Second Reformed Church

Friday, July 31, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 4:19 –

“The Bible, and the Bible alone, is the religion of Protestants. No power of Church or State has any right to bind the conscience, or compel men to a belief or subscription of any creed or confession. Yet no man has a right to exercise his faith or private judgment in a way to interfere with others, or disturb the peace of society. Nor is any one at liberty to put his private judgment in the place of God’s revealed will”– Melancthon W. Jacobus, Notes – Critical and Explanatory – on the Acts of the Apostles, 111-112.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Article: "Why Should Christians Financially Support Seminaries?"

Especially in these days of “economic downturn,” the idea that Christians should financially support seminaries is a hard one to sell. Most people believe it is the duty of the seminary to raise all the money it needs through various means – including the tuition. Many people would say it is the job of the alumni, the professors, the administration, the students, God, and the pope to financially support seminaries, but not Joe and Mary Christian.

Let me suggest that it is good and right for all Christians to financially support seminaries. Of course, it would be most helpful if one person or family helped support one seminary that he or she believes is a biblical and God-honoring institution which functions to produce ministers who can preach the whole Word of God accurately and well, rather than giving a small amount to each and every seminary.

Now, one may ask why ministers need a seminary education or why ministers are necessary at all. After all, most denominations allow elders to preach, whether or not they have had any formal training, and Jesus and most of the Apostles had no formal training. So, why should ministers receive a seminary education?

Ministers should receive a formal seminary education for at least four reasons: (1) to be exposed to the variety of Christendom, (2) to be humbled by the fact that none of us knows and/or understands everything, (3) to be able to recognize heresy and other false teachings, and (4) to be able to rightly understand God’s Word and preach it clearly to God’s people.

Understand, I am not denying that the Holy Spirit reminds us of what God said, helps us to understand what God has said, and makes us able to preach the Word. God certainly does those things in all believers, but that does not negate the fact that ministers ought to be a people who spend many hours in study of God’s Word and in the reading of others – commentaries, books of theology, etc. – who have studied the Word of God and written down their conclusions. This type of communing with the saints across history helps us to understand what is True and what the Church has always believed.

But cannot anyone fulfill the role of minister? No. The minister has a specific call to be the minister, and the minister is necessary. As Paul wrote, “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 service, but it is the same God who empowers them in everyone. To each is given a 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 appoints each one individually as he wills. ... And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (I Corinthians 12:4-11, 28, ESV).

“But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news ’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of God” (Romans 11:14-17, ESV).

If the office of the minister is a specific call that not everyone receives and a good seminary – with the Holy Spirit – helps the minister to be able to be an undershepherd of Christ and lead a flock, it would seem that the whole Church would be concerned that there be biblical and True seminaries – seminaries whose professors believe and teach the Whole Word of God.

If that is so, then the whole Church ought to be involved in making sure that the seminaries that our ministers are coming out of are the godly institutions we desire them to be, for the good of the Church and the furtherance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One way we can help to preserve and influence such institutions is through the giving of money to help the work of a seminary to continue.

If we support a seminary financially, we will have the opportunity to have input into what and how the teaching and training of ministers occurs. If we are not satisfied with what is happening in a seminary, we can cut off funding – which will get the seminary’s attention. It may not bring about the change that we desire, but it will be noticed.

If we support a seminary financially, we will also have the satisfaction of knowing that we are helping a minister who is called of God to enter the ministry, but who may not be able to afford such an education without help. We can even specify that the support we give be used for scholarship or other aid.

With these things in mind, let us all consider whether we believe it important to have good and biblical seminaries. If we do, then let us each find one that we believe is doing the work it should be, and support it financially. Any amount would surely be appreciated. And if the Lord is willing, it will help to increase the number of called and biblical ministers in our churches.

[This article is being published in Dnyndharama Issue #2, 2009 (Pune, India), due in August.]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"There is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone" Sermon: Acts 4:1-12

“There is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone”
[Acts 4:1-12]
July 26, 2009 Second Reformed Church

The lame man had been healed. In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Peter and John had commanded the man to walk. The lame man believed and was given physical as well as spiritual healing. The people were amazed and thought that Peter and John had some sort of power themselves, but Peter explained that faith is a gift, salvation is a gift, and healing is a gift that is given by Jesus as He wills. They did not cause the lame man to receive the Gospel and be healed, and neither did the lame man.

Since they were in the temple, the priests who were on duty saw the miracle and the crowds gathering. The captain of the temple stood by. The Sadducees, who were a group of priests who were politically minded and denied the existence of a physical resurrection, joined them. And suddenly, with great force, which is the implication of the words in our text, they “came upon” Peter and John, being “greatly annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”

They had had enough: the were irked, they were angry, they were exhausted from holding back their displeasure, they were seething, vexed, indignant, and, finally, they exploded – “How dare they stir up the temple talking about the criminal, Jesus, Who we have just gotten rid of – they will not continue His blasphemes – and to teach that He rose from the dead – nonsense!”

They grabbed Peter and John and put them in prison because it was nearing evening, and it was against the law to hold a trial in the evening. (Though they had no problem trying Jesus through the night. Perhaps they thought Peter and John would realize who they were up against and promise to stop this foolishness if they had a night in prison.)

But the “damage,” as they saw it, had been done: the Holy Spirit was pleased to come upon many of those who heard Peter and John preach after the healing of the lame man, and about five thousand men came to faith and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, understand there were likely women and children who believed in Jesus that day as well, but, culturally, the count was done of the men only.

We might think that with the arrest of Peter and John, few people would confess Jesus, but one of the major points that Luke makes in Acts, and a truth of history is that the Church and the Gospel flourish under persecution. It is when the Church is left alone, when it is accepted, that the Church dies off. Look at Europe – the home of the Reformation. The Gospel spread like wildfire and it was generally accepted, and as the generations passed, it was watered down, ignored, and dropped except in name. The United States is not far behind. Where is the Gospel flourishing today? Africa. China. Russia. Iran. Iraq. India. South America. Why? Because the government and others are trying to stamp it out.

Bruce Cockburn sings, “I’m wondering where the lions are.” And Larry Norman commented that if the spread of the Gospel requires persecution then “send the lions.” Christianity flourishes under persecution: when the seed of the Gospel is stamped down into the ground, it grows into a great tree. Don’t be afraid of persecution; be afraid if the Gospel is ignored and/or accepted as one of many truths.

In the morning, the rulers – of the temple, the Sanhedrin, the elders, the scribes – the guardians of the purity of the text and teaching of the Scripture, gathered together with Annas and Caiaphas and John and Alexander – all of the high priest’s family – we remember these characters from Jesus’ illegal night-long trial. And they set Peter and John in their midst – quite literally – the person being questioned would be in the middle and the rulers would be seated in a circle around them.

And they asked them, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (The lame man, we find out, was there at their side, so we can picture the rulers pointing to the lame man as they asked the question.)

The rulers already knew the answer, they just wanted Peter and John to formalize their statement; they had been there when Peter and John explained that it was not they who healed the lame man, but Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

And Luke tells us that Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Understand, every Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit, in the sense that God the Holy Spirit lives in every Christian. What Luke is telling us here is that the Holy Spirit, in a special way, filled Peter, or gifted Peter, in that moment to be able to answer their question – not that he was filled with the Holy Spirit and then wasn’t and now was again. Christians receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit once, and He remains with us until we are received into glory. Yet, He gives us gifts as we need them to do the work that Christ has for us.

So Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, called them all to attention: “Rulers of the people and elders.” Then he said, “if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man was healed.” Now, there are two ways we can hear Peter saying this: he could merely be saying, “Since we are being examined today...,” but we may also read and hear what Peter says with a bit of sarcasm: “Are you asking us about this cripple? This one right here? You want to know how we healed this cripple that you threw is in jail for? Is that what you’re asking?”

After all, it was a ridiculous question: they knew the cripple, they had seen him healed, and they had heard the explanation of what had happened – in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. But they wanted it stated again – for the record, as it were, so they would have cause to leash out at them: “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

So he told them again – emphatically – “let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him this man is standing before you well.” “Listen up! It is through Jesus the Savior, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, of Nazareth – that hated no-good, backwater town – the Jesus that you crucified – you are guilty of His Blood – God raised this same Jesus from the dead, in His Body – the patriarchs and the prophets have confessed a bodily resurrection from the Creation – it is a promise of God – this same Jesus – healed this cripple in body and soul.”

We can feel the fury mounting in the rulers: “How dare he accuse us of killing this Jesus – the Romans put Him to death – it was their decision. And he is continuing to preach the resurrection of the dead!”

And then Peter references Psalm 118 – a psalm they would have known and sung – where it says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22, ESV). “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” Peter accuses them of going against God in rejecting His Cornerstone. And we need to understand that this is not an ornamental cornerstone that some buildings have. What the text is referring to is a capstone – the stone which holds everything together – the stone without which the building would collapse. In a stone arch, the center stone at the peak of the arch is the capstone – it is the stone that holds all of the others in place. Paul wrote, “[the Church is] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20-21, ESV). Jesus is the Cornerstone Who keeps the Church from falling into ruin. These men rejected God’s Savior – they rejected the Gospel of Salvation that God had planned from the foundation of the world. He wasn’t quite what they had in mind.

But Peter confessed: “And there is salvation in no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” There is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone. Peter had thrown down the gauntlet, as it were. Jesus Alone is the Only Salvation. Nothing less than Jesus will do; nothing more than Jesus will do.

There are many cults that like Jesus in one way or another – they just find the need to edit Him or add to Him to make Him and His Salvation palatable to them. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons love Jesus, but they just strike out the part about Him being God – the Only God, the Son. The Roman Catholic Church loves Jesus, but they say He didn’t do enough, so they add human works. Buddhists and Hindus love Jesus, but they say He is only One of many ways and many gods. In one way or another, almost every religion in the world is fine with Jesus, so long as we don’t say He’s the Only Way – that there is no other salvation except through Him Alone.

It’s not a small thing to say “Jesus and...” or “Jesus but....” The Galatians were adding good works as being necessary for salvation – “Jesus and...,” and this is what Paul wrote to them: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9, ESV).

The word that Paul uses that is translated “accursed” is anathema, from which we get our English word, “anathema.” It literally means, “damned to Hell.” So Paul is literally saying, and notice that this is so serious that he repeats himself for emphasis: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be damned to Hell. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be damned to Hell” (Galatians 1:6-9, ESV).

Of course, we should not want anyone to be damned to Hell, and Paul didn’t either. The point is that distorting the Gospel of Jesus Christ in any way is so serious a sin that it will damn a person to Hell, and it would be better for one person to be damned to Hell than for him to lead others astray in his heresy – his false teaching.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Jesus said the same thing: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV). One Way. One Truth. One Life. Only through Jesus.

Christianity is an exclusive religion – it excludes every other way to be saved – it excludes every other way to become right with God. There is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone. We cannot be saved by anything less than Jesus, and we cannot be saved by Jesus plus something else. It is Jesus and Jesus Alone Who makes us right with the Father.

We need to remember that when we talk with others about Jesus.

“Oh, well, aren’t all religions pretty much the same? They say to do good works and love each other?”

Yes, that’s true – they only differ on issues of sin and death, God and humanity, salvation, Heaven, and Hell. Remember what Paul said – any other way than Jesus Alone is anathema – this is deadly – eternally – serious.

No other religion, no other method, can bring about salvation. None other can make us right with God. How many ways can we put it? Do you understand?

We are to love our neighbors, but if we love our neighbors and we know that they are heading down a path that will only lead to eternal suffering, ought we not tell them? Ought we not show them the Only Way that is found in Jesus?

Do we love our neighbors enough to tell them that we saw a robber with a gun sneak into their house? Do we love our neighbors enough to tell them that their house is on fire? Do we love our neighbors enough to tell them they are being robbed? Or that there is a mugger lurking nearby? If we say we would warn them about these things, how can we not love them enough to tell them that there is Only One Way to eternal salvation?

We’ve seen before, we will each tell our neighbors in different ways – by telling them outright, by inviting them to worship, by giving them a book or a tract or music – but if we care – if we love our neighbors – and we ought to – we will do something. What can you do this week? Who can you say something to? Who can you hand this morning’s bulletin to and say, “You should come to church some time”?

Peter and John were thrown in prison and then grilled by the rulers about how they healed the lame man. Satan will do everything he can to discourage us and to keep us from speaking the Name of Jesus and His Salvation. But Peter made it clear to them that they did not heal the lame man – they did not save him – that was the work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth Alone.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus Alone. Nothing less. And nothing more.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending us a Savior – One Who did the whole work of reconciling us to You by Himself. We thank You for making Him clear to us in the Scripture, and we thank You that we do not have to do anything to merit our Salvation. Keep us from being confused and from confusing others about Your Salvation. Let us tell of Jesus and His Salvation Alone. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review: "Out of Sync: a Memoir"

I admit it: I like the pop group N*Sync.

I picked up Lance Bass’ “memoir,” Out of Sync, hoping it would be some serious reflections on what he has gone through in his young life – he is twenty-eight. I also hoped he would address his claim to be both a Christian and a practicing homosexual.

Unfortunately, Bass’ book contains little that wasn't in the nightly news blurbs: the group was swindled by the first manager, Lance trained to be a cosmonaut, but his flight fell through, when Justin started work on his solo album, it meant the end for the group, and, as he states several times, God made him gay.

Bass has talent, but there is little reflection or meat in this book – it’s airier than their pop.

Review -- "From Grief to Glory: a Book of Comfort for Grieving Parents"

If you know of anyone who has lost a child, I highly recommend getting a copy of James W. Bruce III’s From Grief to Glory: a Book of Comfort for Grieving Parents for them. When I first looked at the book, I thought it would be the story of Bruce’s loss – and that is included – his son, John, died after fifty-five days, but he also combs through the history of couples who have lost children and responded to their loss in a biblical way.

The reader will not only learn of the loss experienced by John Bunyan, Martin Luther, John Calvin. R. L. Dabney, C. H. Spurgeon, John Bradford, Lemuel Haynes, and many others, one will be drawn both anecdotally and scripturally to consider the sovereignty of God, even in this desperate loss.

Bruce is gentle and comforting in his approach, explaining that this book came out of his seeking the Scripture and history for comfort and understanding of his loss. I have already given copies of this book to two people, and I plan to buy more to have on hand for others who go though this valley of tears. Although this book is written for those who have lost children, I believe it can also minister to any who have experienced loss.

There are two points at which I do have to take issue with Bruce: when addressing the issue of the eternal state of those who die in infancy, he quotes from the Westminster Confession of Faith which states: “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit who works when, and where, and how he pleases” (145-146). He goes on to quote, in a footnote, from A. A. Hodge and Charles Hodge that this means that all infants are elect and are received into the Kingdom. I am surprised that the Hodges drew this conclusion from the Scripture, much less the Confession. It reads as though they are arguing for an age of accountability or something along those lines. I do not believe that what the Scripture or the authors of the Confession intended. It seems the better argument would be that the Scripture does not say, but, we know that election is form the foundation of the world, so those who have been elect are received into the Kingdom, no matter what their age. Otherwise, one might argue in a Swiftian manner, that abortion is the best tool for evangelism.

A second, and, admittedly, less important note, as it is only as a passing comment, Bruce summarizes John Flavel saying that “animals sense no sorrow” (161). If that is what Flavel said, it seems a very naive perspective on animals and their emotions. While I would grant that there is nothing in the Scripture that plainly states that animals have souls or are in need of salvation, anyone who has ever had a companion animal knows that they have emotions.

Even with this being said, I highly recommend the book for all those who experience loss and need biblical comfort, and especially those who have lost a child. (Just be prepared to address the issue of the eternal state of the infant.)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 3:21 –

“As Christ is here declared to be bodily in heaven, and under the necessity of remaining there until the end or the winding up of this closing dispensation, He cannot be bodily present in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper” – Melancthon W. Jacobus, Notes – Critical and Explanatory – on the Acts of the Apostles, 98.

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 3:18 –

“Do not think that just because you have the word ‘penitence’ you are truly repentant. You have to be mortified. You must cease to be yourselves. You must no longer pursue those things which seem good to you. You must be completely submissive to God, hear his teaching, and allow him to be master over you. In short, you must be like new creatures. That is the disposition of a man who truly wants to repent” – John Calvin, Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 1-7, 103.

"Faith Alone" Sermon: Acts 3:11-26

“Faith Alone”
[Acts 3:11-26]
July 19, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Peter and John had gone to the temple to pray. On their way into the temple, they passed a beggar whom everyone knew – he was lame in his feet and ankles and had begged at that spot every day for forty years.

The lame man looked up at Peter and John and asked them for some change to get him through the day, and Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk! ” (Acts 3:6, ESV).

They took the lame man by the hands and stood him up – the lame man believed in Jesus savingly – and the lame man was healed. He began walking and leaping, praising God, and all of the people were amazed at what had happened to the man.

We saw last week that every Christian has the call on them to give the Gospel away – to let others know – through a variety of means – that Jesus is the Only Savior – that there is Only One Saving Gospel. This morning, we begin to look at the response to this healing – we heard what they people in the temple did in response – they wondered and stared at Peter and John, believing that they healed the man by some power that they had, even though they denied that from the beginning.

Peter began to preach to them, and he told them that he did not heal the lame man based on his own power or by any piety or holiness or good works within himself. Peter was the conduit through which Jesus Christ of Nazareth healed the man. Peter took the focus off of himself and put it where it belonged – on Jesus. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV).

We as the Church are not to put pastors on pedestals or to make cults of celebrity around one speaker or another. We are not to put our church or our denomination in some spotlight as though no one else understands the Gospel. We are – as individuals and the Church – to always and in all things direct people to Jesus and His Salvation. We ought not want people to come to this church because we have a beautiful sanctuary or a good coffee hour – we ought to want people to come and we ought to come to hear about Jesus and His Salvation. So Peter told the crowd that the healing was not about them, but about Jesus.

“This Jesus,” Peter told them, “is the Jesus that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the God of our fathers – glorified. This is the One that God made much of – that God directs all humanity to for salvation. This is He Whom you delivered over to the Romans to be killed. This is He Whom you denied before Pilate when he proclaimed Him innocent and tried to release Him. This is the Holy and Anointed One that you gave over in exchange for a murderer. This is He – the Author of Life Himself – Whom you murdered. But God raised Him from the dead – and we are witnesses to His Resurrection. It is by His Name – it is by His Power – it is by faith in Him – that this man has been has been restored to perfect health through Jesus in the presence of all of you.”

Peter was preparing them to hear – and for some – to receive – the Gospel. If there is no bad news, few if any will care to hear and receive the Good News. We must understand that we are sinners, born dead in our sins, in need of a Savior, or we won’t come to belief in Him. So Peter told them – Jesus is the Savior that the patriarchs and the prophets wrote about, and the people delivered Him over to the Romans, denied Him, and murdered Him. Bad news upon bad news! But God raised Him from the dead, and as they saw in the healing of the lame man, if they had faith in Jesus, they will receive His Salvation, and, if the Lord is willing, they will even receive healing.

“Now,” Peter told them, “I know you acted in ignorance” – they handed Jesus over and denied Him and murdered Him in their ignorance. That is more bad news – if we break the speed limit and we are pulled over and we tell the officer that we didn’t know that the speed was such and such, what will he say? Ignorance is no defense. Whether we know the law or not, if we break the law, we are guilty of breaking the law. And in this case – they had the Law – they had God’s Law – the prophecies that told Who Jesus is and how He would suffer and all the prophecies He would fulfill – but they did not know the Law – they were ignorant of the Law. So they put to death God’s Savior, Who they should have recognized.

It is ironic in this “age of information” that we are so ignorant of our Bibles. How can we say we believe the Bible – that we believe it is God’s Word – but we don’t know what it says? Would we sign a contract without reading it? Would we join an organization without knowing what it stood for? Would you say you loved your wife or husband if you never talked with your spouse – if you knew nothing about him or her and didn’t care to know? The crowd should have known Jesus from the Scripture, but they killed Him – and we are no less sinners than they.

There is Good News – through faith we may receive salvation through Jesus. And the question we need to ask is what do we need to do to receive salvation through Jesus by faith? What did the lame man do to receive salvation and healing through Jesus by faith? The answer is – and must be – nothing. We do nothing. We contribute nothing.

Paul explains, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1a, ESV). What can a dead man do? Nothing. What can a spiritually dead person do to come to spiritual life? Nothing.

“But we exercise our faith,” one says, “That is how were are saved. Through faith. Through the good work of faith.” Do you see the problem? If we are saved through faith and faith is a work that we do, then we save ourselves. If we do anything – if we take any part in our salvation – then we save ourselves – but the Scripture tells us that we are dead – our faith is dead, impotent, non-working – so we can contribute nothing to our salvation.

Paul continues, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV). What is the “this”? What is the “it”? Don’t get excited, this is basic English: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” What is the noun that immediately precedes the pronouns? Faith. So Paul is saying, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And faith is not your own doing; faith is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The Reformers noted that we are saved by faith alone. And the faith that we are saved by is the conduit through which we receive salvation, and it is a gift of God. We receive living faith – faith that works – from God as a gift – as God is pleased to give it to us. We do nothing until God saves us. God chooses us to be His people for His reasons, not based on anything we have done or would do, God changes our heart and gives us the faith to receive salvation.

The lame man did nothing to receive salvation and be healed. God chose to save and heal him. God changed his heart so he would believe. God gave him the faith to receive salvation. God healed him of his lameness. Then, the man responded by walking and leaping and praising God.

We don’t like to hear that salvation is all of God – that even our faith is a gift of God. I had a friend in college that became a Christian and one day when we were talking about how he came to belief, I showed him that the Scripture says that God saves us completely apart from anything we do, and he said that if he played no part in his salvation – if nothing he did counted towards his salvation – then he didn’t want to be saved.

Peter told the crowd that they had the Scripture, but they were ignorant of what it said – they were guilty of being ignorant – they should have known the Scripture, but they didn’t, and they delivered Jesus over to the Romans and denied Him and murdered Him. And Paul explains that we are born dead – spiritually dead, incapable of doing any spiritual good. We can do nothing to change our condition, because we are dead. Unless God chooses to change us and give us the faith alone through which we will believe and receive salvation, we will continue on our merry way into everlasting torment.

If we understand that, our response is not to be angry with God for saving us, but, like the lame man, it is to walk and leap and praise God! If we understand that we could not do anything to help ourselves from our terrible condition – just like the lame man – but God chose to change us – how can we not but walk and leap and praise God?

“Therefore,” Peter told the crowd, “repent of your sins that they may be blotted out” – and that doesn’t just mean to confess them and be forgiven – it means to confess them and purpose not to do them again. It is a turning around of oneself. It is acting in the complete opposite way than that which we used to do.

And Peter uses the image of blotting out sins: in those days, people would write on wax tablets, and when they wanted to use the tablet again, they would turn to the blunt side of the pen and blot out the writing in the wax, until it was smooth again and nothing of the former writing could be seen – that is what God promises to do with our sins – through Jesus’ Work – they can be blotted out – there is no longer a record of our sins. They have been paid for and blotted out off of the tablet through Jesus.

For all those who receive Jesus and His Salvation through that faith alone that God gives to whomever He will, Peter said, “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:20-21, ESV). What does this mean?

First, it means that when we receive salvation by faith alone, we are refreshed – we are recreated – we are restored – we are made new creatures (II Corinthians 5:17). Think of the “refresh” button on your computer – if you get a screen that does not load correctly – that is marred by sin – you push the refresh button, and it reloads correctly. Or, think of doing the laundry. When we do the laundry, we are “refreshing” the clothes that have become stained by dirt – “sin.”

Second, it means that when we receive salvation by faith alone, we receive Jesus, both as our Savior, and God indwells us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells within you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17, ESV).

There is much to mine in these verses, but let us understand this: our salvation is in, by, and through Jesus Alone. Jesus is now at the Right Hand of the Father in Heaven. Jesus, our Helper, has now, with the Father, sent another Helper, in the Person of God the Holy Spirit to indwell us forever. All Christians are indwelt by God the Holy Spirit.

And third, it means that Jesus is victorious over Satan and death and hell, and when He returns, He will restore all things to their pre-Fall state. When Jesus returns, He will come to judge, but He will also come to restore the creation and all those who believe to the state Adam and Eve were in before the Fall – and even better than they were – because we will be unable to ever sin again – all suffering and sin and evil will be removed from us, and we will live to the praise and glory of the Triune God.

This is what was spoken by the prophets – we have it in our Bibles – if we would only read it Jesus fulfills the prophecy given to Moses that God would raise up a Man like Moses – and this Man will separate humanity – those who receive His Salvation by faith alone will be received into Paradise, but those who do not listen to Him – those who do not receive Him – will continue until they receive the wages of sin in eternal death and torment.

In Jesus, there is relief and salvation in this life and restoration in the life to come.

So, Peter calls on the crowd, as the descendants of Abraham – that is, all those who believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, and they will respond to the call to believe. And they will respond by turning from their wickedness. Have you?

The bad news is that they and we are guilty of putting God’s Savior to death. The Good News is that we can do nothing about it, because we are dead – we don’t have to earn enough or do enough to be right with God. No, it is God Who chooses and changes and gifts us with Salvation through the faith alone that He gives to whomever He wills. And if God has saved us, we are saved indeed – just as we cannot save ourselves any more than the lame man could will himself not to be lame – we cannot wrench ourselves from the Hand of God. We are His forever and always, through His Son, Jesus.

Is that not reason to walk and leap and praise God?

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, we thank You for saving us when we were incapable of doing anything. We thank You for the gift of faith, through which we receive Jesus. We ask that You would help us to continue to understand how great our salvation is by understanding how great our sin is, how unable we are to do anything about it, and how wondrous Your Love is for us through Your Son that You would save us. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 3:17 –

“However, when people are not completely unreformable, we must instruct them using the procedure Peter used. He chastened them for their offenses without comforting them and then showed that God is ready to forgive their sins provided they rely on his sovereign goodness. That is also the pattern we must follow when preaching the gospel to save those who hear us. We must show them how greatly they have angered God by their sins; then when they are cast down by that, we must present the grace God is ready to offer to all through our Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise, our preaching will be in vain. It bears no fruit unless we join those two points together.

“In fact, if we only proclaim how God shows himself to be our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ, a few will accept that, but to no avail unless we first lead them to a knowledge of their sins so they will be grieved by them. In this way, we must also be cast down in ourselves if we want our Lord to lift us up. Then we will know that it is not in vain that we confess our lives are filled with nothing less than filth and contagion. Not only must we make that kind of general confession, but each of us must also confess his particular sins before God is we are to be humbled under his strong hand. May our arrogance, our rebellion, and our wicked affections not keep us from recognizing the truth expressed here, that there is no salvation except through Jesus Christ, and for that reason we must cling unreservedly to him” – John Calvin, Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 1-7, 96.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"What We Have to Give" Sermon: Acts 3:1-10

“What We Have to Give”
[Acts 3:1-10]
July 12, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Last week, we saw Luke summarize the marks of the Church – those four things that a church must have to be a church: preaching and teaching of God’s Word Alone, fellowship – in the sense of giving and sharing our blessings in the Church, the orderly and frequent reception of the sacraments, and prayer. We then saw examples of how the believers lived each day as Christians, and we saw that the apostles were given the gift to be able to do works that amazed all people.

We remember, as Mark records, “Afterward [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘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 their hands on the sick, and they will recover’” (Mark 16:14-18, ESV).

This morning we heard the first part of one of the awesome works that God the Holy Spirit did through the apostles – the healing of a lame beggar. If the Lord is willing, we will look at this healing and what happened because of it over the next few weeks. Today, let us consider what we have to give as the Church, and, remember, as we saw last week, the Church is not defined by programs. So let us consider, in this text, what we have to give as the Church. What do we have to give that cannot be found in the world? Let us also keep in the back of our minds over the next few weeks that the reason Luke gives us this one example of the amazing works that they did is to show us how it makes the Church grow.

Peter and John went to the temple at 3 P.M. for the prayer service, and when they arrived, they saw a man who had been born lame being laid down at the Beautiful Gate. This was the gate that led into the temple, itself. And the man had been laid there every day, as we will learn, for the past forty years, and as he lay there, he begged those going in to worship for money to be able to survive. He was unable to work, but he had friends that would carry him to the gate each day so he could beg for money for food and shelter. This is a man who was well-known by everyone who came to worship – he was always there. They had seen him year after year, day after day.

Most of us can picture this – most of us have been asked at one time or another for money from someone who is out of work or disabled in some way. Some of us have encountered the same person on multiple occasions. There are people who have been on the streets for years and we have gotten to know them. The lame man at the Beautiful Gate was like that.

As Peter and John made their way towards the Beautiful Gate to enter the temple, the man saw them and called out to them, “Can you spare some change?”

Peter and John had been fishermen, but they had given up that work three years before to follow Jesus. They had families of their own to support. They may have been living, in part, off the offerings made to the work of the disciples. But the Holy Spirit opened Peter’s mouth, and Peter said, “Look at us.”

And the man look directly at Peter and John. He could see that they were not wealthy men, but perhaps they would give him a coin or two – something to help him get through the day. He just hoped to have enough for the day.

Each Sunday we pray the Lord’s Prayer and ask that God would give us what we need for this day, and that is what God has promised us – that He will provide us with exactly what we need for each day.

But God is able and willing and does give us more than we need. I hope we all understand that God has given us more than we need – more than we have asked for – enough to help others with. Paul breaks out in joy in the midst of his letter to the Ephesians, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV).

If that is true, we ought to ask God for great things Yes, we ought to ask Him for our daily needs that He has promised us, but we should also ask for great things that we understand and pray are according to His Will. Understand, there is little good in praying that some celebrity will give each one of us a new sports car – it’s unlikely that is God’s Will for us. But we should all be in prayer, in this church, that God would be pleased to bring His people in to worship here – that God would build up this congregation, in faith and understanding and in numbers and influence for Jesus’ Sake in this area. I hope we are all praying for this church and for God’s continued use of us.

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

The man at the Beautiful Gate just wanted to get through the day. Perhaps he had once hoped and prayed for healing but had given up. We’re not told, only that now he just wanted a few coins to get through the day, and then he would be back the next day to beg for coins for the next day’s sustenance.

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

Peter and John really didn’t have any extra coins for him, but what they had for him, what the Holy Spirit had made known to Peter that God had to give the lame man, was greater than a few coins, and even greater than being healed.

Notice, Peter, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, calls on the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – the recently crucified rabbi that even the lame man would have heard of. Why? Remember that we saw last week that Jesus promised that if we pray in His Name, He will do whatever we ask – if what we ask is according to His Will. The Name of Jesus is not a magic slot machine to get anything and everything we want. We pray in the Name of Jesus to submit ourselves in faith and trust to Jesus and His Will for us.

Peter called on the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to indicate to the lame man and all those around them that what was about to happen was not something that came from them – it was not of their own power that anything was going to happen, but according to the Power of the Son of God. Jesus had healed people in His Own Name while He was on earth, and now the apostles were carrying on the same work in His Name, by the Power of Jesus and according to His Will.

And the lame man had faith in Jesus and what they called on Him to do for the lame man. How do we know that? As we just saw in James, God will not answer a prayer that prayed in doubt. God expects us to believe that God is able to do what we are asking, or there is no point to our praying. We know that the lame man had faith in Jesus and what they called on Him to do for the lame man, because Luke records, “And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.” He was healed!

What do we understand from this? We profit from God’s Blessing by believing in His Promises. If we believe what God has said and what He has promised, we can be sure that God will bless us according to what He has said and promised. God rejoices in Himself to answer the prayer that asks Him to do what He has willed and promised. On the other hand, as we have said, if we doubt God’s Word, if we question if it is true, we have no reason or right to believe God will answer us according to His Word. In fact, if we question the truth of God’s Word, we make God out to be a liar, and that is blasphemy.

The lame man had faith in Jesus, the One in Whom Peter called to heal the lame man, and the lame man was healed. But even greater than that healing, was His newfound faith and belief in the Gospel of Jesus. That is something all believers have, and that is what we have to give – the greatest thing anyone can ever receive – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that God came to earth as a human, lived, died, rose from the dead, and ascended back to His Throne in Heaven, having defeating sin and death and the devil, and having secured salvation for all those who would believe in Him, by paying the debt for our sins and crediting us with His Righteousness.

If we have nothing in the world but Jesus, we are rich – richer than we could be with anything and everything else in the world. Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way; by great endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet we possess everything” (II Corinthians 6:2b-10, ESV).

Brothers and sisters. No matter what we have, no matter what we face, you and I are rich in Jesus Christ through His Salvation. This is what we have to give – and it is Jesus’ Call upon each of us, whether we are a pastor or not – we are to give the Gospel away. We are to let others know that Jesus Alone saves. In whatever way we are able and gifted, we are to let others know about Jesus, and giving the Gospel away only increases the riches of Jesus Christ. We lose nothing in telling others Who our Savior is, but, oh!, the riches that are gained as each one comes to faith in Jesus Peter and John became richer as another brother entered the Kingdom. The lame man became richer by having his sins forgiven and being imputed – credited – with the Righteousness of Jesus. And, as an added bonus – and added blessing – he was given the ability to walk.

“And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” What more appropriate response could there be? He didn’t thank Peter, he went to the Source – to His God and Savior – and rejoiced, not merely in his healing, but in the salvation he received.

Are you thankful for your salvation? Do you thank God that He sent His Son to take your place on the cross to suffer under God’s Wrath and die? Do you thank God that Jesus lived a Perfect and Holy Life, so He was raised and will also raise us with Him on the last day? Do you thank God that your eternal future is secure in the Kingdom of God – in His house with many rooms? Do you thank God for the “smaller” blessings – like this building and the people who worship in it, for there being oxygen in the air, for waking up this morning, for being able to come to worship, for having clothes to put on and food to eat, and so on and so on and so on.

Thanking God first and foremost is the appropriate response to receiving a blessing. That is what the lame man did. Let us follow his example and give thanks, even for the “little” things. Is not God worthy of our thanks?

When the people saw the lame man walking and leaping and praising God, they recognized him – this miracle was notorious and public – it was done to a man that they all knew – year after year, day after day, he lay on his mat at the Beautiful Gate and begged for money to make it through the day. There was no mistaking that this was that same man, but now his feet and ankles were healed and he was walking and leaping and praising God. Peter and John could not have slipped a look-alike in – this was a man they had intimate contact with daily for decades. So, Luke tells us, “they were filled with wonder and amazement at what happened to him.”

Lord willing, we’ll see what happened after this next week. For today, let us understand that we are rich because we know Jesus as our Savior; we have believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No matter what ever happens to us and our things, we are rich, and we have manifold reasons to give God thanks for all that He has and continues to do in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

And let us understand that the greatest blessing we can be to another person is to tell them Who Jesus is – that His Gospel is true, and there is only salvation in Him. We will do that in different ways, according to how we are gifted. Some will talk about Jesus and what he did. Some will invite people to worship to hear the Gospel. Some will give out books or tracts or other information that explains who Jesus is. But we are all to do something. If we truly believe in Jesus savingly, if we believe that He is worth the effort, if we believe our neighbor needs to believe in Jesus to escape eternal suffering, if we desire to see God glorified and receive His blessings as others come to know Him, we will do something to let others know about Jesus, and we will give thanks to God.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the Gift of Salvation that You have given us through Jesus. We thank You for choosing us to be Yours and for giving us joy in our salvation. Help us to give what we have to others that they may come to faith in Jesus. And make us ever more thankful, for You are ever worthy, In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, July 10, 2009

John Calvin

Happy 500th birthday, John Calvin!!!

On Sunday, the pastor will be giving out biographies of John Calvin in celebration of this anniversary. (And, yes, hul, we will also be having an ice cream cake -- chocolate and cherries jubilee.)

Join us for worship at 10:30 AM and also give thanks for the wisdom that God granted His servant, John Calvin.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:44 –

“The particle which expresses contingency is here used. It was not an actual distribution of all their goods, but a treasuring up whatever need there might be to any, and a supplying of necessities from this common fund. Gieseler remarks that it is not a community of goods, but a spontaneous arrangement of property, according to the precept in Luke 12:33, ‘Sell all ye have and give alms,’ &c.”– Melancthon W. Jacobus, Notes – Critical and Explanatory – on the Acts of the Apostles, 84.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:42 –

“Not to define the church in a few words: just as a body without a soul is but a rotting carcass, so the church deprived of the word if God is but a chaos” – John Calvin, Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 1-7, 62.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

"What Does the Church Look Like?" Sermon: Acts 2:42-47

“What Does the Church Look Like?”
[Acts 2:42-47]
July 5, 2009 Second Reformed Church

What does the Church look like?

“Well, a church has a Sunday School for the kids, a day care program, and after school program, AA meetings, flea markets, and all kinds of groups for the adults to join – book discussion groups, cooking classes, financial management classes, choir – that kind of stuff.”

When I tell people I am an ordained minister, they usually ask me two questions: how big is your congregation? And, what programs do you offer? Do those questions really get to the point and purpose of the Church? Is that what makes a church a church? Is that what a church looks like? Or do we moderns have the wrong idea about the Church?

After Luke records the events of the first Pentecost – the proclamation of the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness, the cutting to the heart of many in the crowd by the Holy Spirit and His Gift of salvation, the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit in all those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation, and the record of about 3,000 people believing in the Gospel that day – Luke gives us a picture of the early church and he defines what a church is.

Luke begins by telling us that there were and are four things that define a church – four things that must be present to make a church a church: preaching and teaching, fellowship, the sacraments, and prayer.

First, Luke says that a church will devote itself to the apostles teaching – that the church, first and foremost, will devote itself to teaching and preaching the Word of God, in its entirety, as it has been recorded by the apostles and prophets. The first question that should concern a person looking for a church is whether or not that church teaches and preaches God’s Word – all of it – and God’s Word Alone.

I have been shocked and pleased when I have preached at other churches and the comment has gotten back to me that I actually preach what the text says. The minister has no authority or right to preach or teach anything other than what God has said. What the minister thinks is of no importance when it comes to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. We are to preach and teach, “Thus says the Lord” – nothing more, nothing less. If something is being left out, if the minister never preaches from the Old Testament, or Paul’s letters, etc., there is something wrong. If the minister doesn’t do much with the text, but tells great stories about moral living, there is something wrong.

The Word of God Alone must be preached and taught for a church to be a church. And for you to know if that is what is happening, you must be here. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “[do] not neglect[] 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 10:25, ESV).

There are valid reasons why we may miss a worship service – back in February, I had the Flu and couldn’t be here with you one Sunday. But under normal circumstances, we, Christians, are to be in worship with our brothers and sisters – for all of our good – to encourage one another in the faith, to receive Christ’s Grace through the preaching and the sacraments, to be strengthened and encouraged to live for Christ in a world that hates Him. Worship ought to refresh and restore us and make us ready for the work we have been called to do the rest of the week.

Understand, that does not mean that every time you come to worship you will be happier and healthier than when you walked in. I am an introvert, and I find leading worship and preaching and teaching physically exhausting. But I wouldn’t miss worship unless it was absolutely necessary, because God is worthy of my worship and I am spiritually better off after worship. That’s one of the reasons I worship at a friend’s church on Sunday evening whenever I am able. I enjoy seeing him, but I know it is right and good for me as well.

That leads us to the second mark of the Church: fellowship. And when Luke talks about the fellowship involved in the Church, he is not merely talking about eating cake together after worship. In fact, as we go on through the book of Acts, we will see that the fellowship that Luke is talking about is primarily the giving of gifts and tithes – that minimum of ten percent of our gross income that God requires of us – and the distribution of gifts – meeting the needs of those in the Church.

So, one of the marks of a church being the church is that there is an offering collected from the people who willingly, cheerfully, thankfully give for the work of the Church and for meeting the needs of their fellow Christians. When we give and collect the offering, we are being the Church. When we give to the Food Pantry and missions, we are being the Church. When we help out a member of the Church who cannot meet a need, we are being the Church – and that’s not merely financial. We are the Church when we give people rides to the doctor or the grocery store, when we call or send a card to see how someone is, and so forth.

The third mark of the Church, Luke calls “the breaking of the bread” – and by this he means the Lord’s Supper. He doesn’t mention baptism at this time, because he has just told us that all of those who believed were baptized. So, he focuses on the Lord’s Supper here – and we know it is the Lord’s Supper and not just any meal, because he uses the definite article, “the,” and the word, eucharistia, from which we get the word, Eucharist, which is another term for the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism is received once by each believer, but the Lord’s Supper is to be received often. How often? Our Book of Church Order says that we must receive it four times a year. In this church, we presently receive it fifteen times a year. The Bible does not tell us “you must receive the Lord’s Supper this many times.” But I think – and as I just said, you can disregard my opinion if you can present a better argument from the Scripture – I think there is good reason to receive the Lord’s Supper frequently. Why? Because when we receive the Lord’s Supper, Jesus meets with us spiritually and gives us grace – the strength to do all that He calls us to do. And as we receive the sacrament, rightly, with greater frequency, we continue to be strengthened, and we mature in the faith. Also, although it is not explicit in the Scripture, both Luke and Paul, in I Corinthians 11, talk about the Christians receiving the Lord’s Supper when they gathered for worship.

In order for a church to be a church, baptism must be received and the Lord’s Supper must be received with some frequency, though we cannot mandate what the frequency ought to be. However, consider what John Calvin wrote, “One of our great faults is that we do not celebrate the Lord’s Supper with the zeal of the primitive church. They did not limit their practice to four times a year, but they served it every Sunday, and sometimes even every day. The faithful wanted so much to follow the evangelical teaching that when they were assembled, they served the Supper at least every Sunday. But since then, the world has become so corrupt
and depraved that they came to disregard that institution” – John Calvin, Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 1-7, 69-70.

The fourth mark of the Church is prayer, and specifically, praying the prayers. Again, Luke uses the definite article, so he is referring to praying, but also to certain specific prayers – probably unison prayers that the whole church would pray together, like we pray the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday.

If a church is to be a church, we must gather together to pray for each other, for the world, for the mission of the Church. And remember, we do not pray because God doesn’t know what we need – God knows everything. He knows what we need. The reason God calls us to pray is that we would increase our faith and trust in Him and become aligned with God in the things that He desires. Prayer is about our confessing that we have faith and trust that God will provide for our needs – and we name specific ones, specifically grounding our faith and trust. And as we continue to pray and learn to pray, we learn more about Who God is and what He desires, and to those prayers, He answers with a resounding “yes.” Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14, ESV).

Now, if we ask, in the Name of Jesus, that God would not exist, will Jesus answer that prayer with a “yes”? If we ask, in the Name of Jesus, that God give us a million dollars, will Jesus necessarily answer that prayer with a “yes”? We need to understand that prayer is about our coming in line with the Mind of God: if we pray for anything in Jesus’ Name that Jesus wants – that He has planned – that He desires – that, He will do. I hope that’s clear – the Name of Jesus is not a magic slot machine – we are being told that if we pray for what Jesus intends, He will do it.

If a church is to be a church, it must engage in prayer.

If a church is to be a church, the Word of God Alone must be preached and taught – and all of it. There must be fellowship is the sense of giving for the work of the Church and the needy in the Church. The sacraments must be observed rightly and regularly. And there must be a joining together in prayer. That is what a church of Jesus Christ looks like. Many other good and enjoyable things can occur in the church and her buildings, but these four must occur for a church to be a church. These are the marks that a person ought to be looking for when looking for a church to worship and fellowship in.

Beginning in verse 43, Luke gives more details about the life of the apostolic Church:

While preaching and teaching the Word of God Alone, and fellowshipping, and administering the sacraments, and joining together in prayer, the apostles did many wonders and signs that left the people – all the people – Christians and non-Christians in awe. For the Christians, these things affirmed their faith; for the non-Christians, it caused them to wonder if this Jesus might really be the Promised Savior.

Well, what sort of things did they do? Listen to what Mark records, “Afterward [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘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 their hands on the sick, and they will recover’” (Mark 16:14-18, ESV).

Without going into an apologetic on whether such gifts are for today or not, let us understand that God empowered the Church to do the works He called them to do in order that people would turn and believe in Him. The point of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is not for us to show how great we are, but to use them to point others to Christ and His Salvation and show how great He is.

Then Luke says “And all who believed were together and held all things in common.” Understand, we need to understand Scripture in the light of the rest of Scripture. With the three thousand new converts, there were probably between four and five thousand believers in Jerusalem. Surely, Luke is not telling us that they all lived in one house. He is also not telling us that the first Christians were socialists – they didn’t set up a commune, as some have tried to prove from this text, because we see that Christians still owned individual properties and such. No, in the context of the rest of Scripture, we must understand Luke to be saying that all who believed were united in their belief and in the inheritance they receive through Jesus Christ, and, that everyone was willing to do and give what they were able to help the needy brothers and sisters in the Church. There was, as we see later, a treasury of gifts from which the needs of the poor were met.

Again, Luke writes, “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” It was likely that most of the people that sold things and gave money to the treasury were the wealthy in the Church. Luke is not saying that everyone sold their property and gave all of the money to the Church, nor that they had to. We will see, Lord willing, in chapter five of Acts, that Peter told Ananais and Sapphira that Christians have the right to own property, to sell property, and to give some or all of the proceeds to the Church.

Luke then tells what they Christians did each day:

They worshiped in the temple daily. God requires one day in worship out of seven, but those first Christians worshiped together every day. Do these facts suggest anything to us about our worshiping one hour out of seven days? What might we do?

They shared meals in their homes – and even celebrated the Lord’s Supper together in their homes – remember, there were no churches yet. This is the motivation behind our coffee hour and our pot-luck lunches. We ought also get together with each other for meals now and then that we might fellowship together and gives thanks for God’s Provision of food for us.

They received their food thankfully. They fellowshipped together thankfully. They gave thanks to God when they gathered to eat together. Why? Because every Christian was best buddies with every other Christian? Because every Christian was the best cook in Israel? No, because we, Christians, are joined together in Jesus Christ and being thankful to Him for Who He is and what He has done, for the food He has provided and for the Salvation that He has granted to every Christian. We must find a way – in Jesus – to get over our differences – literally, for Jesus’ Sake. It doesn’t matter if you or I are exactly the type of person we would want to spend every day with, for the sake of the Gospel, all Christians must work together and give thanks for our enormous blessings.

They praised God. We come together to worship – to praise God. We gather to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him, to be met by Him, to join together as His people. To live for Him and love each other and our neighbors – because of the miraculous thing He has done for us through Jesus.

And because the people in the Church believed these things and acted in the way that Luke described, they had favor with all types of people – not just with other Christians, but with the Jews and the Romans and the Samaritans and the pagans of all types. For a time, the world looked at the Church – the world was confused by what she said she believed about Jesus – that He is the God-Man, the Only Savior – but they saw the way the Christians lived and worshiped and dealt with others, and the world said, “These are good people.” Maybe they didn’t all come to believe in Jesus, but they saw something in Christians and the way they lived out their faith and they respected that.

Understand, the Church quickly came under persecution. We are promised that if we are faithful, we will be persecuted. Jesus promised that those who follow Him will suffer. However, as we saw in Peter’s letters, if we suffer for Jesus’ Sake, for the Sake of His Gospel, for letting others know that He is the Only Salvation, that’s alright. But if we suffer for our sin, that’s our problem. And our lives ought to be blameless before the world, as the first Christians were – not that they weren’t sinners, they were – but the overall impression that the world got was of something good and loving, which ought to have directed them to Jesus as the Cause.

I’m a sinner; I’ve got some rough edges. But I’m trying, through the Holy Spirit to live like Jesus wants me to live and to love as Jesus wants me to love. And I will continue to stand up and tell others that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone. I don’t want people to be turned off to that message because of me, so I desire to do everything I can to look good to the world, so they will look past me to Jesus. That’s how we are all to be – as the Church. Some of you have rough edges, too. But we love each other for Jesus’ Sake and for the Sake of the Gospel.

Luke ends this morning’s text with something that many Christians don’t believe any more: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Our denomination talks about Church Growth and plans and methods and stuff, but the Bible says the only Church growth method is Jesus. We can fill our churches with people, but only God can fill them with Christians. We can and should tell others about Jesus and invite them to worship, but only God can make them believe and cause them to stay with us.

What ought we to do? We ought to learn to recognize a church of Jesus Christ. A church of Jesus Christ is one where the whole Word of God Alone is preached and taught. It is a place where Christians support each other and the work of Christ in every way possible. It is place where the sacraments are received. It is a place where prayers are lifted up to our Almighty God.

Is this a church? Are we a church? Are we believers in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you say, “no,” you should look for a real church somewhere else. If you answer, “yes,” then let us make sure our focus, in all things, is on Jesus and His Salvation.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for making us the Church, for giving us blessings upon blessings that we can share with each other for Your Sake. We thank You for meeting us in the Lord’s Supper, and we ask as we soon receive the elements, that You would minister to us and renew us through Your Grace, enabling us to do all You have called us to do. And let us be in prayer, after the petitions of the prayer You taught Your disciples. And may You receive all the praise. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Puritan Wisdom

On Acts 2:42 –

“The Syriack expresly undersandeth this of partaking of the Lord’s Supper, for hee useth the very Greeke word Eucharistia here” – 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, 50.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:41 –

“If a single sermon by Peter so effectively won three thousand individuals to Jesus Christ, what will three thousand sermons do? Therein do we recognize our perversity. What good will three thousand days of preaching do us? Very little, for with great difficulty will we find that one person has been brought to Jesus Christ. Yet, we can see from experience how ineffective the word of God is for us, since despite its many admonitions we cannot turn to God. It is true we will protest mightily, saying we desire the teaching, but what effort do we make to follow it and obey it? At the same time we would have to be teachable and allow the word to lead us, since it tells us that God calls us to the hope of salvation” – John Calvin, Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 1-7, 56.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 2:41 –

The same day. Peter began his preaching at 9 o’clock in the morning. How long he continues is not recorded. But it is plain that the three thousand were added to the body of professed believers by baptism, that same day. This baptism, we think, could not have been by immersion, (1) Because there were no adequate facilities in the city. Besides the fountains and cisterns in the houses, which would not allow of it from their construction, there were only the rivulet Kidron, and the pools of Siloam, Gihon, &c. outside of the city. But to have baptized so many persons in these, had it been otherwise possible, would scarcely been allowed by the authorities. We suppose that the form of baptism at that time was by sprinkling or pouring” – Melancthon W. Jacobus, Notes – Critical and Explanatory – on the Acts of the Apostles, 88.