Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Classis of Passaic Valley

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

November Sermons

D.V., I will preach:

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

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

Sunday, October 26, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reformation Sunday Pot-Luck

Sunday, October 26th is Reformation Sunday, and the beginning of the holiday season. We are planning a pot-luck celebration after worship, so please sign up and plan to bring something to share as we remember the Reformation and begin this season of celebration.

The Consistory Dinner

The Consistory Dinner is scheduled for Tuesday, October 21st at 6 PM at the Appian Way in Orange. The cost is $35. Please sign up this Sunday and give your money to Maria Rivera. D.V., it will be a great time of food and fun and honoring Artie Beck and Dorothy Wolfe.

Bible Study

There will be no Sunday morning Bible study this Sunday (10/19) and no evening study Wednesday (10/22), while I take some time off.

D.V., Sunday morning Bible study will resume at 9 AM on 10/26 and we will continue our look at the Seven Ecumenical Councils at 7 PM on 10/29.

See you then!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Two Lines" Sermon: Genesis 4:17-26

“Two Lines”
[Genesis 4:17-26]
October 12, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Why do some people come to faith in Jesus Alone for their salvation and others reject Him? Is it a matter of how hard we try to convince them? Is it a matter of how they were brought up? Is there a way to guarantee someone will respond to our explanation of the Gospel?

For the past several weeks, we have been looking at the beginnings of human history and some of what God teaches us about Creation and the Fall. We are concluding our look at the opening chapters of Genesis this morning, and in this morning’s Scripture, we find for the first time, the teaching that there are two lines of humanity: those who will believe and those who will never believe. Paul refers to these two lines as the elect and the reprobate.

Over the past several weeks, we have looked at the doctrine of Original Sin. Original Sin is that teaching that after Adam and Eve sinned, every mere human being was born inclined towards sin, a slave to sin, spiritually dead and unable to come to faith. We saw that, left to ourselves, every human being from Adam and Eve on would be condemned to eternal Hell because of the inheritance of Original Sin and because of our actual sins. Without God’s Intervention, no one would be or could be saved and restored to a right relationship with God. God has to take the initiative and change a person, or he will be lost forever.

Last week, we saw Cain kill his brother, Abel. And we saw John warn the Church, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (I John 3:12, ESV). Cain was, by nature, by Original Sin, evil, and he followed after sin in killing his brother.

Remember, that does not mean that Cain was as evil as he could possibly be – Original Sin leaves us inclined towards evil, and every part of our being is effected by sin, but some people do relatively good things while others follow after the deepest evil they can find. Original Sin does not mean that we are as bad as we can be, but that sin has affected every part of us.

So Cain followed after evil, killed Abel, and then God punished him and sent him away. Cain is of the reprobate line – the Scripture implies that he never repented of his sin and continued in sin until his death, which would mean Cain is in Hell. All those of the reprobate line – all those who never repent and believe in Jesus Alone for their salvation – no matter what earthly good they do – will spend eternity suffering in Hell.

But notice, our Scripture shows us that even down the reprobate line, God gives blessing, in the sense that good does come from those who never believe. God causes good to spring up despite their desires. Certainly we know people who do not believe in Jesus Alone for their salvation, yet they may be and do things that we would say are good. (Though we do not necessarily know what line a person is really from – but we’ll come back to this issue.)

Despite whatever the mark was on Cain and his being cast out by God, God allowed him to enjoy the blessings of marriage and children. God allowed him to build a city – probably a military city to protect himself from those who might desire to kill him. God allowed him to have a succession of generations after him, some of whom made great contributions to human society and life.

We see that Lamech, Cain’s great-great-great grandson fathered Jabal, who was the father of the nomadic herders – there are nomadic herders in the Middle East to this day – some of whom are descendants of Cain. Lamech fathered Jubal, who was the father of musicians. What a different world we would have without music. And Lamech also fathered Tubal-cain, who was the father of metal workers. Again, what a gift to the world.

But we also see flagrant sin: Lamech blasphemed marriage by marrying two wives: Zillah and Adah. Surely, Cain had been taught God’s Law, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, ESV). Polygamy was always a sin, and here we have the first record of it.

We also see that Lamech understood Cain’s punishment, and he perverts it – he mocks it and God. Lamech comes home one day and brags to his wives, using Hebrew parallelism – stating the same thing twice – to emphasize his point, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me.” Something had happened. Lamech had suffered a minor injury, but rather than accept something in kind as the Law proscribes, Lamech killed the young man, and then went home to his wives and bragged to them about it:

“If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-seven fold.” “God promised to avenge Cain to the seventh degree if anyone killed him. Lamech is a greater man, a greater killer of men, so, God will surely avenge me seventy-seven fold if anyone should try to kill me. I’m a bad man, and everyone had better take notice!”

Lamech was sick, perverse – he was following after sin whole-heartedly. And there are people today who love sin, who revel in doing what is wrong – in blaspheming God and His Law. That is a sign, though not proof, that one may be part of the reprobate. (The reason it is a sign and not proof is that the elect – Christians – also sin, often in the same way and to the same degree as those who never believe.)

Still, there is another line, as we read, “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, ....” Seth was given to continue the godly line of Abel. Seth was raised in the Word of God and believed and had a son, Enosh, and Seth taught his son the Word of God, and he believed, and the line of Seth called upon the Name of the Lord. They praised and worshiped God. They followed after His Ways. And Luke tells us that he is the father of the line to our God and Savior, Jesus (Luke 3:38).

We need to remember that just as God allows good to come through the line of Cain and through the reprobate, those of the line of Seth – the elect – are not sinless. Abraham, David, and Solomon were all of the line of Seth, and they all sinned in memorable ways – just like you and me.

In Romans, Paul explains that the elect are Israel, but Israel is not the land of Israel nor the biological line of Israel. The Israel God reconciles to Himself and saves are all those He chooses to believe in Him. So, if you believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation, you are a member of the elect – you are a member of the Israel of God. The Pharisees didn’t understand this; they thought that just because they were biological descendants of Abraham, they would be saved and enter the Kingdom. John rebuked them and said, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9, ESV). In other words, Salvation is God’s Choice and Work.

Listen to Paul’s explanation: “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are the children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said, ‘About this time next year I will return and Sarah will have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might continue, not because of works but because of his call – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’

“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved, I will call “beloved.” And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God”’ (Romans 9:6b-26, ESV).

What can we conclude from these things?

First, all mere human beings are conceived with Original Sin. All mere human beings are born sinners. We have inherited a sin nature, so we are all born spiritually dead in sin, unable to save ourselves or even to desire salvation.

Second, because this is true, we are all deserving of eternal Hell. No one deserves to be saved and reconciled with God. Each of us is guilty and merits the ruling of the Law: “For the wages of sin is death, ...” (Romans 6:23a, ESV).

Third, therefore, God sovereignly and freely chooses those He will save and be reconciled with for reasons other than what we do or will do. God chooses whomever He will for reasons only known to Him, but not based on our merit. If you believe in Jesus Alone for salvation, it’s because God chose you and changed you and gave you the faith to believe. You and I did nothing to save ourselves and become right with God. It is completely God’s Choice and God’s Work.

Fourth, we have no idea whom God will chose to save. We understand from the Scripture that there are two lines, but while a person is alive, we have no idea whether or not he will ever come to faith. Therefore, we have a duty to evangelize – to share the Gospel with every person. We can never assume that someone is too far gone for God to save. Nor should we assume someone is too good or moral to recognize that he is a sinner in need of a Savior. Every human being needs to hear that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone, and we must go to every person. We cannot make assumptions about anyone, because the reprobate are not purely evil and the elect are not holy – we are all sinners in this life.

Our Savior and God said, “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 28:18b-20, ESV).

Brothers and sisters, evangelism, missions, telling others about Salvation in Jesus Alone is part of the work of the Church. Rev. Dr. John Piper has said everyone in the Church is called to be a goer or a sender. We are all to be involved in spreading the Gospel, either by going out ourselves or by providing the means for others to go out.

There is a world around us that is dying to hear the Truth of Jesus. We must be in prayer for them and for those who take the Word of God to them. We must be looking for ways to let others know and to do what we can to support the efforts of those who go out. We don’t know who will come to faith, because that is God’s Choice, but God has commanded us to tell everyone. It should humble us and cause us to rejoice that God has chosen some out of the mass of humanity to save, and we should find ourselves mourning for those who will never believe.

Last week we prayed for the economy and our leaders – and we should be in prayer that our leaders would have wisdom and that money would be stewarded in a God-honoring way. I’m sure many of us spent a good amount of time considering these issues this past week. But compared with eternal salvation, the economy is meaningless. Did you pray for missions this week? Did you pray for the salvation of the lost? Did you pray for your friends and family who do not believe? Did you do anything that would let others know that you are a Christian and why that is of eternal importance?

God, in His Mercy, has chosen some out of all of humanity. God has chosen some out of all of us, born lost and dead due to Adam and Eve’s sin. God uses us to tell them about Him. There are two lines – those who will never believe and those who will one day believe – that’s what the Scripture tells us. So, we ought not get discouraged – we don’t know who is who. What we know is that God has told us to go and tell everyone. The spiritual descendants of Cain will reject Him to their everlasting sorrow; the spiritual descends of Seth will come to belief through the Mercy and Intervention of God.

Let us pray:
Sovereign and Merciful God, we thank You for choosing us to be Yours. Give us a heart for the lost. We thank You for the understanding that we do not save anyone – not ourselves, not anyone else. That’s Your Work. We thank You for the privilege of serving You by supporting missions and by calling us to tell others about Your Son and His Salvation. Remove our fear. Help us to think of new and unique ways to let others know who You are. Be pleased to bless our efforts and save Your people. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"If You Do Well" Sermon: Genesis 4:1-16

“If You Do Well”
[Genesis 4:1–16]
October 5, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Why should we do what’s right? I would assume that we generally think doing the right thing is the right thing to do. But why? What is our motivation for doing the right thing? Some people would say that we should do the right thing simply because it’s right. That’s called “moralism.” Some people say we should do the right thing because it will benefit us. Some people say we should do the right thing because we want to avoid pain and punishment. Is there a specifically Christian reason to do what’s right?

Last week we saw Adam and Eve be thrown out of the Garden of Eden for their sin. They left in shame, blaming God for their sin. But here, as chapter four begins, some time has passed, they have repented. They have believed the Promise of God that was given to them in the midst of their punishment – that God would send a Savior to save them from their sin – and all those who would believe in the Savior Alone for their Salvation.

And Adam and Eve knew each other in that most passionate and intimate way that is part of the glory of the relationship between the husband and the wife, and she bore Cain and Abel. And they rejoiced in the birth of their children. As Solomon would write years later, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3, ESV). They had faith in God and sought to follow His Command to be fruitful and multiply.

And we immediately jump ahead: Cain and Abel are at least young men. Cain is a worker of the ground, and Abel a tender of the flocks. They are both employed in honorable professions. There is nothing said in the rest of the text or in the rest of the Bible to tell us they they had done wrong in their livelihood. In fact, we see the opposite: from the beginning, humans are told to care for the whole Creation, to work the land, and care for the animals. So, what we are to find will not be answered in what they did. There was nothing wrong with Cain being a worker of the ground and Abel a tender of the flocks.

We are then told that each of them offered a sacrifice to God. From this we know that Adam and Eve taught their children Who God is and that He is to be worshiped. They had been restored before God, and they were raising their children in the faith that was delivered to them. Cain offered up a sacrifice of the fruit of the earth, and Abel offered up the firstborn of his flocks. And God received Abel’s offering, but He rejected Cain’s. Why?

We are not explicitly told. Yet, we can draw a reasonable conclusion: the author of Hebrews wrote, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. ... And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:4, 6, ESV). And God told Samuel, “For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7b, ESV).

We can draw the conclusion that Cain’s offering – his sacrifice – was not made in faith, and God knew that, and that is why God rejected it. Cain may have done everything right as far as preparing and offering the sacrifice was concerned. It might have been a perfect sacrifice, according to the book, but God knew it was not offered in faith, so God was not pleased, and God did not accept it.

Let us understand this truth: we cannot become right with God by our works. No matter what we do – if we give generously to the poor and the Church, if we keep all the moral laws, if we attend worship every time the doors are open, if we come to every event and study, if we memorize the entire Bible – if we do everything we believe is right and everything we believe we ought to do, but don’t have faith, God will rejects us.

Understand, we ought to do all those good things, but as a response to the faith we have been given. We respond to faith in Jesus Christ by doing the good works He has set before us. If we have faith, our good works will be accepted. But without faith, our works are worthless, and Jesus shall say to us on the last day, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41b, ESV).

Cain flew into a rage: “What’s wrong with my sacrifice? I did everything according to the book – just like Abel – why didn’t You accept my offering?” God answered him, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

God rebukes Cain, “Are you really angry with Me? If your sacrifice had been offered in faith, I would have accepted it, but it was not. And if you do not come to me in faith, sin is waiting for you, and it will drag you down to a place where you may not be able to return. So, repent of your sin – reject it – and have faith.”

Paul wrote, “He will render to each one according to his works, to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6-11, ESV).

And after the sin of Israel, Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (I Samuel 15:22, ESV).

Going through the motions is still just going through the motions. God is not pleased when we do everything right and don’t believe Him. In fact, God’s Wrath is against all those, whether they do right or not, who do not believe in His Savior for salvation.

But Cain rages on: he is filled with pride and jealousy. “I did everything my little brother did – better. And You accepted his offering and not mine. I am Cain, the first-born ” And in his anger and sin, Cain took Abel out into the field and murdered him. “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you....”

John warns the Church, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (I John 3:12, ESV).

God confronted Cain: “Where is Abel your brother?” Of course, God knew very well, but He wanted Cain to recognize what he had done – perhaps Cain would confess and repent.

“I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

“What have you done?” “Cain, do you think you can lie to Me?” “Your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”

We’re told throughout the Scripture that prayers offered in faith are a sweet smell in the Nostrils of God, but our sin is a stench. Nothing escapes the Eyes of the Almighty and Living God, and even if it were possible to Hide from God’s Eyes, our actions also produce a smell to the Almighty. We cannot escape the Eyes of the Almighty and Living God.

A poet has written, “You can’t run, you can’t hide, from the Hound of Heaven. You’re free to choose. Can you refuse the Seeker of Souls?” (Daniel Amos, “The Hound of Heaven”).

Cain couldn’t hide. You and I can’t hide. No one can hide. God knows. God hears. God smells our works. And God was finished with Cain and his excuses, but God didn’t command the full punishment – not on that day. The Law says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6, ESV). But God didn’t require Cain’s blood on that day.

Still God raged against him for his sin:

“First, not only will the ground be difficult for you to work, it will never give its best – your crops will always be diminished.

“Second, from this day forward, you are cast out, a fugitive. You will never be safe or settled; you will never have a resting place on the earth again.”

And Cain responded: “That’s not fair You’re diminishing my livelihood and making me a nomad, someone who will be hunted down and killed. That punishment is too severe After all, all I did was refuse to have faith in Your Salvation and kill my brother.”

And God promised Cain, “No, if anyone kills Cain, I will avenge him sevenfold. And to keep anyone from killing you – to keep people away from you, I am going to mark you.” And God did something to Cain – we’re not told what, but it is likely that it was physical, since it kept people from killing him. God did something to Cain’s body that made people stay away from him, perhaps even fear him. Cain was not only a nomad, but most of his human contact was cut away from him.

Why should we do what’s right? What is our motivation for doing the right thing? Some people would say that we should do the right thing simply because it’s right. Some people say we should do the right thing because it will benefit us. Some people say we should do the right thing because we want to avoid pain and punishment. But there is a specifically Christian reason we should do what’s right.

John Calvin wrote, “...the chief point of well-doing is, for pious persons, relying on Christ the Mediator, and on the gratuitous reconciliation procured by him, to endeavor to worship God sincerely and without dissimulation” (Commentary on Genesis, 125, re: v. 7).

In other words, the reason a Christian ought to do what is right, the reason a Christian does things that are right, is that Christ is our Salvation – we have faith in Him and His Salvation – and that makes us desire to worship God through doing what is right. The Christian seeks to do what is right out of love for God and the desire to show that He is Worthy. The Christian does what is right as a response to God’s Love and Salvation through Jesus.

Does that make sense? We may have other reasons as well – respect for the government, not wanting to suffer, etc. – but our primary reason to seek to do what is right is that Jesus is our Savior. We have been saved through faith alone, by grace alone, by Jesus Alone, so we desire to obey Him.

The author of Hebrews said that the blood of Abel called out his righteousness to God, but he also said this: “...Jesus [is] the mediator of a new covenant, and [we come] to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24, ESV).

Abel’s blood cried out his righteousness through the faith he had in God and in the Promised Savior. We, however, look to a great shed blood that is greater than that of Abel’s – to the Blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross two thousand years ago for the sins of all those who would believe in Him Alone for Salvation. If you believe that Jesus is that Promised Savior – the Only One Who can deliver You from your sin and God’s Wrath – then you are saved – you are forgiven – you are made right with God – something you could never do though you tried to keep every law and do every good work. So God has done it for us: He came to earth, lived under His Own Law, suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father, where He now intercedes for us and gives us joy in our obedience to Him.

This Same Jesus invites all of us who believe to commune with Him through the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. As we receive the bread and the cup, Jesus is spiritually present with us, and He gives us grace, that we would be strengthened and matured, and able to do the work that He has set before us. If you believe in Jesus, let us join together and commune with our God and Savior, and then let us go forward, in response, by obeying Him.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we shudder at the sin, the pride, and the jealousy of Cain. We repent that we, too, have chosen to sin and sin again. Forgive us through the better Blood of Jesus. Reassure us of Your Salvation, and grow us in faith and obedience. For You are worthy of worship, and You Alone are our Eternal Joy. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

October Sermons

D.V., I will preach:

10/5/08 Worldwide Communion Sunday Genesis 4:1-16 "If You Do Well"
10/12/08 Genesis 4:17-26 "Two Lines"
10/19/08 Guest preacher: Will Lampe
10/26/08 Reformation Sunday Exodus 22:21-27 "A Full Reformation"

Join us to worship our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 10:30 AM each Sunday!