Second Reformed Church

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Maranatha" Sermon: Isaiah 64:1-9a

[Isaiah 64:1-9a]
November 30, 2008 Second Reformed Church


The prophet Isaiah prophesied during the Assyrian conquest of Israel – about 740 B.C. And his prophecies condemned the divided kingdom and said that God was going to send Israel into captivity, and she would remain there until the rise of Cyrus the Persian, whom God would use to restore the nation. These things all happened over the ensuing hundred and fifty years or so. His prophecies also spoke of the coming Savior that God had promised back in the Garden to our first parents. These prophecies would come to pass some seven hundred years later.

Throughout the book of Isaiah – and all his prophecies – he reminds Israel that it is her own sin that has caused her destruction. She had no one to blame but herself for the fall of the nation. But he also reminds her that God continues to be faithful, and if they repent and turn from their sins and follow after God, He will forgive them and restore them, according to the promises and the prophecies that He inspired.

Chapter 64 of Isaiah actually begins in the midst of a prayer. Beginning in verse fifteen of the previous chapter, Isaiah prays that God, the Holy God from Heaven, would look down upon His people with compassion, because He is their Father. Isaiah admits that Israel has sinned so greatly that Abraham would not recognize them – Israel, herself, would not recognize her if she would look at what she has become. So, Isaiah asks that God would return – that He would not harden them forever, but that God would change them and make them the people He called according to His Name once again.

The first four verses of chapter 64 have Isaiah asking that God would reveal Himself like He did in the past – that He would come down to earth, tear open the heavens, cause the mountains to quake, the brush and water to catch fire, and all the nations to know that the God of Israel is the One True God.

Isaiah is asking that God would come again as He did on Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. We may remember what happened, “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightening and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’ The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21, ESV).

God did not come to earth in the days of Isaiah, and He did not come with all of the natural disturbances that He did in the days of Moses, but we remember during this season of Advent that He did come, quietly, about seven hundred years after Isaiah.

Paul reworks Isaiah’s words as he writes, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9, ESV). What has God prepared for those who love Him?

In the years after Jesus’ crucifixion, some people in the Church wondered if He would really return, as He promised. Would Jesus keep His Promise? Or were they wrong to believe in Him? John assures his readers that they are not waiting in vain – we are not waiting in vain – and, though the first Advent was quiet, as God came as Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant,” the second Advent will be more like God’s appearance on Sinai, as He returns as the conquering King. And this is what he has prepared for all those who confess faith in Jesus – all those who love God, “And now, little children, abide in [Jesus], so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 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. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (I John 2:28-3:3, ESV).

God has come. God will come again. And He is keeping every promise He ever made. Maranatha!

In verses five through seven, Isaiah confesses, on behalf of the whole nation, that if they had followed after righteousness – if they had lived as God called them to live – they would have found joy in God, but, instead, they sinned. And it was not just sinning once, but, as we see through the Old Testament, Israel sinned and sinned and sinned again – just like you and me.

And God was rightly angry with Israel – punishment had only begun – exile would follow for them. And Isaiah asks the question, “We have sinned generation after generation, will Your Anger, God, ever be satisfied? Will there ever be salvation for those who confess and repent and turn back to God?”

And the answer, which the prophet well knew, as David put it, “[The Lord’s] anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5, ESV).

Isaiah is correct, as he presents the sin of Israel before God: Isaiah says that Israel has become unclean – which meant that she would be cut of from the temple. The best deeds she did were like filthy garments. Israel faded away in her sin like the leaves on the trees in the Fall – we see them now, changing colors, and eventually, dying and falling to the ground, where the wind blows them away. Israel had neglected the worship due God – she had been unfaithful in the temple and to the priests – she had not called out to God – so God had turned His Face from them and allowed them to wallow – to melt – in their sin.

Yet, we may wonder if the prophet has gone overboard in questioning the possibility of salvation. Perhaps he questioned because he was on the other side of the cross from us. But we should have no doubt – whereas God turned from Israel for a “moment,” we remember the mysterious horror that occurred on the cross, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46, ESV). Somehow, God the Father turned – forsook – abandoned – the Son – while God’s Full Wrath – not for the sin of one man, or for the sin of one people, but for the sin of everyone who would believe in Him throughout time and space – while all that Wrath descended upon Jesus – He was separated from the eternal intimacy He had forever had. We cannot begin to imagine the horror He endured.

Because Jesus endured Hell on the cross, the answer to the prophet is, “Yes, Isaiah, yes Everyone who repents and believes in Jesus will be forgiven. There is no question, no doubt, no hesitation – Jesus has paid it all.” As Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and your will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 38b, ESV).

God has come. God will come again. God has taken on the punishment for our sins, so everyone who believes in Him is forgiven. Maranatha!

As we turn to verses eight and the beginning of verse nine, we see that Isaiah may have been voicing the despair of the people and not his own despair over the possibility of God’s forgiveness. He calls out to God, calling Him, “Father.” Isaiah was given the wisdom to know that God has chosen and adopted a people for Himself, so we are the sons and daughters of God, and He is our Father.

Isaiah also calls God, “the potter,” His creation being the clay. We are whatever God creates us to be. All things happen according to His Plan, and since He is our Father, we can have hope in Him, even in the midst of our affliction. In the midst of what would be almost two hundred years of war and destruction and exile, the people of Israel, if they repented of their sin, could look to God in hope, knowing that He is Sovereign and He is Father. And that is true for us today.

Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his
grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mysteries of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:3-10, ESV).

And the author of Hebrews wrote, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11, ESV).

God has come. God will come again. He is the Sovereign of Creation, and the Father Who loves His children. Maranatha!

This first Sunday of Advent, let us remember the lessons of this part of the prophets prayer: God came to earth 2,000 year ago in the Person of Jesus Christ, and He will keep every promise and prophecy ever made. Jesus took the whole of God’s Wrath upon Himself, so all we who believe in Him would be forgiven. And God is our loving Father, so no matter what we endure, for our sin, for fatherly discipline, we have hope: Come, Lord Jesus!

Let us pray:
Almighty God, on this first Sunday in Advent, we remember the prophecies of Your first coming, and we thank You for the witness of Isaiah amidst the invading Assyrians. Cause us to stand strong on Your Word and in the hope of Your coming again. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Jesus Reigns" Sermon: I Corinthians 15:20-28

“Jesus Reigns”
[I Corinthians 15:20-28]
November 23, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Today is Christ the King Sunday – the Sunday we emphasize that Jesus reigns as Sovereign over all. We are turning to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to consider this, and we may remember that the Corinthian church was a mess. In the first century, it was an insult to call someone a Corinthian because they engaged in every type of strange and sinful behavior imaginable. Corinth was at a crossroads in the trade route and they received, not only every type of goods in the world, but every type of philosophy and religion that was popular.

In the section we are looking at, Paul is defending the resurrection of the dead. There were some who were arguing – as some do today – that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, but the resurrection is merely a spiritual idea – that Jesus’ Spirit was received into Heaven and His disciples saw His Spirit in the days that followed His burial.

In the section preceding our reading, Paul argues that if Jesus did not really – physically – rise from the dead, then we – His followers – will not really – physically – rise from the dead. And if Jesus did not really – physically – rise from the dead, and if we do not really – physically – rise from the dead, then our peaching and our faith means nothing – worse than that, we have been telling and believing lies about God. And even worse than that, we are still dead in our sins, and Christianity is the most pitiful of beliefs. This is the heart of the Gospel: if Jesus did not physically rise, Christianity is a lie.

“But in fact,” Paul tells us in our Scripture, Jesus did physically rise from the dead. Paul was an eyewitness to Jesus being alive, and there were hundreds of others alive at that time who were also eyewitnesses. And Jesus is the “firstfruits” of those who died believing in Him. In other words, just as the “firstfruits” of the harvest or the flock are the first growth or the first born, Jesus is the first to be raised from the dead with the perfected body that all who believe in Him shall receive in the Kingdom. Jesus is first; all those who believe in Him follow.

Paul explains that all humans die because of the sin of Adam – Adam leads his children to death, and all those who believe in Jesus for their salvation – Christ leads His children to life, and life eternal. And it will be at His Coming, when He returns, that the dead in Christ shall be raised in their perfected bodies.

Remember what Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3, ESV).

And Paul wrote, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will raise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18, ESV).

Then, Paul tells his readers, the end will come. When Jesus returns, the end will come. But it will not be the end as some talk about it. It will not be destruction of all things physical. No, what will end will be all the temporary things, all the corrupt things, all the sin-damaged things, including our governments, human laws, ranks, distinction of class, discrimination, and so forth, all of these things will pass away.

Paul says that Jesus will deliver the Kingdom to the Father “after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” Sin and its effects will be removed, and we shall all be of pure equality with each other. The last of the effects of sin that Jesus will destroy – remove – is death. The first consequence promised in the Garden will be the last one removed. But on that day, death will be done away with – there will never be any more death.

Now consider this: if those Corinthians were right that there is no physical resurrection, that the life eternal is merely a spiritual existence, then death would be meaningless to them – it would be a meaningless consequence of sin, because death of the body would simply be freedom of the spiritual self. Unless the death of the body is a disruption of what was intended, it is not a punishment.

But, if they were wrong, as Paul says they are wrong, and the physical body was created to last eternally, then the removal of death as the last enemy makes sense. Since the body can die, the removal of death means that the body won’t die. It means that the end of death, and the resurrection of the physical body, is the apex of the restoration of the Creation.

Paul tells us that Christ must reign until all these – His enemies – are under His Feet – until they are destroyed. Christ is now seated at the Right Hand of the Father in power and glory and He is reigning over all, working out His Salvation Plan for His people. And once all His enemies are under His Feet, it will be the sign and seal of His Authority and His Reign over all, including them.

Paul wrote, “according to that working of [God’s] great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at the right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:19b-23, ESV).

The good news is that Jesus has conquered death, so all of His enemies are under His Feet – we have just not seen the fulness of that worked out in history, but we know in rising from the dead, Jesus conquered death. So death is no longer deadly to believers – our death is entrance into the Kingdom. By dying, we enter into life.

Jesus said of His Authority, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27, ESV), and “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18, ESV).

Jesus has full authority now, as God, reigning over all of Creation, having put all of His enemies under His Feet, and now that is working itself out in history, and will conclude with Jesus’ Return.

Paul describes the difference between the future of the believer and the enemy of Christ: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is their destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 3:18-4:1, ESV).

If physical resurrection is true, and Jesus has physically risen from the dead, then we shall physically rise from the dead, as He promised. And if Jesus has physically risen from the dead, then He has already defeated death, and all His enemies are under His Feet, and He is reigning over all Creation, working out His Plan of Salvation. And we have hope and joy, secure in our future in His Kingdom.

Then Paul says something that we might find very curious, beginning in verse twenty-seven, “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet. But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”

Paul says that God put all things in subjection under Jesus’ Feet, except for God Himself. Jesus, Paul says, is subjected to God. How can that be? We confess One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Three Equal Persons of the One Divinity. How can One Person of the One Divinity be subject to Another?

You may remember from past sermons, or you may remember from the evening class we just had on the first seven ecumenical councils, that the Scripture teaches us that before the Creation the One Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit always are, were, and will be. Each Person is the Same One God, but a different Person – that is the mystery of the Trinity. However, after the Son Incarnated – after the Son was born on earth of the Virgin Mary – the Son took on the real full human, Jesus. So, Jesus, the Son of God, is One Person with two natures, a full human nature and a full divine nature. Jesus is, at the same time, 100% God and 100% human.

So, we can understand Paul to be saying that Jesus, in His Divinity, is co-equal with God the Father, but, in His Humanity, He is subjected to the Father. Other than saying that, it seems we must leave this in the area of the mystery of the Trinity.

The final phrase, “that God may be all in all,” means that everything will be brought back into its rightful relationship with God. The Creation will be restored to the state it was before the Fall – before our first parents’ sin – all will be as God initially Created it, with God, our Savior, reigning on His Throne.

So let us rejoice on this Christ the King Sunday: Jesus reigns. He is Sovereign over all Creation. All His enemies are defeated – under His Feet – history is just working out God’s Plan. And, as Christ was raised, we shall be raised, and death shall be no more. And we shall live forever with our God and Savior, Jesus, in His Kingdom without end.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending Your Son to live and die and rise to Your Glory and to be our Salvation. Cause us to live lives of confidence knowing that Jesus is sovereignly reigning over all, bringing His Plan to pass, and there is nothing that happens by chance, but all occurs according to Him Who gave His Life for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Thanksgiving" Sermon: Psalm 90

[Psalm 90]
November 16, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Many of you will have noticed that I tend to preach through books except during the holidays. During the holidays, I tend to use the Scripture selected in the Lectionary. The Lectionary is a device that divides most of the Scripture into readings over three years. One of the readings for today is the ninetieth Psalm.

The ninetieth Psalm was written by Moses while he was leading the people of Israel in the wilderness. It is one of the oldest pieces of literature in the Bible, and one of the oldest hymns of the Church. Moses wrote this Psalm so all who sing it would remember who God is and who humans are and our relationship with Him. Moses considered, as we shall see, the fact that almost everyone that God delivered from Egypt was going to die in the wilderness for their sin.

What does this Psalm mean for us on this Thanksgiving Sunday?

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Moses begins by reminding Israel – and all those who would believe in the Savior – that the rightful dwelling place of humans is with God. Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden. God is our refuge; we were created to be with Him, and our being separate from God – at odds with God – is an unnatural state. We are not meant to be apart from God.

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth
and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

And Who is this God? This is the Creator God – He Who before everything was created, existed eternally before everything and eternally before time itself. God always is and was and will be.

“You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’

We know, as we have looked at the opening chapters of Genesis recently, that we were not created to die, but due to the sin of our first parents, we all now return to the dust from which we were created. All humans are mortal and all humans die, unless the Lord intervenes. We remember that Elijah was caught up in the whirlwind and never experienced death, and Enoch walked with the Lord and one day was not, as God took him into glory without physical death, and all those who believe and are on the earth when Jesus returns will be taken, right then with Him into glory – but most of us – most of humanity – experience death. So, we are told to turn back – to repent – to find hope, at least, after the death of this body.

“For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watching in the night. You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

This is the Psalm that Peter quoted from to the scoffers who scoffed at Jesus’ Return – that He had not returned after thirty or so years – now we have been waiting over two thousand years, and the scoffers have multiplied. So, understand the difference in perspective between humans and the Everlasting God: a thousand years with God is like an evening past to us. When God destroyed the earth with the flood, it was but a moment to Him. Humans are like the grass that grows up in the morning and withers away at night – that is really the length of our lives, isn’t it? Have you ever said, “Where has the time gone?”

“For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance. For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

We die as a result of sin – remember the Law, “The wages of sin is death...” (Romans 6:23a, ESV). And God knows all our secret sins – nothing is hidden from Him, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13, ESV).

Our days have been cut short – Moses knew as the author of the first five books of the Bible, that humans beings were created and lived eight hundred, nine hundred, years when God created us, but after the flood, those years were cut down to one hundred and twenty, and as Moses had led the people through the wilderness and they sinned and sinned and sinned in their ungratefulness for God’s deliverance, God promised that except for Joshua and Caleb, everyone who came out of Egypt would die in the wilderness – which meant that most people died in their seventies – or perhaps, eighties, if the Lord was willing.

And they knew then, as we know now, even a life of a mere seventy or eighty years is not a life of ease, but a life of trouble, especially as we grow older, as our body ceases to work properly, and eventually dies. We don’t like to think about death in our culture – we do what we can to still look young, to pretend that we are young – yet this decay is only one effect of sin – of God’s Wrath for sin.

“Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

Moses says that the Wrath of God is upon humanity for our sin, and it is overwhelming. Yet, none of us has experienced the Wrath of God in it fullness, except for Jesus, as He suffered Hell on the cross for the sake of everyone who would believe. We experience a little of it – we have a taste of it – but Jesus took on the fulness of it, to the point of being forsaken by the Father in the depths of receiving God’s Wrath for your sin and my sin.

So, we ought to consider our sin. We ought to consider the anger that it stirs up in our Holy God. We should consider what we have brought upon Jesus – that we might be thankful to Him and also have a reason to refrain from the depths to which we are prone to descend. We ought to consider our sin, God’s Wrath, understand that sin is why we die, and we will all die, unless the Lord tarries.

How are we spending the time that God has given us? Where – in what – are we seeking our satisfaction?

Moses continues:

“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

Of course, Moses is not saying that there is a way or that we should figure out exactly how long we will live – God has a date marked for each person and then and then alone we shall face death. What Moses is saying is that believers ought to live every moment with purpose – for Jesus and His Gospel – which is all that will remain.

Moses had wealth and power as the adopted grandson of Pharaoh. Yet, hear what is recorded of him by the author of Hebrews: “By faith, when Moses was grown up, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God that to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25, ESV). Did we hear that? Moses is being heralded as an example of faith for making the better choice: he could have stayed in the palace, enjoyed a lifetime of being served, riches, possibly even becoming Pharaoh himself – but that was fleeting – that was nothing, compared to be able to suffer with God’s people. We don’t think like that – “Little Johnny, you can live with so and so the billionaire, have an easy life, everything you could ever want, you can do what you want, or you can go with so and so to be part of a missionary family and likely die completely unknown – which do you choose?” In Moses’ case, we know that the power and the glory of the Pharaoh’s court was worthless – it was sin – compared to the call of God on his life and God’s Salvation for him.

Instead, Moses says we ought ask for wisdom. We may remember that God came to Solomon over a thousand years later, when he had inherited the kingdom of his father, David, and God asked Solomon what he wanted – anything at all – and God would give it to him. What was Solomon’s response? “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David, my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or to come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (I Kings 3:6-9, ESV). Solomon asked for wisdom, and God was pleased. May God be pleased to grant us wisdom to be His people.

“ Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.

So, repent and receive the mercy of the Lord. Be satisfied with Him and give thanks for the steadfast love of the Lord – every morning. And then, and this may sound strange, Moses says we should pray that God would make us glad when He afflicts us. And why are we afflicted? For the years of our evil. Moses wanted Israel to understand that God was afflicting her for her sin – they were dying in the wilderness for their sin – sometimes we suffer – now – for our sin. And Moses says, “rejoice.” Why? We ought rejoice when God afflicts us because God deals with us as a Father and not as a judge; God punishes us for our good, not for our destruction. No one enjoys the discipline of a parent, but it is for our good. God disciplines us because He loves us.

“Let the work be manifested in your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands – O prosper the work of our hands ” (Psalm 90, NRSV).

Moses ends his Psalm with a prayer for Israel – for all of God’s people:

First, he prays that the Lord’s work would be shown to us to do. May God be pleased to give us the wisdom to know what God wants us to do and that we would do it.

Second, he prays that God’s Glorious Power would be known to succeeding generations. May God raise up faithful parents who will teach their children everything that God has taught us and told us, that they would know Him and follow Him.

Third, he prays that God’s favor would be upon all those who believe. May God bless His people, and may everyone know that it is God who has blessed His people for His Own Sake.

And fourth, Moses brings the prayer full circle, praying that God would cause us to do the work He has set before us – that He would provide for our needs and enable us to do all that He has called us to do. May that prayer be a promise fulfilled in each one of us.

How may we apply this Psalm to Thanksgiving?

Let us understand the difference between the Eternal and Holy God and finite humans who have sinned against Him – let us understand how great our sins and miseries are.

Let us understand how we may be delivered from all our sins and miseries – by turning back to God through Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice.

And then let us give thanks to God for His Salvation. Just as God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt, we have been delivered from slavery to sin, and God continues to bless us. God continues to guide us and give us His Wisdom. God has given us work to do as Second Reformed Church – beginning with telling others about Him.

Let us be filled with thanksgiving, now and always.

And let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for bringing us into the Promised Land, for making us the people of Your Kingdom, Your sons and daughters, and for giving us work to do. Cause us to live up to the call You have put on each of our lives, and may we always find reason to rejoice and give thanks to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

"I Hate; I Despise" Sermon: Amos 5:18-24

“I Hate; I Despise”
[Amos 5:18-24]
November 9, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Is God pleased with us when we do everything right? If we have an appropriate order of worship. If we sing hymns that have the right words to good music, if we confess true confessions, if we read the Bible and preach from it alone, if we give generously of our time, talents, and money, will God be pleased with us?

The divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah thought the answer to these questions was, “yes.” Under Uzziah in the North and Jereboam II in the South, Israel and Judah were at peace. Their economies prospered. Their people were happy. They worshiped in the temple and gave of their blessings for the maintenance of the work of God. They followed the ceremonial and civil laws of the land, and all seemed well to them.

The people could be found in the temple, listening to the Word of God and responding to it, crying out, “Come, Day of the Lord Come, Messiah ” They were of the line of Abraham; they had inherited the promises; they were ready for God to bring His Justice to earth – to fulfill the long ago promise made to our first parents in the Garden. If there was ever a time when the sons and daughters of Abraham were ready to meet God – this was it!

But they weren’t ready: they were hypocrites. Everything seemed right. They were wealthy and happy, doing everything that seemed right according to the Word of God. Yet the prophet Amos came among them and revealed that underneath their pristine exterior was idolatry, greed, and dishonesty.

Amos heard them rejoicing and calling out for the Day of the Lord – for God to come with justice on all peoples, and Amos pronounced judgment upon them: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”

Amos told them that they were hypocrites – they put forth a show of being right with God – they did what they thought God wanted – but they had missed the point: all these good works, without a change of heart, are nothing. It is, as Jesus said, washing the outside of the cup while leaving the inside dirty. The last thing someone in their condition should want was for God to come with justice!

If God came to them with justice, and their heart was not changed, they would be facing God as sinners, deserving only of His Wrath, and that would not be the day of light and glory that they thought they would be received into. No, they would be received into gloom, into darkness, into terror, and there would be no escape. The Day of the Lord for those who have not repented of their sin and had their heart changed, will be like a man who runs from a lion only to be killed by a bear, or who runs from a bear only to be killed by a serpent – there is no escape.

Hear the word of Amos: you can be the best person in the world, you can be better than everyone that calls themselves a Christian, you can do everything that is right in the eyes of men and according to the Word of God, but if you do not believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation, if you have not repented of your sin, if your heart has not been changed, you will not be met by the smile of the Savior on that last day, you will be met by the Son of Wrath, with His sword of justice.

And the inhabitants of Israel and Judah cried out, “But wait, we have kept all of the holy days, we have made all of the appropriate sacrifices, we have offered up the best of the best of our animals, we have sung all of the Psalms, and had the best instrumentalists to accompany our singing, and we have become prosperous. Surely, God has heard us and accept us as the sons and daughters of Abraham.”

Amos delivered the Word of the Lord to them: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”

God is not shy in saying “I hate; I despise” – God is not only displeased with them, He is sickened by them. Israel and Judah prided themselves on doing everything right – on making sure God got His grain and His fat offering. They thought God would be satisfied, but they missed the point: God didn’t need their food – God wanted them to understand that they were sinners, in need of a Savior – that they needed to repent of their sin – to change their ways, their hearts – to be right with God.

Hear the word of Amos: it is right to take part in the life of the Church, in worship, the sacraments, in everything that is offered for our benefit, and in giving of our time, talent, and money, but God doesn’t need any of those things from us. God is Holy and Self-sufficient. If we think we are benefitting God by doing these things, God is disgusted and rejects our offerings. God wants us to understand that each one of us is a sinner, separated from God by our sin, in need of a Savior, the One and Only Savior, Jesus, and then we are recognize our need and give thanks for our salvation by taking part in all these things that God has told us to do – all those things that God offers us and calls us to do and be in His Church.

Amos continued to speak for God saying, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” Amos told Israel and Judah that they had to begin – not with calling for God to judge the earth – but with their relationship with God. They needed to humble themselves and come to God in repentance, seeking their own holiness, seeking that they, themselves, would be bringers of justice. They needed to come to God with a pure and a sincere heart. That is what they ought to be doing – that is where their life ought to begin and end in God.

In the next generation, the prophet Micah would bring a similar message. He would say to Israel and Judah, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, ESV).

Hear the word of Amos: On this stewardship Sunday, we ought to understand two things: if we have not repented and believed in Jesus Alone for our salvation, all the good works and gifts we bring are worthless. God hates and despises them and calls us to justice and righteousness in our own hearts. But, if we have received Jesus Alone for our salvation, then we ought to be about doing all these good, merciful, just, and loving things that God has called us to do, and we ought to do them in humility, as for God and not men.

What kind of steward have you been? Have you come back to God through Jesus Alone? Or are you still trying to earn your way to being right with God? God doesn’t need anything, so our gifts and services will never make you right with Him. But God chose, from before the foundation of the world to send His Son, so that everyone who would believe in Him would be saved – forgiven for their sin – counted as righteous in Him – that they would be right with God – received by Him as His son or daughter. And Jesus died to make that happen for each one who will believe. And then He rose from the dead and ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of God. Do you believe? Have you repented and believed in Him Alone for your salvation?

If you have, then receive this promise of God, that “to all who [do] receive [Jesus], who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13, ESV).

And as His children, now purpose to give back to Him your whole self and your whole life, including generous giving from all you have been given, as you love the Lord your God and your neighbor, and as you take part in the work of Jesus Christ in this church.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we give thanks to You for all the blessings we have received. Keep us from trying to buy You with those blessings, and make us understand that Your Salvation is free through Jesus Christ Alone. And for all who have received His Salvation, we ask that You would lead us in faithful stewardship, as a thank offering, and an acknowledgment that everything is Yours. May Jesus Christ be Praised, Amen.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

On the News

A commentator serious said, "It seems a forgone conclusion that either Senator Obama or Senator McCain will win this election, but I wouldn't want to prognosticate until all the votes are in."


Sunday, November 02, 2008

"Future Blessings" Sermon: Matthew 5:1-12

“Future Blessings”
[Matthew 5:1-12]
November 2, 2008 Second Reformed Church

You have heard what we call “the Beatitudes” this morning. “Beatitude” simply means “blessing.” You have heard the blessings this morning. These are nine future blessings that come to Christians. So, “rejoice and be glad,” if you believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation, good news – you are blessed – you will receive future blessings!

On this All Saints’ Sunday, as we remember those who have died and joined Jesus in Paradise, waiting for the culmination of all things and the full indwelling of the Kingdom, let us quickly consider these promises of future blessings from our God and Savior, Jesus.

“And [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are we when during affliction we submit ourselves humbly to God, considering everything in this world to be empty – nothing – compared to that which we long for in Jesus. If we are humble, if we turn to God – to Jesus – at all times, we will receive eternal life with Jesus. If everything that occurs to us – good and bad – fades away into nothingness when compared with Jesus and the glory that comes with Him, then we will be with Him eternally.

Paul wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV).

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Mourning prepares us for eternal joy: this world is a world of mourning, a world of suffering, a world that is not what God created it to be. Human sin has plunged the world into darkness. And as we endure through mourning, and with the mourning of our brothers and sisters, we understand all the more profoundly how much greater the comfort to be found in Jesus is.

We may remember an episode of “All in the Family” where Mike, the atheist son-in-law, was arguing that evil in the world proves that there is no Heaven. He asks Archie, his father-in-law, “If there is a God, and a Heaven, why does God allow evil?” Archie turns to his wife, Edith, for an answer, and she says, “Well, maybe so when we get there, we’ll notice the improvement.” The answer is not quite right, but it does suggest the point of this beatitude: those who mourn shall be comforted, and the worst mourning – suffering – that we endure – will be met in Jesus with comfort to surpass it. Our mourning now helps us to see – and hope for – so great a comfort.

Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we also have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).

‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are we who are mild, gentle, ready to endure anything for the sake of Christ, but never willing to follow after the wicked. We who calmly, quietly do the work of the Lord and refuse to follow after evil and sin, shall inherit the earth.

We looked at this as we went through Peter’s letters and asked the question of what this could mean, since so many teach that the planet will be destroyed and we will just live as spirit-beings. And we saw that this is not so, that we will be resurrected and restored. The life after this life is a physical life. Hear again Paul’s words:

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 819-25, ESV).

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are we whose greatest desire is for Christ and His Righteousness. Blessed are we who consider everything other than Christ an unworthy treasure. We shall find our satisfaction in Christ – He will satisfy us by giving us Himself – and accomplishing His Work in us.

David expressed this when he wrote, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So have I looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and your glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:1-8, ESV).

And we hear this promise in Paul, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:26, ESV).

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are we who are not merely willing to bear with our own afflictions, but take on the afflictions of others. Blessed are we who sympathize and empathize with others in their distress. We shall receive mercy from God. It is for us that Christ bore our afflictions.

Paul reminds us of this duty: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, ESV).

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are we who are innocent – we who are not practiced in deceit. Blessed are we who don’t know how to lie and trick and deceive. For we shall see God on that final day. We shall come into His Presence and see Him and live – and live eternally with Him.

We remember Jesus’ warning, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, so be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV).

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.

Blessed are we who seek peace – we who seek to settle disagreements – we who try with all that we are to keep there from being strife. Blessed are we who seek to grow love among all our neighbors – that love that we find in Christ. We, then, shall be called the sons and daughters of God. We shall bear His Name correctly and show Him as He is.

Our God is a God of peace – not the peace that the world gives, but the peace that only comes through Jesus. His is not a peace that throws away the Truth, but makes the Truth the grounds of peace. “May the God of peace be with you all. Amen” (Romans 15:33, ESV).

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are we when we suffer for Jesus’ Sake – for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of defending Who Jesus is. We saw this in Peter’s letters, as the Christians were escaping the persecution of Nero, Peter told them that if they suffered for the sake of Christ, it was a good and blessed thing, but if they suffered for their own sins, well, that was their own fault, and they should take no pride in that.

If we live for Jesus, we will be persecuted in some way: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12, ESV).

Peter wrote, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled’ (I Peter 3:13-14, ESV). For such shall have life eternal with Jesus.

‘Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’”

And we are blessed when the hypocrites accuse us of all kinds of evil for the sake of Christ – not if we have done evil, but if they accuse us as hypocrites – falsely charging us with crimes because of our testimony for Christ – rejoice We will have received the same treatment that the prophets received – the same treatment that the saints in glory received. We are in good company – did they do any less to our Lord and Savior, Jesus?

Peter wrote, “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if it should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (I Peter 3:15-17, ESV).

Nine future blessings for Christians, which also tell us to expect this life to be unfair. We should expect this life to be hard. We should expect this life to be full of disappointments, suffering, and hardship. And if we do – if we understand that Christ does not promise us a “bowl of cherries” in this life, we can bear with what happens here, by trusting Jesus, by trusting in His Promises, by looking forward to those blessings, and to the glory that is coming soon with Him when he returns.

The world without Jesus looks at war and economic strife, racism, sexism, ageism, inequality, pain, and suffering, and has no where to go with it. They are trapped, and either have to deny reality or fall under it. An atheist friend of mine and I were talking about the world and its trouble, and I asked him where his hope was, and he answered me honestly, with the only answer he could give as an atheist, “Hope is unrealistic.”

Brothers and sisters, we have hope! We have the sure promise of future blessings – blessings that the saints in glory are already beginning to enjoy. We can look forward in hope, in surety, and confess with Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, ESV). The worst we endure for the sake of Christ is nothing compared with the promises – the glory – that awaits us in Him. So hold fast to those promises, to those blessings that await us in Jesus. Let us remember that all those who have gone on before us in Christ await us in that glory. And we can live for Christ because we have hope, because Jesus took our place and shed His Blood, crediting us with His Righteousness and forgiving us for all our sins.

Let us prepare to meet Him at the Table, and let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, our Hope and Future Blessing, You are worthy of everything we are and everything we can give. Use us for Your Sake. Glorify Yourself through us. Magnify Yourself. And keep the Hope of Jesus before us – that in Him, we have life eternal, to the everlasting glory of God. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.