Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July Sermons

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

7/5/09 Communion Acts 2:42-47 "What Does the Church Look Like?”
7/10/09 John Calvin's 500th birthday!
7/12/09 Acts 3:1-10 “What We Have to Give”
7/19/09 Acts 3:11-26 “Faith Alone”
7/26/09 Acts 4:1-12 “There is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone”

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:38 –

“Evangelical repentance, in its widest sense, is an entire revolution of the principles and practice, of the heart and life” – J. A. Alexander, Acts, 84.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:37 –

“Therefore, let us make up our minds that when coming to commune at the table of Jesus Christ, we do what is demonstrated here, namely that we confess our sins in such a way that, instead of delighting in them, we have the pricking of the heart spoken here so that we can come and seek in the Lord’s Supper what we are supposed to find in it. It is true that we will not be appropriately prepared for approaching this holy table, but knowing our infirmity, we must very reverently seek in it what is lacking in us. That is why the Lord’s table is offered to us so many times. We are so weak that we are no sooner lifted up that we fall again straightway” – John Calvin, Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 1-7, 24-25.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"God's Plan" Sermon: Acts 2:22-41

“God’s Plan”
[Acts 2:22-41]
June 28, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Who killed Jesus?

When Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” was released, many people objected to it as being anti-Semitic, because it presented the Jews as being the ones who put Jesus to death – that they were the ones who desired it and pursued it and saw it accomplished.

Who killed Jesus?

We have heard the second half of Peter’s Pentecost sermon read this morning. We have already seen that Peter began his sermon by refuting the ridiculous accusation that they were able to speak in all of the languages present by being drunk. Peter explained that what happened was what had been prophesied by the prophet Joel, and they were now indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, and He gave them the gift of being able to speak in all of the languages of those present so that Gospel could be preached to them and understood by them. The Holy Spirit now indwells every Christian and gives each one of us the gifts that we need to be God’s people and to glorify Him.

Peter began, in this section, by calling the crowd to attention, and telling them that Jesus of Nazareth was attested by God with works, wonders, and signs that God did in their midst, “as you yourselves know.” Peter began, not as John does, by talking about Jesus’ Divinity, but by calling to their mind the Man, Jesus, the Nazarene, the Man that they had seen perform works and wonders and signs – which He could not have done unless they were done through Him by God. He was an Innocent Man. Peter said, “Come to attention Listen to me This Man, Jesus the Nazarene, Whom you all know, did works and wonders and signs by God working through Him, and you all saw the things that He did – “

Jesus, an Innocent Man, was crucified according to the Eternal Plan of God. It was always God’s Plan, from before the foundation of the world to put Jesus to death in this way. God killed Jesus. As Peter wrote, “[Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in these last times for your sake,” (I Peter 2:1:20, ESV).

Remember, these people were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, so the very people – the crowd, the high priests, and the Pharisees – who cried out, “Crucify Him ” would likely have been in the crowd.

We can imagine them exhaling to hear Peter say this: “O.K. He’s attributing the death of Jesus, an Innocent Man, to God; he’s not blaming us – we’re off the hook. He’s heading somewhere else with his sermon.”

“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 yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed...”

“Yes, Jesus, an Innocent Man, was killed according to the Plan of God, but you, you supposedly pious Jews, you crucified Him and you killed Him ” There is no getting around the fact that from the beginning of Jesus’ Ministry the Jews, and the Pharisees and Sadducees in particular, sought to have Jesus, an Innocent Man, put to death and saw to it that He was killed.

And we can hear them crying out, “It’s wasn’t us, it was the Romans! We never touched Him; Pilate ordered His crucifixion! ” And it’s true – the Jews didn’t physically put Jesus to death – they couldn’t – they were under the rule of Rome and Rome didn’t allow the Jews to carry out capital punishment on their own: they had to bring such cases to Rome for prosecution.

No, the Jews could not physically carry out capital punishment, so they brought Jesus, an Innocent Man, to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, under false charges, and asked to have Him crucified. And Pilate interviewed Jesus and concluded that He was innocent (cf. Matthew 27:24; Luke 23:4). Pilate told the crowd that he could find nothing in the Man to prosecute, much less put to death. But Pilate was a man driven by fear and power.

The crowd cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12b, ESV). Pilate was not going to allow his loyalty to Caesar to be questioned for the sake of a Jewish Rabbi Who would not even defend Himself. So Pilate gave the people what they wanted and ordered Jesus to be crucified.

God killed Jesus. The Jews killed Jesus. The Romans killed Jesus. An Innocent Man.

But Jesus didn’t stay dead. Peter explained, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Why not? Peter quotes David in Psalm 19 where David prophesied that God’s Holy One would not remain in Hades – the land of the dead – He would not see corruption – His Body would not decay – because He was Holy, and God would raise Him from the dead.

Peter explained that this was a prophecy about Jesus, not about David, because David died and his tomb was open for anyone to visit and see his bones. “This Psalm is not about David, himself, as many of you have thought, because David died – his bones are in his tomb – he decayed – you have seen his bones when you have visited his tomb. David is prophesying about Someone else – an Innocent Man – a Holy Man.”

“And, not only that, since David is a prophet, and God swore to him that he would always have one of his ancestors on his throne , and you have just seen that David was prophesying the resurrection of the Man, Jesus, in Psalm 19, then He is also the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, and all of we Galileans who are now able to speak in your languages through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit testify that we are all eyewitnesses to the Man Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead.”

But there was another Psalm Peter wanted to point them to – Psalm 110, where David wrote, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Now, we don’t see it in our English translations, but two different words are used for “Lord” in this verse: the first “Lord” is YHWH – the One God of Israel – Who gave this most personal Name of God to Moses when Moses met God in the burning bush. The second “Lord” is Adonai, which is a more general term and can apply both to humans and God. But who does it apply to here?

Peter tells them to understand the text: “YHWH [God] said to Adonai, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” David is not Adonai – he is not seated at the Right Hand of God – he is lying in his grave, and David did not have all of his enemies defeated – even his own sons fought against him in life. No, it was Jesus, the Innocent – the One Holy Man – Who Peter and the others were eyewitnesses to His Ascension back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father.

What does this mean? If Jesus is seated at the Right Hand of God, the Father, He is more than an Innocent Man – more than a Holy Man – He is none other than God. Peter said, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God made him both Lord and Christ.” Understand that the word that is translated “made” in our text indicates “being declared.” It is not as though Peter is saying that Jesus didn’t use to be Lord and Christ, but now He is. No, Peter is saying that through Jesus’ Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, God declares the Truth that Jesus is Lord and Christ. He is the enthroned God. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior that they had waited four thousand years for.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” This was all according to God’s Holy Plan, but the Romans killed Him and the Jews killed Him – they killed, not merely an Innocent Man, but Jesus, the God-Man, the Son of God, the Savior of all those who will believe in Him Alone for salvation. They murdered the Incarnate God – the Romans and the Jews – the Gentiles and the Jews. You and me.

You crucified Jesus! You crucified Jesus! You crucified Jesus! I crucified Jesus!

And you might be tempted to say, “No, no, pastor – you’ve gone beyond what the text says – Peter is not saying that all of humanity crucified Jesus, but that certain Romans and certain Jews had Him put to death.” It is true, in history, certain Romans and certain Jews actually saw to it that Jesus, the God-Man, was murdered. But the Scripture points the finger and lays the guilt on all of us:

“For while we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6, ESV).

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3, ESV).

“[In rejecting Christ], they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Hebrews 6:6b, ESV).

If you have every sinned – if you have ever done something that God has forbidden or not done something that God has commanded – you crucified Jesus. You murdered Jesus. I murdered Jesus.

In the Mercy of God, many in that crowd were “cut to the heart” and cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” It’s the only response that makes sense. If we understand that each one of us crucified Jesus – each time we sin, it is as though we cry out, “Crucify Him again ” – if we understand that we murdered, not merely an Innocent Man, but the God-Man, the Savior that God sent, what other response could possibly make sense?

If we understand that we killed the Son of God, what punishment might be appropriate? In our country, when a person commits first-degree murder of a fellow human being – a fellow sinner – he or she is sent to prison or put to death. That is what we do for murdering a sinner. What punishment is just for murdering the Incarnate God? The Scripture tells us that the appropriate punishment is to suffer for all of eternity in body, soul, mind, and spirit. That sounds about right, doesn’t it? But I don’t want that, do you?

“What shall we do?”

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Repent – do a complete turn around – confess your sins to God and then commit yourself to not do them any more. Ask God to forgive you for all that you have done wrong and then do everything in your power not to do anything against God again. Repentance involves a complete turn-around – that’s what the word means. And if you come to Jesus, asking Him to forgive you for your sins, believing that He is God and Savior, He will forgive you.

And then be baptized - as a public sign and seal of the change in your life.

And, as a Christian, God, Himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, will indwell you and teach you and lead you and remind you of all that Jesus said.

Either that, or pay your debt to God – eternally.

Peter continues by explaining that this salvation is for every type of human being: this promise of salvation is for “you” – it is for those Jews that were there are that first Pentecost – any there that confessed their sins to God and believed in Jesus Alone received His Salvation. And this promise of salvation is for “your children” – God did not break the Covenant that He made with Abraham – the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness is first to the biological Jews and their descendants (Cf. Romans 1:16). But the promise of salvation is also for “all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” That means that this salvation is open to the non-Jews – to the Gentiles – to you and me – to everyone – every type of person no matter what their heritage or nationality. God is calling a people to repentance and belief from the Jews and their descendants and from all of the other nations of the world.

Peter continued preaching for a long time, as Luke tells us, “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’”

That is the Gospel: before the foundation of the world, God decided that God the Son would Incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ, live, die, rise, and ascend back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father, for His Glory, and for the salvation of all those who will repent and believe in Him. That is the message this morning. That is the message every morning.

We are celebrating the 93rd anniversary of this church this morning. This church exists to let everyone know the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then to teach how we live that out. This church will continue to exist as long as we continue to do that and God is pleased to use us to that end in this place. Second Reformed Church is not a social club. We don’t get together merely to make each other feel good. We don’t open our doors merely to get people off the streets. The point and purpose of this church, and the Church in general, is to direct us to Jesus Christ and His Salvation. God is using us to gather “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

If God is calling you, now is the time to repent an ask for His forgiveness, and He will give it to all those who sincerely repent. On that first Pentecost, after Peter preached, three thousand people repented and were baptized. What about today?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending Your Son to be our salvation. We thank You that You did not just leave us alone in our sin, but may the Way for us to be reconciled to You through the Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus. We ask that each one who has heard Your Word this morning would be “cut to the heart” and come to belief. And we ask, as we celebrate our 93rd anniversary, that we would understand that You have given us this church building as an outpost to shine the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May we renew our commitment to You and the work You have called us to in Your Mercy. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Anniversary Sunday

Come celebrate the 93rd anniversary of Second Reformed Church tomorrow with Bible Study at 9AM, worship at 10:30AM, and then a pot-luck lunch at about 11:45AM. All are welcome! Rejoice and worship our God and Savior with us!

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:37 –

“If ever confusion, remorse, and terror, rushed at once into the bosom of a sinner with irresistible force, it was at this moment, when the Jews learned, that the deceiver whom they had nailed to the cross, the blasphemer whose blood they had shed, was the Redeemer promised to the Church, the Son of the Living God, the Lord of heaven and earth. What a crime they had committed The annals of human guilt could not furnish another of equal atrocity. How dreadful was the punishment which they had reason to expect Now they remembered their own imprecation, ‘His blood be on us and on our children;’ and they trembled lest its weight should press them down to the lowest hell” – John Dick, Lecturers on the Acts of the Apostles, 32.

Review: "Where Are All the Brothers?"

I heard Rev. Eric C. Redman preach at a conference recently and mention was made of his book, Where Are All the Brothers? Straight Answers to Men’s Questions About the Church. The one thing that is not obvious from the book’s title is that it is directed specifically to African-American men. (Pastor Redman expressed his passion to get African-American men back into the Church.)

The book, at just over a hundred pages, is written in a conversational tone and is a quick read. Redman addresses nine objections to being involved with the Church, including, “Isn’t the Church Full of Hypocrites?”, “Isn’t the Church Geared Toward Women?”, and “Aren’t Some Churches Just After Your Money?” Each one is addressed, some better than others, and reasons are given to dispel the myth and encourage African-American men to become a part of the Church.

I found the chapter on Islam weak, but that may just be because I am not African-American and have not ever been attracted to Islam. Redman argues for the Church based on the influence of African-American men, especially in the Patristic Age.

There are two appendices – one on New Testament fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and one on the issue of practicing homosexuals Among African-American men (this could really have been a tenth chapter, rather than an appendix.)

The book, overall, is strong and passionate, biblical and Reformed. The one caveat is something I hope will be edited in a future edition of the book: on page 75, Redman writes, “After living a perfect life, Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for all people and their sins” (emphasis mine). Of course, this is neither biblical, nor Reformed. If Jesus died as a Substitute for the sins of all people, then all people must necessarily be saved. I am hopeful that this was a slip of Redman’s passion, as it did not seem to be the doctrine that he was preaching; Jesus died as a Substitute for the sins of all those who will believe in Him – no more, nor less. The Atonement is Particular, or in the older texts, “Limited.”

That being said, I believe this book can be a very helpful evangelistic tool to bring African-American men (especially) into the Church, and I hope it will be widely used to the glory of God.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:23 –

Being delivered up. The term, in this form, is only used here. The verb is used in the New Testament of letting out a vineyard, and in no other sense. Here it conveys the idea of His being put into their hands by the voluntary plan of the Father. It was by no chance or compulsion. He was not wrested from the Father’s hands. He Himself was voluntary in it all” – Melancthon W. Jacobus, Notes – Critical and Explanatory – on the Acts of the Apostles, 67.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"Grace" Sermon: John 1:14-18

[John 1:14-18]
June 18, 2009 Old First Presbyterian Church

This morning, we conclude the introduction to John’s Gospel. So far we have seen that the Word, Jesus, is God. Then we saw that Jesus came into the world and was rejected by most, but to those who received Him, He gave them the right to become children of God.

John begins in verse fourteen by telling us that the Word, God the Son, incarnate – He became flesh and dwelt among humans. Understand, John is not saying that God indwelt a man – God indwells believers, now, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, but that is not what John is talking about. John is telling us that God became a man. God, in the Person of the Son became a real human being, with a real human nature, and a real human will. How can this be? It’s one of the mysteries of the faith: the Incarnate God is at the same time both wholly God and wholly human – He is One Person with two natures and two wills.

Paul wrote, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: [Jesus] was manifested in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16a, ESV).

How the Son of God became a human is a mystery, but why He became a human has been revealed to us. The Word incarnated so He would be able to be an example to us of holy living and growth in the faith. As Luke tells us, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52, ESV). In His Humanity, Jesus lived under the Law and grew, and He is an example to us of the holy life that we are called to live.

More importantly, in an eternal sense, the Word incarnated so He would be able to suffer and die for the sins and the sake of all those who would believe in Him. God cannot suffer or die – the only way that He could suffer and die – and survive – is if He is both fully God and fully human, which is why He had to incarnate to save us.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15, ESV).

John tells us that in becoming human, the Word exhibited His Glory, Grace, and Truth for all who would see and receive it. Even though Jesus is a human being, He is also the One Almighty God at the same time, so when the people interacted with Jesus, those who were willing to receive Him could see the supreme excellencies of His Divine Nature coming through.

As we read the Scripture, we can see some of those as well, even though Jesus is not here in His Physical Body any more. We can understand that Jesus, the Son of God, before the foundation of the world willing gave Himself to be the sacrifice for His people – how great is His Love for all those who will believe We can understand – in the sense of understanding a mystery – that Jesus is wholly God and wholly Human, and there is no way He could be our Savior unless He is both. We can understand that He lived a perfect and holy life under the Law of God – He is sinless, and, therefore, was able to be our Substitute on the cross.

Then John gives us a parenthesis about John the Baptist – Jesus’ cousin – and tells us that John the Baptist said that Jesus is of a higher rank than he, because Jesus existed before him. What is John telling us? John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus, so he is not talking about their physical birth. What he is talking about is the fact that Jesus existed before He existed in Mary’s womb. John and John the Baptist are confessing that Jesus is the Divine – He is God. As Paul wrote, “For in [Jesus] the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9, ESV).

John does not want us to forget or be confused: the Word is the Son of God, Jesus, the One Almighty God. He was and is and will always be the One God, fully Divine and Holy. And, at the same time, in a way that is a mystery to us, when the Word incarnated on earth some two thousand years ago, He became – while remaining God – He became a real, complete, full human being – Jesus of Nazareth. The Incarnation is a mystery, but we must understand – John wants us to begin and to hold on to the understanding that the Incarnate Word is One Person, completely and unconfusedly God and, at the same time, a real, entirely human being like us. And He must be to be our Example, our Substitute, and our Savior.

John continues by saying, “And from his fulness we have all received, grace upon grace.” This means two things: it means that Jesus gives us “new” grace to replace the “old” grace – we continually receive grace: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV). It also tells us that God does not merely hand out “one” grace at a time, but heaps grace upon us – grace upon grace. God will not be outdone in the love and the mercy that He shows to His people. Thanks be to God!

John continues by telling us that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Moses. God prophesied to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I have command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18, ESV). The prophet, Jesus, is the fulfillment of the prophet, Moses.

Moses gave humanity the Law, which exposes our sin – it makes it clear to us that every mere human being is a sinner. As Paul wrote, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7, ESV). Jesus Christ gives us grace and truth and pays our debts and credits us with His Righteousness.

After stating this, it seems like John takes a detour by telling us “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” But it really isn’t a detour: who is John talking about? He’s talking about God, the One and Only God, the God Who is at the Father’s Side. Who is that? He is not talking about God the Father – this One is at the Father’s Side. He talking about the Word, the Son of God, Who incarnated, becoming the Man, Christ Jesus.

So what is John telling us about Jesus in verse eighteen? Remember what Jesus said, “God is spirit” (John 4:24a, ESV). God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, existed eternally before the Creation and they were a spirit. Neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit had a body or material form prior to the Creation – and the Father and the Holy Spirit still do not – neither of them ever became a human. But the Son did.

What John is telling us is that God made God known to us through the Incarnation of the Son. No one had ever seen God before the Son came to earth. But through God’s Grace and Love and Mercy, God did come to earth. God did become a human. God did make Himself visibly known to humans. And, not only that, He saved us.

Let us be amazed at what God has done. Let us be amazed that God chose to incarnate as a human being. Let us be amazed that God chose to suffer and die for our sin and credit His Righteousness to us that we who believe would live eternally with Him. Let us never lose the sense of wonder we first had when we came to believe that Jesus is the God-Man.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that the Son chose to incarnate. We thank You that He has become an example to us and our Salvation. Help us to hold fast to the mystery of the Incarnation, and may we be eternally lost in wonder at what You have done for us and how You have done it. For to You belongs all the praise. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Puritan Wisdom

On Acts 2:20 –

“The blood of the Son of God, the fire of the holy Ghost’s appearance, the vapour of the smoke in which Christ ascended, the Sun darkened, and the Moon made blood at his passion, were all accomplished upon this point of time; and it were very improper to looke for the accomplishment of the rest of the prophecy I know not how many hundreds or thousands of years after.” – John Lightfoote, A Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles: Chronicall and Criticall. The Difficulties of the Text explained, And the times of the Story cast into ANNALS. The First Part. From the beginning of the Booke, to the end of the Twelfth CHAPTER. With a briefe Survey of the Contemporary Story of the JEWES and ROMANS, 49.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit" Sermon: Acts 2:1-21

“The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit”
[Acts 2:1-21]
May 31. 2009 Emmanuel OPC
June 14, 2009 Second Reformed Church

After the Resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with the disciples. While He was with them, He gave them proofs that He truly rose from the dead and was not a ghost. Jesus showed them His wounds from the nails and the spear. He allowed them to touch Him and see that He had flesh and bones. And He ate with them. Jesus had risen from the dead in His Physical Body, and in doing that, He assures all those who believe in Him Alone for salvation, that we shall also rise in our physical bodies, perfected, sinless, made like Him.

During those forty days, Jesus also taught them about the Kingdom of God and promised them that they would receive power through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. And Jesus called them – and all believers after them – to be His witnesses to every people and nation throughout the world.

After the forty days had lapsed, Jesus ascended, bodily, before the eyes of His disciples, on a cloud, back to the Throne of the Son, and where He reigns over all creation. The disciples were confronted by two men who appeared and told them to stop staring into the heavens, but to go to Jerusalem as Jesus had instructed them, to wait for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And the men reminded the disciples that Jesus would return one day, just as He had left them, on a cloud.

So, the disciples returned to Jerusalem – there were one hundred and twenty in their company – and they waited in the upper room and prayed. While they were there, they discussed that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was prophesied in Scripture, as was Judas’ suicide. And they decided, under the direction of God, to choose Matthias to replace Judas.

When we reach this morning’s Scripture, it is ten days after the Ascension. It was the day that we now remember as the day of Pentecost. We celebrated Pentecost two weeks ago, but, today, let’s remember what the Scripture tells us about it.

Ten days after the Ascension, the disciples – one hundred and twenty of them – were in the upper room, praying, and suddenly a noise came from heaven like a mighty rushing wind, which filled the entire house. And then, divided tongues of fire, visibly appeared and rested on each one of the disciples. And they were all indwelt by God the Holy Spirit.

And we might wonder why – why the noise and the visuals? We understand that every one who believes in Jesus Alone for salvation is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but I would venture to guess that when we received Jesus, none of us heard a mighty, rushing wind and saw divided tongues of fire. Why was there noise and visuals for the one hundred and twenty?

The Holy Spirit indwelt the disciples with audible and visible signs so there would be no doubt that they had received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and His Power. God had work for the disciples to do – that day – and they needed to have the assurance that they had received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and now were empowered by Him.

John the Baptist indicated that this would be the way that the Holy Spirit would be received, as he said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11, ESV).

Luke tells us that when “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit...[they] began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” What does that mean, and why were they all given that gift?

Luke tells us that there were people in Jerusalem at that time “from every nation under heaven”: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontius, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and Romans. They were in Jerusalem: Jews, Gentiles, and Arabians. Why? Because it was the Feast of Weeks.

Moses recorded God’s Words in Leviticus 23:15-21: “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord. And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering of pleasant aroma to the Lord. And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. And you shall make a proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places through out your generations" (ESV).

Devout people from all over the world were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks and – here is the reason God gave the disciples the gift of tongues – that they all spoke different languages. The Holy Spirit gave them the gift – the ability – to speak in other languages instantly, because they did not have time to go to school to learn all of the languages that were represented at that time in Jerusalem. They needed to be able to speak in all of those languages instantly, so they could preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and have everyone hear and understand it in their own language.

It was always God’s Purpose to call people to Himself from all over the world, as Isaiah prophesied, “In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea” (Isaiah 11:11, ESV).

Jesus, Himself, promised that they would be able to address the nations in their own tongues, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on they sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:15b-18, ESV).

God gave them the ability to speak in all of those languages because people from all over the world were worshiping in Jerusalem, and God wanted them to hear the Gospel in their own language; the disciples didn’t have the time to learn the languages, so the Holy Spirit gave them the ability to speak in all those languages immediately.

What about today? There are some denominations that say that the gift of tongues is still given. There are some who say that Christians are even given the ability to speak in a non-earthly, angelic language. Without going into a long apologetic on this, let us understand that the purpose of the gift of tongues was to be able to immediately preach the Gospel to people who spoke other languages, who would not be there long enough for the disciples to study the languages first. Let us also understand that even if there is a non-human angelic language, Jesus did not purchase salvation for them, so what would be the point of preaching the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness to them?

Hear what Paul wrote about the gifts of the Holy Spirit:”Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed ’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given through the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one, individually as he wills” (I Corinthians 12:1-11, ESV).

Paul continues, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away” (II Corinthians 13:8, ESV).

So, the disciples were given the ability to speak in the languages of all those in Jerusalem for the feast that they would be able to preach the Gospel to everyone in their own language. And what was the response of the people? All the people were “amazed and perplexed” and asked themselves, “What does this mean?” Suddenly all these Galileans were speaking in the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, and Pontius, the inhabitants of Asia, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and the Romans.

Some answered, “They are filled with new wine.” Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? The disciples suddenly had the ability to speak in all the languages of those there in Jerusalem. The only way they could have gained that ability was through getting drunk. Right? Were it only that easy to learn another language No. We see in this response that Satan will do anything to distract and dissuade from the message of the Gospel. The devil will resort to cunning and stupidity to try to get people to doubt or ignore the Gospel message. And we need to be aware of that when we talk with people about the Gospel.

When we talk with people about the Gospel, we need to gently keep the discussion on track. Very often when I talk with people, they bring up the sins of the Church – the Inquisition, the Crusades – or they tell me that they know Christians who are involved in this sin or that sin, or they tell me that they attended such-and-such a church and found this wrong and that wrong. We need to be honest: Christians sin; the Church sins. But then we need to gently guide the conversation back to looking at the Scripture and what Jesus has done. Because God’s Word is infallible and inerrant, and Jesus never sinned. If salvation were to be received based on the actual holiness of the Church and Christians in this life, then very few would reason to believe. It is through Jesus Christ and His Sinless Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, which the Holy Spirit had recorded without error in the Scripture, that anyone receives salvation.

So the apostle Peter guided those there away from Satan’s ridiculous accusation – Peter told them that they were not drunk; it was only nine o’clock in the morning – and he brought them back to the Scripture, “This is what was uttered by the prophet Joel.”

What the prophet Joel prophesied was this:

In the last days, God the Holy Spirit will indwell people from all over the world. Isaiah also prophesied, “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessings on your descendants” (Isaiah 44:3, ESV). And Ezekiel prophesied, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27, ESV).

Paul confirms that everyone who believes in Jesus Alone for salvation receives the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit: “And hope does not put to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5, ESV). And again, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, who he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7, ESV).

And God will shows His Power in the Creation: “blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke, the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.” Matthew wrote of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. ... And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of their tombs after his resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:45, 51-53, ESV).

And then Peter tells us, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

If you believe in Jesus Alone for salvation, then He has saved you, and He has given you the Gift of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, “But when the Helper, the Holy Spirit comes, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV). “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 the 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 16:8-15, ESV).

Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the disciples, and all we who believe, now have the power to do what God has called us to do. We have each been given gifts – many different gifts – by the Holy Spirit that we are to use in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit now helps us to remember and understand what God has said in His Word.

What shall we do with this truth? Now that we know that God the Holy Spirit lives within us and empowers us and leads us to remember and understand God’s Word, are we willing to be obedient to God’s call on us to proclaim the Gospel to all people?

We are not all pastors. We are not are evangelists. We are not all “professional” missionaries. But God has gifted you and God has gifted me in ways that He will use to proclaim His Salvation. Shall we teach in the public schools in such a way that people come to know that Only in Jesus Alone is there salvation? Shall we work as an accountant in such a way that people come to know that Only in Jesus Alone is there salvation? Shall we work at being a student in such a way that people come to know that Only in Jesus Alone is there salvation? Shall we work as a homemaker or a retired person in such a way that people come to know that Only in Jesus Alone is there salvation? Shall we do whatever we are gifted to do in such a way that people come to know that Only in Jesus Alone is there salvation? Jesus has placed that call upon our lives.

We are not called to be Billy Graham or R.C. Sproul or John Piper or any other figure that we may see God working through. God has called us to be who each of us is, with the gifts that He has given us, to be used for His Sake, for His Glory, for the proclaiming of His Gospel.

As we remember the day of Pentecost, let us seek to understand what gifts the Holy Spirit has given to us, and then let us purpose to use them to make the Gospel of salvation known, “that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that we have not been left alone, but You have indwelt every Christian with God the Holy Spirit and gifted each one of us for Your Sake. Keep us from being afraid, and cause us to live out our faith as witnesses to You, for the salvation of Your people and to Your Glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:6 –

“Without the gift of tongues their ministrations must have been confined to their own countrymen; for it is not probable, that at their time of life, with their habits, they could have acquired, by ordinary means, a single foreign language so perfectly, as to be able to deliver a discourse in it upon the subject of religion.” – John Dick, Lectures on the Acts of the Apostles, 25.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:4 –

“The great event was the Advent of the Holy Spirit for His indwelling among men. This is here expressed by the phrase, ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’ – and this was the case with each one of the whole assembly of Disciples; and we are to suppose that it was such a fulness of the Spirit as had been promised to them by Christ, as a Comforter and Advocate – Teacher – Leader into all truth – Reminder of Christ’s words – Reminder of the things of Christ – and permanent indwelling Agency, to abide with them for ever, (John 14 and 16.)”

“We cannot suppose, with some. That the miracle consisted in the multitude hearing the same language as if it were their own tongue, and so as to understand it; for that would have been a gift of ears and not of tongues.” – Melancthon W. Jacobus, Notes – Critical and Explanatory – on the Acts of the Apostles, 53-54.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The Right to Become Children" Sermon: John 1:6-13

“The Right to Become Children”
[John 1:6-13]
June 11, 2009 Old First Presbyterian Church

Last week, as we began our look at the Gospel of John, we saw that the Word, Jesus, is God. He is the Salvation that God sent to all those who would believe in Him.

In this morning’s Scripture, we begin by noting that God also sent a forerunner to the Word: John the Baptist. He was sent by God to bear witness to the Light Who came in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Now, let’s ask ourselves, why was John the Baptist sent? Why was he necessary? If Jesus is the Light, wouldn’t He be seen? If someone is outside and stares up at the sky during the day, won’t he see the sun? If we are inside and the lights are turned on, can we not look at the bulb and see the light? Why did God send John the Baptist to tell people that Jesus is the Light?

The necessity is found in the problem of blindness, as Jesus said, “‘Woe to you, blind guides.... You blind fools ... You blind men ...’” (Matthew 23:16a, 17a, 19a, ESV). We are born blind to the things of God, and more than that, we are born dead to the things of God, as Paul wrote, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked...” (Ephesians 2:1a, ESV).

John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way and to announce to the blind and dead humanity around him that the Light had come among them. John, the author of the Gospel, notes that the problem is not with Jesus, “At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in [Jesus] and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (I John 2:8, ESV).

Even with John the Baptist declaring that the Light had come and He is the Word, Jesus, John tells us that the Light came into the world that He created, but it did not recognize Him: the world did not recognize Jesus when He came. Worse than not recognizing one’s parents, the world did not recognize her Creator.

Then John tells us that Jesus drew the circle tighter and went to His people – the chosen people of God – the Jews. But, when the Light came to His own people, they (generally speaking) did not receive Him – they rejected Him. He was not the Light – the Savior – they were looking for. So, His people did not receive Him.

Amidst this incredible lack of recognition and large-scale rejection, we do find Good News. Some people did receive Him. Some people did believe in Him. And John tells us “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

For all those who did receive Him – and all those Who believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation now – Jesus gave them the right to become the children of God. We who believe have been given the right to be the sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus – co-heirs with Jesus of His Kingdom. But there’s a problem: if we are all born dead and blind, unable to even recognize Jesus as the Word – the Light – the Savior, then how is it that any come to believe in Him and receive the right to become children?

In verse thirteen of this morning’s reading, John tells us that we “who were born, not of blood.” We have not been given the right to become children because we are of the right or superior bloodline or DNA. God has not given us the right to become children because He saw how special we are or how wonderful or helpful we would be to the Gospel.

John tells us that we “who were born...not of the will of the flesh.” We have not been given the right to become children because we were born into the “right” families – the ones that would make God look good. We have not been given the right to become children because we just willed it to be so or because we were so persuasive to God, or any other reason we can come up with.

No, John tells us that we “who were born...[were born]...of God.” That means that all of us who believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation were born as children of God, not because of anything in us or due to what we did, but of God’s Will Alone.

John wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:1-3, ESV).

And James confirms what John wrote, “Of [God’s] own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creation” (James 1:18, ESV).

What does it mean for us that God has given us the right to become His children by His Will Alone?

It means we owe God everlasting thanksgiving for saving us from the death that our sin deserves and granting us life. In our darkens hour, we always have reason to lift our voice in thanks because God has made us His sons and daughters. We are always better off for what He has done, for the Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, than were would be if He had passed us by. Let us be a people of constant thanksgiving.

It means we owe God, our Father, honor. If we are commanded to give our earthly parents honor – to respect them and obey them – how much more do we owe our Heavenly Father respect and honor? Let us obey God and show the world our love for God and them by living out His Commandments, as we show how worthy our God is and how thankful we are for what He has done for us.

It means we may go to God, our Father, when we are in need. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father for everything we need for this day, and we are promised that we will receive what we truly need. And the author of Hebrews tells us, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV).

It means that God will discipline us when we need it. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:7-9, ESV). Let us receive God’s discipline with respect.

It means that we have an inheritance with Jesus, our Brother. Paul wrote, “In [Jesus] we have 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 to 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 in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14, ESV).

It means that we can never lose our status as sons and daughters of God. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). God has given us the right to become children of God. God has saved us through Jesus’ Work. And God will keep us until the day of Christ Jesus when we will enter into His Glory.

Brothers and sisters, the human condition, based on our ability, is hopeless from the moment of conception. But thanks be to God, He has chosen to make some – to give some the right to become – children of God – for His Reasons, according to His Will, and by His Power.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, we thank You that You have saved us from ourselves and made us Your sons and daughters. Help us to live up to the high call that You have put upon our lives, and be glorified through us. For it is in our Brother, Jesus’ Name, we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Review: How to Read Proverbs

Upon reaching Proverbs in our Sunday morning Bible study, I decided I needed some help. Having read Tremper Longman’s How to Read the Psalms and found it useful, I turned to his book, How to Read Proverbs, which I found equally useful.

Longman begins by looking at what a proverb is. He explains that a proverb is a saying that helps one navigate life well. It is not a universal truth, but a guide to be used in certain situations. He explores the structure of the book of Proverbs, especially as it presents the two different women of the book. He also explores the structure of individual proverbs by way of literary analysis.

In the second section, he begins by comparing the book of Proverbs to other wisdom literature, and he notes that the authors/compiler of the book of Proverbs may have taken worthy proverbs from other cultures/religions. This is where I find a weakness in the book: while I will not deny that it is possible that some of the proverbs are “borrowed,” as one who was beaten up with historical-critical theory, I wish Longman would have argued the reasoning behind accepting “borrowed” literature as Holy Scripture. Such a defense would have buffeted his work.

In any event, he then compares Proverbs with the other biblical wisdom literature – Job and Ecclesiastes – as well as the histories of Joseph and Daniel. He ends the section by exploring Jesus as the Wisdom of God.

In the third section, Longman looks at some of the themes of the book of Proverbs, including money. This is followed by useful appendices which help the student to set up a plan for reading and studying the book.

Longman’s work is a very useful introduction to Proverbs, and I would recommend it for that. However, I wish he would have defended the authority of Proverbs against the historical-critical view which would find ways to dismiss the text by finding its roots in extra-biblical literature.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:2 –

“How could the Jewish converts fail to think of Ezekiel’s vision, in which the man of God was ordered to ‘cry to the wind, and prophesy and say to the wind, “Come from the four winds, O breath, (Spirit, the same term in Hebrew,) and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”’” – Melancthon W. Jacobus, Notes – Critical and Explanatory – on the Acts of the Apostles, 50.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Wisdom of the Fathers

On Acts 1:19 –

“Not only does the saying hold true in the time of Judas, but even today. If Judas lost his office of apostle, let priest and bishop be on guard lest they, too, lose their ministry. If an apostle fell, more easily is it possible for a monk to fall. Virtue is not lost, even though man falls and perishes. The Lord continues to lend out his money at interest; if anyone who receives it does not double it, it is taken away and given to another who already has the same. The Lord’s money cannot lie idle.” – Jerome, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament V: Acts, 17.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

"Choosing Matthias" Sermon: Acts 1:12-26

“Choosing Matthias”
[Acts 1:12-26]
June 7, 2009 Second Reformed Church

After the Ascension, the disciples were confronted by two men, who were likely angels, and told to stop staring up into the heavens and to be about the work that Jesus had called them to do. So they all went back to Jerusalem, as Jesus had said, and the one hundred and twenty went to the upper room where they were staying. Among the one hundred and twenty disciples were the eleven remaining apostles – who Luke names anew – the women who followed Jesus, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ biological brothers.

Jesus had told them to go to Jerusalem to wait for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the power that they would receive once He had indwelt them. Looking at the history, we know they had ten days to wait. During this time they “devoted themselves to prayer.” What were they praying about – or for?

Well, they would have been praying that Jesus’ Promise would come – that the Holy Spirit would indwell them and give them the power they needed to be the disciples of Christ – His representatives and witnesses to the world. They may have been praying for the Jews and the Romans who would hear them proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness – that God would cause them to respond favorably to the message He was sending. They may have been praying for Jesus’ Return – that He would come soon and restore the Creation and establish His Kingdom in all its fullness.

We are called to be a people of prayer. We ought to be in prayer for each other, for this church, for this community, for this world – have you prayed this week? Have you prayed that God would give us wisdom? Have you prayed that God would cause this church to grow – in maturity and in numbers? James said, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2b-3, ESV).

God knows what we need, and He will provide us with what we need, but He also desires to hear from us in prayer. If we don’t pray, we should not expect to receive. And if we pray for sinful reasons, we should not expect to receive. But if we pray for those things that God wants for us, our Loving, Heavenly Father will give them to us in His time.

Let us be a people of prayer. Let us pray that God’s Will would be done. Let us pray for this church and each other that we would be worthwhile witnesses to the Gospel.

Once the one hundred and twenty were gathered in the upper room, Peter stood up and began to preach. He told the other disciples that what happened to Judas was prophesied in the writings of the prophet, David.

The money that Judas received was used to buy a field to bury paupers and the unknown. And Judas went to that field and committed suicide: he threw himself down on a spike, tore open his middle, and his bowels gushed out on the ground. This is what was written in the book of Psalms, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be noone to dwell in it.” Judas died in the “Field of Blood,” and there was no one to carry on his family line.

We ought not to rush over Judas’ suicide, because Judas has been ordained to the office of apostle, and he fell to his everlasting ruin. That should give us pause. That should make us desire to “make our calling and election sure” as we will remember from Peter’s letters. Because having a high office, being ordained, being a part of the ministry – does not, itself, guarantee salvation. It looked like Judas had it all – he was one of the apostles of the Savior, Jesus Christ. But Judas left Jesus – denied Him – and Judas reaped what he sowed. Are you and I sure that we really believe? Because if an apostle could fall away, is it not possible that a pastor or elder or deacon or pillar of the church could fall away?

Let’s understand, Judas’ suicide is not teaching us that we can lose our salvation. All those who have been saved by Jesus will be persevered. Everyone who believes in Jesus Alone for salvation will be saved. No. What we are being told is that it is possible to fool others about our beliefs – it is even possible to fool ourselves. Let us make sure we truly believe.

Peter then quotes David as prophesying about Judas, “Let another take his office.” It was part of God’s Plan that Judas would fall and a successor – as the twelfth apostle – would be named. The number twelve, among other things, symbolized the twelve patriarchs – the twelve tribes of Israel – so it was symbolically appropriate for all twelve to be represented when the Holy Spirit indwelt them for the work that Jesus called them to do. It was symbolic of the whole Israel being saved and restored through her Savior.

Now, Peter explained that there were qualifications for being an apostle: first, every apostle has to be an eyewitness to the three-year ministry of Jesus. In order to be an apostle, a person had to be an eyewitness to the things that Jesus said and did while He was on earth. And second, every apostle had to be an eyewitness to the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In order to be an apostle, a person had to have been with Jesus during the forty days He spent on earth after the Resurrection. An apostle was someone who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ Ministry and Resurrection; an apostle did not merely believe that Jesus is the Savior, he was an eyewitness to what Jesus said and did, before and after His Crucifixion.

Notice, that means that the office of apostle no long exists. There is no one on the earth today that was an eyewitness to Jesus’ Ministry and Resurrection. So, there is no one on the earth today who is called to the office of apostle. There are people in the ministry that use the title “apostle,” but they really shouldn’t, given what the Bible tells us about who is qualified to be an apostle.

The disciples came up with two names from among them: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they did two things to confirm a choice of one of them: first they prayed and asked that the God Who knew the hearts of every person would make it clear to them which of the two God had chosen to replace Judas. Second, they cast lots.

The first thing the disciples did was to acknowledge that God is Sovereign in the knowing of humans’ hearts and in putting persons in power. As Paul would later write, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1, ESV). And as Daniel said, “[God] changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Daniel 2:21, ESV). Everyone who holds a position of authority was put there by God.

And then they cast lots: they wrote the two names on stones and drew one out, or they threw dice, to pick one of the names. Does that strike anyone as strange? They pray. They acknowledge that God is Sovereign. And then they throw dice to pick the replacement apostle.

Let’s notice first what we’re taught in Proverbs: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33, ESV). In other words, even if someone casts lots to get an answer, God is Sovereignly in control of the lots and the decision they give. Nothing is outside of God’s Sovereign Control. And, the commentator, the Venerable Bede wrote, “Matthias was chosen by lot so that the choice of apostle would not be out of harmony with the command of the old laws, where it was ordered that the high priest be sought, as was said of Zechariah, ‘according to the custom of the priest’s office, it came about by lot that he offered incense” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament V: Acts, 18).

God had told Israel to choose the high priest each year by casting lots. Why? We’re not told. Perhaps it was to impress upon Israel that the decision was out of their hands – God is the One Who chooses the high priest and all who serve in office. However, we do well to notice that the choice of the replacement apostle is the last recorded time that lots were cast. By the witness of the Scripture, once the disciples received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, casting lots was no longer an approved method of discerning God’s Decision.

Remember what Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them right now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you in all the 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 16:12-15, ESV).

Once the Holy Spirit indwelt the disciples, they had God living in them to teach them, remind them, and guide them in the things of God. We, Christians, now have God the Holy Spirit living in us, too. And with the Holy Spirit living in us, He guides us through God’s Word, and we no longer need or have the use of lots or other such devices.

And the lot fell on Matthias, “and he was numbered with the eleven apostles” – there were now twelve apostles again. All things were ready for the Day of Pentecost: the disciples were in prayer, Judas was dead, and it was understood that he fulfilled his place in prophecy, and they had reconstituted the twelve apostles with the choosing of Matthias.

God is still Sovereign over all things, and we, Christians, have God the Holy Spirit indwelling us – teaching and reminding us of everything that Jesus said and all that is written in the Scriptures. And we are called to be a people of prayer – not to rely on lots or other devices – even though they were approved in times past, but to rely on God and wait on Him for His Answer. Let us turn to God in prayer often, asking that His Will would be done, praying for those things we understand to be His Will, and we will see them come to pass, to His Glory.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for choosing us to be Your people and for giving us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Help us to know what Your Will is, and cause us to pray that Your Will would come to pass. We know it is Your Will that we join together in receiving the Lord’s Supper, and we ask as we receive these elements that You would minister to us and give us the grace we need to be Your people and to accomplish your Will. Keep us from fear, but strengthen our faith and trust in You and in all You have called us to be and do. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Wisdom of the Fathers

On Acts 1:16 –

“The apostle Peter was apprehensive about continuing with the number eleven [of the apostles], ‘for every sin is eleven, because when one does wicked things he goes beyond the command of the decalog.’ Hence, because the righteousness of our is innocent of itself, the tabernacle which contained the Lord’s ark was covered from above by eleven veils of goats’ hair.” – the Venerable Bede, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament V: Acts, 16.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 1:14 --

"And Mary. Our Lord's mother is here mentioned for the last time -- and her name is added here with emphasis -- as if to prevent any such superstition as that of the Romanists, who pay worship to her as the Queen of Heaven. She is here particularly named as one of the Disciples, and not claiming any superior rank among them -- acting with them as a Disciple of her exalted Son, and a believer in His proper Godhead. Who would ever dream of her having or claiming any rank with Him as an Intercessor or Mediator? Who could justly suppose that she who here prays to Him as the only Mediator, would receive the prayers of the Church as if she were Divine and a Goddess?" -- Melancthon W. Jacobus, Notes -- Critical and Explanatory -- On the Acts of the Apostles, 38.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

"The Word is God" Sermon: John 1:1-5

“The Word is God”
[John 1:1-5]
June 4, 2009 Old First Presbyterian Church

What is the most important question for us to answer? How to fix the economy? How to stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions? How to stop global warming? How to get one politician in and another one out? How to lose that last five – ten – pounds? I am firmly convinced that the most important question – the only question that will matter for all of eternity – is, “Who do we believe Jesus is?”

Over the next three Thursdays – and more – if the Lord is willing and you would have me preach – I would like to look at the beginning of the Gospel of John with you. And more – if we are able. John gave us the reason for his writing his gospel: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20::31, ESV).

John begins his gospel by stating, “in the beginning was the Word.” Notice – John does not say, “from the beginning was the Word,” although the Word was from the beginning, the Word was also “in the beginning.” That means that the Word existed before time and space were created. The Word existed before anything but God existed.

He continues: “and the Word was with God.” That means that the Word is distinct from God. For example, if I say I am with Dorothy, the implication is that we are not the same person – we are distinct persons from each other. So, the Word is distinct from God.

Yet, we’re told that “the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Even though the Word is distinct from God, the Word is also the same One Being as God. What John is telling us is the same thing that we’re told in the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity: there is One God, and He exists in more than One Person – in fact, in Three Persons.

Then John tells us that “all things were made through [the Word], and without him was not anything made that was made.” We known from the first chapter of Genesis, that God created everything that is. Here we are being told that the Word created everything that is.

Paul said the same thing: “there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (I Corinthians 8:6b, ESV).

In the first three verses of his gospel, John tells us that there is a God Who existed before the creation and created everything that is. He tells us that this One God exists in more than One Person – One of Whom is the Word, Who is also known as Jesus Christ.

And, at this point, we may think, “Well, that’s wonderful, but what does that do for me today?” “That may be fine to talk about and figure out – as far as we can understand the Trinity – but so what?”

John begins to explain the “so what” of this in the next two verses: “In [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of men.” The Word, we see, Jesus Christ, gives life. John explained this further when he wrote, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and that life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I John 5:11-12, ESV).

John says that we only have life through the Word – through Jesus Christ. And by that, he means that the life we live now only really has meaning through belief in Jesus Christ, and we will only receive life in the Kingdom of God after death through Jesus Christ. If we do not have Jesus Christ – if we do not believe in Him, we will not receive life after death, but eternal Hell instead.

John concludes this section by writing, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Word – Jesus – is “the light of men,” and He has defeated the darkness. All the things that hide in the darkness – sin, death, and the devil, have been defeated by Jesus.

Paul explains it this way, “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that everything in him might be preeminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:15-20, ESV).

Jesus, Who is God, grants life both now and in the life to come to all those who believe in Him Alone for their salvation. He is able to do this because He is God and He took on a real human body and soul so He could take the place in judgment of all those who would believe – and survive – be victorious – over sin and death and the devil – through His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.

Jesus has purchased eternal life for all those who will believe in Him Alone for salvation.

The economy ebbs and wanes and it will do so until Jesus returns. Yet, as important as it is to be wise and good stewards with our money, we can’t buy our salvation – we can have all the money in the world, and we will still go to Hell if we don’t believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation.

It is important to make sure that North Korea and others are kept in check with regards to their nuclear ambitions. However, if we die of old age in our sleep or under a hail of nuclear bombs, it doesn’t change the fact that we will still go to Hell if we don’t believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation.

It is also important for us to care for the planet – for all the Creation – and if we are causing global warming, to seek a way to stop, or at least, control it. But, in the end, if we abuse the planet to extinction, or care for it and preserve it to the best of our ability, we will die, and we will still go to Hell if we don’t believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation.

Each of us has understanding of politics and how we believe government ought to be run, and we are right to pray for our politicians and to go out and vote whenever we are given the opportunity. But politicians come and go: some are bad, some are worse – a few might even do some good – but we will still go to Hell if we don’t believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation.

And our weight – we are to care for our bodies as best as we can, but we ought not to be obsessed with them. When Jesus returns, all those who believe will be raised from the dead and given new, restored, perfected, sinless bodies, like Jesus’. And all those who do not believe will be raised from the dead and given new, eternal bodies that will continue to sin and eternally be punished for their sin.

That’s why the most important question is, “Who do we believe Jesus is?”

The answer we give will make all the difference for all of eternity. John says that Jesus is God – the Incarnate God – the Word – the Only Life and Salvation.

Who do you believe Jesus is?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the Gospel of John – for leading John to explain that Jesus is both Perfect Human and Holy God – the Only One Who can save us from our sin and return us to a right relationship with You. We ask that You would help us to believe. Assure us of the Truth of Salvation in Jesus Alone. And give us a life of joy as we follow after Him. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, June 01, 2009

June Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

6/7/09 Communion/Trinity Acts 1:12-26 "Choosing Matthias"
6/14/09 Acts 2:1-21 "The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit"
6/21/09 Guest preacher: Will Lampe
6/28/09 93rd Anniversary Acts 2:22-41 "God's Plan"

I have been invited to preach at the Thursday noon worship at Old First Presbyterian at 820 Broad Street, Newark, NJ and plan, D.V., to preach:

6/4/09 John 1:1-5 "The Word is God"
6/11/09 John 1:6-13 "The Right to Become Children"
6/18/09 John 1:14-18 "Grace"

All are welcome!