Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

March Sermons

D.V., in March, I plan to preach:

3/1/09 Communion/Lent 1 Psalm 25 “Forgive All My Sins”
3/8/09 Lent 2 Genesis 22:1-14 “God Will Provide the Lamb”
3/15/09 Lent 3 John 2:13-22 “Destroy This Temple”
3/22/09 Lent 4 John 6:4-15 “Nothing Shall Be Lost”
3/29/09 Lent 5 Guest preacher: Rev. Dr. Gregg Mast

"The Lord's Choice" Sermon: Isaiah 58:1-14

“The Lord’s Choice”
[Isaiah 58:1-14]
February 25, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Today, Ash Wednesday, we being the season of Lent. The season has been observed as “forty days” before Easter since the fourth century, patterned after the many forty day periods in the Scripture. This is to be a time of reflection on our sin and mortality and a time of change, when we purpose to take up with new vigor all those things which God has called us to do. It is a time, not merely of renouncing sin and sinful acts, but of picking up new habits, committing ourselves to the good works Christ calls Christians to perform.

This evening, we are looking at one of the final prophecies of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah, at this time, was in Babylon, a captive with the nation of Israel, around 700 B.C. Isaiah’s ministry among the people of Israel consisted largely in two themes: God calling Israel to understand that she had sinned against God and that was why she was captive in Babylon, and God promising Israel a day of restoration for all those who repent of their sin and commit themselves to the Gospel of God.

This evening’s Scripture begins with God telling Isaiah to shout to the people of Israel like a trumpet. “Make sure that no one fails to hear what you are going to tell them. Tell them that they have committed rebellion. Tell them that they have sinned against their God. Name their sins – lay it out for them, because they don’t understand that they have sinned – they don’t understand that I have sent them into captivity for their sin. They don’t get it – they don’t understand that they are not right with Me.”

To use the language of the “Charlie Brown” cartoons, Israel, as a nation, was a “blockhead.” They had sinned against God – disobeyed His Commands – God had sent them into captivity for their sin. And they were still saying, “Who? Me? What did I do?”

But isn’t that like all of us when we sin? Our first response is to deny – to stick our head in the sand – to deflect our responsibility for what we have done to someone else. We remember what happened to Cain: “in the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:3-7, ESV).

Cain and Abel had brought sacrifices. Abel offered his sacrifice in the way that God commanded, but Cain did not. And Cain was furious that his offering was not accepted. But God told him, “Look, if you offer a sacrifice in the way I have commanded, all will be well, but if you sin and offer it in another way, do you really have the right to be angry at Me for not accepting it?” We know what happened next....

Starting in verse three, Israel objects, “What do you mean we sinned? We keep the fasts. Don’t You see us? We put on sackcloth and ashes. We’re humble. Can’t You see how humble we are?”

God responds to this outrageous pride and sin by telling them that the only reason they keep the fasts and dress like they are repentant and make motions of humility is so they can condemn others who they don’t think are being repentant. They were pretending to be repentant for the purpose of seeing who was not repenting and accusing them. And God tells them that going through the motions is not acceptable – it’s not enough – especially if it’s done to bring others down. There must be true repentance for sins – not just going through the motions – or there is no forgiveness.

Jesus said the same thing to the scribes and Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites For your clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28, ESV).

We will soon receive the imposition of ashes and anointing with oil. Be forewarned: these are outward symbols, they are not magic devices. The ashes symbolize that we are conscious of our sin and mortality and desire to repent and be forgiven, having received the Gospel of Jesus Christ Alone. If we are truly repentant and believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation, we are saved, but if we do not, the ashes are a meaningless and hypocritical symbol. Likewise, the oil symbolizes that our God, the Great Physician, is able to heal all ills, as He is willing to do so. The oil, itself does nothing. We are anointed with oil to remind us to put our trust and hope in Jesus Christ Alone, Who may heal us in this life and will bring all who believe in Him to full healing in the life to come.

Beginning in verse six, God tells Israel that true repentance involves more than symbols: it involves a change of heart, a change of life, and a change of action. God is served in vain if we serve Him merely with ceremonies. And it is not enough just to be repentant of our sins, but we must take on the commitment to purity of life – real duties of piety.

God tells them that the symbols without the reality of true repentance are meaningless. In fact, God would rather they forget about the symbols all together, truly repent, and live out those lives of repentance. And He gives them examples of how that is done: true repentance is seen in seeking to overthrow injustice, in freeing people from oppression, in sharing our food with the hungry, in providing housing for the homeless, in providing clothing for the naked, and so forth. Now, let us understand that God is not saying that they will be forgiven for doing those acts. Forgiveness comes through true repentance and faith in Jesus Christ Alone. Then that faith is lived out by doing these good works – by fulfilling the Law in love, as we looked at last Sunday – by keeping the “Second Table of the Law.”

It’s not enough to keep the ceremonies and wear the symbols. It’s not enough to be of the “right” heritage or church, as John said, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father, for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10, ESV).

Likewise, James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17, ESV). And remember, James is not saying that our works save us, what he is saying is that our works are a proof that we have received salvation in Jesus Alone. That is, if we truly have repented and received Jesus, then we should live out that salvation by doing the good works that God has set before us. Symbols and ceremonies are not enough: true belief leads the Christian both to renounce sin and to live changed lives that involve good works.

True repentance is the Lord’s chosen fast. Beginning in verse eight, God tells Israel that if she truly repents of her sin, then He will answer them and forgive them. Then, He will hear their cry for help. Then, He will be their light, their healing, their vindicator, their rear guard. Then, the Glory of the Lord will be among them once more and the Lord will be in their midst.

If they truly repent, if they truly desire the heavy yoke of sin to be removed from them, if they repent of being hypocrites and speaking evil against each other, if they live out their repentance in loving and providing for their neighbors, the Light of the Lord will chase away the gloom – their sin will be forgiven. God will guide them and prosper them in His Will; He will bring them back to the land He gave to their fathers and give them restoration in the land. And we know in the years that followed, that is exactly what God did – Israel repented, and God brought the people back to the land, and they rebuilt the temple.

Only national Israel had the promise of the land, if they kept the covenant, but all people are given the promise that God will remove the heavy yoke of slavery to sin that every human is born with, if we will truly repent and believe in Jesus Alone for salvation. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV).

In the final two verses of this chapter, God promises that such persons – those who truly repent and believe – will find worship a delight and seek to be before the Lord in worship at every opportunity.

God tells Israel that they are to turn from trampling on the Sabbath. They are to refrain from pursuing their own interests on the Sabbath and rather be about the worship of God. They are to call the Sabbath a delight – to find their joy and satisfaction in the Sabbath of their God – to treat the day as honorable and holy.

And, certainly, God meant what He said about the one day in seven called the Sabbath, but the implication of these two verses extends beyond just the one day in seven to the idea that the whole of life – of the Christian life – is to be a Sabbath to the Lord, and all who believe are looking forward with great expectation to the fulfillment of the age when we enter into eternal Sabbath. The writer of Hebrews explains, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by some sort of disobedience (Hebrews 4:9-11, ESV).

John gives us a picture of what this rest looks like, in part: “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven crying, ‘Hallelujah Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’ Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.’ And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, ‘Amen, Hallelujah ’ And from the throne came a voice saying, ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.’ Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Revelation 19:1-8, ESV).

Brothers and sisters, tonight we begin the season of Lent, and we shall receive the symbols of ashes and oil. The symbols don’t do anything themselves – they exist to remind us that we are sinners, and our God is able to heal. It is only through true repentance and belief in Jesus Alone that we are forgiven, and God heals as He is pleased to heal.

As God called Israel in the days of Babylon, so God calls us to repentance and belief and then to live out that belief by doing what is right and living lives of purity, as we look forward to the restoration of all things and the glorious everlasting Sabbath of worship in the Kingdom of our God and King, Jesus. Let us come before our God, honestly, humbly, repentantly, expectantly, and joyfully. It is the Lord’s choice to save us, so let us live.

And let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, we thank You that we cannot earn our way back to You, but You make us Your own and cause us to come honestly repentant and believing. We ask that we would receive these symbols honestly and purpose to live for You, looking forward to the joy of Your Kingdom. For it is Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Join us Ash Wednesday, February 25th at 7 PM, for our Ash Wednesday service. All who wish to receive the imposition of ashes to remind us of our sinfulness and mortality, and we also make anointing with oil available to all who seek healing. We make it clear that the oil is not magic, but symbolic of the ability of the Great Physician to heal and our trust in Him to do so if He wills.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Love One Another" Sermon: Romans 13:8-10

“Love One Another”
[Romans 13:8-10]
February 22, 2009 Second Reformed Church

This morning we are concluding our look at what being in Christ means for our love of each other and especially those within the Church. This morning’s Scripture is a wider scope – it is not just referring to the Body of Christ – to those within the Church, but to all people. This text concerns the command to “love our neighbor as ourself” – the second command of two that sum up the Law and the Prophets, as Jesus said.

Chapter thirteen of Romans begins with Paul explaining that all people, even Christians, must submit to the governing authorities, to the laws of the state, including paying taxes, and showing honor to officials for the sake of their office, because all authority is from God.

Then, in this morning’s Scripture, Paul says that Christians are not to owe anything – we are to pay to everyone what is due. Paul draws the distinction between owing, which breaks the Law, and love, which fulfills the Law. If we owe, we have not fulfilled our duty. If we love – fully – as Jesus explains, then we fulfill the Law.

Now, let us understand that Paul is not saying that it is a sin for Christians to take a loan. Paul is saying that if we take a loan and don’t pay it, that is sin. If we owe someone respect for the position they hold and don’t give it, that is sin. And so forth. There are times when a Christian may take a loan and repay it and not sin. Don’t be confused by the word “owe.”

Paul explains what he means by turning our attention to what is called “the Second Table of the Law.” If we look at the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses, the first four – “the First Table of the Law” – all concern God; the final six – “the Second Table of the Law” – concern our neighbor. Paul says that if we keep “the Second Table of the Law,” we love our neighbor and fulfill the Law of God with respect to our neighbor.

Let us hear and remember what God said in “the Second Table of the Law” and keep in mind that we owe these things to our neighbors, and especially our brothers and sisters in the Church, in response to what Christ has done for us in loving us first and saving us for Himself before we were able to do any good.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything else that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:12-17, ESV).

Let’s consider what these mean, first negatively and then positively. How do we break the Law and end up “owing”? And how do we fulfill the Law in love?

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

We are not to dishonor our parents. We are not to disobey our parents – unless they command us to sin. We are not to speak ill of our parents – in life or in death. We are not to do anything that would reflect badly on them being our parents.

“You shall not murder.”

We are not to actually murder anyone, but this commandment involves more than actual murder – we are not to hate one another. John wrote, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because darkness has blinded his eyes” (I John 2:7-11, ESV).

Jesus explained that this also means that we may not be unjustly angry: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to the judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool ’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:21-26, ESV).

“You shall not commit adultery.” We are not to commit adultery – physically, spiritually, or mentally. We are not to have sexual relations with anyone who is not our legal spouse. That means we are not to have sexual relations outside of marriage, and only between a married man and woman. It also means that we are not to lust after anyone – as Jesus explained: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:27-32, ESV).

The atheist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said that it was a good thing that Christians don’t believe this is the Word of God and act on it, otherwise the Church would be full of blind and crippled parishioners. Of course, Jesus is not commanding us to mutilate our bodies. What He is doing in this Scripture is making us understand the seriousness of the sin of lust – that it is adultery – as is any thought of sexual relations with anyone who is not our legally married spouse.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” We are not to lie. We are not to shade to truth. We are not to be gossips and busybodies. We are not to give faint praise. We are not to give a false testimony. We are not to make a story “more juicy.” This is one where we tend to think “a little bit won’t hurt,” but God takes this very seriously: “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses shall a charge be established. If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:15-21, ESV). In other words, a false witnesses – a liar – is to receive whatever the punishment is for the crime he was lying about.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything else that is your neighbor’s.” We are not to covet anything. We are not to desire that which we do not have with a feeling that we deserve to have it. We are not to desire that which someone else has with a feeling that we deserve it more. It would be coveting for me to think, “Boy, Carlos has a really nice car. I’m the minister of the church. I should be the one with a nice car like that, not Carlos.” Paul tells us that when we think like that, we are committing idolatry: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead, let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:3-5, ESV). When we covet, we become idolaters, putting some thing in the center of our affections and desire, rather than Christ.

And the positive:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

We are to obey our parents – unless they command us to sin. We are to speak well of them – in life and in death, because they gave us life and raised us the best that they knew how. Understand, that does not mean we should put them on a pedestal, but we should remember them and speak of them for all they did right in Christ. We are to learn all that we can from them – for life and faith. We are to live in such a way that reflects well on them and all that they taught us to do and be. Paul wrote, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land’” (Ephesians 6:1-3, ESV).

“You shall not murder.” We are to live in a way that increases life. We are to encourage others to do good and to follow God. We are to do whatever we can to help our neighbors live better, more life-affirming lives. We ought ask ourselves what we can do to make each person’s life better.

“You shall not commit adultery.” We are to pursue physical purity. Paul wrote, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral persons sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, that you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:13b-20, ESV). We are to do everything we can to protect the purity of our bodies, because they do not belong to us. So we, and especially Christians, out to be married or celibate.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” We are to be known as a people of truth. We have heard and believed the Gospel of Truth in Jesus Christ, and now we are to live that truth out by speaking the truth. That doesn’t mean that we always have to say everything that comes to mind, but, when we speak, we ought to speak the truth, and others ought to know that when we speak, they will hear the truth. There should be not doubt that the people of God will speak the truth, because the truth is that valuable – that important. We are to treat others well, support them, and lead them, also in the truth – in what is real and true and also to Jesus Who is the Truth.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything else that is your neighbor’s.” We are to be satisfied and thankful for what we have and for what God has given others. That is not to say that we are not to try to better ourselves – that is fine, but we ought not to be despondent over the things that God has been pleased to give us. God has promised to give us everything we need and more, so we can give and help others.

How are we to love one another? “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. .... Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Love seeks to do everything possible to help our neighbor – by sharing the Gospel with them and by helping them in any way we can with the blessings and gifts that God has given to us.

Can we owe nothing and love in this way?

Some of us have had a tendency to bemoan this church: we’re too small; our finances are insignificant. We need to get beyond that – it keeps us from loving. Yes, we must be wise with what God has given us, but we need to recognize that God has promised to give us all that we need. He has given us each other to love – this community to love. We need to look at how greatly God has blessed us – no matter how we compare with the world – or even the nearest church. We must become satisfied and thankful for what God has done. And that’s not easy to do if we are just looking at the bills and the peeling paint. We need to have Jesus and His Salvation as our center – then we can love, then we can go forward, then we can find satisfaction and thanksgiving and peace in Him.

Paul confesses to the Philippians, while he was in prison, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:10-13, ESV).

Can we love as God has called us to love? Can we keep “the Second Table of the Law”? Through Jesus Christ Who strengthens us. Through Jesus, Who has taken all of our sin upon Himself. Through Jesus, Who has imputed His Righteousness to us, so we now have the ability to do the good things God calls us to do – to truely love one another.

It’s time to put our excuses away. Let us love one another. Let us live, satisfied and thankful for all that comes from God’s Hand, because, in Jesus, we have been declared righteous, and He is now making us holy, to His Glory.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we have tended to look at the Ten Commandments and either say we have kept them all, or that it is not possible for us to keep them. We thank You that You sent Your Son to save us from our sin and to make us a people who love others, because You first loved us and enable us to love as You have called us to love. Lord, we ask that You would so inflame our love of You, that we would, in turn, love one another. For Yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever, Amen.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Consistory

Let's see if D. is V. this week, Consistory members: I am getting back on my feet, so let's plan to have our Consistory meeting this Sunday after morning worship.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review: "This is Your Brain on Joy: A Revolutionary Program for Balancing Mood, Restoring Brain Health, and Nurturing Spiritual Growth"

This is my first review for Thomas Nelson for their Book Review Bloggers Team – thank you to HUL at Random Responses for making this program known on his site.

My first book is This is Your Brain on Joy: A Revolutionary Program for Balancing Mood, Restoring Brain Health, and Nurturing Spiritual Growth by Dr. Earl Henslin. See the product detail at: http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=078522873X

I chose this book both because I have an interest in neurology and theology. However, I approached the book with some hesitation, as well, hoping this would not merely be pop psychology.

Dr. Henslin is a very engaging and fun writer. He writes at the level of the average reader to make sure we can all understand the issues involved in the neurological problems he is addressing. He even renames the five mood centers of the brain to make them easier to understand and remember (21).

Dr. Henslin’s thesis is that if the surface of the brain is smooth, all five mood centers will be functioning joyfully. To see the surface of the brain, he relies on SPECT imaging (single photon emission computerized tomography), and he has numerous before and after black-and-white images to show the process and changes on the brain surface – all of which is very interesting. Before one commits to the test, he has a “brain system checklist” (33-37) which allows one to answer a bunch of questions and find out which areas of the brain may be lacking joy. I took the test and found it quite reliable, given what I believe about myself.

Once one takes the test, he spends a chapter on each of the five mood centers and makes recommendations in the areas of supplements, quotes, activities, Scriptures, visualization, music, exercise, aromatherapy, cinematherapy, support, and additional reading. This reminds me very much of Dr. Andrew Weil’s work, and I think this is the most valuable part of the book.

However, I did have three major problems with this work:

First, Dr. Henslin argues that the brain and the mind are the same thing (viii, etc.). I disagree philosophically and theologically with this: Just because a separate non-corporeal mind cannot be seen, does not prove that it does not exist. Also, if the self exists after death and before the final resurrection, it would seem necessary that the self have all the memories, etc., it had on earth in order to be the self. This cannot be the brain, but could be the mind.

Second, Dr. Henslin argues that happiness and joy are the same thing (6, etc.). Again, I disagree: I understand happiness to be a fleeting state which can be manipulate through the variety of exercises he mentions. However, joy, theologically, is something that is given by Christ, which may grow, but cannot be taken away. It is a state that transcends happiness.

Third, chapter eleven (195-216) is his explanation of how Paul’s theology, especially in Philippians agrees with what he has said. Unfortunately, as I just said, I don’t think it does. Also, Dr. Henslin primarily uses The Message, which is a paraphrase, to support his argument Scripturally. This is no way to make an argument! He ought to use a good translation. If he can find one that supports his conclusions.

For these reasons, even though there are good ideas in this book, I would advise to proceed with great caution.

(This review is posted on my blog and at Amazon.com)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Easter Letter

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourself know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24, ESV).

February 11, 2009
Feast day of Bishop Saturninus, Dativus, & the 48 Martyrs of Carthage (304 A.D.)

Dear Members and Friends of Second Reformed Church,

The Easter Season is upon us. Lord willing, as you can see by the worship schedule below, we will begin the season looking at some Old Testament texts and then take a run through the Gospel of John, ending with the Resurrection. At which point, we shall ask the question, “So what?”

This past Fall we had an evening study on the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and we saw the infant Church grow (by 787 A.D.) into the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Oriental Orthodox Church. (Of course, today, we have a few more than three denominations ) If the Lord is willing, we will have another evening study once the weather is nice, and we’ll look at what happened in the Roman Catholic Church (primarily) in the early General Councils and, then, the Crusades.

After Easter, if the Lord wills, I plan to pick up the history of the Church in preaching through the post-resurrection section of Luke and, then, the book of Acts.

I tell you these things for the same reasons that I include one of today’s feast days under the date above. We don’t usually think about the feast days – most of the Protestant Church ignores the feast days, except for the major holidays. (This year I bought an ecumenical calendar that lists all the feast days for all of the Christian traditions – most days are quite busy )

The reasons are these: first, as unbelievable as it may seem, Second Reformed Church is not the whole Church. Nor is the Reformed Church in America the whole Church. The Church is all of those people throughout time and space, in any and all denominations (and “non-denominations”), that confess salvation in Jesus, the Savior, Alone. We need to understand that the Church is bigger than we are. We need to understand that we are part of a people that God has called to be His. Christianity is not merely “Jesus and me.”

When we looked at the Ecumenical Councils, I explained my conviction and understanding that it is biblical to be ecumenical and ecumenists. That is, we recognize that our denominations and traditions do not make us Christians. We are Christians who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation. However, I believe we must be against ecumenism – in the sense of a movement that seeks to get rid of all distinctives – that we must “reduce” Christianity to its lowest common denominator. I do not believe that is biblical – I believe in the distinctives of the Reformed understanding of the Scripture. I believe there are reasons why ours is a better understanding of the Scripture that other traditions and denominations.

Second, as we saw when we looked at I & II Peter and recently in our look at what the Scripture says about who we are in Christ and how we ought to relate to each other because of Who Christ is and What He has done, we are to have a reason for what we believe – we ought to be able to answer the question “so what?” when it is raised about Jesus and His Salvation. The answer to this question is what connects all Christians. So, while we can – and ought – hold to our distinctives, we can work together and pray for each other as we seek, together, to deliver the answer to this question to the world.

As we understand that we are not alone, but are part of the people of God – the One and Almighty God, we can turn to each other – throughout time and space – for help in understanding and explaining the “so what?” of the Gospel. And the God of the Universe has promised to help us understand and give us the words to speak.
Join us for worship this Easter Season and let us find anew the answer to the “so what?” of Easter. And let us invite our friends, family, and neighbors to worship, because the answer to “so what?” is that important. Ask them to come, even though they were raised as a this or that, even if they know there is no God, invite them.

All Glory be to the Living Christ,



Rev. Peter Butler, Jr., pastor
Second Reformed Church


2/25/09 Ash Wednesday 7PM Isaiah 58:1-14 “The Lord’s Choice”
3/1/09 Communion/Lent 1 Psalm 25 “Forgive All My Sins”
3/8/09 Lent 2 Genesis 22:1-14 “God Will Provide the Lamb”
3/15/09 Lent 3 John 2:13-22 “Destroy This Temple”
3/22/09 Lent 4 John 6:4-15 “Nothing Shall Be Lost”
3/29/05 Lent 5 TBA
4/5/09 Communion/Palm Sunday John 12:12-19 “They Continued to Testify”
4/9/09 Communion/Maundy Thursday 7 PM John 13:1-15 “Are You Clean?”
4/10/09 Communion/Good Friday 7 PM John 18:1-19:42 “It Is Finished”
4/12/09 Communion/Easter John 20:1-31 “So What?”

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Review: "The Gospel Ministry" by Thomas Foxcroft

I used to work in a “Christian” bookstore, and one thing I tried hard to do was to be up on what materials were available and what materials were good and biblical. I’ve often thought of compiling lists of “best books” in this area and that – maybe some day I will.

One book that would make it to that list of “best books” would be The Gospel Ministry by Thomas Foxcroft. This book (87 pages) is actually the sermon that Foxcroft delivered at his own ordination and installation at the First Congregation Church in Boston from 1717 to his death in 1769. (Such action and length would likely mean the automatic firing of a minister today!)

This is a book I would recommend to every man “considering” the ordained ministry, and it would be mandatary reading for every seminary student. I have found that many seminary students believe there is no difference between social work and the ordained ministry. While it is true that Christ transforms the culture through His Church, the Gospel is not “how to be moral,” but “Christ and Him crucified” – that is what must be preach every time the minister opens his mouth.

The sermon is divided into five sections:

“The Minister as Preacher” – Foxcroft writes, “The observation here is this: Preaching is one great and noble part of the pastoral duty” (2) and the subject matter must be Christ (4). He goes on to explains what that means and to condemn any other so-called “preaching.”

“The Minister as a Pastor” – here Foxcroft argues that the character of the minister if of vital importance: in everything the minister does, he must strive for holiness, not only in doctrine, but action.

“The Minister and His Flock” – much like Richard Baxter, in his Reformed Pastor, argues that ministers must visit and know their flock if they are going to do good for them. It is by knowing them that he knows their strengths, weaknesses, struggles, and triumphs. These he must then address through the Blood of Christ. He must lift them up, rebuke sin, defend them against heresy, and rejoice with them.

“The Work of Ministry” – “Laborious diligence, fervor, and indefatigable application should be the character of ever gospel minister” (52). Would that every person who think a minister works an hour a week or every seminarian who has learned the sermon can be composed the night before or the morning of worship would read this section! I’ve been laughed at for saying that, done rightly, the Gospel Ministry is the most difficult and life-consuming work. But, if one is called to it, it is also his joy! The substance of this labor is the edification and conversion of humans as part of the minister’s glorification of God (58).

“The Source of Strength for the Work of the Ministry” – Christ is our strength. Thus the minister ought to be much in prayer. He ought to be thankful for what and who God has given him. He ought, in all humility, recognize that the minister is the instrument of God, and the Power of the Gospel is from God, not the minister, his rhetoric, etc. We must bow before Christ and see Him work through us in our congregations. Ours is to be obedient in ministry; it is God’s to bring the results He has ordained.

Foxcroft did not write this sermon to tell the congregation that he had accomplished all these things, but to let them know what he believed was God’s Call on him and on all ministers. He wanted them to understand the bar that God had placed before him, that he had received, and that they should expect from him. Would we be so brave to put this high standard before our congregations and tell them to help us keep to it?

Read this book; give it to those in ministry and those in seminary and those “discerning” a call.

(I also urgently recommend that the same read William Perkin’s The Art of Prophecy. This is a Puritan preaching manual paired with a smaller work on “discerning” the call to ministry. Urgently necessary today.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tomorrow

Due to my ill health -- in just over a week, my bladder has hemorrhaged, I was diagnosed with kidney stone #5, and have come down with the Flu and am on a week of bed-rest...

Tomorrow's plans have changed:
There will be NO Bible Study;
Service will be lead by members of the congregation, with a time of silent meditation after the Scripture, rather than the sermon;
There will be NO Consistory meeting -- D.V., we will have it next Sunday.

This is my first Sunday missed for illness in the ten years I have been at Second.
Your prayers for us all are appreciated!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Consistory

Consistory members, please remember that we will meet (D.V.) this Sunday after morning worship.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

"Lose Your Life" Sermon: Matthew 10:34-39

“Lose Your Life”
[Matthew 10:34-39]
February 8, 2009 Second Reformed Church

The last three weeks, we have looked at how the Christian’s relationship with God through Jesus Christ must impact our relationship with one another – as fellow Christians. Today, let us take a look at what Christ says our relationship must be with Him – that relationship on which we were basing how we must deal with each other.

The Scripture that I read this morning from the Gospel of Matthew is part of the instructions that Jesus gave to His twelve chosen apostles as He first sent them out to minister in Israel. And my guess is that some of you did not like this Scripture – especially the first part of it. It’s not the way we like to think of Jesus – coming with a sword, setting out to divide families, giving us a cross, and calling us to death. Yet this is part of the reality of being a disciple, a friend, of Jesus Christ. We are not called to a life of “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

Still, we turn to our Bibles and think there’s something wrong: “Didn’t Isaiah prophecy of Jesus, ‘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’ (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)? How does that fit in with what Jesus said? And didn’t Jesus say, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid’ (John 14:27, ESV)?”

The German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, explained in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, that there is a difference between what he called “cheap grace” and real discipleship. “Cheap grace” is an “easy believism” that makes God, Santa Clause, and we good children desiring health and wealth, but no responsibility – no accountability. Yet the cost of being Jesus’ disciple, as Jesus explains in this morning’s text, is death.

Let us look at what Jesus told the twelve:

First, Jesus said that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. And some will object here: “If that is true, then why did Jesus rebuke Peter, after Peter took his sword and cut of the ear of the high priest’s servant when they came to arrest Jesus? Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’ (Matthew 52b-54, ESV)?”

Then answer is found in understanding that there is more than one type of sword: Jesus is not saying that He came to bring the metal weapon that we call a sword. What Jesus is saying is that He did not come to make peace with the world and its wickedness, but, instead, brings the Sword of the Gospel.

Paul told the Ephesians to ready themselves for battle and take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17b, ESV). And the author of Hebrews describes the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, like this: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of the spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV). And John, in his vision, described the glorified Jesus in this way: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. He eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:12-16, ESV).

Jesus did not come to make peace with the world and its wickedness, but, instead, brings the Sword of the Gospel. This is the Sword that I preach each Sunday – that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone. This is the Sword that disturbs the peace of the world that says, “As long as I am good enough – as long as I believe in God – God has to receive me into His Kingdom.” Believing that lie that we can be good enough or do enough good works to save us is a false peace. Believing that believing in God is enough is a false peace. James sarcastically wrote, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder ” (James 2:19, ESV). The Sword of the Gospel says that Jesus is the Only Answer, the Only Salvation, the Only Hope – everything else is a false peace that leads to eternal Hell.

We can understand from this how this can divide families: we are all born with a natural hostility towards the Gospel, and if someone in a non-believing family comes to faith in Christ, there is often discord and division. In some parts of the world, conversion means death. In Moslem countries, converts to Christianity are shunned and often put to death.

Again, as I have said these past weeks, we do not usually put people to death for converting to Christianity in this country. But there is still division, as polite as it may be. Most of my own relatives are non-Christians. They have told me that I’m wasting my life, my abilities. Some have kindly said that if I need this crutch, then that’s O.K. for me. But they don’t want to hear the message of the Gospel. They don’t want to hear that they hate God, and if they don’t repent and believe in Jesus they will spend eternity in Hell. But that’s what Jesus promises. I would not suggest that we bash our friends and family members who don’t believe over the head, but, if we believe the Gospel, if we believe that Jesus Alone is Salvation, we must tell them. If we love them, we must tell them. And that may well cause division in our families.

Jesus tells us in this morning’s Scripture that it is not loving to withhold the Gospel from our parents and children and others because we believe it may cause division among us. It’s like if you were talking with a deaf person, and he didn’t realize there was a truck careening out of control that was about to hit him, but you loved him so much that you didn’t want to interrupt what he was saying, so you let the truck hit him. It’s like meeting up with a friend and seeing the friend’s date put a drug in your friend’s drink so your friend could be taken advantage of, but you loved your friend so much that you don’t want to ruin the date, so you let your friend consume the drug and be violated, and, perhaps, killed. That’s not the loving thing to do. The loving thing to do is to warn the person, whether or not the person believes you or acts on the information. It is our duty to tell the world the Gospel, no matter how the world responds.

“But it’s embarrassing. I don’t know what to say.” Say, “I’d love it if you would come to my church sometime.” “Would you come to church with me? I’d like you to hear about what I believe.” “I’m concerned about you, would you come to church, I think there’s something there you need to hear.” Or, tell them what you believe about Jesus and ask what they believe. Ask them to read one of the Gospels and then talk with you about it. Just say something.

Jesus said that if we don’t love Him enough to tell others – to expose them to the Gospel – then we are not worthy of Him. Jesus said if we do not love Him enough to tell others, then we really don’t love Him. How can we love Jesus and believe that He offers the Only Way to be restored with God and not want anyone else to know?

Jesus continues, “And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” In most cases, Jesus is not talking about our literally being crucified. What He is saying here is the same thing we have heard Him say the past few weeks – we are to love others like He loved us. Our response to what Jesus has done and promised is to be willing to endure anything for Him, even to enduring a death like His for His Sake.

Jesus tells us that if we believe in Jesus Alone we will find enduring anything for His Sake to be nothing compared with what He has given and promised. We are His disciples and friends if we willingly follow Him down the Calvary road. Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth being compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, ESV) and “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort” (II Corinthians 1:3-7, ESV) – “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV). These are passages that I find of great hope as one who is chronically ill.

How might we take up our cross? How did the early church take up its cross? Listen to what the author of Hebrews records: “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:36-40, ESV).

I remember once explaining to someone that God gives us what we need and what He knows we can handle through Him for His Glory, and this person told me that she thought God must have a warped view of her ability, because she was suffering in a way that she didn’t think should could continue to endure.

I received an e-mail with a story on it that might help us to think about what God has given us, both in our blessings and in the cross we carry for Him. There was once a Christian who was despairing of the cross he carried – he thought it was just too much for him to endure. So he prayed that God would remove the cross from him. God came to him in the night and invited him to lay the cross aside and choose a cross he thought he could handle from a room full of crosses. The man thanked God and lay his cross down and began to look through the crosses in the room – there were light crosses and heavy crosses, gold crosses and wood crosses, tall crosses and fat crosses. The man looked and looked and finally came across the smallest and lightest cross in the room. The man lifted it up and told God that this was the cross he could bear. And God told him, “That’s the cross you came in with.”

Don’t misunderstand: I am not saying that our lives are really easy; I’m saying that God knows what we need and what He requires of each of us in bearing our cross for Him. The God Who gives us our burden to bear is the same Father Who loves us and gave us His Son for our salvation. This is the same Jesus who told us that the heavy yoke – the yoke we truly cannot bear – is the yoke of slavery to sin. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV).

Just as Ebenezer Scrooge did not realize the heavy chains he had earned through his sin, in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, until the ghosts revealed his true self to him, so we don’t realize the weight of the yoke of sin upon us until Jesus has made us His own and given us His yoke – His cross – to bear. We have gone from a life that only promises eternal suffering to a life that promises eternal life and joy with Jesus.

Jesus ends our reading by saying, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus says that if we regard our life as worth more than Jesus – more than what He has done and promised us – then we are lost eternally. But, if God calls us even to lose our physical life for His Sake, we will have eternal life.

Paul wrote, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith and not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we must make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one of us may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (II Corinthians 5:6-10, ESV) and “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 at all ashamed, but 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, this means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and 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 1:18-26, ESV).

Jesus calls us to lose our life – not to commit suicide or to put ourselves, necessarily, in harm’s way – but to recognize, as Paul wrote, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (I Corinthians 6:19b-20a, ESV). Jesus has chosen and bought us for Himself through His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. We do not belong to ourselves; we belong to Jesus. And He calls us to go out and tell others the Gospel – that there is Only Salvation in Him. And He assures us that if we are obedient – if we don’t water down our message and try to make peace with the wickedness of the world – the message of the Gospel will divide our families; it will cause some of our friends to walk away. But, if we truly believe His Gospel, we cannot help but tell others – it is the Only Word of Life.

Jesus calls us to loose our life – to not be surprised that we may suffer in many and various ways for our belief in Him. But, because we have the sure promise of Jesus’ Return, our resurrection, and the restoration of all things, what we must suffer for Him is, comparatively, nothing. Even if we lose our physical life for Jesus, we know that we will be raised, like Jesus, on that final day and enter into His Eternal Kingdom.

The missionary martyr, Jim Elliot, wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Listen to that again: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Jesus has given all of us who believe “what we cannot lose” – salvation in Him and the promises He has made for our future. There’s nothing else we can keep when God takes this life from us. Are we, Christians, then, not wise to shun the wickedness of the world, to value the Gospel above a false peace with our family and friends, and to be willing to bear, for Christ, whatever He gives us, since we already have the Greatest Gift in Jesus?

Be willing to lose your life for Jesus’ Sake, because what we have in Him is greater than everything else in the world.

Let us pray:
God, we thank You for the Gift of Your Son. Help us to see that what we have received in Him makes living life for His Sake worth more than everything else we could receive. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"You Are My Friends" Sermon: John 15:12-17

“You Are My Friends”
[John 15:12-17]
February 1, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Last week we looked at Jesus telling the eleven – after Judas had left – that they were His disciples – His students. He told them that He had to die, but that in His Death – and then Resurrection and Ascension – God the Son and God the Father would be glorified – so the disciples should trust in God and God’s Plan. And not only that – so others would see the glory of Christ’s Sacrifice through them – Jesus commanded them – and us – to love each other with a sacrificial love.

As Jesus continued to talk with the eleven that first Maundy Thursday evening, He spoke the words of this morning’s Scripture in which He explained to the disciples that they are also His friends. All those who believe in Jesus Alone for their salvation are Jesus’ friends. And Jesus commanded them again that they are to love each other in the same way that He loved them. Jesus emphasized again that the life of the Christian is to be marked by a willingness to sacrifice ourselves for our brothers and sisters. Even to the sacrifice of death: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”

Now, as we considered last week, it is unlikely that you and I will be asked to literally lay down our lives for each other here in America – at least not yet – that day may come. But it was a very real possibility in Jesus’ day, and it is a very real possibility in many countries around the world today. In many countries – today – if you become a Christian, you will be shunned by your family and, possibly, killed. Most people don’t live in a country like the United States where we can say we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be free to never live it out.

But Jesus told the disciples that they were to live out the Gospel – and we as disciples in the twenty-first century are to live out the Gospel – and if we do live as Jesus has called us to live, if we live lives of sacrifice that show the Glory of Jesus and His Salvation, if we’re willing to be inconvenienced for a brother or sister in Christ – for Jesus’ Sake – in response to what He has done and promised – not because every Christian is a person we would normally go out of our way for – if, because of Who Jesus is, we live lives willing to sacrifice for each other, we are Jesus’ friends.

What does that mean?

Jesus told the eleven that He no longer called them servants – bond-servants – in the sense of being uninformed. All of you who have had servants in your homes, or who have had employees under you, will understand that the master – the boss – is under no obligation to reveal all of his plans to the “help.” Those who serve are on a “need to know basis,” we say. But Jesus told the disciples – and us – that we are not servants, but friends, because He has revealed to them – He has told them everything the Father told Him. Jesus told the disciples, in the flesh, everything that the Father told Him – and we have that recorded in our Bibles, so we know everything that the Father told Jesus that He told the disciples and tells us through the Holy Spirit making sure it was all written down – preserved – for us and our instruction. All of the information is right here – shall we open it?

Have you ever thought about the condescension of Jesus? Not that Jesus was condescending towards us, but that He condescended to us. That is, Jesus is the Master of the entire universe, and He humbled Himself by coming to earth as a human being, gave His Message of Salvation to His people, and then voluntarily gave up His Life on the cross that we would be able to receive His Salvation. No other Master has humbled himself before his servants like Jesus did – and now He calls us friends – He has revealed everything the Father said to Him to us that we might grow in the intimacy of our relationship with Jesus.

Soon we will receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus calls us to this Sacrament as His friends. He has revealed to us what He did on the cross, and He will spiritually meet with us and give us grace to strengthen us as we receive the bread and the cup, and as we receive them, we are reminded of the sure promise that He will return again, and He will restore the Creation, and He will bring all of His friends into His Kingdom – into His Father’s House – for all of eternity. Are you His friend?

Then Jesus reminded the eleven – His friends – and He reminds us – that we did not choose Him, He chose us. Why does that matter? It matters because it lets us understand that our relationship with Jesus is not based on our merit. Our relationship with Jesus is not based on anything we did or did not do. On the one hand, we cannot earn our friendship with Jesus, and on the other, we cannot lose our friendship with Jesus. It’s all about Him – it’s all because of Him. And that should comfort and assure us. Paul admits the same truth, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace” (Galatians 1:15, ESV). Jeremiah tells us the Lord told him the same, “‘Before I formed you in the womb I loved you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations’” (Jeremiah 1:5, ESV).

I hope you find that exciting! I do. I can say with confidence, as someone who believes in Jesus Alone for my salvation, that before I was conceived in my mother’s womb, Jesus Christ, the Lord God Almighty, chose me to be His – to be His disciple and follower and friend. And He chose me, not based on anything I did – I didn’t exist yet – and not because of anything I would do – because the Scripture clearly teaches we are all born dead in sin and only worthy of eternal Hell, but because it pleased Him for His Own Reasons – not based on me. I am His forever and eternally, and though I sin and need forgiveness every day, I cannot be lost again, because I am saved by His Choice and His Authority – my salvation is not based on me at all, so I can’t lose it either. I hope you can say that, too.

Jesus continued: He told the disciples that He did not call them just to be saved and then sit on their couches. Jesus calls us to a life of service. Jesus said that, as His friends, He chose us and appointed us that we would do and bear fruit – fruit that abides. Paul explains what has happened like this: “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4, ESV).

What does this fruit look like? Well, Jesus said it is not something that can perish or be destroyed, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV). Paul wrote, “(for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true)” (Ephesians 5:9, ESV) and “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11, ESV). “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him” (Colossians 3:12-17, ESV). That’s what being fruitful for Jesus looks like. If we live like that, we will show ourselves to be Jesus’ friends. If we live like that, He will be glorified through our lives.

Can we live like that?

Jesus does not leave us on our own, thank God. Jesus told the eleven that whatever they asked in Jesus’ Name, according to His Will, the Father will give us. In other words, we have no excuse, no inability, that can keep us from living as Jesus has called us to live. Jesus said that we can love each other sacrificially, we can bear fruit that abides, because if we ask God for anything that Jesus Wills, God will give us the ability to do it – God will cause it to occur – because it is God’s Will! It may not happen instantly, but, for example, if you realize you need to learn to be more patient – that you are not as patient with your brothers and sisters as Jesus has been with you – and we know that Jesus has called us to be patient with each other, then ask – pray – that you would become more patient – and then pray again and pray and pray until you have achieved perfect patience – it will take us all the rest of our lives and until Jesus brings us into Glory to achieve what He has called us to be and do, but we are to start now. We are to run the race now – to work hard to become the people Jesus calls His friends now. Like we saw last week, we are students – disciples – we are to learn and put that teaching into practice until we have perfected it.

Therefore, Jesus told the eleven, we are commanded to love each other.

Why does He keep saying that? Because we are prone not to. It is not in our fallen nature to love others – to be willing to be put out for others – when we don’t get something from them. “I’ll do this for you, but you have to do this for me.” Jesus said that we are to do for others, not thinking about what they can do for us, because Jesus has already given us more than we could ever conceive or deserve.

Are you His friend?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for calling us Your friends. We thank You for the reality and the example of Jesus laying down His Life for His friends. We ask that You would make us more like Jesus, day by day, willing to be put out for others, desirous to bear fruit that is pleasing to You, and praying that we will accomplish Your Will on earth. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.