Second Reformed Church

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"It Is Not For You To Know" Sermon: Acts 1:6-11

“It Is Not For You To Know”
[Acts 1:6-11]
May 24, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus ascended back to the Father. Today is Ascension Sunday.

Jesus gathered the disciples, and when they had all gathered around Him, they asked Jesus if now was the time when He would restore the kingdom to Israel. Was this the moment when Jesus would overthrow the Roman government and restore an independent Israeli state?

We can become impatient with the disciples, because we now have information that they did not have. We know that that was not the time that Jesus would restore Israel – and we might even disagree with them about what it means for Jesus to restore Israel. Because the Scripture does tells us that there will be a restoration of the Creation – we’ve looked at that before – there will come a day when Jesus restores the earth – and it will be perfected and sinless, and we will be raised to inhabit it in our perfected and glorious bodies. But that will come when Jesus returns; it was not to happen on the day of the Ascension.

However, the disciples were not completely out of line in wondering if then was to be the time. After all, Jesus had spent the prior forty days teaching them about the Kingdom of God. He promised that they would be indwelt with power, by the Holy Spirit. And He told them to wait in Jerusalem – the capital of the country. Still, that was not the day of the restoration.

Jesus told them that it was not for them to know “times or seasons” – with rare exception, God has not seen fit to give us particular information about the future and when things will happen. The times and seasons have been set or fixed or predestined by the Father – God has a plan and everything that will happen is planned out by God and will happen exactly as God has planned it without fail. We don’t understand how everything is going to work out. We don’t always understand why certain things happen. But we have been told that everything that happens is according to the Plan of God. Ours is to trust in the God Who so loved us that He gave His Only Son for our salvation. And notice that Jesus calls Him, “the Father,” not “My Father.” Jesus is telling the disciples that all those who are His – all those who believe in Jesus Alone for their salvation have God as their Father. We are the children of God, and He is bringing us through the history that He has planned and is in total control of.

Daniel confessed: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He 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 2:20b-22, ESV).

And King Nebuchadnezzar confessed: “I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all of the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34b-35, ESV).

It is one thing to understand that God the Father has fixed what will occur by His Power, but it is a blessed assurance to know that this God is our Father – we are His children – and He loves us. The Almighty God Who has planned out exactly will happen from the moment He spoke all things into existence to the day when He restores the Creation and forevermore – He is the Father Who loves us and saves us from our sin. That is wonderful news indeed. It is news that gives us assurance that no matter what happens – everything will work out in the end – and for our good. Remember the promise: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).

We don’t need to know the details of God’s Plan, because we know that He loves us and is bringing all things together for our good, no matter how things may look to us at any given moment. So we ought not to worry about the future, but trust in our Father.

Jesus said, “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:24, ESV).

In a similar manner, Jesus told the disciples that God has revealed some things, and those are the things that they – and we – should focus on. Jesus told them that God would give them power through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, and when the Holy Spirit had come upon them, they would be called to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Moses wisely said, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law” (Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV).

In other words, we do not need to know the things that God has not revealed to us. That does not mean that we should abandon all science and research: God has given us dominion over the Creation and gives us the ability to try to understand. But, there comes a point where we can know no further, and we must accept that God did not see it fit for us to know more. God has revealed to humanity that He is One, and we understand from the Scripture that the One God exists in the Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Persons are distinct, but they are the One God. How that is, we don’t know. What we know is that God has revealed the Truth of the Trinity – that God is a Triune God – but He has not given us any further understanding, so it is not necessary for us to know more than that.

Jesus told the disciples that God was going to give them the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and power with Him. We know that that occurred and we know that now all believers receive the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (I Thessalonians 1:5a, ESV). If we are Christians – if we believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation – then God the Holy Spirit indwells us and has given us power – power to believe and understand the Word of God and power to be witness to the Gospel.

Jesus told the disciples that once God the Holy Spirit indwelt them, they would be given power, and once they had that power, they would also have the call on them to be witnesses to the Gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. They were to live out and proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness in Jerusalem – in the capital city. They were to live out and proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness in Judea – throughout the nation. They were to live out and proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness in Samaria – in the nation to the north, which was composed of half-breeds – those Israelites who had married pagans, and were thus unclean. They were to live out and proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness to the ends of the earth – everywhere – to the pagans and Gentiles – to every tribe and nation on the planet.

Every Christian has received that same call. We are to live out and proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness in our home towns – in Irvington, in Maplewood, in South Orange, in Union, in Livingston, in Edison – wherever we live. We are to live out and proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness in the State of New Jersey – and the whole United States. We are live out and proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness in Canada and Mexico. We are to live out and proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness to every person, everywhere on the planet.

Some of us may be deflated by that call – don’t be. As we have seen recently, God has given each of us gifts and abilities. Not all of us will go to the ends of the earth, but all of us have been given the power by God the Holy Spirit Who indwells us to live out and proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness. Each of us will do that differently in different places. But whenever there is a chance to tell someone Who Jesus is or to invite them to worship to hear about Jesus, we are to do it.

This week, I went to a political meeting which concerned taxes in Maplewood, and I got talking with one of the women there and invited her to worship with us sometime. She told me that she is a Roman Catholic and asked me what made us Reformed. I told her that we believe, with all Christians, that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone, and generally, our distinctive is our focus on the Sovereignty of God.

Telling others – inviting others – is not just the call of the pastor – every Christian is to use what God has given him or her to draw people to Jesus. Each of us has been gifted and empowered by God to be a witness to the Gospel. That is really the theme of the book of Acts: all Christians have been empowered to be witnesses to the Gospel, that the whole world would hear of Jesus and His Salvation. God has saved us by Himself and God has made us able to live as Christians and tells others about His Salvation. We don’t need to be scholars to live and invite people to worship. If we believe that I am preaching the Scripture alone and accurately, we can ask others to come to worship sometime, because what our pastor preaches is important to hear.

After Jesus explained that the Father has predestined everything that will occur and that there are things that they didn’t need to know, and after He told them that they would receive power through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and were then called to proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness throughout the world, Jesus ascended back to the Throne of the Son, at the Right Hand of the Father, where He reigns, having completed the cycle of salvation.

Jesus, in full view of all of the disciples, rose up into the sky, in His Glorified Body, which they had touched and examined and eaten with. Just like Elijah and Enoch had been taken up into the air in their bodies, Jesus was taken up into the air in His Body. Since that is true, we have confidence that our bodies will be raised and perfected – made like Jesus’ Body – since Jesus finished His Work of Salvation by returning to His Throne, which He left in the Incarnation.

Jesus had known that this was the way that He would leave the earth: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1, ESV). And the disciples wouldn’t have been entirely shocked, since they knew that Elijah had been taken up in the whirlwind and Enoch had walked with God and was not. Still, they watched Jesus ascend upon a cloud and disappear from sight.

The disciples stood there – they were waiting for Jesus to come right back. They didn’t imagine that Jesus would be gone for thousands of years. They thought He would return quickly – in human terms – and restore the Creation. So, they stood, looking up into the sky.

Then two men appeared – and most commentators believe that they were angels – and they asked, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” “Men of Galilee, what are you doing? Why are you staring into heaven? You know that Jesus will return the same way He left – He told you that. Don’t you have anything to do in the meantime?”

The men reminded the disciples that Jesus had given them work to do. They didn’t need to know when Jesus would return. They certainly shouldn’t stand there waiting for Him. Jesus had told them what they should do, so they should go do it.

I use to work in a Christian bookstore, and I can tell you there are many books on how to discern God’s Will. I can also tell you that most of them are somewhere between useless and dangerous. God has told us everything we need to know for faith and life in this book – the Bible. There are plenty of things that God decided we don’t need to know, but there is much that He has told us. We ought to spend our time in the Scripture, not in other books which purport to tell us how to figure out what God wants. God has already told us – believe in Jesus Alone for salvation. Live according to God’s Law. Proclaim the Gospel to the whole world. That is enough to keep us busy, brothers and sisters!

We don’t need to wait for a new revelation from God. We don’t need to look to Ouija boards and tarot cards, or the daily horoscope. God has told us enough and God has given us the power to do what He has called us to do. Let us learn what God has revealed and live that out – tell others about Him. And let’s not worry about those things that God has said, “It is not for us to know.” We have plenty to do – let us be about the work of the Lord and worship Him.

Jesus and the men told the disciples that Jesus would return the same way that He left the earth – on a cloud. Paul put it this way: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4: 16-18, ESV).

Jesus ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father where He now reigns. He told the disciples and us that God has revealed some things to us, but others are not for us to know. Therefore, we ought not worry about what God does not see fit to tell us, but, instead, let us know and live out what He has revealed. God the Holy Spirit has indwelt us and given us the power to follow Jesus, especially in His charge to us to let the whole world know about Him and His Salvation.

We live in hope and expectation that the day will come when Jesus returns on the clouds, as John put it: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Revelation 1:7, ESV).

Until that day, let us follow His Call on us to tell the world: there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, we thank You for revealing Yourself and Your Salvation to us. We thank You for saving us and making us Your children. We ask that we would accept the fact that we do not need to know everything, but instead, may we work to understand what You have revealed. And may we, by the power of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us, be pleasing children, as we let the whole world know that Jesus Only is Salvation. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Review: Why Johnny Can’t Preach: the Media Have Shaped the Messengers

I bought T. David Gordon’s book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: the Media Have Shaped the Messengers, based on the recommendation of a couple of the modern theologians I respect. Unfortunately, the title would never have grabbed me. Even with the recommendations, I worried that this slim volume would not be worth the time and price. Thankfully, it was.

Gordon is a retired seminary media ecology professor. Thankfully, Gordon doesn’t assume that anyone would know what in the world that is. He explains that Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death, etc.) “coined the term media ecology to describe how changes in dominant media alter the human and social environment. Media ecology, as a discipline, is comparatively less concerned with the content of a given medium and more concerned about how the mere presence of that medium itself alters individual consciousness, social structures, or cultural habits and sensibilities. In this book, I am asking the media-ecological question: How has the movement from a language-based media to image-based and electronic media altered our sensibilities, and how, in turn, has this change in sensibility shaped today’s preachers?” (16, emphasis his).

In the first chapter, Gordon argues that most seminary graduates can’t preach – at best, they present their opinions. He turns to Dabney’s “The Seven Cardinal Requisites of Preaching” and argues that they are absent from most modern preaching. They are: Textual fidelity, unity, evangelical tone (that is, desiring the salvation of his hearers and the glory of God), instructiveness, movement (that is, a coherent structure), point, and order (24-27). Gordon caps this explanation by saying that the length of the sermon is irrelevant – when something is well done, one will not complain about its length (28). (I have mentioned before that I was taught, at both seminaries I went to, that a sermon should be ten to fifteen minutes long because we no longer have the ability to concentrate for longer than that amount of time – this was explained to us in three-hour long classes.) He ends the chapter arguing that the lack of an annual review of the pastor is a sign that the preaching has gone awry – without this, the pastor cannot improve I areas of weakness, etc.

The second chapter deals with the fact that “Johnny Can’t Read (Texts).” Gordon argues that we are taught to read for information, not to read for “the pleasure obtained by reading an author whose command of the language is exceptional” (44). This affects preaching in that pastors look for information by don’t take account of how a passage is constructed (46). When one actual reads texts, one learns how to distinguish between the significant and the insignificant (51).

Chapter three: “Johnny Can’t Write.” Preachers, Gordon argues, need practice in reading the physical reactions of their hearers (64). Also, preachers need to practice writing – with the advent of the telephone, Internet, and other wonders of communication, we rush off meaningless and inaccurate and insignificant pieces, whereas, in the days of letter writing, one would take time to compose something meaningful/significant. (I.e., there are volumes of collected letters. It is unlikely that one will publish a collected e-mails.)

Chapter four deals with content. Gordon argues that the content of preaching is neither mere moralism, nor navel-gazing, but “the person and work of Christ includ[ing] the character of Christ” (71).

The final chapter is his prescription, which is largely the opposite of the problem he has diagnosed. One stunning quote: “Television-watching prohibits such discernment. One simply cannot regard the significant as more important than the insignificant, and then plop himself in front of a television for two or three hours an evening. The only way the conscience can survive such a colossal waste of a human life is for the individual to refuse to entertain the question of the difference between the significant and the insignificant” (97, emphasis his).

Gordon’s book is profound and provocative. I pray it gets a large reading and, even more so, that pastors would desire to preach and to preach well, no matter what the culture is pushing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wisdom of the Fathers

On Acts 1:11:
“How did they see him go? In the flesh which they touched, which they felt, the scars of which they even probed by touching; in that body in which he went in and out with them for forty days, manifesting himself to them in truth, not in any falsity; not as an apparition, not as a shadow, not as a spirit, but as he himself said, not deceiving, ‘Handle and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see me to have.’ Now, indeed, that body is worthy of a heavenly dwelling place, not subject to death, not changeable through ages. For as he had grown to that age from infancy, so he does not decline to old age from the age which was young adulthood. He remains as he ascended. He is going to come to those to whom, before he comes, he wanted his word to be preached. So, therefore, he will come in a human form.” – St. Augustine, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament V: Acts, 11-12.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 1:1-11:
“‘Men hate the light, because their deeds are evil.’ This will appear to be no false charge, if you consider, that there is scarely any thing that infidels believe, for which they have half the evidence that can be produced in favor of the truth of Christianity. It is not, therefore, to reason that their unbelief should be attributed, but to some other cause; a corrupt taste, an impatience of restraint, a wish to live without any law to control them, or any fear to disturb them in their pleasure.” – John Dick, Lecturers on the Acts of the Apostles, 17-18.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Many Proofs" Sermon: Acts 1:1-5

“Many Proofs”
[Acts 1:1-5]
May 17, 2009 Second Reformed Church

This morning, we begin our look at the book of Acts. The book of Acts is Luke’s second volume – the continuation of his Gospel. We remember how Luke opens his Gospel: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4, ESV).

Luke addresses both his Gospel and the Acts to Theophilus, who was likely a high-ranking official of some sort, given the way Luke addresses him. Theophilus is a Christian, and Luke states that he has written these accounts of the Work of Jesus Christ for Theophilus that he would gain certainty – assurance – about the things he has been taught. How would he gain assurance? By hearing the eyewitness testimony of those who saw and heard all that Jesus did and taught. The Holy Spirit saw to it that the Gospel and Acts were written down, recording the eyewitness testimony of scores of people, that we who believe in Jesus would have additional certainty and assurance in Jesus through reading them.

As Luke open Acts, he tells Theophilus, and us, that the Gospel dealt with everything that Jesus began to do and teach. The implication is that Jesus is still working and teaching in His Risen and Glorified State. Jesus is still working for us and He is still teaching us. Though Jesus is not physically on the earth, He is ministering to us through the reading and preaching of His Word and through the right administration of the sacraments. And, He is working and teaching us and working and teaching through us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:7-15, ESV).

Jesus has ascended back to His Throne, as we mentioned last week. He is sovereignly reigning over all things right now. Do we believe that? Do we have assurance that Jesus is in control of all things? That He is carrying out His Plan, just as it was intended from before the foundation of the world? If we have any doubt, may God the Holy Spirit instruct us and assure us through His Word – through Acts – as we look at it. May He be pleased to increase our faith that we might be better witnesses to Him and His Salvation.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:19-25, ESV).

We are to encourage one another – to build each other up in the assurance of the faith – reminding each other that, through Jesus Christ, we have access to God – we can come before Him boldly – confidently in prayer – and in the sanctuary. As we pray – and pray together – often – we will become all the more certain of the Truth of God’s Word. As we gather together for worship – as we read and hear the Word of God preached – as we receive the sacraments – and do so as often as we are able – we will become all the more certain of the Truth of God’s Word. Jesus continues to work and teach us and work and teach through us, through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

If the Lord is willing, we’ll talk about that more in a few weeks, but let’s understand, this morning, that God the Holy Spirit dwelt in the apostles and dwells in all those who believe in Jesus Christ Alone for salvation. That means when God calls us to faith and belief in Jesus Alone for our salvation, He changes us and gives us work to do. We, Christians, are not the same people we were before we believed in Jesus: we have been forgiven for our sins, we have been credited with Jesus’ Righteousness, we have been indwelt by God the Holy Spirit – by God Himself, and we are now – all – witnesses to Jesus and His Salvation.

We cannot say that we have not be called to be Jesus’ ambassadors. Not all of us have been called to be pastors, but all of us have been gifted by God, and we are to use the gifts that God has given each of us to glorify God – by employing them the best we can – and to show His Salvation to others. Let us rejoice that God equips us and let’s love each other and encourage each other in those ways each of us have been gifted that God would receive the glory and others would desire Jesus and His Salvation through our witness.

After the Resurrection, Luke tells us that Jesus spent forty days on earth with the apostles before He ascended back to His Throne. During that time, He proved the fact of His Resurrection to them – and many others – by showing them His Wounds and allow them to touch Him – to see that He is not a ghost, and by eating with them. Also, during this time, He taught them about the Kingdom of God.

Paul records these words about Christ and the number of eyewitnesses there were to His being raised from the dead: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. And that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the very least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (I Corinthians 15:3-11, ESV).

Many people talk about faith and belief as though it is something we do and have but have no proof – no reasons – for having. In the show “All in the Family,” Archie tried to defend faith by defining it this way: “Faith is believing in something that no one in their right mind would believe” – and many people think like that today. But that’s not what we see in Luke. That’s not what we see in Paul. They say we believe and have faith as a gift from God and through the proofs of the eyewitness testimony of hundreds of people. We have believable eyewitness testimony of the life and teachings of Jesus.

If a person were on trial for murder, and the prosecution brought twenty eyewitnesses forward who saw the defendant commit the murder, it would be practically certain that the defendant would be found guilty – would it not? Luke and Paul had access to over five hundred eyewitnesses – who were all in agreement – to the life and teachings of Jesus.

Now, we cannot interview those eyewitnesses today – now they have all died. But we have the record of the Bible. Sixty-six books written by forty-some different authors, written over two thousand years of time, and there is complete agreement on all things among them. I am often told, “The Bible is full of contradictions,” but I have been challenging anyone from this pulpit for ten years to show me one, and no one has every taken me on. Because they can’t. There are mysteries in the Bible. There are things God did not think we needed to understand. But what we can understand – what God saw as necessary for faith and life – is clear.

So, we might wonder: if the Gospel is clear in the Scripture, why don’t all people believe when it is preached to them? Because “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). Because of the sin of our first parents, every mere human being is born unable to receive the Gospel – everyone is born a sinner, with a will inclined toward evil. We are born doomed, unless God, Himself intervenes and changes our heart – changes our will – so we can believe. Salvation is the Work of God; our work is to spread the Gospel. God has chosen to use us to spread His Word, but it is only by His Will and Power than anyone can come to faith and belief. The problem is not with the mind or the understanding – the problem is with the heart. God must change a human heart in order for him or her to receive the Gospel.

So God has equipped us, just as He equipped the apostles, by changing our hearts and bringing us to faith and belief in Jesus Alone for our Salvation. He has gifted each one of us in ways that we can glorify God and show His Salvation to others. And He has given us the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, through Whom Jesus continues to teach us, work in us and through us, to His Glory, and as He brings others to faith and belief through us.

Notice that after giving this call to the apostles and promising the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to them, Jesus does not give them the indwelling of the Holy Spirit immediately, and He does not send them right out to witness to His Salvation. Instead, He tells them to stay in Jerusalem and wait. Why?

One reason He told them to wait was so they would be in Jerusalem for what would become the Day of Pentecost – and if the Lord is willing, we’ll talk more about that in a few weeks.

Another reason He told them to wait is due to the fact that being God’s people – His ambassadors – His witnesses – is not just about action: sometimes God calls us to stay, to wait, to pray, to listen, to be still. There are times when God calls us to wait on Him quietly – that is not wasting time or being lazy. Jesus often went away by Himself to pray and commune with the Father. We need to do that as well. We need times of quiet waiting and worship before Him, as we pray and read the Scripture and meditate on what He has said and done. Sometimes that is not easy, given the frantic lives that we live, but it is necessary if we are to be healthy and grow and be right before God and useful to Him.

God has given us different gifts and abilities to use for Him, but there are times for us to wait and be still before Him as well. And there are times to gather together with our brothers and sisters and to lift each other up and encourage each other in love and to come before the Throne of God in worship. Let us not neglect all the varieties of our service, because it is for our good.

Luke begins Acts by explaining that he wrote his Gospel and Acts so that the reader would have greater assurance in Jesus and His Salvation through reading them – through knowing the many proofs that Jesus gave of His Resurrection, through the recorded eyewitness testimony of more than five hundred persons who were all in agreement about what Jesus did and said, through the knowledge that Jesus is reigning now, over all things, and continuing to work and teach, through the gift of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit that everyone who believes receives, and through the call that is given to us to employ the gifts we have received, both in times of quiet waiting on God and times of action for God.

Let us read the testimony of the eyewitnesses and believe it and find assurance in it as God convinces us of its truth. And let us renew our commitment to use the gifts that God has given to us for Him in every way He leads us.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You have not left us to our own devices, but You have saved us Yourself for Yourself. We thank You for giving us the Scripture and the testimony of eyewitnesses, so we can know what really happened. We thank You for the gift of God the Holy Spirit, so we can continue to be taught and live out all that You have said. We ask that You would help us to recognize our gifts and use them for You. And we ask that we would be obedient when You call us to wait and when You call us to act. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Review: The Crusades: a Short History

One of the books I read in preparation for our next historical and theological study is The Crusades: a Short History by Jonathan Riley-Smith. I contacted one of my history professors from seminary for his recommendations, since I am not well-verse in this time period, and this was one of the books he recommended.

Riley-Smith’s history is short (257 pages covering 1095 to 1798), but it is also dense. Every sentence is thick with names, places, and dates. For someone wanting to cover the period in detail, but not having to read voluminously, this book is to be highly regarded.

It was good for me to read, both for the information to help me teach the subject, but also in the fact that it emphasizes the history and politics of the period. While the religious aspects of the conflict are (necessarily) mentioned, he does not go into great detail about them. This is an area I will have to supplement and is, perhaps, the book’s major weakness: he talks about “holy war,” “just war,” and “jihad,” but he doesn’t really explain the theological justification (as they understood it) for them.

I have come to understand that, while the crusaders may have largely understood themselves as defending Christ, the kings and popes behind the Crusades certainly appear to have been (largely) more interested in politics that the glorification of Christ. It also seems as thought the Roman Church had come to the misunderstanding of the first century Jews – that the land is central to the Covenant of Salvation.

An enlightening work.

Consistory

The Consistory plans to meet (D.V.), this Sunday, the 17th, after morning worship. Consistory members, please plan to stay for this meeting.

Wednesday Night Study

Due to a scheduling conflict, "The General Councils and the Crusades" study will not start on June 3rd. We plan, D.V., to begin our study on Wednesday, June 10th, at 7PM. Everyone is welcome!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Continual Blessing" Sermon: Luke 24:50-53

“Continual Blessing”
[Luke 24:50-53]
May 10, 2009 Second Reformed Church

This morning, we continue our look at what happened after the Resurrection. We remember that Jesus appeared to the disciples and gave them proof and assurance of His Resurrection: He allowed them to touch Him and look at His Wounds – to see that He was alive, in His Physical Body, and He also ate with them to prove that He was not a ghost.

Jesus also went through the entire Old Testament and showed them how He fulfilled the Scripture concerning the first coming of the Savior and why He had to endure the suffering He endured in order to give salvation to all those who would believe in Him Alone for salvation.

Then Jesus told His disciples that He was calling them to preach the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness to the whole world – first in Jerusalem and then throughout the world – not just to the Jews, but to all people. That call remains on the Church until Jesus returns.

Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until power came upon them – the power to be able to do all that God had commanded them. That power would come upon them in the form of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. And now every Christian has God the Holy Spirit within him or her – to remind us of what Jesus said and to help us to understand all that God has taught us in the Scripture.

This morning, we come to the end of the first volume of Luke’s work – the second volume being Acts. Luke ends his Gospel in a way that suggests a sequel, and, Lord Willing, we will look at Acts beginning next Sunday.

In these final verses, we learn four things:

First, we learn that, after Jesus led the disciples to Bethany, He lifted up His Hands and blessed them. Jesus, the Holy God, graciously blessed His sinful followers – and Jesus continues to bless all those who believe in Him: being a disciple of Jesus is a blessing – it is to live in a state of blessedness. You and I and all those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation are blessed.

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

“In him we obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed him were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:3-14, ESV).

What blessings have we been blessed with? To begin with:

We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing – including the fact that God chose us to be His before the foundation of the world, and He has promised that we shall be holy and blameless, like Jesus, at the end of the age.

We have been blessed in God loving us so much that He adopted us through Jesus Christ, according to His Eternal Purpose – which brings praise and blessing to God for His Glorious Grace. God has made us brothers and sisters of Jesus – co-heirs with Him – and now that we are co-heirs with Christ, we glorify His Grace. You and I are sons and daughters of God – the God Who called all things into being and preserves them by His Power. We only, of all the created beings, call God, “Father.”

We have been blessed by being redeemed through Christ’s Blood. We have been forgiven for our sins through Christ’s Blood. We have been credited with Christ’s Holiness through His Blood. He has lavished His Grace upon us – He didn’t just give us a little here and a little there – no, Jesus dumped bucket after bucket of grace over us. (To put it crudely.) And we have received wisdom and insight, so that we might understand the mysteries of His Will. God inhabits us and makes us understand His Word – the believers of the Old Testament wished that they had the insight from God to understand all that we can now understand on this side of the cross.

We have been blessed through the assurance and the promise that Christ gives us that God has a Plan, and He is carrying it out, exactly as He planned. And in the wisdom of that Plan, we and all things are being united to Christ – we look forward to the restoration and perfection of ourselves and the rest of the Creation.

We have been blessed, as sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, in being promised that there is an inheritance for us, which we shall receive in God’s Time, in accordance with the counsel of His Will, so that our hope will be fulfilled, to the glory of Christ. The future is set, and it is glorious for the Christian. We have received the Holy Spirit, and He is the guarantee of our inheritance, that God would receive the glory.

If these are some of the blessings we have received through Jesus, how ought we to live? We ought to have joy, ought we not? By looking at ourselves and our world through the light of the blessings of the Gospel, we can have joy at all times and in all places.

Most of you know that I have sarcoidosis, which is, at present, an incurable disease. I would prefer not to be ill. I would prefer not to endure the pain I have. But, I have joy through Jesus Christ, because this illness is not an accident, but something God has given me to mature me and teach me and to help me in my ministry to you. And, I have joy, because I know that after I die, I will be raised again, and when I am raised, this body will be perfected and disease-free. On that day, I will be a glory to God, and I have joy because I know that is true and certain.

You can also have this joy, by looking at yourself and your circumstances through the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You will still have pain and disappointment and suffering, but, as you understand it in the bigger picture of what God is doing and what Jesus has done for you, you can have joy – not a phoney smile, but a deep, abiding peace in the knowledge of the Sovereignty of our God.

Second, Luke tells us that Jesus ascended back to His Throne – and we’ll look at this in more detail, Lord Willing, as we look at the book of Acts. For today, let us understand that in the Ascension, Jesus completed the Work of Salvation.

Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11, ESV).

And the author of Hebrews wrote, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2, ESV).

Theologians talk about this as the humiliation and the exaltation of Christ: The Son of God willing left His Throne and descended to earth and was born as a human being, suffered, died, rose, and ascended back to His Throne. The Ascension completes the cycle of the Work of Christ. The completion of Jesus’ Work is not Christmas or Easter, but the Ascension.

Keep this in mind, and if the Lord is willing, we will look at this in more detail soon.

Third, Luke tells us that the disciples worshiped Jesus. The doubt the disciples previously had was now gone: they believed in Jesus whole-heartedly, and they fell down before Him and worshiped Him.

Now, if you were a Old Testament Jew or a modern Christian, how would you answer this question: “Who is to be worshiped?” Lest we forget: “You shall have no other gods before me. ... You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God and a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:3, 5-6, ESV).

Who is to be worshiped? God, and God Alone. The disciples worshiped Jesus, so they understood Him to be Whom? God. The disciples worshiping of Jesus is a confession of their belief that He is the One, Almighty God.

I have a friend who gets mad at me when I say that Jesus is God. She always says, “Jesus is not God, He’s the Son of God.” I’ve tried to explain that confusion: her argument would be like saying, I am not a pastor, I’m a man. “Son of God” is a title that Jesus has, but in His Being, He is God. As we talked about the Trinity, we saw that there are Three distinct Persons, but Each One of those Persons is the Same One God. So, Jesus is God – in His Being, in His Substance, in His Essence, and He is the “Son of God” in His Person, just as He is also the “Prince of Peace” and the “Son of Man,” etc.

So don’t think you are blaspheming God the Father by calling Jesus God. Jesus is God and the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and the Three Persons are the One God. Jesus is not the Father, but He is the Same, One God as the Father. That is the mystery of the Trinity. But Jesus is God. And we are right to confess Jesus as God and worship Him as God, just as the disciples did.

And fourth, Luke tells us that the disciples returned to Jerusalem “and were continually in the temple blessing God.” That does not mean that they were in the temple every minute of the day and never left. What it means is that they were there whenever worship was occurring and that they believed and lived out the fact that our Triune God is always worthy of worship.

That worship did not just take place in the temple as a worship service, though. They also worshiped God by going out and telling others about the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness. Mark wrote, “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20, ESV).

As Christians, we ought to find ourselves drawn to the things of God and to the worship of God. We ought to find ourselves desiring to be in His Presence with our brothers and sisters, worshiping Him, proclaiming Who He is and what He has done. We ought to find ourselves joyfully compelled to be in worship as often as possible and to tell others about Jesus and His Gospel.

Do you love Jesus? Do you love His Church? Do you want to be in His Presence, in worship? Do you want to commune with Him – fellowship with Him? Then look at yourself and your life through the lense of the Gospel and see how blessed you are. Understand that Jesus has finished the Work of Salvation. And worship Jesus, our God and Savior. Come into the sanctuary as often as you can and work to bring others with you. Tell them who Jesus is and why that matters – why you see things differently as a follower of Jesus Christ. And give continual blessing to our God, for He is worthy.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for blessing us beyond our comprehension. We thank You that the Work of Salvation is Yours Alone and You have completed it. We thank You for letting us know that You are a Triune God and only God could save us from the debt of our sin. We thank You for this Church, for this company of saints with whom we join together and worship You. We thank You for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, for Your Presence in the Sacrament, and for the blessing of Your Grace that we shall receive as we receive the elements. We ask that, in all things, You would make us a glory to Yourself. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Review: The Sparrow

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is a novel that was recommended and lent to me by one of the women at church. I took forever to open it, but once I got into it, and I admit, I struggled in the beginning, whether due to my state of mind or it being science fiction and moving back and forth in time throughout the text, I enjoyed the work greatly.

Russell writes of the discovery of life on a planet in the next galaxy. A team is put together to travel there to find out about them – a very curious group of people, including a few Jesuit priests. They arrive, meet the inhabitants and spend several years there, during which, they experience more than they ever expected.

Reading the novel, one is confronted with questions about how one ought and what it means to encounter a species for the first time. But even more so, one is faced with questions about God: Is there a God? And if so, does He intervene in human history in any way? And if God does, what does that mean, given the history of humanity?

I wondered about the title of the book, and it’s meaning is revealed very near the end of the novel. I was slapped across the face (figuratively) when it was revealed, being shocked into not just considering a novel, but real questions about the nature of reality.

I recommend the novel for any interested in science fiction, religion, and/or questions about providence. Russell has written a sequel, Children of God, and I intend to read it.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Review: The General Councils: a History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicea to Vatican II

I read The General Councils: a History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicea to Vatican II by Dr. Christopher M. Bellitto in preparation for a study I plan to lead on the Crusades and the Church Councils of the period. (Last year, I lead a study on the eight “ecumenical” councils.). Bellitto’s book is concise, readable, and presents the major historical, political, and theological issues involved in the Councils. I am finding it helpful in my preparations, and I believe anyone interested in the Councils would benefit from this introduction.

Two caveats about the book: First, I wish he had spent more time in fleshing out the theological issues: one can get the point of them, but one’s understanding would be clearer with a little more explanation.

Second, this book is written from a decidedly Roman Catholic perspective and that, perhaps, has led to slighting the Protestants, especially in the section on Trent, by not fully presenting their views. For example: on page 105, he claims that Protestants believe that Adam’s sin did not stain his prodigy, but only gave them a predisposition to sin. Then, on page 106, he claims that there are two views of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in Protestantism: consubstantiation and memorialism. It is disappointing that a historian would leave out other prominent views.

If one knows enough Protestant and doctrinal history, one can easily balance out these problems.