of all these things because he will soon be put to death, “as indeed our Lord Jesus made clear to me.” Peter especially wanted to remind them of these things because he would not be alive on earth for much longer – he was soon to be crucified for his faith – as Jesus told him. Do you remember when Jesus told Peter about his death – how and when it would occur?

Remember that while Jesus was on trial, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Peter was crushed to hear the rooster crow and recognize that Jesus’ prophecy concerning him had come to pass. However, do we also remember, that after the resurrection, Jesus came to Peter and asked him – three times – once for each denial – if Peter loved Him? And Peter confessed his whole-hearted love for Jesus, and Jesus commissioned Peter to “feed my lambs,” “feed my sheep,” and “feed my sheep.” In this way, Jesus restored Peter and forgave him for his sin.

And then Jesus said this to Peter: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:18-19, ESV).

We don’t have time to unpack all this amazing word this morning, but notice this: Jesus told Peter that he was restored, that he would die when he was old (he was probably 70 or so when he wrote II Peter), and he would die by crucifixion to glorify God. And the historians tell us that Peter was crucified, but Peter thought it too high an honor to die as his Savior had died, so they permitted Peter to be crucified upside-down.

Peter knew his time was short. He was soon to glorify God through being crucified, so he wanted to remind these Christians one more time of the salvation that they had received as a gift and how that salvation must change the way we live.

And one more time, Peter comforts them, telling them in verse fifteen, that he was making arrangements so after his death, others would continue to remind them of everything he had taught them. And that promise has been kept to this day, because God has graciously caused humans to gather the sacred texts together in one volume, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and God continues to call ministers to preach the Word of God, as the Holy Spirit has preserved it for us, that we all might hear the Gospel and believe and respond and be reminded again of all the things that God has revealed to us through the prophets.

Very quickly then, having heard this word this morning, what shall we do?

Let us remember that our salvation is wholly the Work of God through Jesus by which our sins are cleansed and we are credited with Christ’s Righteousness.

Let us make our calling and election sure – let us prove our salvation by Jesus Alone – receiving assurance – by zealously pursuing the good works God has called us to do.

And let us never think that we know everything there is to know of God’s Word and the Gospel, nor that we won’t ever forget anything. Let us recognize the forgetfulness we all suffer with, and let us, at every assembling of the saints, gather to learn and be reminded of the Great Good News of God. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, You Who are pleased to make Yourself known to us, we lift up our hearts in thanksgiving to You for saving us by Yourself, through Your Son, since we were unable to do any good thing. We thank You for the gift of salvation and the kingdom, and we ask that You would continue to be with us and remind us through many and various ways of all You have done, and then spur us on to thankfully do the good works You have set before us, that You would be glorified in our lives and in our deaths. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Banner Redeux

Our Consistory requires me to give a brief summary of "what I learned" during my study leave. As it was, again, the Banner of Truth Minister's Conference this year, perhaps it will whet your appetite for next year to read this skeleton:

This year’s topic was “The Preacher’s Task.”

The opening sermon on John 21 presented the teaching that the secret of following Christ closely is knowing Him deeply.

The second sermon on II Timothy 1:6 taught that (1) the ordained ministry is a gift from God, (2) this gift can be extinguished, so we must continue to excel though the goal is not within our reach, (3) we can “fan the flame” of the gift because the Holy Spirit empowers us, and (4) we can extinguish the flame by created a fan club out of the congregation, so we must be about reading the Word, preaching, teaching, prayer, and the sacraments.

The third sermon on Hebrews 7:26-28 taught that Christ is the only Perfect Priest, that He offers Himself to God, so our chief message is to be the Atoning Blood of Jesus.

The fourth, on Romans 11:33-36, taught that it is not the minister’s call to gain members (“the church rises and falls as the ministry rises and falls”), but to preach the Word, to be an example of humility, and to lead exalted, praise-directed worship.

The fifth, we ought to have friends amongst God’s people, we ought to have contact with the unconverted, and we need to gain a deeper communion with God.

The sixth, on Titus 2:1-3:2, we ought to teach the flock: (1) sound doctrine, (2) how to live out sound doctrine, (3) according to the type of people in our congregation, (4) with motives for obeying God, (5) by being an example to the flock, and (6) by exhortation and rebuke with authority.

The seventh, we need (1) less self-confidence, (2) measured and persevering faith in God, (3) guidance in the best use of our time, (4) a regular time of self-examination, (5) knowledge of our temperament, (6) time to read all the best books, (7) to read the Bible before e-mails and blogs, (8) to not lose time on controversies, (9) to not see in our churches what we cannot change, (10) to be in constant prayer, working towards revival.

The eighth, on Hebrews 13:9-14, we must be well-verse in sound doctrine, because there is much false teaching in our churches that we need to quash.

The ninth, on Isaiah 42:1-4, as the servants of God we must be (1) completely dependant on God, (2) unyielding in our faithfulness to God, (3) consistently humbled before God, (4) delighted in God’s Son.

Then there was a preaching panel with all of the speakers in which many questions were discussed.

The tenth, on II Corinthians 5:18-21, we are to reach the lost: (1) by announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and (2) by appealing/imploring that they be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

Next year’s topic will have something to do with John Calvin, as it is the 500th anniversary of his birth.

Check it out by clicking on the Banner of Truth link.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"Be Effective & Fruitful" Sermon: II Peter 1:5-8

“Be Effective & Fruitful”
[II Peter 1:5-8]
June 15, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Peter was in prison, waiting to be crucified. He wrote this final letter to the Christians who were on the run from Nero and his army. And Peter told these Christians, scattered throughout the known world, that the most important thing – the thing he wanted them to do – was to live holy and godly lives. Peter said that what is most important for the Christian is that he be living a life that looked like Jesus – not just as a mask, but as one who is being changed into the image of Jesus.

Peter told them that as Christians, they had an intimate and passionate knowledge of Jesus, and Jesus had given them everything they needed via His Precious and Very Great Promises which are coming to pass. God, in fact, has called every Christian to live a life of holiness and godliness – and every Christian has been freed by Jesus’ Righteousness from moral depravity and the lust of the world.

Peter wanted the Christians to understand the Gospel – that God does all the work of salvation first, and then Christians respond to what God has done – the Gospel begins by receiving. He wanted them to keep from falling into two heresies – two errors – the first which says we are justified by our works. This is what the Roman Catholic Church teaches – that we are made right with God by our faith plus our works. That is not what the Bible teaches. The second, called antinomianism, says that we are made right with God by faith alone and we never have to obey God’s Law. That is not what the Bible teaches, either. What the Bible teaches us is that we are justified – we are made right with God – by faith alone. Thus, we are saved. In response to that salvation, then, we live out lives of good works, following after what God has said to do. Our works add nothing to our salvation, but they are the proper response to it.

In this morning’s Scripture, Peter explains what living lives of holiness and godliness look like. He tells them that this is the way they ought to be living. And if being hunted by the Roman army was no excuse against these things for them, nothing that happens to us qualifies as an excuse either. When we think we can’t follow after God, consider if it would be worse for you if someone was seeking to kill you. If that would make your life worse, remember, Peter said that is no excuse for not following after God’s Call.

“For this very reason” – since everything Peter said up to this point is true – “you must make every effort” – and the words that he uses here tell us that he is not telling us just to “try.” No, Peter is telling his fellow Christians – and us – that we ought to be seriously, urgently, zealously making every effort to live godly and holy lives. Have we put that much effort into it? Have we truly been seriously, urgently, zealously making every effort to live godly and holy lives? Peter said, since those things are true about God and Jesus and our salvation – we must be seriously, urgently, zealously making every effort to live godly and holy lives.

“To support.” When we read Peter saying that we are to support this list of things that follows, let us not understand him to be saying that we need to put supports or legs under them. Let us not understand him to mean that we must pile them one on top of another. No, what Peter is saying is that the Christian life is one of maturing and growing, and it seeks a balance – like a choir with a balanced set of Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, and Basses, singing in perfect harmony. Or a sound system that has been devised and set to sound as though the music was being played right before us. Understand “support” in that way here.

In a similar way, Paul puts forth this balance: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9, ESV).

So Peter tells these Christians to begin by supporting – abundantly supplying – perfectly balancing – their faith. Let you faith be alive and active. Remember, faith is a conduit – and this is why Peter names it first – it is through faith that everything else he says will be applied to each person. If you don’t have faith to begin with – a living, active, working faith – then nothing else that comes in this passage will work.

It’s important to say this is not moralism – Peter is not suggesting that we live a good and moral life, period. He is saying that the only way we can live a good and moral life and finally achieve being in the likeness of Jesus is through Jesus’ Righteousness – through all that He has already done for us. Jesus is the Foundation and the Power to be alive and to respond. This is nothing that anyone can do without Jesus and His Salvation.

This is the choir Peter says should be seen in Christians – through faith:

“To faith goodness.” The word Peter uses here means good deeds and moral uprightness. It is that which is the opposite of the moral depravity we were born with and are now delivered from through Jesus’ Righteousness. The first sign of a heathy faith, is that one has turned away from moral depravity and is living a life of moral uprightness, doing good deeds. If anyone is to believe that we have left the through of depravity behind, we must not be found persisting in them. In this life, we continue to sin, until the day of Christ Jesus, but we ought to be sinning less, and sin ought to upset us more, and we ought to find ourselves and be found less and less often at the trough of depravity.

“To goodness knowledge.” An intimate, persistent, zealous knowledge of God and self, and our outward carriage is necessary to temper our good deeds and lead them in knowledge. Without deep knowledge of Who God is and who we are and the way we ought to carry ourselves in the world, we have no guide to lead us in the good works and moral uprightness we ought to be about. We need help to keep from neglecting goodness, but we also need help in keeping from being impulsive – as Peter’s life is a prime example. Early on, Peter did not have this knowledge added to goodness, and we see him impulsive jumping out of boats, swearing he would never deny Jesus, and so forth.

We are all called to lives of holiness and godliness, but based on our gifts and the time we have spent plumbing the Scriptures, and praying to God, we have different areas we are to work in and work on. What good works ought you to be about? Begin by reading your Bible, regularly attending worship and the sacraments, and praying. Start with these and you will be led by God the Holy Spirit Who leads in you. And your brothers and sisters in the faith may also prove helpful in discerning the work you are called to. Don’t be embarrassed. Dive into God’s Word, and ask when you need help.

“To knowledge self-control.” Knowledge, itself, can go to extremes, especially in the physical realm. We are to use self-control to guard against our impulses and desires. We are to strive for modesty in all things and for moderation in all things. Now, that doesn’t mean we are only to do the exact average or middle of everything. What it means is that we ought not to go to sinful extremes: for example, physical relations within marriage are good and worthwhile – the knowledge that a husband and wife have of each other is good and right. But lust is a sin. And, as we find the Corinthians engaged in – physical relations with anyone or anything outside of marriage is a sin. Paul tells the Colossians to use self-control, saying, “Put to death therefore what is earthy in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another...” (Colossians 3:5-9a, ESV).

“To self-control patience.” Or endurance. The patience Peter says to add here refers to patience with ourselves, others, and with God. The author of Hebrews wrote, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36, ESV). We are to be patient and endure with ourselves as we build this choir of virtues, not that we should think lightly of our sins and failings, but we need to be realistic about where we each are in our conforming to the image of Jesus. Different ones of us will be at different rates and in different areas. And that’s why we need patience and endurance with each other – again, not to let someone off the hook when they sin, but to understand that we are all maturing at differing rates and in different areas. We ought not condemn each other for not being as mature as we are or think we are – if the person in question in sincerely striving after godliness and holiness and maturing in the faith.

And the patience we need extends to God, as we have probably all asked God, “When?” As the armies of Nero were beating down the doors, hauling Christians away, and crucifying them on the road, surely, some cried out to God to know when He would return, when this trial would come to an end. But Peter tells them to be patient, to trust in God, to wait on His perfect timing. We need to understand – and Peter talks about this – that God’s timetable is not our timetable. God’s time is perfect, and He will accomplish what He intends, but, sometimes, it is not clear to us. We ought to find ourselves growing in humility towards ourself, others, and God.

“To patience godliness.” Here, when Peter talks about godliness, he is referring to what he just said about “partaking the divine nature” – that we would become like God in His Holiness. This patience and humility precedes the godliness we are called to embody. Godliness comes, in part, as we live out the understanding of who we are and who God is – as we humbly submit to God’s Plan and Time and see all of us as God sees all of us..

“To godliness mutual affection.” If we are able to see each other the way that God sees us, then we can have mutual affection – and Peter means this to be among Christians. The word Peter uses is philadelphia, which many of us will know, means “brotherly love.” This is not a love among all people, but between people who are of the same conviction. You and I and all Christians are “brothers in the faith” or “brothers and sisters in the faith.” And because we are joined together in that way, we must love each other in the faith. We’ve seen this before – we don’t have to be best friends with every Christian. We don’t have to invite them over for tea every day. But we absolutely must love them in Jesus and for the sake of His Salvation. Think of the Christian you find most annoying – what this means is that you must love that person in Christ and be able to worship – truly worship – with that person. Why? Because the Same Jesus gives the Same Salvation to all Christians. He has united us for His Sake.

“To mutual affection love.” Peter uses a different word for love here – agape. This word refers to a sacrificial love. It is the love for all human beings for the sake of the Gospel. It is the love that extends to those soldiers hunting us down to kill us, as they hunted down the Christians of the first century. It is a love that includes our enemies and tells them that the worst they can do to us is kill our bodies, so we are compelled to let them know the Gospel – that there is Only Salvation through Jesus Alone. That the Only Hope of escaping from the Wrath of God is to repent and believe in Jesus Christ – that His Life, Death, and Resurrection would cleanse you from sin and credit you with Jesus’ Righteousness that you may stand before God, no longer condemned, but as a child of the Father.

The Christian musician, Larry Norman, was asked if he had any goals, and he said, “Yes, I want to die.” And we can understand that in the context of Peter’s letter – once we have died, we will be with Jesus, we will be glorified, perfected, unable to sin, and we will be before Him in worship for all of eternity.

Yes, we are to live this life, Peter says that Christians who build this choir of graces through faith, will be effective and fruitful Christians. That’s what we are called to be – effective and fruitful. Yet, our ultimate goal, is to be with Jesus.

So, the Romans are banging at the door. They’re crucifying our fellow Christians. And they’re coming for us next. But, if we have Jesus’ Salvation, if we’re growing in these things, if we’re becoming more like Him, then we can be joyful, knowing that the worst they can do is bring us closer to Jesus.

So, let us build this choir of virtues that grows us in godliness and holiness, and let us prepare ourselves to tell the Gospel in love to every man, woman, and child, because every one of them needs Jesus. Let us be effective and fruitful, to the glory of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:
Lord, we want to be fruitful and effective Christians. Convict us with the truth that You have already done the Work of Salvation, and now You have given us the power and everything we need to accomplish these things. Cause our heart’s desire to be seriously, urgently, zealously making every effort to live godly and holy lives, because You are our God and Savior and in response to all that You have done for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Don't Waste Your Life"

Our study continues, D.V., tomorrow at 3:30 PM at the church. Join us!

Praise Jesus!

Praise Jesus! With the exception of a short time on Tuesday, I have been without electricity since Monday -- it came back on today, Friday, at 6PM, and I pray it will stay on! And I thank God I live in days of electricity!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Called" Sermon: II Peter 1:3-4

"Called"
[II Peter 1:3-4]
June 8, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Your faith is not enough.

Last week we looked at the salutation -- the opening -- of the Peter's second letter to those Jewish Christians who were scattered throughout the known world due to the Roman Emperor, Nero, hunting them down with his armies to kill them. And we noted that Peter had been caught by this time and knew that he would soon be crucified, so this was his final word -- his last will and testament -- to his fellow Christians.

We saw that the introduction to this letter is packed: Peter reminded them that they were once slaves to sin, but they are now servants of Jesus Christ. He reminded them that Christians received their precious faith as a gift from the Righteous Jesus Who, Himself, makes them righteous and holy and calls them to a growing, passionate and intimate knowledge of Jesus, which brings about greater faith and greater peace.

But your faith is not enough. James wrote, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14, ESV).

Understand, the Bible teaches that we are saved by faith alone -- our works have absolutely no bearing on our salvation. Our works cannot and do not contribute to or cause our salvation. Our salvation is completely, 100%, an act of God's Sovereign Good Pleasure. However, as James tells us, if we claim to be a Christian, and we claim to have faith in Jesus Alone for our salvation, and that's where our Christianity ends -- then our faith is dead, it's hypocritical, it's not real, and it's certainly not saving faith (James 2:17).

One of the reformed slogans is, "We are justified by faith alone, but not by the faith that is alone." In other words, the proof that God has saved us by Himself with no help -- not by any works of our own -- is that after we have been saved, we respond to that salvation by doing good works.

Paul wrote, "[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" (II Timothy 1:9, ESV).

D. M. Lloyd-Jones wrote that we can summarize this morning's Scripture by saying that first, we are to know God, and second, we are to become like Him (D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, 13-14). Peter told those Christians on the run -- and the message is the same for us this morning -- that God calls us to have faith and knowledge of Him and Salvation in His Son, but God also calls us to become like God. If you are a Christian this morning, God calls you, God commands you, to become like Him. That's the goal of the Christian life. Our liturgies speak of growing into the image of Christ Jesus. Jesus is our God and Savior. We are called to become like God.

What does our text tells us?

"His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his glory and goodness" (NRSV).

First, God has called us to become like God, and God has given us everything we need to live lives of godliness and holiness.

Peter told those Christians running for their lives, and he tells us as we sit in front of our TVs, that God, by His Divine Power, through the knowledge of Himself that He has given to us, has given us everything we need to live godly, holy, morally upright, God-glorifying lives. Peter said that Christians are able, by the Power of God, which He has given us, to live lives that imitate God in His Holiness. Peter said, we have been obliged and enabled by God to live lives for God that show what God is like. And God has taken away every excuse we can come up with for not living God-like lives.

"Well, you don't know how I was brought up. I'm too old to change. I'm too young to be like that. I can't understand God's Word. I can't stop doing x, y, and z. I can't focus on that right now, I'm being pursued by the Roman army." And so on.

God says, "I have chosen and changed you. I have empowered you to be able to live like I live. I have called you -- commanded you -- to live holy lives. I cause you to be able to live holy lives." Paul wrote, "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19, ESV).

God has done away with all of our excuses; God has and will fill every need we have so we are able to live holy lives and accomplish what He has for us to do.

"Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises," (NRSV).

Second, God has given us promises to prove to us and assure us that He will meet every need we have and cause us to be able to live God-like lives of holiness. What kind of promises? Precious and very great promises. The Greek is in the superlative tense, so these are the most precious and the greatest promises.

Listen to a very few of these promises:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16-17, ESV).

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I say to you that have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day'" (John 6:35-39, ESV).

"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. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more. But you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him" (John 13:15-21, ESV).

We could go on like this for days.

God has given us the greatest, most precious promises, and we know them and even begin to see them come to pass now.

Peter went on to explain that two things follow from the gift of these promises:

"so that through them you may become participants of the divine nature," (NRSV).

First, Peter said that God giving us these precious and great promises cause us to become "participants in the divine nature" or "partakers of the divine nature." What does that mean?

We must be very careful: a quick read could have us conclude that we become divine or gain a divine nature or become God or gods. That cannot be. Paul said this of one who will claim to be God, "Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God" (II Thessalonians 2:3-4, ESV).

The Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, teach that every human being becomes a god after death. But God said there is One and Only One God, and anyone else who declares himself God is an anti-Christ.

Then what does it mean to "participate in the divine nature"?

The author of Hebrews wrote, "For [our fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness" (Hebrews 12:10, ESV). And John wrote, "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him; because we shall see him as he is" (I John 3:20, ESV).

Through God's Promises and His meeting our needs, God is growing us in His Glory and according to His Holiness. In Second Peter, when he says that we "participate in the divine nature," what he means is that we become like Jesus, like God, as we grow in the faith and in holiness.

"and escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust" (NRSV).

Second, Peter said that God giving us these precious and great promises causes us to become free from the corruption of the world due to lust or moral depravity. And this brings us full circle: we have been given the ability to escape corruption and lust -- in fact, all things that go against God's Nature and His Holiness. In other words, these promises that God made help keep us from giving in to temptation and sin. So, we never have to sin.

With these things being true, how then shall we live?

D. M. Lloyd-Jones wrote, "I, personally, am much more concerned about the state of the church than I am about the state of the world. We are all clear about the world. The world is in its muddle, its wretchedness, and unhappiness, because it is heedless of the Christian message. It does not pay any attention to the Gospel of Christ and I suggest that one chief cause of this is the fact that it does not see the quality of life in us. When it does see it, then it will begin to pay attention. I would urge once more therefore that it is the business of the church to concentrate on herself and not on the world that is outside. Revival starts in the church, and revival comes when Christian people begin to realize how far short they fall of the standard that is depicted in the New Testament" (Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, 13).

Let us understand and recognize what God has done and live accordingly:

Let us put away every excuse that we use against godliness -- against living holy lives. When we find ourselves faced with the temptation to do those things that are not godly, and to sin, let us stand firm, and call on God in prayer, believing His Promise that He has and will always give us what we need to keep from sin and to live a godly life.

Let us surely believe that God is making us like Him and Jesus. Let us be more conscious of the way that we are living, and each time we find ourselves about to do something that we cannot imagine Jesus doing, or something that He has said not to do, let us call on God in prayer, believing His Promise that He is and will make us into the image of His Son.

Let us pray that our goal would be to be like God -- living a life that glorifies our God and Savior. Let us make it our goal, each day, to know God better, through His Word, prayer, and the sacraments, and then let us take that knowledge of God and live like Him.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You do not merely call us to salvation and then leave us to our own devices, but You also call us and work through us for all of our lives to make us into Your Image. Let our excuses fade away. Let our belief be strong in Your Sure Promises. And let us desire with everything we are to be like You in Your Holiness. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Friday, June 06, 2008

"Don't Waste Your Life"

Our video and book study of Rev. Dr. John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life will begin (D.V.) tomorrow at 3:30 PM. Come one, come all, whether or not you signed up! It will be ninety plus degrees here in Irvington -- the study will be in an air conditioned room! Find out if your life is worthwhile in the sight of God.

Yes, I Went to Classis

"I, personally, am much more concerned about the state of the church than I am about the state of the world. We are all clear about the world. The world is in its muddle, its wretchedness, and unhappiness, because it is heedless of the Christian message. It does not pay any attention to the Gospel of Christ and I suggest that one chief cause of this is the fact that it does not see the quality of life in us. When it does see it, then it will begin to pay attention. I would urge once more therefore that it is the business of the church to concentrate on herself and not on the world that is outside. Revival starts in the church, and revival comes when Christian people begin to realize how far short they fall of the standard that is depicted in the New Testament." -- D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, 13.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

"Faith, Grace, & Peace" Sermon: II Peter 1:1-2

"Faith, Grace, & Peace"
[II Peter 1:1-2]
June 1, 2008 Second Reformed Church

This morning, we begin a look at the second letter of Peter. Peter wrote this letter around 68 A.D. At this point, Peter was in jail, and he had been condemned to crucifixion. So, this is his final word -- his last will and testament, if you will. This was his final opportunity to address his hearers. What would you say if you knew you were about to die? If you had one last opportunity to get a message to your loved ones before you died, what would it be? As we look at this letter, let us remember, not only the circumstances of the people he was writing to -- which we'll look at in a moment -- but Peter's circumstances: he knew he would shortly be crucified.

This morning we're only looking that the salutation of the letter -- the opening of the letter. As you read through the Bible, do not neglect to spend time considering the opening and closing of the letters -- we have much to learn from them, as well as from the body of each letter.

What do we find in the salutation?

First, from the very stating of his name, we see that Peter wanted them -- and also us -- to remember that we have been transformed from merely sinners to servants of Jesus Christ.

Peter opened this letter, not like his first letter, where he simply says, "Peter," but with "Simeon," or Simon, "Peter." Why? To remind his readers that he was once Simeon, the fisherman. There was a time when he was a slave to sin, living only for himself, for his wages as a fisherman. There was a time when he was not concerned with the things of the Spirit -- just like there was a time when we were not concerned with the things of the Spirit. But the day came for him, as it comes for all who believe, when he was transformed from Simeon, the slave to sin, into Peter, the servant of Christ. And even more so for him, Peter was an apostle -- he was one who was an eyewitness to the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter told them to remember who he was before Christ -- to remember who they were before Christ -- and to consider who they have become now. Paul wrote, "[God] 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 cannot -- we dare not -- forget that we have been changed -- we are not the people that we were born. All those in Christ have been freed from slavery to sin, from being merely sinners, and we are now servants of God. Does that fact bring you joy? It ought to. David said, "For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked" (Psalm 84:10, ESV). Never forget where you came from and where you are now in Jesus Christ.

Second, Peter explained that we -- all believers -- are united in a precious and costly faith that we have received by the Will of God, which continues to grow until we are received into glory.

Let us remember to whom Peter was writing: in his first letter, he wrote, "To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (I Peter 1b, ESV). Peter was writing to Jewish believers -- those Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah -- the Savior, and were now being hunted down by the armies of the Roman Emperor, Nero. Peter was writing to a suffering, persecuted church -- to the people of God, literally on the run for their lives. Peter, himself, had been caught by the time he wrote this second letter.

Peter wanted them to know, that though they were on the run, thought they were being hunted to death, though they were scattered throughout the known world, they were still together the One Church of Jesus Christ -- as are we, and all of us are united together in that most precious faith that God gives, by His Own Will, as He pleases, and this faith is not stagnant, but continues to grow in us while we are alive, until the Day of Christ Jesus.

And we ought to remember, faith is the conduit that God gives us through which we receive the sure belief in Jesus Christ Alone for our salvation. We are united in the same faith, given to us by the Same God, that we would receive the same salvation. This faith cost Jesus His Very Life, and this faith is given to us only by the Will of God Alone. We cannot chose it or take it or make it our own -- it must be given to us as a gift. And the gift of faith that we receive is the same for all of us -- it is one faith, and it is a faith, we will see, which is a growing faith. Paul explained, "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:9-11, ESV).

Now, of course we understand that there were still Greeks and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarians, Scythians, slaves, free. Paul does not mean that there is no longer any physical or national difference among people. No, what he is saying is that such categories are irrelevant to salvation. We’re told elsewhere that there is neither male nor female in Christ. That does not mean that, in Christ, men can also bear children. No, what it means is that the fact that one is male and another is female is irrelevant to the reception of the Gospel. Men receive salvation as the exact same gift from the exact Same God as women do. In salvation, we are equal, but we are still people -- whatever and whomever we may be. Men and women and all people are equal before God and receive the same salvation through Jesus Christ, but that does not mean that there are no differences among people: Christian men cannot bear children simply because Christian women can.

Third, Peter explained that we -- believers -- receive that precious faith through the Righteousness of Jesus Christ, He Who is, our text tells us, both God and Savior.

What does that mean? What Peter is saying is that Jesus is Righteous -- He never sinned and kept the whole Law of God completely. He is the One and Only Holy Man. Therefore, He could be our substitute in taking on the punishment for our sin, and He could impute -- He could credit to our account -- His Perfect Keeping of the Law, so that we are not merely legally innocent, since our debt is paid, but we are seen in Jesus by God as holy. God looks at us and sees Jesus. Because Jesus is both God and Holy Man, He can give to us: faith, righteousness, and salvation.

Paul wrote, "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it -- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and you are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, who God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:21-26, ESV).

Fourth, Peter stated his desire that his readers would grow abundantly, that they would multiply in grace and peace. So, through faith, and as God wills, we receive grace and peace which continues to multiply; they continue in abundance. Grace and peace are not received once in their fullness, but are received and grow.

Remember that grace is that gift of the undeserved Favor of God which causes believers to grow spiritually and be spiritually strengthened, and the peace is that peace which comes from God and passes all understanding. It is the peace that can endure anything and everything for the sake of Christ knowing that Christ and His Salvation are worth more than everything else that can be endured.

If we sin, we still need more grace, more peace. If we love Christ, if we understand that He and His Salvation are precious -- worth more, indeed, than everything else put together, we will pray and strive to receive more grace and more peace until we are filled to capacity. Well, how is that done?

Fifth, Peter explained that grace and peace grow in us as we continue to progress towards the full knowledge of Jesus, which will culminate on the Last Day. Those who are growing in the knowledge of Jesus understand that He is Savior, God, and Lord. Understand, this is not just a book knowledge, it is not just a collection of facts -- the word that is used for knowledge -- epignosis -- is a word that signifies an intense and intimate knowledge. Certainly we learn a great deal from the Scripture, but the depth and intimacy of the knowledge that we need for growth and strength can only be found in spiritual interaction with our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. And when does that occur? In reading the Bible, hearing it read and preached. In receiving the sacraments. And through prayer.

Do you want to grow and be strengthened? If you love Jesus, is that not your delight? To know Him more fully day by day? Jesus said, "And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom you have sent" (John 17:3, ESV). So read your Bibles, take part in our studies, be in worship to hear the Word read and preached, go to other services, as you are able, to hear biblical preaching of the Word of God, listen to biblical preaching on the radio, on the TV, on the Internet. Read biblical sermons. Be baptized, and then receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper frequently. And pray, anytime, whenever you feel the need or the Spirit's nudge. If you need help, ask me, and I will help you. I am here for you -- to lead you to Jesus.

Considering these things, how ought we live?

First, we ought to be thankful to God and careful in the way we carry ourselves. Faith, or the lack of it, is lived out in our actions.

If what Peter says in these opening verses is true -- if we have been changed from slaves to sin to servants of Jesus, if we are all united together through that salvation, having received a precious, costly faith from our God and Savior Jesus, if we are growing in grace and peace through the intimate and intense knowledge of Jesus as we spiritually meet with Him and He ministers to us -- we will find ourselves forever and always thankful! He has done what we could not do and never wanted -- He has saved us and given us His Name and His Righteousness, so let us live lives that make much of Jesus, let us live lives that show we really do believe in Him and His Word, let us face our suffering with the confident hope, that Jesus is better -- Jesus is worth more that the worst we can endure on earth. So let us live in a way that shows Him to be worthy.

Second, we ought to love each other and bear with each other and encourage one another in the faith.

All believers are brothers and sisters, part of the Body of Christ, fellow Christ-bearers. If we love Christ, we will love the bearers of His Name and Salvation. It doesn't matter if so-and-so is not your type of person. It doesn’t matter if so-and-so doesn't do things the way you do, or belong to your denomination, or political party, and so forth. What matters is that Jesus lived and shed His Blood and rose from the dead for me and for every Christian, and we are now, together to let the world know: "Here is the One and Only Salvation, the Only Hope for the World, repent of your sins, believe in Jesus, be amazed by Him with us -- let us joint together in lives of worship."

And we are also to encourage each other, to lift each other up, to remind each other of the Promises of Jesus and His Unsurpassing Worth. When our fellow Christians hear Nero's chariots closing in, we must do whatever we can to encourage them to stand for Jesus, no matter what is done to them, because Jesus is More.

Third, we ought to strive for more grace and peace through knowing Jesus better. Bible, sacraments, prayer. Are you taking advantage of the opportunities we have in this church? Are you making suggestions so you can be part of this body of Christ? It is not possible to be a Christian alone; we commune with Him and grow in grace and peace together. Let us drink deeply of Him together.

If you are a Christian this morning, Jesus has been ministering to you through the reading and preaching of God’s Word, giving you His Grace and Peace. And now as we prepare to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is ready to meet us in the bread and wine and continue to minister to us, to continue to cause us to grow abundantly, to multiply, in grace and peace.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for Peter's second letter, and we thank You for meeting us and ministering to us in the reading and preaching of the Word. Let us be like those suffering Christians, remembering what we once were and the Righteousness of Christ through which we receive faith, as a gift, the most precious gift. Train our eyes and hearts on You and multiply grace and peace in us that we might be a light to others, leading them both by word and example into the passionate knowledge of Jesus. And may we all, with the apostle Paul, sigh more deeply each day, as he wrote, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:33-36, ESV).