Second Reformed Church

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Simeon's Song" Sermon: Luke 2:29-32

“Simeon’s Song”
[Luke 2:29-32]
December 27, 2009 Second Reformed Church

This morning we take our last look – for now – at what we have been calling the songs of the Christmas season. We have looked at statements made and/or sung about the coming of God to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ as expressed by John, the Apostle, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, the angels, and, this morning, a man by the name of Simeon.

This morning’s Scripture took place eight days after Jesus was born. According to the Law of Moses, male children were to be brought on the eight day to the temple to be circumcised and for the parents to offer up a sacrifice in thanks for their son. Mary and Joseph brought the Baby Jesus and also the offering that was expected from an impoverished couple – two pigeons or two turtle doves. (Mary amd Joseph were poor and could not offered the larger offering stipulated in the Law.)

Now, Luke tells us there was a man by the name of Simeon who was a righteous and devout man, upon whom was the Holy Spirit. We don’t know anything more about him – except that he was likely quite old by this time. We don’t know what he did or where he came from, though it appears he was not a priest.

And we are told that at some point God promised Simeon that he would not die until he saw “the consolation of Israel.” What was that? When we refer to the consolation of Israel – in this context – we are talking about the comforting of Israel in her relationship with God. We are talking about Israel becoming right with God.

As Isaiah prophesied, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cried, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken’” (Isaiah 40:1-5, ESV).

God had made the awesome promise to Simeon that Simeon would not die until he saw God’s Salvation come to Israel; Simeon would not die until he saw the Savior God first promised back in the Garden of Eden appear in Israel to reconcile God’s people to Himself.

What a promise! I wonder if we would have believed God? Would we have waited year after year not seeing the Savior and still believe that God would keep His Promise to keep us alive until the day that He came? After all, it had been four thousand years, maybe he hadn’t heard God, after all – could he really be sure that he would live until the Savior came? Would we have been sure – just knowing that God had made the promise?

Luke tells us that God the Holy Spirit told Simeon to get to the temple. And when Mary and Joseph walked in with Jesus in their arms, and Simeon saw them, the Holy Spirit identified the Savior, Jesus, to Simeon. And he ran over and took Jesus in his arms, and blessed God – because God kept His Promise – Simeon recognized that Jesus is the Consolation of Israel – Jesus is the long awaited Savior – the One Who will reconcile God’s people to Him.

And with the Babe in his arms, Simeon blessed God and said the words of this morning’s Scripture:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;”

Simeon blessed God and said that he could die in peace because God had proven to Simeon that God keeps His Word. Simeon had proof in his own life that God keeps His Word and that was enough for him to trust and be at peace with dying – believing all that God had promised about the life to come in the Kingdom.

Can we say the same? Are you and I able to say, “Yes, God, I am at peace and ready to die whenever You call me home, because I know that You keep Your Word and everything will be as You have promised it.” If God told you that today was the day, would you be ready – and at peace – with dying?

Unless Jesus returns first, every one of us will experience physical death. Are we ready? Moses wrote, “So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12, ESV). And the David wrote, “O Lord, make me to know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am ” (Psalm 39:4, ESV).

We live in a country that tries to deny that death occurs. We have pills and potions and surgeries that we take and go through to try to make it look like nothing has changed – that this fallen world has no effect on our bodies. But no matter how good our corpse looks, the day will come. Will we be at peace when it does?

Simeon said that he was at peace with his death because God had proved Himself faithful in keeping God’s Word.

Simeon continued, “for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

Simeon blessed God and said that he could die in peace because God had shown him God’s Salvation: Jesus, the God-Man. Not only did God keep His Word and allow Simeon to live until God sent the Consolation of Israel, God allowed Simeon to meet Him – the Baby Jesus. And Simeon knew that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of God’s people. And knowing the Savior made Simeon able to be prepared to die in peace.

And again, we should ask ourselves, if we know Jesus – if we have believed in Him Alone for our salvation – do we find ourselves ready and able to die in peace? Are you ready to go on to the next life, knowing that Jesus is standing there, waiting to receive you into His Arms?

Paul told the Philippians he was conflicted about living and dying. He wrote, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:18b-26, ESV).

The late, great Christian musician, Larry Norman was asked some twenty-five years ago if he had any goals, and he said, “I used to say: ‘Yes, I want to die. Keith Green is where I want to be. I want to be with Jesus.’ But now I have a baby boy, and I don’t want to die. Today.”

Simeon and Paul and Larry reflect that dual longing that we should all experience as Christians: On the one hand, we should long to be with Jesus in the Kingdom, which will finally be for all those who have believed in Jesus Alone for their salvation – but for now, that is only reached through physical death. On the other hand, we ought to desire to work as hard as we can as long as we can to glorify God and make His Salvation known.

Are you at peace with dying because Jesus is your Savior? I look forward to dying. Understand: I am not suicidal, and I do not want to suffer. But I can’t wait to be in the Presence of Jesus eternally. I can’t wait to have a new body that isn’t sick. I can’t wait to not be able to sin. But, on the other hand, I pray for strength and healing, because I don’t want to die yet. I don’t want to leave my little girl. I want to go to Cape May again. I have a few books I would like to read. I have goals I want to accomplish in my life and with this church. But I am at peace, in Jesus, whenever God calls me home, because He is my Savior. Can you say the same?

“That you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Finally, Simeon blessed God and said that he could die in peace because God had fulfilled His Covenant with Abraham to bless all peoples – the Jews and the Gentiles – through His Salvation.

As Isaiah prophesied, “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:10, ESV).

Simeon understood that God did not merely keep His Promise to Simeon. God did not merely bring a Savior for Simeon. But God sent the Savior Who is for everyone Who will receive Him. Jesus is the One and Only Savior of any type of person throughout time and space. He is the One and Only, but no type of person is excluded from believing in Him. Men, women, Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free persons, bad sinners, not-so-bad sinners – all of us are in the same boat – separated from God by our sin, and God has made One Way for us to become right with Him. That was the promise He made some six thousand years ago that He fulfilled in Jesus.

Part of what it means to love our neighbor is to desire that he or she come to faith in Jesus Alone for salvation. It should make us rejoice that we know that just because someone is an “x” or a “y” does not exclude them from those who may be saved through Jesus. We have no right or reason to stop praying and telling everyone who is alive about salvation in Jesus Alone. And we should find ourselves at peace knowing that none of those who will believe can be lost – no matter who they are or what they have done.

I attended a church service once where a first year seminarian was preaching, and he said that when we came before Jesus at the judgment, He would bring all those people before us who were going to Hell because we didn’t take the time to tell them about Jesus, and Jesus would ask for us to account for ourselves. What a horrible thing to say! Who could ever die in peace believing that Jesus would torture us so? This student had much to learn: none who will ever believe will be lost. We can die in peace knowing that God will keep the Promises He made in the Covenant to save every person He has always intended to save. We do not have to worry that we will keep people out of the kingdom – we don’t have that kind of power – thanks be to God!

Simeon’s theology – what He knew about God – was that God keeps His Promises. God sent Jesus to be the Only Savior. And God will save all those who will believe from every type of people that exists. Because those things are true, Simeon could offer up a doxology – a praise to God – in which he confessed that he was ready and at peace with death whenever God called him home.

Death is a terrible thing. It is the last enemy. And many people suffer horribly as they die. We should not wish that for ourselves or anyone else. But if we believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation, and see that God keeps His Promises in Jesus, we ought to find ourselves at peace with death – with passing from this life into the next. Whether that occurs this week or fifty years from now. We ought not to fear death as Christians.

As Paul wrote, “I tell you this brothers, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For the perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the works of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord you labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:50-58, ESV).

As Christians, through Jesus, we are at peace with death. And if we are at peace with death, we can work hard at living for Jesus.

Are you ready to die?

Are you ready to live?

If the Lord is willing, we will enter the New Year this week. Let us trust Jesus, being at peace with Him, knowing that He is victorious over death, so we are as well. And let us trust Jesus, working hard to do everything He has called us to do, for our joy and His Glory.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank you for the witness of Simeon – showing us that You are the Faithful God – the Only God Who gives us salvation and peace in death. We thank You that You have given us lives in You and work to do. Give us strength, courage, and wisdom as we go forward this day and into the New Year. Help us to trust You and live in a way that makes Your Salvation clear to others. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"The Angels' Song" Sermon: Luke 2:13-14

“The Angels’ Song”
[Luke 2:13-14]
December (20) 24, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Mary and Joseph left Nazareth in Galilee and traveled to Bethlehem in Judea, because the Romans, who occupied Israel, were taking a census for the purpose of taxation. When they arrived in town, they looked for a place to stay, but the rooms were all taken, so they stayed in a cattle stall. And there, Mary delivered her firstborn Son, wrapped Him in rags, and laid Him in a feeding trough.

Meanwhile, out in the fields, there were shepherds, guarding their flocks, which they had brought out to eat the grass. Shepherds were low in the society’s eyes – they were out in the mud and the grass, dealing with the animals – both their herds and the occasional attack by a lion or bear, which the shepherd would have to fight off, and also bringing back the strays. It was pretty much the same thing every day.

But suddenly – that night – “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear” (Luke 2:9, ESV). The shepherds understood that they were sinners, and the Glory of God was the shining forth of His Holiness. They were terrified, because God coming in this way may have meant that God was coming to kill them – they were literally afraid for their lives!

But the angel said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12, ESV).

The shepherds knew their theology – they knew what the prophets had said. They remembered the words they heard read and taught in the temple from the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14b, ESV) and “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV).

And as the shepherds were only beginning to process this fulfillment of prophecy that the angel had told to them – a multitude of angels appeared – the heavenly beings were unable to sit back and let just the one angel deliver this amazing message of the arrival of God’s Savior – the whole sky filled with angels, and they all joined together in praising God for what God was doing in bringing these things to pass.

“Glory to God in the highest,”

The first thing we ought to get straight as we remember and celebrate the coming of God the Savior into the world is that it is not about us. We did not cause Him to come. The shepherds did not cause Him to come. The angels did not cause Him to come. Mary and Joseph did not cause Him to come. Santa Claus and the Little Drummer Boy didn’t cause Him to come. No, in the Eternal Counsel of the Trinity, before the Creation existed, the Son willingly gave Himself to become the God-Man and carry out the Will of His Father.

God is the One to be thanked. God is the One to be praised. Let us thank God for the Incarnation. Let us praise God for sending His Son. Let us give Him the highest thanks and the highest praise. Let us make His Name glorious. Let us tell others that the stimulation of the economy is not the reason for Christmas. Maybe it is a reason behind the “holiday season,” but it’s not the reason for Christmas. We celebrate because God kept His Word and sent Jesus to save God’s people.

“And on earth”

This Good News is for – in verse ten – “all the people” – for those “on earth.” This Good News is not for the angels, though they rejoice in it. This Good News is for humans – which is why God became a human and not a frog or a tree. This Good News is for all types of people – not just the Jews, but every type of person – Jews and Gentiles. This is Good News for every person and every type of person who believes in Jesus Alone for Salvation.

“Peace”

This is not the peace that the world gives. This is not the world-wide peace that we pray for. This is not merely a peace that is experienced in this world. This is peace with God. As Paul writes, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11, ESV).

This is a peace that begins in this world when we believe savingly in Jesus Alone, but it is a peace that is not fully experienced until we are received into the Kingdom. There, all who have believed in Jesus Alone for their salvation will know eternal and utter peace in and with God. There will be no more sin or pain or suffering. All will be in God and for God and with God.

“Among those with whom he is pleased!”

Or as the pew translation has it, “among those whom he favors.”

The Good News – the Incarnation of God – Jesus being born that first Christmas – is Good News that makes us at peace with the One and Almighty God. And this Good News should cause us to respond through praising and thanking God. But we also understand that if some are pleasing to God – if some are favored by God – there are others who are not pleasing – there are others who are not favored. There are those who do not find God becoming a human Good News. There are those who will never desire to be at peace with God.

And that should make us ask, “Why?” Why would anyone turn away from the Only Hope – the Only Salvation that there will ever be? That question brings us back to the first phrase of the angels’ praise, “Glory to God in the highest” – because unless God intervened, none of us would have responded to the Good News.

Paul wrote, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have ben saved through faith. And this [faith] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV).

In the Reformed tradition, we affirm what Paul says and what the angels said – salvation is all of God. If God left us on our own, none of us would ever desire to be right with God. But thanks be to God, for God’s Own Reasons, not because of us, God chose – before He even created – that God would create humanity and that He would chose to make some of us His through the Gift of Jesus.

That’s the theology – that’s what God reveals to us about Himself and what He has done. And we have been saying these weeks that right theology leads to doxology – a right understanding of God leads to praising God. Does the Good News of Jesus being born two thousand years ago make you want to praise God? Does it make you want to tell others?

After the angels praised God, they returned into heaven, and the shepherds went to see the Newborn Son. The went to Bethlehem and met Mary and Joseph and worshiped the Baby Jesus. They told them everything that had happened, and Mary treasured and pondered what they said in her heart. And then the shepherds went back to their fields, but on the way, they glorified and praised God for all they had seen and heard – for the Good News that had been revealed to them – lowly shepherds that they were. Surely they told everyone they came in contact with on the way back – and from then on – “You won’t believe what happened to us You won’t believe what we saw You won’t believe the Good News that has been revealed to us ”

Tomorrow is Christmas day, because a Baby was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. What shall we say about this?

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for revealing the Good News of Jesus to us. Thank You for causing us to understand and believe and for giving us the Reason to praise You. May we never forget or find ourselves embarrassed to confess You before others. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Review: "Di**: a User's Guide"

Di**: a User’s Guide, by Dr. Michele Moore and Dr. Caroline de Costa is a popular, but not vulgar, explanation of the physiology and function of male genitalia. In their very readable work, they discuss how everything should work and problems – of disease, genetics, and injury – that would impede function.

For the lay person desiring to understand how male genitalia works – or why it is not working – this is a very helpful primer. The one caveat I would give is that some Christians (and others who hold to regulations about sexuality) may be off put by their not taking a moral stand on what a person does sexually – and they blatantly state that it is not their purpose in this book to address moral issues – only to talk about function and dysfunction. That being said, for its intent, this is a very helpful book.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Eve Worship

Join us for our Christmas Eve worship this Thursday (D.V.) at 7PM. Rejoice and give thanks for the Incarnate One!

Review: "The Face On Your Plate"

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is a compassionate and passionate writer – one cannot help but be pulled in and touched by his lyrical works. In this book, The Face On Your Plate: the Truth About Food. Masson looks at the problems of eating animals, but concentrates his work in exposing the suffering the animals usually experience in our American system of food production.

People tend not to think about what a hamburger is, for example, or how it got from the animal to the bun, but it is something that should concern all people, especially Christians. How so? In Genesis 1:28, humans are given the responsibility to have dominion over the animals. This does not mean as some have argued, that humans can do whatever they please with animals. What the word dominion means (in this context) is that humans are to care for the animals in the same what that God does. We are God’s stewards of the creation, so we are to steward as He would and does.

Does that mean it is unethical to eat animals? There is nothing in the Bible that says it is morally wrong to eat animals. In fact, humans are given permission, after sin enters the world, to eat animals. There is good medical reason to conclude that eating animals is not healthy. And there is good evidence – as exhibited in this book – to show that animals are being abused on a large scale, for which Christians are called to intervene. And there is good Scriptural evidence that there will be no eating of animals in the Kingdom.

This is all to say, if we are to care for our bodies, and care for the animals – the Creation, we need to do a little more thinking about what is one our plate, how it got there, and what our responsibility is.

Review: "Skinny Bas****"

Skinny Bas**** is Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin’s “male” version of their best-selling book, Skinny Bi*** (see my earlier review of that book). Their new work covers the same material as their earlier one, but it adds information about how animals foods affect the specifically male organs – not well!

Like their previous work, I strongly recommend what they have written – and believe in it. But I do warn the reader that they write in a provocative and shockingly humorous fashion, and if one is not up to the language, pick up one of John Robbins' excellent books.

Re-up

Due to the snowstorm Saturday into Sunday, our Consistory meeting was cancelled. Consistory members, please be prepared to meet this Sunday after worship (D.V.). Thank you!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Zechariah's Song" Sermon: Luke 1:68-79

“Zechariah’s Song”
[Luke 1:68-79]
December 13, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Zechariah was one of the temple priests in the days of Jesus. He was married to Elizabeth, who was the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth was barren – she had never born a child. And now, she and her husband were very old.

Do you pray for difficult things? Do you believe that God is Sovereign and can do anything that we ask Him that is according to His Will? If we believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, why should we not believe that God will give us everything we ask for in Jesus’ Name that is according to His Will? If we believe that God caused a virgin to be with Child, why should we not believe that God will give us everything we ask for in Jesus’ Name that is according to His Will?

I pray for health – even healing – of a disease the doctors don’t know how to cure. I pray that God will continue to use us and this church for many years to come. I pray for family members with mental illness that God would control them and stabilize them and provide for them. I pray for the salvation of those who have heard the Gospel again and again and again yet seem no closer to believing. We pray for those on our prayer list with long and enduring illnesses.

James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave on the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8, ESV).

Zechariah was a priest. He knew his theology. He knew what God had revealed about Himself to humanity. But Zechariah also knew biology – just like Mary, the mother of Jesus did. But unlike Mary, Zechariah reacted differently to the message he received.

Zechariah was serving in the temple when the angel, Gabriel, appeared to him and told him that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son and that they were to name their son, John. Gabriel said that the child would be great, he would be filled with God the Holy Spirit while he was yet in the womb, he would come in the power of Elijah – that prophet of the Old Testament that so exhibited the power and holiness of God, he would encourage repentance across all strati of society, and he would make the people ready for the coming of God the Savior.

This was extraordinary news – praiseworthy news – news that Zechariah would have been looking for and praying for and preaching as a priest in the temple. But how did he respond? “Right. No, I am old, and my wife is advanced in years.”

And Gabriel answered him, “Do you know who you are talking to? I am the angel, Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God. I was sent to you by God to give you good news. But since you didn’t believe my message, you will be mute until the day that the child is born and you see that everything I have said will be fulfilled.”

Zechariah came out of the temple, and he was mute. He went home and wrote what had happened on a tablet and showed it to Elizabeth, and she believed, saying, “‘Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people’” (Luke 1:25, ESV).

Now, when the time came and Elizabeth gave birth to a son, all the neighbors and friends gathered around her and rejoiced. On the eighth day, they brought the boy to the temple to be circumcised. And Elizabeth was asked what they were naming the child. And she said, “John.”

The friends and relatives who were there said, “No, there is no one in your family named, ‘John,’ you have to give him the name of someone in your family, as is the custom of the Jews.”

But Elizabeth insisted, so they asked Zechariah, and he wrote on a tablet, “His name is ‘John’” (Luke 1:63b, ESV). And at that moment, Zechariah’s tongue was let loose, and he began to praise God. Word spread throughout Judea of what had happened, and the people wondered, “What then will this child be?”

That brings us to the song of praise that Zechariah prophesied that we heard this morning. Zechariah was filled with God the Holy Spirit, and he gave the answer to the questions that had been whispered among the people for the nine months that he was unable to speak:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,”

Zechariah begins by praising God, blessing God, responding appropriately to the good news he received – the way he should have when he first heard from Gabriel. That’s something we tend to forget. Even if we are good at praying for people and things, we tend to forget to give thanks when God answers “yes” to our prayers and grants us our petitions. If you are praying for someone or something, why not write down the name or a phrase so you will remember, and then when God has answered, give thanks and praise to God. It will not always be as easy when the answer from God is “no,” but we should respond to what God answers to us.

And let us say more than just “thank You, God,” say why. Zechariah thanked God because he now understood that God had come to earth through the line of David, in the Person of a human being to redeem His people. Through incarnating, God has become the strength of our salvation. And we understand now that it is Jesus Who is God Incarnate. He is the “horn of salvation” – that is, Jesus is the strength of our salvation. Jesus is God become Man. He is the One Who accomplishes our salvation. That was reason for Zechariah to give thanks and praise God.

“As [God] spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;”

When the prophets spoke of being saved from our sins, they meant more that the daily offering of animal sacrifices by the priests. The author of Hebrews explains throughout his book that the fulfillment of the sacrificial system is found in Jesus. No more blood sacrifices are necessary, because Jesus offered up Himself as the Perfect Sacrifice and saved us from the Wrath of God and all our enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil. So, salvation is not merely temporal – for a day, or for this life, even – but salvation in Jesus is eternal.

“To show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham,”

Why does Zechariah say that God was merciful in keeping the covenant? What covenant is Zechariah talking about? After Abram was blessed by Melchizedek, “...the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believe the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

“And he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought your out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall posses it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ And he brought him all of these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

“As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete’

“When the sun went down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hitties, the Perizzites, the Raphain, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites’” (Genesis 15:1-21, ESV).

When God passed through the divided animals, He was symbolically promising that if God did not keep His Promise to Abram, God would be torn apart like the animals He walked through. It was custom that both parties making such a treaty would walk through the animals, but only God did. God was merciful to Abram and his spiritual descendants because God knew we could not keep the covenant. Paul explains the depths to which we fell:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among which we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV).

So, we understand that God’s Mercy towards us is out of God’s Goodness Alone, not out of anything in us. And why does Zechariah say God shows us this mercy – all we who are spiritual decedents of Abraham?

“To grant us that we, being delivered from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all of our days.”

God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ that we would be delivered from God’s Wrath and all our enemies – the enemies we find in the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are the three categories of enemies – those people who seek ill for us, our sinful nature which leads us to lust after things and people, and the devil – who thinks he can hurt God by hurting us. In Jesus and through the Power of the Holy Spirit, we are forgiven and delivered from all of these.

So we can serve God without fear. Without fear of what or whom? Without fear of others. If we are following God, it doesn’t matter what other people think. Because people will tell us what they think. They will tell us that Jesus is not the Only Way, they will tell us that all religions are the same, they will tells us that they think we do and don’t do for Jesus’ Sake are dumb, or legalistic, or no one else follows that – they will try to goad us into sinning. Amen?

And we are now to serve God in holiness and righteousness. In Jesus and through the Power of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us, we can serve God in faith – we can refrain from sin and follow God believing everything that He has promised. And we can do those things that God has commanded us to do, including loving our neighbor, which means doing everything we can to make our neighbor’s lives better. We ought to cultivate the practice of doing things to help others – not looking for thanks or recognition – just because it is a way that we show that God has saved us and is working in us.

Understand, if you do something for someone else – especially if you do it anonymously, there’s a pretty good chance that the devil will stir up the person you helped to complain about never being helped or that you never do anything for them or that you always do things against them. It’s happened to me – I have done something anonymously and someone has complained to me about how I don’t do anything – and a part of me rages and wants to say, “Well, I did this and this and this ” But we have to squelch that, remembering that if we do everything we ought to do and refrain from everything we ought not do, we have only done our duty. Did you hear me? If we do everything we ought to do and refrain from everything we ought not do, we have only done our duty. Should we be thankful for and to each other – of course. But we shouldn’t be looking for thanks, because the best we do is what is expected of us.

Then Zechariah affirms what Gabriel told him about his son, John: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give the knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God,”

We know this is the truth of history: John the Baptist was the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus to come, bringing salvation for His people, in the Mercy of God. Do our friends and family know that we are celebrating more than the coming of Santa Claus this season? Do they know our “good cheer” is for more than just the hopes of the presents we will receive?

John prepared the way for Jesus’ first Advent. We are now called, as the Church, to prepare the way for Jesus’ Second Advent. He is coming again – not as the Little Baby – but as the Almighty King and Sovereign God. From Adam to Jesus’ birth on earth, the prophets proclaimed for four thousand years that the Savior is coming. Jesus came two thousand years ago, and since then, from pulpits and the mouths of every Christian, we have said Jesus is coming again. He is coming again. We must tell people that He has come and He is coming again.

“Whereby the sunshine shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Isaiah prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with the joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in
battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:2-7, ESV).

If you have doubted the Promises of God – the Word of God – believe, and God will loose your tongue in praise like He loosed Zechariah’s. The Promises of God are True and Sure. Everything God has promised will occur, and everything we ask in Jesus’ Name, according to His Will, He will grant. Our God is the Great and Sovereign God. He is the Only God Who can save us. He is the Only God we can trust. He promised to come as our Savior, and He did. He promised to send John to prepare the way, and He did. In Jesus, we are forgiven for our sins and credited with Jesus’ Righteousness. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, if we are following God, we are doing the right thing.

Let us live for this Savior God sent. Let us open our mouths and tell others that the Promises of God and – especially – the Promise of a Savior – is True – He is the Reason for Christmas. Let us serve Him faithfully and do everything we can to make our neighbors’ lives better – especially by telling them that Jesus has come and will come again. Because there is a world full of people out there who are sitting in the darkness, waiting to hear the Good News – waiting to see the Light.

Let us not be mute when God has put this Great Truth in our mouths.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You have come to us in the Person of Jesus, giving us eternal salvation. We confess that we have doubted Your Promises, and we ask that you would give us confidence to live for You and to speak up for You – to let others know that deliverance from darkness only comes through the Light of Jesus Christ. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Review: "God's Alphabet for Life"

My niece recently turned seven, and my brother told me that she is taking after me in her love for reading, so I decided to buy her a book. I also wanted it to be something to assist in her Christian upbringing. With that in mind, I picked up a copy of God’s Alphabet for Life by Joel Beeke and Heidi Boorsma.

This book, rightly aged for four to nine year olds, is a collection of twenty-six alphabetical devotions with Scriptures. Each chapter begins with a verse and then spend about three pages, in larger print, explaining, directly to the child reading, what the Scripture is about.

The authors teach the value of the human soul and present a plain teaching of salvation. They also cover the general topics of submitting to and loving God. At the end of the book, there are additional Scriptures that one might memorize – especially the older children.

I thought this would be a wonderful book for my niece, and I would like to get additional copies to give to youth I encounter. It is an excellent and memorable way to introduce the Gospel and to get parents and/or care-takers involved in the spiritual education of children

Review: "Dead Wrong"

I needed a break, so I picked up another Father Koesler mystery, Dead Wrong, by William X. Kienzle. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this is an excellent series, written by a former Roman Catholic priest, and there is always an involvement of Roman theology, which is interesting to me.

This novel begins thirty years ago, when a handsome young man asks a girl out and kills her. Thirty years later, Father Koesler is contacted by one of Chicago’s wealthiest businessmen, who is nearing the end of his life. His son, who is considered a “super-Catholic,” has been committing adultery with the daughter of Koesler’s cousin, and the businessman wants this stopped – but not entirely for the reasons the good Father thinks.

There is no escaping the past – the truth will always come out, even if it waits until the Judgement Day. The question Koesler has to answer is whether or not there is such a thing as holy vengeance among humans. And if one commits vengeance – holy or otherwise – is one eternally banned from the Sacrament of Holy Communion?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Review: "The Crusades"

One of the books I read for teaching on the Crusades was Hans Eberhard Mayer’s The Crusades. This book was recommended on Ligonier.org.

Unlike other volumes I looked at for this series, Mayer does not “simply” present the Crusades as successive wars, but he divides his chapters, beginning after the Third Crusade, alternating back and forth between the Crusade – that is the battle – and the Crusader States (etc.) – in these chapters, he looks at what happened in the areas conquered and lost between the actual battles. This added a clarity and interesting understanding that I have not found in other volumes.

Mayer also presents the good and the bad about all sides in the Crusades. He shows the reasoning – or lack of reasoning – behind each Crusade, and the reasoning for the responses that were generated. This proves to be a superior look at the Crusades rather than the oft “bad Christians” or “evil Muslims” perspective.

Mayer’s work is scholarly, but not overwhelming; detailed, yet very readable. He includes maps, and an extensive bibliography of scholarly sources, as well as extensive notes. This is an excellent work to help one begin to understand a very difficult and confusing period of time, both in history and in the Church.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Review: "Let Go: Live Free of the Burdens All Women Know"

My latest review for Thomas Nelson is of Sheila Walsh’s book, Let Go: Live Free of the Burdens All Women Know. Please check out the promotional information on the Thomas Nelson site at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=0849901359&title=Let-Go&author=Sheila-Walsh.

Although I am not a woman, I believed I could read this book and gain something from it; I have known Sheila Walsh for her passionate music for Christ and the gospel, and I looked forward to finding the same in her book. Sheila is passionate, and she has a good message, but her book is severely flawed.

The gist of her book is that, as believers in Christ Alone for salvation, we are able to forgive ourselves through Christ’s forgiveness and we are able to see ourselves as persons of value through the value of Christ and the righteousness that He imputes to us. This is excellent and much needed to be heard – by women – and by men.

However, as I have complained in other books, most of the Scripture quotations come from The Message. This is not a translation, but a paraphrase, and while there may be a good reason to use and read from a paraphrase from time to time, it is at best sub-standard, and at worst errant, to use a paraphrase when trying to prove a point from the Scripture.

Two examples of this, which may or may not be just because she is working from a paraphrase, are the following:

On page 42, Walsh explains the history of Abraham and Sarah giving him her servant, Hagar, to bear a child. She comments on how we might find this immoral today, which we should. But then she goes on to say that since Abraham was before the Ten Commandments, he followed the acceptable laws of his day, such as the Code of Hammurabi, which explains this as an acceptable practice.

This, of course, is ridiculous. Genesis 2:24 states that God only allows for one man and one woman to be together as one flesh. Abraham sinned and he knew it – he folded to the sin and the desires of his wife. Neither of them trusted in the promise of God.

There is also a general proposing that “God accepts us just as we are,” which is not true. We are born sinners, enemies of God, whom God cannot accept. It is only through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus that we can be accepted. I know that Walsh believes that, but it is not what comes through her book.

I am sorry to say that despite her passion and good intentions, I cannot recommend this book. Walsh would do well to work with a theologian on her next book and to use a good translation, not a paraphrase, when writing.

[This review is posted on my blog and Amazon.com]

Sunday, December 06, 2009

"Mary's Song" Sermon: Luke 1:46-55

“Mary’s Song”
[Luke 1:46-55]
December 6, 2009 Second Reformed Church

We continue to look at the songs of the Christmas season, and we turn to the song of Mary on this second Sunday of Advent. This song is the response Mary gave to the angel after she understood what God had planned for her – as much as she could have understood. She had been told, after all, that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Savior of Israel, Who was none other than God Himself.

In the verses preceding this morning’s reading, we are told that the angel Gabriel visited Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. We are told that Elizabeth was now old and she was barren – she and her husband Zechariah did not have any children. Yet, Gabriel came with news that she would conceive, and, in fact, she did. And in the sixth month of her conception, we are told that the angel visited Mary.

We are not told what form the angel Gabriel visited in. By looking at Mary’s response, it seems her fear and trouble came from what he said and not from how he looked, so we can assume that he appeared in human form – we know from the Scripture that angels in their natural form are awesome and startling – possibly, fearsome – looking creatures.

So, Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she was favored by the Lord – the God of Israel – that she had been chosen to bear the Savior of Israel, Who will be the Son of God, and reign eternally on the throne of David.

Being a righteous Jewish woman, she knew and believed the promise that was given amidst the cursing of Adam, Eve, the serpent, and the Creation, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV). It was understood that the was the Promise of God that He would send a Savior, born of a woman, Who would deliver God’s people from slavery to sin and Satan. Mary was not surprised that she could be the one to bear the Savior. She does not seem particularly surprised that she is favored of the Lord or that the Savior would be the Son of God. What surprises her is that the angel was telling her that she would be with child when she had never had physical relations with a man – she was a virgin in the true biological sense.

Mary understood biology, and she didn’t understand how this could happen without a physical relationship with a man. (That’s why many people today say that this is mythology, or she was young, but not really a virgin.)

Gabriel was ready for this objection and told Mary that God the Holy Spirit would cause her to conceive by His Power, and the child within her would be holy, the Son of God. And as a sign that these things would come to pass, Gabriel told her to go and visit her cousin Elizabeth – the old woman whom was always known to be barren – because she was now in the sixth month of her conception – because nothing will be impossible with God.

Mary humbled herself and received the will of God, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And Gabriel left. And Mary went off to see Elizabeth, and she found everything Gabriel had told her to be true. Elizabeth and the child within her recognized – by the Holy Spirit – what had happened and Who the Child was that Mary now carried. Elizabeth blessed Mary and her Child, and she asked why the mother of God had come to her – the word “Lord” in this text refers to God. Elizabeth told Mary that the child within her recognized Mary’s Child and leapt for joy. (The sixth month old in Elizabeth’s womb recognized the, perhaps, weeks old Child in Mary’s womb. A child exists from the moment of conception.) And Elizabeth again blessed Mary for believing the Word of the Lord.

And Mary, having understood her theology – having understood God and His Word and what He was accomplishing in her – broke out in doxology – in praise to God, as we heard this morning:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;”

Do you think Mary was being a little arrogant? All generations will call her blessed? How humble was it for her to think that she would be remembered and blessed? Wasn’t it her Son Who was the Center of what was occurring in her?

There is a fine line to be walked. Let us understand: God says that Mary was humble and that she was blessed, and as the mother of God, it was right for her to believe that she would be remembered as such. That is not arrogance – that is believing in God and His Word. The Roman Catholic Church goes to an unbiblical extreme and worships Mary along with Jesus. That is wrong – it is sinful. Mary was merely a human being like us. She is not to be worshiped. Yet, some Protestant Churches almost seem to despise Mary and not want to mention her at all. That is wrong – that is sinful. Mary was the chosen and blessed mother of God, someone we ought to emulate in her humility and obedience.

We ought also recognize that it was right for her to rejoice in her being blessed, because she rejoiced in being blessed as part of what God had done for her. Every one of us who has believed in Jesus Alone for salvation is blessed. We should rejoice and give thanks that God has blessed us in choosing and saving us from our sin and the Wrath of God. I am blessed; you are blessed. We should acknowledge that and give thanks and rejoice in it. We have every reason to be joy-filled and to spread that joy to others. We have no excuse to look and act like we have been sucking on lemons. Look at what you are compared with what you could be – especially as a son or daughter of God – a brother and sister of Jesus Christ – how can we not magnify the Lord with Mary? How can we not rejoice in God our Savior?

“For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.”

Our God – the God of Mary – is the Mighty God – He is the Holy God. He is the God Who has done great things for us. Has God every done anything for you? In times of personal and national tragedy, we hear people cry out, “Where was God? Where was God?” Have we forgotten the Garden of Eden? Have we forgotten that every evil that occurs on the earth has been brought to us by ourselves? Before Adam and Eve sinned, there was no sin in the world. We brought it into the world. And yet – we have life. We have love. We have joy. And even if we find a way to strike down everything we could possibly think of as a great thing that God has done for us, we have the Greatest Thing – that Little Baby that Mary carried – that Greatest of All Things – sent for us and our salvation. When everything else is wrong, is not Jesus Great?

Our God is a God Who delights in showing His Strength – in showing that He is the God of all things. He is not some god who set the earth in motion and walked away. No, ours is the God Who is intimately involved with every person and every moment of history, working all things according to His Plan, and for the good of those who love Him (cf. Romans 8:28). Our God shows His Mercy to us from generation to generation. Until the day that He returns, there will be people chosen out of all the world to be His sons and daughters. He will save from each generation as it pleases Him to save.

Our God is the God Who knows the thoughts of every human being. God is not ignorant – He knows everything. God shows His strength in His time by scattering the proud in heart. The proud will not always stand and put down the poor and the needy – the humble and the godly. And understand, we can be rich and proud and poor and proud. God is not talking about what money we have, but the attitude of our hearts. Although, in this country, it seems that we do easily become prideful about what we have – “he who dies with the most toys wins,” so they say. Or, we become proud because we’re not one of the “fat cats.” Pride is insidious and can affect anyone. And God will knock us down if we become prideful.

In this country we fight fierce and disgusting battles to get our candidates in power, but Mary understood that it is God Who puts kings in power and removes them from power. As Daniel said, “[God] changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:21-22, ESV). And Paul reminds us of the same thing: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement” (Romans 13:1-2, ESV). Politicians come and go, but our God Who sovereignly installs and uses each of them rules forever.

Our God exalts the humble. Mary is a wonderful example of this – a young girl, engaged to marry a carpenter – God exalted her by causing her to become the mother of God. God could have chosen to have the Savior born in the king’s palace – that’s what the magi expected when they came looking for Him. But God chose a young, unknown girl, someone who knew the Word of God and submitted to it – receiving and accepting whatever came from God’s Hand.

Remember this account: “Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to [Jesus] with her sons, and keeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one on your right hand and one on your left, in your kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink from the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those whom it has been prepared by my Father.’ And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’” (Matthew 20:20-28, ESV).

It is this type of passage that caused the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, to say that Christianity is the religion of the weak and women. He didn’t get it. Jesus’ cousin, the son of Elizabeth, did understand. When he was questioned he answered, “‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease’” (John 3:27-30, ESV). The followers of Christ are exalted in Him as we humbled ourselves and exalt Him – just as Mary did.

Mary said that God fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty. Let us be careful. Mary is not merely talking about money. God has blessed some Christians with money. Money itself is not evil. What Mary is saying is that those who come to God knowing that they are in need, whether it be for daily bread or other needs, God will fill those needs. But those who come to God believing that they don’t need anything, God sends away with what they want – nothing. Remember that Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees for eating with the tax collectors and other sinners, and Jesus said, ‘”Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9:12b-13, ESV). God bids us come, knowing that we are in need of Him. If we deny we need Him, what should we expect from Him?

Mary ends her song, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” God had promised the elderly Abraham and Sarah a child, and “God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my kingdom with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him’” (Genesis 17:19, ESV). God had promised Abraham that God would make a people of him and through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. What Abraham did not understand is that God’s blessing of Israel was not merely to a landmass or a biological people, as Paul explained, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are 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” (Romans 9:6b-8, ESV). In other words, those to whom God is merciful and helps are those who believe in Him and His Savior by faith – no matter what their biology.

In Mary’s song, the Magnificat, as it is known, we learn:

God has blessed all those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation, and we are right to consider ourselves blessed by God and to give Him all the glory for our salvation.

Everything we have and are that is good has been given to us by God, especially our salvation, so we always have reason to give God thanks and to praise.

God has called us to a life a humility and service – a life that shows how great He is. In the end, it is those who sincerely, truthfully, live that type of life, that God will exalt in His Kingdom.

God wants us to understand that He is the Source of all good things, and if we have needs, He will fill them day by day. But if we come to Him believing that we have all that we need, He will send us away empty.

And we learn that God has called a people for Himself, and all those whom He has called will believe in Him. People from every tribe and nation and language will come to faith in Jesus Christ Alone through the Mercy and Eternal Plan of God – and by no other means.

Let us rejoice. Let us give thanks. Let us bow down before our Lord and God.

As we receive the bread and the cup of the sacrament, let us come to it believing that we are called to receive the elements by Jesus, as His brothers and sisters. Let us come believing that we need to receive these elements – to commune with Jesus – to receive His Grace – to receive strength to accomplish all that He has set before us. And let us come desiring that He would receive all the glory – in this supper, in this worship, in all that we do as we leave this place, and throughout all of eternity.

Let us pray,
Almighty God, we thank You for the teaching in the song of Mary. We thank You for choosing her and giving her as an example of righteous and humble living for us. We ask that You would make us more like Mary in the ways that she was like Your Son, Jesus. Let our joy be service to You for Your Glory. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

December Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

12/6/09 Communion/Advent 2 Luke 1:46-55 "Mary's Song"

12/13/09 Advent 3 Luke 1:68-79 “Zechariah’s Song”

12/20/09 Advent 4 Luke 2:13-14 “The Angel’s Song”

12/24/09 Christmas Eve 7PM Luke 2:29-32 “Simeon’s Song”

12/27/09 Revelation 5:1-14 “Worthy is the Lamb”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"The Word Became Flesh" Sermon: John 1:1-18

“The Word Became Flesh”
[John 1:1-18]
November 29, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Today is the first Sunday of Advent – the beginning of the Christmas season. If the Lord is willing, the six sermons I will preach during this season will be about the “songs of Christmas.” (Though that is not entirely true, since this first sermon isn’t taken from a song in the Scripture, but the other five sermons will look at songs that were sung.)

The Christmas season is especially a season of singing, as opposed to the season of “ordinary time,” for example. With the exception, perhaps, of the Easter season, the Christmas season stands as a season when we respond to what has occurred – and what happened because of what occurred – with singing.

We might say that our singing is an emotive expression of our belief. It is true theology as doxology. It is the Truth of God as praise to God. In our best hymns – and certainly in the Scripture – we are expressing the Truth of God with all that we are – our hearts and minds and souls and bodies – in singing.

Let’s pretend for a moment that this morning’s text is a song, and let us look at it as three verses and an interlude:

In the first “verse,” verses one through five, John tells us that the Word was in the beginning. Before time and space were created, the Word existed – this Person, the Word, existed. And as we might then expect, John tells us that the Word was with God. The Word existed in the same, non-material realm, as God, before space and time were created. And, John tells us, the Word created everything that is. The Word gave life to everything that is. And the Word is the light to humanity which the darkness cannot overcome.

John is using categories and language that the Greeks of his day would have loved. God exists and the Word exists. These Two (at least) exist before time and space, and the Word created, enlivened, and sustains everything that is.

Can you picture what it would be like to be outside of time and space, before anything that exists in the created world existed? Don’t worry if you can’t – I can’t – we are beings who have always lived within time and space. We can understand the concept that God and the Word lived outside and before time and space. But what does that look like? Our minds are not big enough to wrap around this.

Yet, if we can begin to approach this idea – that God and the Word lived outside of time and space before the Creation, wouldn’t it occur to us to see God and the Word as mighty? Would we not think, perhaps, that God and the Word ought to be worshiped for creating and giving and sustaining life? Doesn’t the very idea of God and the Word make us look at ourselves and begin to see how small we are, and make us want to be on the right side of God and the Word? Doesn’t this very idea made us stop in awe and wonder of God and the Word?

Besides being mighty and pre-existent of all of the Creation and the Giver of Life, what are God and the Word like? Are They all-good? Can we interact with Them, and if so, how? What do They want from us? With these types of questions looming before us, how trivial have we made life, centering it around a glowing box, watching people argue about “who my baby’s daddy?” or who might be responsible if we give our credit card to our boyfriend or girlfriend with no restrictions. I am becoming more and more concerned that most people can’t tell the difference between the significant and the insignificant – what is important and what is trivial.

In verses six through eight, we have an interlude where John introduces us to John the Baptist – a man who was sent by God to be a witness to the light – the light that shines from the Word. John the Baptist was sent as a herald – one to announce the light of the Word. John the Baptist was sent to make sure the people knew that there is a difference between the light and the darkness – there are things that come from the Word and there are things that come from some other place. John the Baptist functioned in the role of the prophet – a person who was called to announce news from God. And what news he had to announce!

In the second “verse,” verses nine through thirteen, John tells us that John the Baptist was given the call to announce that the Word was coming into the world. This One Who existed with God from before the beginning – before time and space and the created order – He was coming to the very earth that He created.

And it was revealed to John that Baptist what the result would be: the Word would come to the earth that He created, and they would not know Him. He would come among the very people that He called a people for Himself – that means that this Word must be the God of Abraham, Who called him out of the land of Ur to make him a people for God – He would come among the very people that He raised up through Abraham, but they wouldn’t recognize Him. How could they not recognize Him? If they were in a relationship with Him – if He was their God – how could they come face to face with the One they had been in fellowship with for hundreds and thousands of years and have no idea Who He was?

The only answer we can give is that they didn’t know Him. They were in a relationship with a creator of their own inventing, not the One Who had called them and sustained them from Ur to Canaan. If we close our eyes to what God has told us about Himself and the Word and what He expects of us, eventually, we will come up with someone quite different from the One Who is Real.

I have been taken aback at the number of times people have said to me in the past few months, “I know the Bible says that, but....” But? “I know you told me not to put the dog in the microwave, mommy, but she was cold.” “Oh well, kids will be kids.” “I know you told me not to key your car, but making scratches in the paint was fun, daddy.” “Oh well, kids will be kids.” “I know you told me what You are like and what You expect, God, but I decided I preferred to do this.” “Oh well, humans will be humans.” Really?

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The Word is Merciful and Gracious. He came into His world to His people, and many of them did not recognize Him because, even though they called themselves believers in Him, they believed in someone or something else. But, the Word said that all who receive Him – anyone who will receive Him – any person – no matter if they are part of the chosen people or not – no matter what their background or history or family or sin – anyone – anyone – Who receives Him and recognizes Him as Who He is – the Word – all of these shall be His adopted children.

How amazing is this? The Word condescended to humanity in His Mercy and Grace and opened the Way to Him for every type of person that will ever be. There is no type of person that cannot be saved – reconciled – made right with the Word. When you or I first heard that Good News, it would seem right that we would ask, “How? What must I do? How many sacrifices? How many good works?”

But we are told, “No. No. No. Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” In other words, there is nothing that anyone can do or give to the Word to become a son or daughter of God. We cannot choose or will or make ourselves sons or daughters of God. God wills the person to become a child of God; it is wholly and completely God’s Choice and God’s Work.

That means that no one who is a child of God has the right or ability to be a snob about it. In fact, we ought to find ourselves grateful and utterly humbled that God chose to make us His children for whatever reason He has. There is no, “I’m better than you,” in the household of God. There is only, “Why me, Lord? Why did You choose me?” Because the crack using prostitute on the streets of Irvington may well be the one God has chosen to be His child, while God has left behind the honest businessman that we meet at the club. We don’t know. It’s God’s choice. But let us beware and not assume, because we will surely be surprised on that final day. But it is the Will of God.

The third “verse,” verses fourteen through eighteen: John tells us that the Word did not merely come into the world, but the Word became flesh. The One Who created the Creation became enfleshed and lived among His creatures. And those Who recognized Him not merely to be a human being but the Word Incarnate – the Word Made Flesh – those whom God had chosen to become children of God – those also saw something of the glory of the Word, Who is also the Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

(It was part of John the Baptist’s proclamation that the Word Become Flesh was not merely a real human being, though He is, but He is also the One Who was before and greater than he.)

Then we are told Who the Word Incarnate is – having given the children of God grace upon grace. Because the Law was given through Moses – it is through the Law that we understand that we are all sinners – unable to make ourselves right with God – and that we are condemned by the same Law for our sin. But grace and truth came through Jesus Christ – the solution to our problem with God came through the Word Incarnate – in the Person of Jesus Christ – the Little Baby that we remember and look forward to celebrating at this time every year. Jesus Christ, the younger cousin of John the Baptist, Whom John understood existed before he did and was in fact His Creator, the Word – the One Who brings the Truth that the children of God are God’s by God’s Will, not ours – we can do nothing to make ourselves right with God.

Are you overwhelmed yet? So often on the TV we hear preachers say that Jesus loves us and came that we could be healthy, wealthy, and wise, if we would just reach out and believe and actualize our potential – blah, blah, blah. That is not the Gospel. That is not the Good News. The Good News is that although humanity blew it through sin – although we separated ourselves from God and put ourselves under the condemnation of the Law, the Word chose, for God’s Own Reasons, to Incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ to make all those who will believe right with God – and we know He did that through His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.

That’s what the prophets said would happen. That’s what John tells us happened. That’s what the whole Scripture tells us. All the same, without contradiction. This is the One Way to God. These first verses of John’s Gospel are some of the most profound and mind-boggling words. But we still have verse eighteen:

“No one has ever seen God;” – that’s because God is a Spirit – God does not have a physical body – He cannot be seen with human eyes. And we are told in numerous Scriptures that if we were to view to glory of God – since we are sinners – we would die.

“The only God,” – and let us not forget – there is Only One God. All other gods are false gods. Any who teach another god besides God – even if they use the word, “god” – are either misled or trying to mislead you. And we believe in One God – not three, as some have misunderstood – there is Only One God.

“The only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Now, we understand that God is the Father – John’s original audience would have understood that too. Who, then, is the Only God, who is at the Father’s side? The Word – the Son – the Word Who Became Flesh – Jesus Christ. Here we understand that there is One God, and God exists as the Father and the Son, and the Son is the Word Who became Flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ. So, Jesus Christ is the One God.

And since the Word became Flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ – since the Son remained Wholly God, even as He became a real human being, as well – humans could see God and know Him in the flesh. Jesus – among other things – made it possible for humans to see God and live – both in His time on earth – and eternally for all those who would believe in Him.

Can you imagine what is was like for Jesus and the apostles? “Hi, my name is Peter, and this is God in the Flesh, Jesus.” Can you imagine, after the Resurrection, the apostles and disciples coming to understand the fulness of why the Word became Flesh? Do you understand why the Word became Flesh?

That’s the whole point of the Christmas season. That’s why we celebrate the birth of This Baby. That’s why we give gifts.

After Jesus began His ministry, He came to John the Baptist to be baptized, and as He approached John the next day, John saw Him and said, “‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:29b-34, ESV).

This is God the Son – the Word become Flesh. He is our Only Hope, our Salvation, the Only Way to become right with God. He is the Reason for the season of Christmas.

Consider these opening verses of the Gospel of John and be honest with yourself about whether you have seen His Light and become a child of God. If you have, your life ought to be joy-filled and different from the world, ought it not? If you have not believed, look at Him – look at the testimony that is borne about Him – see that grace and truth come through Jesus Christ – weight the evidence, and respond.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for coming to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. We thank You that You have made some of us Your children by Yourself and for Your own reasons. Thank You for Your Grace – for Your Salvation – for making us to understand that You came to earth that first Christmas. May we sing Your praise and glory forevermore. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"We Always Thank God" Sermon: Colossians 1:3-14

“We Always Thank God”
[Colossians 1:3-14 ]
November 15, 2009

Paul opens his letter to the Christians at Colossae by telling them, “we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.” Do you find that true of yourself? Do you find yourself always giving thanks to God for the people of this church? This morning as we celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday, I would like us to look at Paul’s thanks for the Colossians and have us find four reasons we ought to be giving thanks for each other in prayer and three things that we ought to be praying for each other.

Paul begins by telling the Colossian Christians that they always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for them because they have faith in Jesus Christ. Why would Paul do that? For two reasons – because faith in Jesus Christ comes from God and because we, like the angels, ought to rejoice in the salvation of a brother of a sister.

Paul tells us in that well-known passage, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV). Anyone who believes in Jesus – anyone who has faith in Jesus – was given that faith and belief by God. It was a gift of God, not something that they – or you or I – could come up with ourselves. So, we ought to give thanks for that gift of faith, not just for ourselves, but for all those who believe – even those in this church.

And Jesus reminds us, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, ESV). We ought to rejoice and give thanks when a person comes to faith in Christ, and, therefore, we ought to rejoice and give thanks for a person who is a Christian.

That leads to the second reason Paul and his companions always give thanks to God for them: the Christians at Colossae had “love for all of the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” They loved their fellow Christians. Because a person was a Christian, they had love for them. Because we have the same One Savior and the same One Hope in Him for our salvation and our future, they loved them. And we ought to love one another in Christ and give thanks for each other in love as Christians.

Now, I understand that not everyone is the same. Some people “get along” with each other better than other people. Some people we really like, and some people we don’t particularly care for. That is ok. We don’t have to want to spend every hour of our lives with every single person in the Church – in fact, it would be impossible to do so. But we must all love each other – and as we saw last week, love involves action.

As we’ve seen when we have looked at the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, which is the broader idea, when we love our fellow Christians, we are to do everything within our power to make their lives better. That mean that we don’t sin against them. We don’t do things that will hinder them in doing God’s Will. It may mean, if it’s a person we don’t care for, that we stay out of their way.

There are pastors in Classis that I don’t particularly care for as people, and there are pastors in Classis that don’t particularly care for me, but we love each other in Christ – as fellow Christians, and we are civil towards each other and work for the good together, but we don’t go out of our way to be together otherwise. That’s ok. We don’t have to be best friends with every Christian. But we do have to love them and thank God for them. Each one is a person for whom Christ died. For that reason, we are obliged to love them and thank God for them. And for most people that will not be an issue.

Third, Paul and his companions always gave thanks to God for the Colossian Christians because they were bearing fruit. They were living out the Gospel. They were doing the good works that they were called to do in Christ Jesus. People knew that they were Christians and the things they did – the good they did – was done and done in a way that people knew they were Christians. They did good work – honest work – they were fair and didn’t cheat.

The Colossian Christians were known to have the fruit of the Spirit “... love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galatians 5:22b-23a, ESV). Their character was different from the people around them, which showed that they were Jesus’.

Do you work as for God and not merely for men? Do you do the best work you can possibly do and do it in a way that shows the character of Jesus in you? Do we show those we interact with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. And do we thank God when we see these things in our brothers and sisters? We should always be thankful to God when we see such fruit in our fellow Christians.

And fourth, Paul and his companions always gave thanks to God because the Colossians were growing. They were maturing. They were becoming more Christ-like. They were sinning less and living in the way that they had been called to live in Christ all the more. When we notice that someone has matured in the faith, we ought to always give thanks to God.

That is why they always gave thanks to God for them: because of their faith in Christ Jesus, because of their love for all Christians, because they were bearing fruit, and because they were growing. Can the same be said about you and me? I hope so. We ought to have faith in Jesus Christ (and so we are Christians). We ought to love our fellow Christians. We ought to be bearing fruit. And we ought to be growing. And we ought to be thanking God always as we see these things in others.

What, specifically, was Paul praying for these Christians, and what ought we to be praying for each other and all Christians?

First, Paul said that they pray for the Colossian Christians to be “filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

How do we know God’s Will? There are mountains of books on how to determine God’s Will – most of them bad – but we only need one book to determine God’s Will – the Bible. In Paul’s day, they had the scrolls being passed from church to church and copied down, but we now have easy access to everything God has said.

“But the Bible doesn’t tell me who to marry or what job I should pursue,” some will argue.

That’s true: there are lots of things the Bible doesn’t tell us – what shampoo to use, what car to buy, which church to attend, what color clothes look best on us – don’t misunderstand, God does know everything and all that He wants for us, but God has given us what is contained in His Word, with enough commands and principles that we should get along fine if we follow them in spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Where do we get spiritual wisdom and understanding of God’s Word? From God the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).

But again, understand, the Holy Spirit will not bring to remembrance things that you have never heard or read. If you never read the Bible, you won’t have anything for the Holy Spirit to bring to your memory. Likewise, the Holy Spirit will not give you wisdom and understanding of God’s Word if you never read it. When we read the Bible, it sinks into our hearts and minds and the Holy Spirit will help us to understand to us remember it and to apply it with spiritual wisdom.

So, I would ask that you would pray for me – that I would keep reading the Bible – every day. And I would ask that you would pray that the Holy Spirit would help me to understand with spiritual wisdom so I can better serve as your pastor. I make a point of getting up, taking my medications, and then reading my Bible. Please pray that I would keep doing that. There are mornings that I am running late and think about putting it off, but I need to get up and read first, as my priority for my soul and for my service

And so do we all. Let us all pray for each other that we would keep in the Bible, reading every day, so we would better know our God and Savior and what He wants us to know and be and do.

Second, Paul tells them that they are praying that they would then “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

The Bible tells us everything we need to know for life and salvation, and as we read it, the Holy Spirit helps us to understand it and remember it and practically apply it, and this is Paul’s second prayer – for them and for us – that they and we actually live out what God has said in His Word. As we have seen – even last week – it is not enough to know what the Bible says. It’s not enough to know what God has said to do and be. We have to also live it out. We have to do and be what and who God has called us to be – through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit – and when we do that, we will bear fruit – people will be able to see that what we are doing is for God and according to His Will and Ways.

And again, I would ask you to pray for me – that I would conscientiously and systematically put into practice all those things I learn from the Scripture. I want to know God better, and I want to be more and more obedient, having greater joy, and, accordingly, become more holy – until that final day when I am fully changed into the Image of the Son – fully glorified with Him forever.

And we should pray that for each other. If we are truly Christians, we should want to live out everything we come to know about God and His Will for us. So, let us pray that we will learn more of Who God is and what He would have for us, and that through the grace and power that He gives us through the reading and preaching of His Word and through the sacraments, we all will be able to live fruitful and pleasing lives before God, increasing in the knowledge of Him.

And third, Paul tells the Colossian Christians that they were praying that they would be “strengthened according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father.”

Similarly, Paul wrote, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19, ESV).

God desires that we be filled with Him, strengthened by His Grace through the sacraments and the reading and preaching of His Word, that we might accomplish what He has planned for us. As Paul wrote, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

With God, we can endure whatever happens and persevere until the end of this race called life. Through Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can do all that He puts before us, if we trust Him, if we follow Him. And as we rely on Him, we will find we are more patient – with each other – with all people, and we will be filled with the joy that cannot be comprehended by the non-Christian, and we will become a people of thanks, especially of the salvation that we have been given.

Would you pray for me, that I would be strengthened for the work God has given me in this place? That I would follow Him and receive grace from Him here and in other places that I go to worship? That I would become a more patient pastor – trusting all the more on God and His Will rather than merely what my eyes see? That I would be evermore filled with the joy of Christ and never come short of reasons to be thankful to God?

Let us pray these things for each other. We are a church, part of the Body of Christ – a Body that is designed to work together for the glory of our Triune God. Let us all submit ourselves to Him, relying on His strength that we might all endure in patience with joy and have reason after reason to give thanks to our God and Savior.

Do you find yourself always giving thanks to God for the people of this church? May it be so for every one of us, because every Christian in this sanctuary has been saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Every Christian in this sanctuary shows loves to their fellow Christians. Every Christian in this sanctuary is bearing fruit and growing.

But let us not be content: not one of us is perfect. We are still flawed, still sinners, still in need of growing up and mature in the faith. So, let us pray that we all would spend daily time in God’s Word to know Him and His Will, being guided by the Holy Spirit Who lives in us. Let us pray that we would each become doers of the Word and not just hearers – let us live out what we learn in the Scripture. And let us pray that we would each be strengthened through the means that God has given us that we might endure, and become patient, and be filled with joy and thanksgiving.

We above all people have a Reason to be thankful.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, Jesus Christ the Son, and Holy Spirit, we come before the One God to lift up our voices in thanksgiving, because You have chosen to save us for Yourself by Yourself and for Your Own Reasons – may your receive all the glory. Help us to be thankful and prayerful according to the example of Paul and all of your Scripture, and may the Holy Spirit reminds us and instruct us in all these things that we would have Your Joy. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

"Are You Giving God Your Leftovers?" Sermon: I John 3:16-18

“Are You Giving God Your Leftovers?”
[I John 3:16-18]
November 8, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Have you ever heard someone say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” “Nobody does anything without an ulterior motive.” “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” “Quid pro quo.” We are have become a society that expects that if you do something, you should get something, and, conversely, that if you don’t do something for me, I’m not going to do something for you. We do not look to do good for others, not expecting to get anything back from them, and we are shocked when and if someone does something for us when we have not done or promised anything to them.

So, it makes me wonder, “what motivates our giving?” Why do you and I give what we give, when we give it? Making the question about people – about relationships, we might ask, “how do you know someone loves you?”

John tells us, “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us.” John tells us what love is, and he tells us that we understand that Jesus loves us because He laid down His Life for us. He did something that showed us that He loves us. He did something radical – that people don’t just do for someone else.

It’s all the more amazing because we didn’t know we needed someone to lay their life down for us. In fact, we were spiritual dead, unknowing and unable to help ourselves at all: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even while we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV).

And it is even more amazing – not only did Jesus lay His Life down for us – we who were dead and unknowing of our need – we weren’t neutral – we hated God and anything to do with Him: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:1-11, ESV).

In other words, we were dead in our sin, enemies of God, and Jesus showed His Love to us by dying for our sin, raising us from the dead, giving us new life according to His keeping of God’s Law – and not only that, Jesus was not just a mere man. Jesus is fully a human being, but He is also the One Almighty God.

How unexpected is it then, that God would decide to love a people who were dead and hated Him and had nothing to offer Him, still He became a Man, lived, died, rose, and ascended, and promises us eternal life with Him? That’s love, John tells us.

I hope that still amazes you. Sometimes we sing – almost with a yawn in our mouths – “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound! That saved a wretch like me!” Do you believe it? Does it amaze you? If it doesn’t, you either have too high a view of yourself or too low a view of God. God is Holy, Holy, Holy – He cannot have any sin in His Presence. And we are sinners by nature – wretches – until He makes us His.

Think about how we were – what the Scripture tells us about ourselves compared to God. How far we were from what God requires How lost – hopelessly lost Do we begin to glimpse what kind of love that is – that Jesus laid down His Life for us?

Repeat after me: “I was a wretch. But Jesus laid down His Life for me.”

Again: “I was a wretch. But Jesus laid down His Life for me.”

Again: “I was a wretch. But Jesus laid down His Life for me.”

“So we ought to lay down our lives for each other.”

What?

What did you say? We know what love is because Jesus laid down His Life for us, so we ought to lay down our lives for each other.. What does that mean? In real life, most of us won’t ever have the need or opportunity, Lord willing, of physically dying for another person. So what does this really mean for us?

Well, John tells us: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother [or sister] in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” John says that we can practically lay down our lives for each other by providing for each other’s needs. And if we do have enough and we have the ability to help someone meet their needs and we do nothing – that is not love. It means we may not understand what love is.

James writes, “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?” (James 215-16, ESV).

If we say we believe in Jesus, if we say we love Him, if we say we love our fellow Christians (in particular, here), and God has blessed us with more than we need – and God has blessed every single one of us with more than we need of something, then we ought to be willing to give whatever that is, even up to our very lives, to fill another’s need and to glorify God.

Meeting others’ needs is one way we show that we understand the love that Jesus has for us in laying down His Life. True love is more than words. True love brings about action. True love is love in deed. Love has a physical and/or material aspect to it.

As we bring this idea back to Jesus and the Church – remember we started by saying that we understand what love is because Jesus laid His Life down for us – Jesus – the Almighty God Incarnate, laid down His Life for a bunch of dead people that hated Him. Amazing!

How do we physically/materially show our love to Jesus? By loving others, and by giving of ourselves and our blessings to the Church (which is the means by which God chose to spread the Gospel to the whole world – as we are beginning to see in the book of Acts).

Right now, I would like us to consider how we show our love to Jesus – through the Church – with our money. And the obvious way we show our love to Jesus through the Church with our money is by giving money to the Church. Yet, we have often given for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way.

We are not to give to the Church in the same way that we pay any other bill. We ought not to look at our giving to the Church as paying what we owe for the week. For two reasons: first, none of us could ever give enough money to pay God back what we owe for this week – for forgiveness, for love, for life. And second, what we give to the Church is to be our gift, a token of our worship – not something we are compelled to do.

Do not misunderstand: God does require that we give to the Church. God said that our giving is to begin with ten percent of our gross income. That was the Law and that is what Jesus said as well. We are to begin by giving ten percent of our gross income to the Church. And then, as we are led by the Spirit, we are to give more. But it ought to be done cheerfully, willingly, joyfully, not like paying the phone bill or the utility bill.

We are not to give to the Church simply to pay “our share” of the expenses. While is it true that the Church has expenses and most of the money that is given to the Church is given to pay for those expenses, if you look at our church budget, you know you are not paying your share. Our budget is just under $100,000 a year. Our share would be at least $5,000 a year. We are not to give to the Church based on whether or not we liked the pastor’s sermon. I am called to speak the Word of God from this pulpit. If I am not doing that, the elders should correct me. If I am doing that, because we are still sinners, there are things I will say that you will like and things I will say that you will not like, and that is completely irrelevant to our giving. If it is the Word of God it is the Word of God. You are not paying for a show or an education.

We are not to merely give our leftovers to the Church. We have a tendency to give whatever we have left over each week to God. We give what we have in our pockets, or in our wallets, or, we look at our checkbook, and think about how much we can spare. But the biblical principle is that God gets the first cut off the top – that’s why I said a minimum of ten percent of our gross income. Most of us have taxes taken out before we receive our paycheck, or SSI, or pension, and so forth. But God will not take second place to the government. God demands ten percent – to begin with – of our entire income.

I was brought up to do that. Many people were not. And those who have not done it have a tendency to say that they can’t afford to give ten percent of their gross – and more. Some people give “x” number of dollars because that’s what their parents did, or that’s what they decided to do fifty years ago, and nothing will ever change that – except their income going down. Which means, either God is wrong, or we are.

Looking at it positively:

We are to give to the Church as part of our worship. When I ask that the ushers come forward that we might worship God with our tithes and our offerings, I am serious about what I am saying. Our giving is to be an act of worship. What we put in that plate should reflect what we believe about the worth of God – of Jesus Christ – and what He has done for us. We do not offer up our gifts to merit forgiveness, but to thank God for the forgiveness He merited for us. How much is Jesus worth?

We are to give to the Church as part of how we show our understanding of the value of Jesus’ Love. Just a few verses before this morning’s reading, John wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (I John 3:1a, ESV). John was amazed at the Love of God in Jesus Christ – are we? How much do we value His taking God’s Wrath, forgiving our sin, crediting us with His Righteousness.

We are to give to the Church to see Jesus honored and believed. We give to show each other and the world that we believe that Jesus and His Gospel – salvation in Him Alone – is true – that He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One and Only Savior.

We are to give our first and our best to the Church because Jesus’ Love is worth more than everything else – together. We give our first and best to the Church because no matter what else happens, no matter what else is lost, no matter what else goes wrong, no matter how the stock market moves or how our friends and relatives use and abuse us for our money – or shower us with financial gifts, we want each other and the world to know that Jesus is first and best and His Love is worth more than anything and everything else all together. Think about it this way: if you had a basket filled with Jesus’ Love and all the rest of your stuff, and you had to give away one thing after another until you only had one thing left, what would you want? I hope the answer is Jesus’ Love. There is no other hope than what He has done for us in His Love.

And we give to the Church to show that we trust Jesus. We give to show each other and the world that we trust Jesus when He promises to provide for all of our needs. We don’t hoard away all of our blessings and neglect giving to the Church because of what might happen. But we manage our money with the wisdom God has given us, yet we also give God what He commands and more as we are led to do so, believing in His Promises, trusting that He will provide for us. Do you believe Him?

This week, my mother gave away two food items: out of thanks to one of my sister's doctors, my mother baked a big banana streusel cake – which is apparently incredible – and gave it to the doctor, who was very thankful and told my mother how good it was. My mother also told me that she had bought this “wheat berry salad” because it was supposed to be good for you, but she didn’t like it at all, and she wondered if I would like the leftovers.

Do you know love?

Or are you giving God your leftovers?

Let us pray:
We pray to You, O God Who loved us so much that You laid down Your Life for us, and we ask that You would help us to know through Your Act what love is. Let us show our love to our brothers and sisters in doing good for them, not expecting anything in return. And let us come to worship, ready to worship You by giving, obediently, and generously, to You out of the financial income You have given us. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.