Second Reformed Church

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: "Building a People of Power"

Robert C. Linthicum open his book, Building a People of Power: Equipping Churches to Transform Their Communities, by stating, “This book will take you on a journey of discovering biblical principles enabling your church to become a community of relational power that can bring about significant transformation of its neighborhood, its city, and even its own life. That journey is based upon a biblical understanding of power.” The two overarching principles he affirms are “Never do for others what they can do for themselves,” and “When people lack access to political or economic power, the power they have is each other ” He affirms that three questions need to be asked when working with the Scripture: What was going on at the time? What did the text mean to the people of the time? What does the text mean to us?

In the first chapter, Linthicum suggests that the Scripture teaches that the people of God are to transform the world into what God intended. Specifically, he understands that to be “the people of God as the shalom community. This has primarily to do with stewardship and “economic equality...for everyone.” This he grounds in the biblical principle of “Jubilee,” finding three primary indicator of shalom: “A system is an organized body of people gathered around three components: values that are held in common, structures that institutionalize those values, and individuals who manage and operate those institutions.”

Besides looking at the practice of “Jubilee” in the Old Testament, Linthicum overviews the prophets concluding that shalom is lived out through the right practice of religion, just systems, and “the elimination of poverty,” which were the chief goals given to each Israelite. He shows that these continued in the New Testament, as presented in Acts, especially as seen in the church holding all thing in common. This is a principle which he says was never revoked. .

In the second chapter, Linthicum looks at the four pictures of Jesus that are drawn in the four Gospels. He concludes that Jesus was about confronting the corrupt Jewish systems of His day, standing up for the poor and the oppressed, and creating a “new nation of Israel.” .

This new nation of Israel is to be centered around “the free gift of God’s redemptive love.” Through Jesus’ Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, God seeks to bring about His Kingdom on earth.

In the third chapter, Linthicum explains the God’s Salvation is not merely individual, but corporate. This is an understanding that is muted or lost in modern Christianity, but needs to be recovered. Salvation, he argues, is not just redemption of the individual, but the entire created order The problem, biblically, is not the Creation or systems, but human beings and their sin – dies died to restore them.

Basing chapter four in Jeremiah 29:7, Linthicum argues that we are to “work for the [shalom] of the city where I sent you.” This is lived out as the Church “become[s] God’s presence in your city,” “pray[s] for the city, “ “work[s] for social justice and shalom,” and “proclaim[s] the Good News” of Jesus and His Gospel.

He ends this chapter discussing the difference between “unilateral” power – which is a top-down, oppressive power of force – “constitutional” power – which is a top-down, oppressive power of law, and “relational” power – the type of power Jesus engaged in – in which both parties benefit, working for the common good.

In order to build relational power, Linthicum explains in chapter five, one must intentionally engage in building relationships. As an example of how to do this, he looks at Nehemiah and finds that one must being by asking questions and listening, then taking on the joy and pain of the community as one’s own, taking time to pray, considering one’s resources, and, finally, acting at the right time.

Practically, this means getting out into the community and getting to know everyone: Finding out who are the people with passion, who are the people who understand the issues, and who are the leaders. Linthicum gives detailed suggestions about how to engage people in conversation and then the necessity of recording what one learns.

In chapter six, Linthicum takes these meetings a step further, working from his principle “Never do for others what they can do for themselves,” and shows that once one has identified all the things discussed in chapter five, one asks the people, then, “what are you going to do about it?”

In chapter seven, Linthicum explains that a leader must have “vision, passion, and personal validation,” and he looks at several biblical figures to show what this means. From this first principle, he builds eleven total principles for developing leaders.

In the eighth chapter, Linthicum explains “the cycle of action and reflection.” By this he means that one must reflect on an action before it is taken – to make sure of how and what one is doing. After this, there is additional reflection on what is done, and then a more substantive action is reflected upon, and the cycle continues to build and deepen as issues are addressed.

There are, he argues, a number of elements in reflection: evaluating, planning, conscientization – “learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions, and to take action against oppressive elements of reality,” imagining what God’s intentions look like, and devotion – that is, looking at it with a spiritual eye. Not merely an intellectual one.

In the ninth chapter, he explains the difference between “violence” and “confrontation.” “Violence” is bringing force against another to achieve one’s purpose – and this is usually done physically. “Confrontation” – the biblical model, as he shows through a number of examples – is the meeting of two disagreeing parties in which they exert power towards each other in an effort to win their purpose.

Linthicum explains in chapter ten that the book of Nehemiah was not so much about rebuilding the wall as it is about community organization. In this case, he rebuilt the spirituality and values of the people by reading the rediscovered Law to them. Then, he showed them their power, celebrated their past – looked at what they had done and overcome thus far, determined and acted upon their newly-articulated values – dealing largely with issues of Jubilee, symbolically set aside certain person to live in Jerusalem, and created a structure to mange the newly repopulated city. These are principles which are transferable into all situations.

In the eleventh chapter, Linthicum asks “ kind of transformation we are seeking?” He explains three possible types: “the church in the community” – in which the church is in a community but feels not attachment to it, “the church to the community” – in which the church sees itself as the community’s savior, and “the church with the community” – where the church “seeks to incarnate itself within that community” – partnering with the community. The third being the preferable way.

In the final chapter, Linthicum argues that there are a variety of spiritual and material mays that the church will benefit by engaging in community organization, and he encourages the reader to see if he is not correct in his vision.

This is a book I had to read for school, and though Linthicum is zealous for “the welfare of the city,” he ignores basic logic to make the Scripture prove his points. Two major cases are to be found in his understanding of Jeremiah 29:7 and Acts 2:44.

Jeremiah 29:7 (ESV) reads, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Linthicum says that this promise made to ancient Israel is valid to all people everywhere – this is foundational to his book. However, his logic fails: if I make a promise to my mother, the rest of the United States cannot claim that promise for themselves.

Acts 2:44 (ESV) reads, “And all who believed were together and held all things in common.” From this he envisions pure Christianity with absolute economic equality. However, in Acts 5:4, Peter explains that it is perfectly permissible for a Christian to hold land, and thus be in economic disparity with other Christians.

Linthicum could have argued for Christian care for the welfare of the city in other ways – ways that are biblical, But he has not, and his book fails in its purpose.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: "Under the Overpass"

Under the Overpass: a Journey of Faith on the Streets of America is the chronicle and reflection of Mike Yankoski and his friend as they took five months to live homeless in five cities to learn something of what it means to be homeless and, from that, learn how to be Christians to the homeless.

They begin their journey by staying a month in a rehab setting to learn about the people and systems before they actually live out on the street. Then they go to four cities and live with the homeless, as homeless, for a month in each city.

Yankoski shows a deep compassion for the homeless and admits that despite their experiment, he could always bail out, making him something other than truly homeless. His compassion made this reader search his heart about the ways in which he needs to better care for the homeless.

Early on in “being homeless,” Yankoski discovers a startling truth in this age of entitlement: “No one deserves mercy” (52). This lesson helped him to live his time on the streets with joy. As they practiced living as Christians on the street without being forceful or preacher, they rightly concluded, “We’re responsible to help others towards hope in Jesus’ name. But we’re not responsible for their choices” (212).

I was concerned that he seemed to be implying that it was not necessary to preach sin to the homeless (38). But he may have been seeing an imbalance of the preaching of Law and Gospel.

In the epilogue, C. S. Lewis is quoted, “If our charities do not pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small” (223). A quote which is surely convicting.

He ends with a Q & A section in which he, thankfully, says that living as a homeless person is not the best way for most people to show their Christian love for the homeless. Although he and his friend lived the experience they were led to, he recommends that most people seek to support ministries that minister to the homeless.

A convicting and readable book.

[This review appears on Amazon.com and my blog. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]

Review: "The New Good Life"

John Robbins is a well-know figure in the area of animal rights and vegetarian/vegan eating. He recently joined another well-known group a someone who lost his savings to the schemes of Bernie Madoff.

In the wake of his personal disaster, Robbins has written, The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less.

Robbins suggests, quoting Thoreau, “a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can do without” (6). As usual, Robbins does an exemplary job of showing how one can live better with less money, less things, limited car use, a vegetarian lifestyle, and safe cleaning products.

However, in arguing for simplicity and sustainability, Robbins steps into stereotypes: “To the Puritans, of course, life was grim, and temptation to sin was lurking everywhere” (15). Anyone who has read a puritan knows that this stereotype is not true, and someone of Robbins caliber ought to know better than to use such flimsy examples.

Also, he argues against having children, or at least minimizing the number one has (chapter seven). Throughout the Bible, we are told that children are a blessing. That does not mean that having children is inexpensive. Yet, the value of family outweighs the negatives.

Robbins has much good and important to say, but one ought to read him carefully, not swallowing every camel amidst the honey.

Review: "The Reformation"

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen J. Nichols is a wonderful, if misleadingly subtitled book. Nichols writes an informative and entertaining introduction to the major figures and movements of the Reformation, including Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, the Anabaptists, John Calvin, the Anglicans, the Puritans, and Anne Bradstreet.

Nichols supplements his mini-histories with three appendices: one with short selections of various documents of each person/group, one of short selections from the catechisms of each person/group, one of short selections from the confessions of each person/group, and one of selected prayers from each person/group.

We used this book for an adult study on the Reformation, and it was a great success, for readability, information, and a taste of the original documents. This is a highly recommended resource for an intro to the Reformation for individuals and group study.

Monday, December 27, 2010

January Sermons

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

1/2/11 Communion/Epiphany
 Matthew 2:1-11 "The Newborn King”

1/9/11 Baptism
 Matthew 3:1-17 “The Beloved”

1/16/11
 Guest preacher: Rev. Dr. Solomon Tivade

1/23/11
 Acts 21:17-26 “Rejoice and Be Wise”

1/30/11
 Acts 21:27-36 “Bringer of Confusion”

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"The Word" Sermon: John 1:1-14

“The Word”
[John 1:1-14]
December 26, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Matthew and Luke gave us the history of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. John introduces to Jesus, God the Son, beginning before the Creation in his Gospel.

John begins “In the beginning was the Word.” We immediately think of Genesis 1:1 when Moses tells us, “In the beginning God.” John stretches us beyond comprehension into the time before time when God alone existed. And he tells us that in that timeless time, the Word was.

We come to find out in the first chapter of John that he is telling us about God the Son Who came to earth in Jesus of Nazareth. So, why does John call Him “the Word”? “The Word” (or “the Speech” as some translate it) is the active revelation – or revealing of God. Just as we know God and His Salvation through the Word of God, in history, God’s Salvation through Jesus Alone was revealed through God Who came to earth in the Person of Jesus – the Birth of the Little Baby we celebrated yesterday. We only know God and His Salvation through His Word Who is Jesus, God the Son, Incarnate.

What does John tells us about the Word?

The Word was before the creation of time and space recorded by Moses in Genesis. The Word was with God where God was before time and space existed. And before we start to stray into thinking there is more than one god or some other heresy, John tells us that the Word is God.

We are treading on the grounds of the Mystery of the Trinity: there is One and Only One God. Yet, God exists in more than one person. God and the Word are two distinct Persons, but they are the same One God. That is what the Scripture tells us, hard as it is to wrap our minds around. Paul writes, “For in [Jesus] all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19, ESV)

John continues by telling us that the Word created everything that is. Paul concurs, “For by [Jesus] 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” (Colossians 1:16, ESV).

This makes sense because we know that “in the beginning God created,” and now we have been told that the Word is God. So, in the beginning the Word created. John is showing the Persons Who is the One God as all being involved in the creation.

In the Word, there is life. We are, we will remember, born dead in our sins: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among who we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV). He is the Word Who provides the Only Way through Him to be right with God – to be made spiritually alive.

We are born dead and blind to the things of God, but through the Word Who came to earth two thousand years ago, we can see. Isaiah prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwell in a land of deep darkness; on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2, ESV). Jesus is the Light Who shatters out darkness and becomes our Lamp. The Light shines in our birth darkness and gives us life in Him. Through the Resurrection of the Word, Jesus, we are also raised from our spiritual death to spiritual life, as the Light sweeps away the darkness and makes our way clear in Him.

Before Jesus made it clear that He is the Word, God sent His cousin, John the Baptist, on before Him to prepare the people and to prepare the way for Jesus. That is not to say that Jesus needed a human to announce Him – Jesus could have just appeared as He did to the Apostle Paul and announce Himself – but for our sake, He sent a herald to bear witness to Jesus and the fact that He is God the Son, the Word, the Long-Awaited Savior. John announced Him “that all might believe through him.”

John was not the Light – he had no authority or ability in-and-of himself to help anyone. But his calling as herald was confirmed by Jesus, showing that John was given a call and an authority by God Himself to announce the Savior.

John announced that the True Light which enlightens everyone who will believe was coming into the world. It is only through the Word that a person might be made right with God – not through the Law, not through being descendants of Abraham, not through the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes.

And that certainly sounds wonderful – that the Word was coming with Good News – that Jesus would make all those who believe in Him Alone right with God – that Jesus is the Savior that Israel had longed for for thousands of years – but John changes tense in the next verse and says that not only was the Word coming into the world, the Word was already in the world, and though He created the world, the world didn’t know Him, and though the Jews had been waiting for the Savior, when He came, they didn’t recognize Him.

Yesterday was Christmas. We celebrated with friends and family. It’s the one day it’s alright to say, “Merry Christmas, “ and many, many people said it – especially if you just made a purchase from their store. How many people in the mall and in the shops and in our family and among our friends believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior – God in the flesh? Most of my relatives don’t believe.

It’s a heart-breaking report to know that Jesus came to earth – the Creator of all came and lived among us. He came with Good News – that God was with us – come to make us right with Him. And so many said, “Who are You?” or worse.

I was talking with someone this week and she said that if there is a god, then everything that is is God’s fault – that God caused sin and evil. I said that is that were true, then God would be evil. And she asked me if God wasn’t evil – that God would allow or cause all the horrible things that happen on earth – God must be evil – if He even exists. I explained that humans chose to bring sin and evil into the world, and that the point of Christmas is that God sent His Son, Jesus, to earth so that everyone who believes in Him Alone for salvation would be made right with God. And she cursed me out.

Isaiah spoke for God, saying, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey it’s master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:3, ESV).

“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” How can such a horrible thing be true? The only way is to acknowledge that the Bible is right, the Word is right, God is right – we are born blind and dead in our sin.

“But” – one of the most wonderful words in such a context ”But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” If you and I have believed savingly on Jesus, we are now sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus – co-heirs with Jesus of His Father’s Kingdom – we are now made right in the Eyes of the Father and we are assured everlasting life with Jesus – the Word – in His Kingdom. Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).

All a person dead in his sins has to do is confess faith in Jesus Alone for salvation and he shall be saved. Do we see a problem? How can a dead person choose to live? He can’t. That’s why John tells us that the children of God – those who believe savingly in Jesus – the Word – are those “who were born, not of the blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” In other words, no one can choose to believe – God has to choose to give us faith and belief – then we are alive and then we can respond to what God has done for us – as a gift – in pure mercy and grace.

We may well ask ourselves then, how shall we live? If God has made us His sons and daughters, how ought we to live? Ought we to live as though we are blind and without knowledge of the Word? Or ought people be able to look at us and see something of our royal heritage?

I heard a number of people say this past week that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Why is that? Why do we give gifts at Christmas? We tend to think of the magi and their gifts, but that is not the reason, the reason is that God gave us the greatest and only eternally valuable Gift in sending His Son to earth on that first Christmas to be our Savior.

John says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” We remember that the Baby Jesus was to be called “Immanuel” which means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). God the Son – the Word – the revelation of God and His Salvation – came to earth from Heaven. He took on the real human being Jesus, and He is One Person – fully God and fully human.

“And we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

We know from the Scripture that no mere human can look at the Face of God and live (Exodus 33:20) What John is telling us is that through the lense of the Person of Jesus – for the first and only time – humans can look upon the Face of God and see His Glory – His Grace – His Truth – not the full-on revealing of glory and grace and truth, but enough – what we can stand as mere humans.

In knowing Jesus, Who is the Word of God, we behold the Glory of God. Isn’t that amazing? You and I can look at Jesus, through the Scripture, and see something of the Glory of God. It is only a small glimpse of what we will see in the Kingdom, but it is something so wonderful – so powerful – that it cause the proud to be humble and the wise to acknowledge their foolishness.

Have you seen the Glory of God?

In knowing Jesus, Who is the Word of God, He Who was sent from God His Father to His people, we experience the Grace and Truth of God. God reaches down into our chest and removes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh that we might rejoice and believe in Him savingly. We can understand something of why God had to come to earth and live among us and then die and rise and ascend again to His Throne in order to make us right with Him. The fact that God took that work on Himself is Grace. And it is the Truth of the Gospel.

Have you received the Word of God? Have you believed in His Son, Jesus? Is that why you celebrated Christmas yesterday?

Then let us praise God the Father, God the Son – His Word, and God the Holy Spirit for revealing God’s Word – our Savior, Jesus Christ – to us and all who believe. And let us live as the children of God that God might use us to be the means through which other come to know the Word and believe in Him Alone for salvation.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that Christmas is not about the presents we get, or even the presents we give, nor is it about what good people we are. We thank You that Christmas is about the revealing of the Word – Your Son, Jesus – to all those who will believe. Help us to be Your sons and daughters, and may all who see us find a reason to look for You and find You. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Since today is Christmas, I will not be opening the church for prayer, but will be with my family witnessing to the idea that Christmas has something to do with Jesus.  Pray with and for your families today and tell them that Jesus is the whole point of Christmas and the only Hope of Salvation.

"David's Son" Sermon: Luke 2:1-14

“David’s Son”
[Luke 2:1-14]
December 24, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Nine months earlier, the angel had visited Mary and Joseph. He told Mary that she was with Child by the Holy Spirit – that her Son would be Holy, the Son of God. She was assured by the angel that her Son, Jesus, was the Savior God has promised to send. The angel visited Joseph as well and assured him that Mary had not been unfaithful – she was with Child by the Holy Spirit – she was still a virgin. And Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married.

At this time in the history of Israel, Rome ruled over the nation, and Caesar Augustus was emperor. To raise funds for Rome, there would be registrations by family for the purpose of being taxed. And during the first registration held when Quirinius was governor of Syria, Joseph was compelled to go from his home in Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem – the City of David – because he was of the house and the lineage of David. And he took his very pregnant fiancee, Mary, with him.

This was a fulfillment of prophecy: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth from me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2, ESV). Our Sovereign God worked through the oppressive Roman government to make sure that His Son was born in Bethlehem, as prophesied.

Bethlehem was crowded with all of the visitors for the registration, and there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, so they took shelter in an animal stall. Mary gave birth to Jesus, wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and lay him in a manger – in a feeding trough. The vast multitude in the town around them was unaware of what had just happened – the Promised Savior had been born.

There were shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, feeding their flocks. The shepherds we low on totem pole of society – they lived with and protected the animals. The average person stayed away from these smelly parts of society. Unless something went wrong, they weren’t much thought about. They did their job, but were invisible to the multitude in the town around them.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and the Glory of the Lord shone around them – they must have been terrified. So the angel told them not to be afraid, for they had been chosen to receive the Good News – to know that great joy that would be for all the peoples: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

What must they have been thinking? “Why has the Lord revealed the birth of the Savior to us – shepherds – of all people? And why did God send the Savior as a baby? And why is the Savior wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger?” But they purposed to go look for the signs and see what had been revealed to them.

And suddenly the heavens opened and a multitude of the heavenly beings began praising God, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with who he is pleased ”

As they made their way towards the manger, no doubt their minds ran over all of the prophecies they remembered hearing in the Temple: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever more. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV).

“Now the Child is born. He will grow up and ascend to the Throne of David. He must be a descendant of David. He will free us from the oppression of Rome. The Savior will be the King of Israel. ... He is called ‘Mighty God’?”

The national of Israel didn’t always have a human king. When God called Abraham to form the nation of Israel, God was their only King. God spoke to Israel and He sovereignly and directly ruled over them. But God is not a king that can be seen – and Israel started itching to have a king that they could put out in front of the nations – like the other nations – and have them see him.

In the days of Samuel the prophet – when he was old and his wicked sons judged – “all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, ‘Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.’ But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of the land of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them’” (I Samuel 8:4-9, ESV).

So Samuel went before the people and explained what would happen if they took a human king: The king will take their sons and send them to war. He will make them his servants and workers in his fields. He will take their daughters to cook for him and to be his wives. He will tax the people unmercifully and give gifts to those who bow before him. And when they cry out for relief from God, God will not listen to them. And the people said they still wanted a human king, so God gave them Saul. And then God replaced Saul with David.

And to David, God made this promise: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (II Samuel 7:16, ESV). God promised David that the throne of Israel would always be held by his descendants and David would always have a descendant on the throne of Israel.

So, is the current President of Israel a direct descendant of David? No. So, is God unfaithful? Did God break His Promise? No. Is a descendant of David reigning on the throne of Israel?

We need to turn back to the Gospels for the answer:

In Jesus’ Ministry, He was recognized by a number of names – listen to these words:

“And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David’” (Matthew 9:27, ESV).

And Gabriel said, “[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom their will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33, ESV).

Jesus is a direct descendant of David – He is David’s Son – and the people recognized Him to be the Son of David.

“But Jesus is not sitting on the throne of Israel now – and He never did in His Life on earth.”

The problem is solved when we understand that God did not – ultimately – make the promise that a descendant of David would always sit on the throne of the physical nation of Israel; God promised that a descendant of David would always sit on the throne of Israel. Certainly, descendants of David did sit on the throne of the physical nation of Israel, but that is not the promise – ultimately – that God made. Paul explains, “For not all those who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:6b-8, ESV).

What Paul is saying is that your parents – your biology – does not make you a part of Israel. The Pharisees thought the since they could trace their lineage to Abraham that they were safe in the eyes of God. But Paul explains that the real descendants of Abraham – the real children of the Promise – are all those who believe in the Promise of the Savior – no matter what their biology.

In the same way, the Israel that the descendant of David reigns over is not the physical nation of Israel, but the spiritual nation of Israel – all those who believe in the Savior for their salvation. That’s what Paul is saying – if you believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation – you are a member of the Israel of God.

Jesus is David’s Son. And where is He? Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1, ESV). Of course God doesn’t have hands, what Paul is telling us is that Jesus is seated on the Throne of the Son and He is reigning – Jesus has the power and the authority of God, Who He is. And right now, Jesus is reigning over the Israel of God – over you and me and everyone who believes savingly in Him.

That should be a comfort to us this evening – that This Little Baby – the God Who came to earth to make us right with Himself – This God Who revealed Himself to teenagers and shepherds – and would one day grow up to give His Life for all those Who would believe – This Little Baby is the Sovereign Ruler of History – of Creation – of you and me.

God has appointed earthly rulers for us – and we are to pray for them and follow them and rebuke them when necessary – calling them to holiness. But God puts each one in authority who is in authority to carry out His Will. And they move to the left and to the right only as God allows.

We can trust Jesus and have hope in the sure promises He has made. And even when our human leaders are doing evil and failing us, we know that the Son of David is ruling over them and He will bring all His Purposes to fruition.

Receive this word of comfort this evening: the Little Baby Whose Birth we celebrate is David’s Son, the King of Kings, the Sovereign God over all Creation.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You have not left us alone, but sent Your Son to be our Savior. We thank You that when He left this earth, You did not leave us alone, but Jesus, the Son of David, reigns over all. May Jesus Christ be praised. Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Reformed Wisdom

John Calvin on John 1:9 --

But as there are fanatics who rashly strain and torture this passage, so as to infer from it that the grace of illumination is equally offered to all, let us remember that the only subject here treated is the common light of nature, which is far inferior to faith; for never will any man, by all the acuteness and sagacity of his own mind, penetrate into the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit of God alone who opens the gate of heaven to the elect. Next, let us remember that the light of reason which God implanted in men has been so obscured by sin, that amidst the thick darkness, and shocking ignorance, and gulf of errors, there are hardly a few shining sparks that are not utterly extinguished.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Eve

D.V., we will have our Christmas Eve worship service on Friday, December 24, 2010, at 7 PM.  Join us and worship the Newborn King!

"The Savior" Sermon: Matthew 1:18-25

“The Savior”
[Matthew 1:18-25]
December 19, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Two thousand years ago, two teenagers, named Mary and Joseph, got betrothed. We would say, they got engaged. The difference is that in ancient Israel, betrothal was legally binding and required a divorce to break, just as marriage did and does.

Now, Mary and Joseph were betrothed, and Matthew tells us that they had not “come together.” Matthew is telling us that they had not had sexual relations, and they were still living with their parents – they were not living together.

And “Mary was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” In Luke’s Gospel, he records that the angel, Gabriel, came to Mary and told her that she would bear the Son of God – a Holy Child – and she would bear Him by the power of the Holy Spirit, despite the fact that she was a virgin. And Mary submitted to the Will of God and glorified God and rejoiced in Him, despite the fact that pregnancy outside of marriage could get her killed, or at least shunned, by the community.

Do we have difficulty believing that Jesus was born of a virgin – that Mary became pregnant without sexual relations? Joseph didn’t know what to make of it – after Mary told him that she was pregnant by God the Holy Spirit – he didn’t know. He loved Mary and didn’t want to hurt her or have her subjected to the punishment for adultery – but he didn’t know. So he decided – in love – to divorce her quietly – gently – to send her away by the least harsh route. Justice for becoming pregnant had to come, but he didn’t desire to see her suffer greatly – he loved her and was a man of good character.

But before Joseph could go through with his plan, the angel of the Lord visited him in a dream. Now, we need to understand that there are two types of dreams – there is the normal dream that we have as our mind sorts through various experiences and concerns, and then there are divine dreams in which God addresses humans for His Purposes. This dream was of the second kind and had a divine seal on it – Joseph, though he was asleep, was address by the angel of the Lord – in reality – with a message from God.

The angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Now, why would he be afraid? If Joseph went ahead and took Mary as his wife, and she was pregnant before they “came together,” people would naturally assume that Mary had committed adultery – they would have experienced public reproach for her pregnancy – and when they heard the story that she was pregnant by God the Holy Spirit – they surely would have been subject to public ridicule.

“Hey Joseph, so Mary is bearing the Child of God – is that what she calls you – or the guy that got her with child? Common, Joseph, be a man – throw Mary out for betraying you. Admit what really happened. Nobody believes that God formed a Child in Mary without a man being involved.”

All these things must have been going through Joseph’s mind – and it wouldn’t have just been for nine months. Can we hear the crowds – “He sure doesn’t look like you, Joseph.” “Are all of your children from God?”

It’s not realistic to believe that these two kids made up this story and kept to it for their whole lives – even to the point of seeing Jesus tortured and crucified. Wouldn’t they have cried out to Him, “Jesus, we lied to You – You’re not the Son of God – Mary was not a virgin.” Wouldn’t they have loved Him that much?

The angel told Joseph that Mary would bear a Son by the Holy Spirit – and He would be the Son of God – a Holy Child. And the angel told him that he was to call the name of his Son, Jesus, because “he will save his people from their sins.” The name, “Jesus” means “the Lord is salvation” or “the Lord saves.” The angel was telling Joseph that his Son would be the Savior – the Messiah – the Christ – the One that God promised back in the Garden of Eden Who would one day come and provide the way back to God for His people.

The Salvation that God promised – the only salvation that would make a person right with God – would be for all of a person’s sins to be forgiven and for God to account that person as righteous – when he is not actually righteous. And the only way that someone can be accounted as righteous when he is not righteous is if God gives that person God’s Righteousness. The only way for a person to be right with God is for him to be holy – sinless – perfect. And no one is. So, all of our sins have to be forgiven, and we have to be credited with Someone Else’s perfect keeping of the Law – that we might be considered righteous.

Consider the Lord’s Prayer – we pray that God would forgive our “debts.” So think of a bank – that our account for being righteous – holy – perfect keepers of the Law – is in debt – we owe, because we have sinned and continue to sin. Our account is in the red. We are in debt. And we are unable to pay the debt or even do anything that merits towards paying the debt. So the only way we can be right – out of debt – is for God – the banker – to forgive the debt – and to credit our account as full – of righteousness – which we must be given from Someone Who has kept God’s Law perfectly. We must be accounted as righteous.

Matthew tells us that this all happened to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy, “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” You may be aware that there are two objections to the orthodox Christian understanding of this text: first, the word that is translated “virgin” can also mean “young woman.” And Joseph and Mary’s Child was not named “Immanuel,” but “Jesus.”

To understand this, we need to turn back to the context of Isaiah. Ahaz was king of Judah, and the king of Syria and the king of Israel were preparing to attack. God told the prophet, Isaiah, to go to King Ahaz and tell him not to worry but to have faith in God, because God would wipe out Syria and Israel and protect Judah. But Ahaz doubted.

So God told Isaiah to tell Ahaz to ask for any sign and God would do it to prove Himself to Ahaz. But Ahaz wouldn’t ask for a sign, so Isaiah got angry and told him that God would then choose the sign: “Here then, O house of David Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted” (Isaiah 7:13-17, ESV).

Again, the word “virgin” can be translated as “young woman,” but John Calvin makes the point, “the promise is stupid if it does not mean an actual virgin.” Why? Because God is giving a sign to prove His intentions to save Judah. For God to say that a young woman would bear a child would be meaningless. Young women bear children all the time. The only way this sign is meaningful is to understand it to mean that a woman who has never had sexual relations will bear a child.

But what child does this promise refer to? There have been lots of argument and speculation, but the Only Child that makes sense – even though it was hundreds of years in the future – is the Son of Mary and Joseph. Because Mary was a virgin – never having had sexual relations, yet bearing a child. And, as Isaiah prophesied and the angel confirmed – this Child would be Holy – He would be able to choose the good over evil – He would not bear Adam’s sin – He would not be born with a sin nature. He was not born unable to choose the good – but, Like Adam before the Fall, He was born able to choose good – and He did, as the Holy Son of God.

And what of the names? If Jesus is God in the flesh, as the Scripture attests to us, is He not “God with us”? Even if Jesus did not bear the actual name, “Immanuel,” was that not Who He was and is? Jesus is God with us; the Savior.

Paul says of Jesus, “Great, indeed, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (I Timothy 3:16, ESV)

How did Joseph react to this news? He believed. The Word of God was received by him as it had been by Mary. They were convinced of the Truth of God and what God was doing in and through them. And Joseph woke up, took Mary as his wife – he did not divorce her. They did not have sexual relations until after the Child was born. And they called His Name, Jesus.

What then do we learn from this visitation?

Jesus is the Savior. He is the Promised One Who makes His people right with God.

Jesus had to be miraculously born. Jesus had to be born of a woman so He would be a real human being and live as we live and take our place before God. Jesus had to be born of a virgin so He would be born without Original Sin – without the sin of Adam – without a sin nature. And He had to be the Son of God – born of God – a divine generation – so He would be able to live a perfect and holy life and survive God’s Judgement for sin.

Mary must have been a virgin to conceive the God-Man – the Savior of God’s people. Joseph, her husband, was a man of great character and love. Mary was the mother of Jesus and through her union with God the Holy Spirit, she is known as the Mother of God.

Due to this union of God and human, Jesus was born wholly human and wholly God. That is the only way He could be our Savior.

Do you believe in Him?

Do you believe He is your Savior?

Do you believe that He was born of God and the Virgin Mary?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for coming to earth in the Person of Jesus through the Virgin Mary that you might save us from our sin and account us as righteous. Help us to believe what the world calls foolishness. Help us to understand that this was necessary for You to be our Savior. And help to us rejoice in You now in this Advent season and always, knowing You to be our Savior. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"What Are You Looking For?" Sermon: Matthew 11:2-11

“Who Are You Looking For?”
[Matthew 11:2-11]
December 12, 2010 Second Reformed Church

We are in the season of Advent. The season of Advent is a season – a time – of preparation – of waiting. And if we are waiting – if you and I are looking for someone to come – something to happen – we might well ask, “who are you looking for?”

Advent does not mean a mere four weeks, as we celebrate it before Christmas. Advent is an indeterminate time of waiting. The first Advent lasted about four thousand years. We are in the second Advent – the period of waiting and preparation for Jesus’ Return – and it is two thousand years long, thus far. Are you waiting for someone? Who are you looking for?

John the Baptist was in prison, and he knew that he didn’t have long to live; he knew that he would soon be put to death. John had served the call that God has placed upon him – leading people to a water baptism, preparing them – in the first Advent – for the arrival of Jesus – the Savior. And John announced that Jesus is the long-awaited Savior when He came to John to be baptized.

John had gathered a group of disciples around him as he ministered – calling people to repentance – and preparing them for the soon coming Savior. John had come to know the day he baptized Jesus that Jesus is the Savior. But some of his disciples were not sure. Some people were looking for the Savior to be a political force to overthrow the oppression of Rome – Jesus was certainly not doing that.

John was concerned for his disciples, just as Paul was concerned with the Corinthians. Paul wrote, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as pure virgins to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (II Corinthians 11:2-3, ESV). John and Paul had taught their disciples the Truth of the Gospel, and still some were not sure, and they were troubled by that – they were concerned for the eternal state of those who still said they were not sure if Jesus is really the Savior.

So John, being wise and knowing he didn’t have long to live, sent his disciples to Jesus to hear from His own mouth who He is. John told them to go to Jesus and ask Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” “Go to Jesus and ask Him if He is the Promised Savior. And then ask yourself who you are looking for. Are you looking for the Promised Savior, or are you looking for someone else?”

And we should ask ourselves, as we hear the history of the birth of Jesus in the next few worship services, “Is this who I am looking for?” Because the Jesus that we have in the Scripture is the only Savior that God will send. Is Jesus Who you want? Is Jesus enough for you? We may think God’s Plan would have been better if Jesus did this or that, but, perhaps, our minds are not as great as God’s. Perhaps God’s Plan through Jesus is the best plan. Are you satisfied with Jesus?

Some of us might think those are blasphemous questions, but that is really what John was telling his disciples to do – “Go to Jesus and ask Him straight out if He is the Savior, and, then, ask yourself if you believe in Him.”

So the disciples of John went to Jesus and asked Him if He was the Savior – the Christ – the Messiah – if He was the Long-Awaited One, or if they should look for another. And Jesus told them to go back to John with this message: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Did Jesus answer the question?

Jesus quoted from Isaiah 35 and 61 – chapters that prophecy of the work that the Savior will do – the things that He will cause to occur. God’s Promised Savior will give sight to the blind. He will cause the lame to walk. He will cleanse the lepers. He will give the deaf hearing. He will raise the dead. And He will preach the good news to the poor. That is what Jesus was doing.

What was He saying? “Tell John that I am the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah. Tell him that I have authority over the body. I have authority over disease. I have authority over life and death. And I preach the Good News – that I am God come to earth in the flesh for the salvation of My people – to all those who recognize that they cannot do anything to help themselves – to all those who recognize their spiritual poverty and their inability to become right with God.”

“And the one who receives My Gospel will be blessed by me, but those who hold my Gospel in contempt will be cast aside.”

Who are you looking for?

John’s disciples turned to go back to John, and Jesus began asking the crowd questions about John: John began his ministry in the wilderness – in the desert, in the dump, in the last place any rational person would want to go. And Jesus asked them, “Did you go out into this barren and dangerous land to see a reed shaken by the wind? Did you go out into the wilderness because you believed that John was a wishy-washy person with no commitment one way or another? Did you go out into the wilderness to see a man dressed in soft clothing? Did you go out into the barren wasteland with all of the robbers and wild animals because you believed that John was a wealthy man?” Jesus was being sarcastic to wake them up – of course they didn’t go into the wilderness expecting to find some wishy-washy speaker or some wealthy executive.

What Jesus said was similar to this: Did you go into the crack house on Coit Street because you thought the people there would speak well of you? Did you go to the crack house on Coit Street because you believed that’s where the President lived? Of course not – that would be ridiculous

The people of Jesus’ day went into that forbidding and dangerous land because they believed that there was a true prophet there – and they wanted to hear a word from God. God has not spoken through the prophets in four hundred years, and now there was a man in the wilderness – in a place where nice, normal citizens would not be, dressed like a prophet, eating like a prophet, and they wanted to hear the prophet – a true prophet of God

In fact, Jesus told them that John is a prophet – the greatest prophet – because he fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” John was the greatest prophet, because he had been given the honor and the duty to prepare the way for the Savior and announce Jesus as that Savior. John was the greatest prophet born of a woman because he announced the coming and the fulfillment of the greatest prophecy ever made – that God would send a Savior for His people. John was the greatest prophet as the herald of Jesus.

But Jesus also said, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” What did Jesus mean by that?

John was the greatest prophet because he had the honor of announcing that the Promised Savior had arrived. He knew Jesus and believed Him to be the Savior. But the fulfillment of the Salvation that Jesus came to bring – through His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension came after John’s death. John did not see the fulfillment of Jesus’ Mission. John was the greatest and last prophet because he announced the arrival of Jesus the Savior, but He didn’t live to see Jesus’ fulfill His Call as Savior.

Who has seen the fulfillment of Jesus’ Call as Savior?

Everyone who has lived and believed in Jesus after His Resurrection and Ascension. You – and me. You and I – Jesus said – are greater than John the Baptist. Why? Because we had the good sense to be born after John the Baptist? No. We who believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation are greater than John the Baptist in this sense: Jesus has caused us to know and believe the whole of the Good News.

John knew that Jesus was the Savior that God sent. John knew that He was doing miracles and preaching God’s Word. And then John was put to death. You and I and all those who believe also know that Jesus was put to death and rose from the dead and ascended back to His Throne and will soon return to take us to be with Him. That is the way in which we are greater.

What does this mean for us?

It means that we have a great call on our lives as ministers of the Gospel. I did not say we are all pastors, but as Christians, we are all ministers. We all have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have heard that on Christmas we remember that God came to earth in a human. That He lived among us, suffered, and was crucified and died. Then, on Easter, He rose from the dead, and then He ascended back to His Throne. And all those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation will be saved – made right with God – and inherit eternal life in the Kingdom with Jesus. And if that amazes and excites us – and I hope it does – we ought to want to tell others. And if we care about other people and their eternal welfare – we ought to want to tell others. And if we want to magnify and glorify Jesus – we ought to want to tell others. God has made us great by putting His Gospel in us for the world to hear and believe.

Who are you looking for this Advent season? Are you looking for someone to make you feel better about yourself? Are you looking for someone to cure your physical illnesses. Are you looking for someone to overthrow world governments? Are you looking for a great moral teacher? And you looking for an example of how to live your best life now?

Or do you recognize yourself as one of the poor? Do you realize that you are needy and nothing will make you well and fill you and make you right except God Himself? Are you looking for God, born of a woman, in human form, to live, and die, and rise, and ascend that you might be made right with God eternally? Are you looking for God, born of a woman, in human form, Who has promised to return and bring all those who believe into His Kingdom forever?

Who are you looking for?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the season of Advent. We thank You that you give us time to remember the first Advent of Jesus and how the people waited for Him, listening to the promises of Your prophets, and finally to the announcement that the Savior had arrived from the prophet, John the Baptist. We thank You for the time You have given us now, in this second Advent, as we wait for Jesus’ Return. We ask that You would grant us assurance of our salvation and help us to see that You have put in us the greatest news ever to be told. And then cause us to go forth and let others know. For You have caused us to find You, and we are looking for You now. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Community Soup Kitchen

Today, in partnership with Community Congregational Church of Short Hills, we are opening the Community Soup Kitchen at Second Reformed Church.  Join us for a FREE hot lunch today -- Saturday -- at twelve noon.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

"Who Warned You?" Sermon: Matthew 3:1-12

“Who Warned You?”
[Matthew 3:1-12]
December 5, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Last week we began our Advent look at Jesus by considering His Second Advent and how Jesus would come as a thief in the night – so we ought to be ready for whenever He returns. Today we look at John the Baptist’s preparation for the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry and what that means for us in this season of Advent.

We will remember that John the Baptist was Jesus’ older cousin, and God had called him to prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus. Matthew tells us that John is the fulfillment of prophecy – he is the prophet that Isaiah prophesied would come before the arrival of the Savior to prepare His Way.

John’s message of preparation had two points: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”

First, repent. The word that is translated “repent” means to make a 180 degree turn. So, we see that Jesus, the Savior, will not receive anyone who does not repent of his or her sin and turn around – live in a different way – stop persisting in sin.

Second, “make straight.” The image is that of reconciliation. No longer will their be heights and depths, but through Jesus, all those who believe in Him Alone for salvation will be reconciled to God – we will be made right with the Father. And He will truly be our Father and we will be His sons and daughters.

John the Baptist was a typical prophet in the sense that he came out from his place and came to the people dressed in rough clothes, eating sparse food. The prophets tended to be ascetics – living with very little, having their needs met solely in the worship and work of the Lord.

The people recognized John as a prophet, and they flocked to him from all over Israel to be baptized by him in the river Jordan, and there they confessed their sins before God before being baptized.

This, again shows us that we cannot come to God and His Savior based on how good we are. We must come to God, asking for forgiveness, understanding that we are not good, but we have sinned against God and our neighbor, breaking all of the commandments. We cannot come to the Savior until we understand that “[we are] dead in [] trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1a, ESV). It is when we realized that we cannot come before our Holy God that we can come to Him through Jesus because of the work Jesus accomplished on our behalf.

So here we have the picture of this prophet, taking people into the Jordan and baptizing them for the forgiveness of their sins, as they weep and confess their sins to God and honestly ask for forgiveness and promise to change their ways. But then, some others come towards the river. These are not the common people of the crowd. These are the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Everyone could tell by their splendid dress who they were. And John flew into a rage:

“You brood of vipers Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

What was John saying? Why was he so angry?

“You brood of vipers Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

John accused them – rightly – of being hypocrites. They were not repentant of their sin. They had no intention of asking for forgiveness or changing their ways. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not coming to John to be baptized because they saw the need for forgiveness – the need to be reconciled to God. No, they came to John because it was what the people were doing, and they knew that if they did not get baptized by John, the people would want to know why. They would begin to question whether the Pharisees and Sadducees really knew what they were talking about – if they were truly men of God. So they came to John as a show. And John was enraged.

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”

John understood that the Pharisees and Sadducees rested their hope of being right with God on their heritage – on being biological descendants of Abraham. But John tells them that their biology cannot save them. Salvation comes through faith, not biology. God is able to raise up sons of Abraham from the rocks around them – to replace them – if they do not live up to the faith of Abraham.

“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

John tells them that faithfulness – true belief in the Savior – is proven through fruit – through the way that we live and the good things that we do in response to salvation. For them to base their hope of salvation on Abraham and being his descendants is to be fruitless tress. And fruitless tress – people who do not have faith in the Savior for their salvation – will be thrown into the fire. They will not be received into the Kingdom. Instead, they will be cast into Hell – into the lake of fire – into the place of darkness and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:1-6, ESV).

Have you ever seen a grape vine? If not, picture a tomato plant, or even a flowering plant. As a plant grows, some branches die or prove to be unfruitful, and these are cut off and thrown away so the good branches can grow more fully and bear more fruit. If you have a flowering plant – as the flowers die, you cut off the dead flowers to allow the plant and its living flowers to flourish and have the whole strength of the plant.

Jesus and John are saying that humanity is like branches on the vine Who is Jesus. All those branches who do not bear fruit through faith – all those branches who do not confess Jesus Alone as Savior and evidence that belief by doing good in thanksgiving to Jesus – all those who do not believe, and continue in their unrepentant sin – they will be removed and eternally cast away. And John warns them that the time is now – and we don’t know how long we each have to live – today is the Day of Salvation. If you have not believed savingly in Jesus Alone – today is the day – don’t wait hoping to be alright based on your parent’s faith – don’t wait believing that you can believe another day. John says the axe is laid to the root – now.

John continued by telling them that he only baptized with water for repentance – he symbolically washed people for the forgiveness of their sin – but they would have to come back when they sinned again – John’s baptism was not a baptism forever. But Jesus, the Mighty, the Savior Who was coming – He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus came and gives the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit to all those who will believe in Him Alone for salvation. Jesus gives anyone who is dead in their sins life through faith. And He also baptizes all those who believe with fire – He begins the process of purifying us – of making us holy – of sanctifying us. Jesus does not leave us to fall hopelessly to death in sin again, but indwells us with God and works in us to make us more like Him.

From this interchange, let us understand three things:

First, Jesus came to earth to make us right with God.

Before anything existed except for the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the Trinity decided to create everything that is – knowing exactly what would need to be done. And when the time was right, the Son came to earth in the Person of Jesus. The Little Baby that we remember this season is God Almighty in human form. He came to earth, fully aware and intending to endure everything that He did endure. Jesus’ earthly parents knew that Jesus would cause pain, as Simeon prophesied, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34b-35, ESV).

Second, Jesus does not require us to be sinless to come to Him.

Jesus calls the sinner to Himself. As we heard in our call to preparation for the Lord’s Supper, we do not come to this table believing that we are righteous in ourselves, but that we are made righteous only through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12b-13, ESV).

What great news this is: that Little Baby is our Great Physician, and through His Life and Death and Resurrection and Ascension, He heals us.

Third, Jesus does require us to acknowledge that we come to Him with nothing – that we are sinners – dead in our sins – unable to help ourselves.

This is where the Pharisees and the Sadducees failed: we cannot come to Christ boasting of ourselves – that we are well and good and right with God – otherwise, there would be no need for Him and His Salvation. As Jesus said in the passage I just read – the healthy don’t need a physician; the sick need a physician. If we were truly healthy – sinless – we wouldn’t need Jesus. But if we understand that sin has effected every part of our being, then we know we are sick and broken, unable to help ourselves, and we will fall before this Little Baby and wait on His Mercy – and He will give it to us, because we acknowledge our inability to become right with God.

The world says this doesn’t make sense – but that’s only because they deny their sinfulness.

We know and believe that we are sinners in need of a Savior, and that is why that Little Baby was born two thousand years ago.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, as we gather around Your communion table, we ask that we would come boldly, not because we have something to offer You, but because we understand that we have nothing to offer, and in knowing that, You cause us to become right with God. Increase our joy as we remember all that Jesus did and has promised. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, December 03, 2010

December Sermons

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

12/5/10 Communion/Advent 2
 Matthew 3:1-12  “Who Warned You?”

12/12/10 Advent 3
 Matthew 11:2-11  “Who Are You Looking For?”

12/19/10 Advent 4
 Matthew 1:18-25  “The Savior”

12/24/10 Christmas Eve 7 PM
 Luke 2:1-14  “David’s Son”

12/26/10
 John 1:1-14  “The Word”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Be Ready" Sermon: Matthew 24:37-44

“Be Ready”
[Matthew 24:37-44]
November 28, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Jesus has come. Jesus is here. Jesus is coming again.

During the season of Advent, which begins today, we will be looking at select Lectionary readings which look at the first and second Advent of our God and Savior, Jesus. (Remember, the Lectionary is a series of books that divides most of the Scripture into readings over a three year period.)

We begin the season looking at the Promise – the warning – of Jesus’ Second Coming, which He gave to His disciples. As we open this Scripture, let us remember what we saw some months ago in Peter’s letters, as he wrote, “...scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation. ... But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (II Peter 3:3b-4, 8-10, ESV).

Jesus promised that He will return and the disciples and the angels witness to that Promise. He will return when the time is fulfilled. And He will take us home to be with Him in the world without end.

Jesus and the disciples went up on the Mount of Olives, and they asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age?” (Matthew 24:3b, ESV). Jesus had condemned the Pharisees and told of the overthrow of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, and the disciples wanted to know when this would happen – how much time did they have? When would Jesus’ Kingdom come in all its fullness?

We see part of Jesus’ answer in this morning’s Scripture: after Jesus explained to them that no one but the Father knows that actual date and time that Jesus will return, He told them that they must be ready for whenever He returns. And we – His latter disciples – also must be ready for whenever He returns.

Jesus told them that when He returns, it will be just like the days of Noah: people will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage – everything will look normal – good, even. And just as the lost were unaware of the flood until it swept them away – the lost will be unaware of Jesus’ returning until He sweeps them away.

Moses records: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:5-8, ESV).

Notice: in the days of Noah, everything seemed normal or good. They were not experiencing disaster and demons wreaking havoc. The authors of the Left Behind series are mistaken. The authors of the TV show Supernatural are mistaken. In the days of Noah, like the days of the return of Jesus, everything will seem normal and good. Though, in reality, we’re told, “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” Jesus will not return when it looks like “all hell is breaking loose”; Jesus will return when everything seems all right.

Then Jesus said that one will be taken and one left. Two men will be in the field, and one will be taken and one left. Two women will be working in the mill, and one will be taken and one left. What is Jesus talking about? There are several interpretations of this text, but not all of them make equal sense.

What Jesus was telling the disciples – and us – is two things:

First, our unions will not save us. Just because we are married to so-and-so or work with so-and-so will not save us. There is no salvation by association. We can’t say, “Oh, I go to Second Reformed Church, so Jesus has to receive me into the Kingdom.” No, when Jesus comes again, we must each answer for our own sins – or we must believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation – and then He will have paid our debt and credited us with His Righteousness.

Second, Jesus was warning the disciples – and us – that there may be times when we have to walk away from people. There may be times when there is nothing more that we can do. It may be that we have proclaimed the Gospel in every way and with all sincerity and accuracy, and some still don’t believe. And, in that moment, hard as it may be, we may have to leave them behind to the Wisdom and the Mercy of God, and go on to other work that God has for us.

Jesus continued by explaining that when He returns – it will be unexpected. Jesus will come when He is unexpected. Jesus will come at the very time when it doesn’t seem right that He would be coming – “Everything is fine – we don’t need to be saved.”

Jesus will be unexpected. Jesus uses the image of a thief who breaks in during the night – at an hour that he was not expected – for if the owner of the house knew that the thief was going to break in at such and such an hour, he would have been prepared for him. That makes sense, doesn’t it? If a thief is coming to rob your home and you know when the thief is coming, you would do something to stop or catch the thief, wouldn’t you? Jesus said He is coming like a thief, and He will be unexpected.

Paul wrote, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are children of light, children of day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are doing” (I Thessalonians 5:1-11, ESV).

Paul explains that Jesus will return like a thief in the night – unexpectedly. He will appear like a woman’s labor pains that cannot be escaped. But, Paul says that those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation are not in the dark – we are not drunk – we are not asleep. No, we belong to the day – we are awake, sober, and in the light. Jesus has saved us and given us a life of faith and hope and love, so that when He returns we will not be surprised, but safe. And since we have that assurance in Christ, we ought to encourage each other about Jesus’ Return.

Even so, Jesus warns the disciples – and us – to be ready. We are to be on the alert. We ought to always be expecting Jesus’ return – looking for Him – waiting for Him – hoping to see Him. Because He is coming – at a time we will not expect.

Jesus has come. Jesus is here. Jesus is coming again

From this, let us understand three things about Jesus:

First, Jesus has graciously and patiently given humanity time to repent and believe.

Jesus told His disciples that He would be put to death and rise and ascend back to the Father and after that, He would return to inaugurate the fulness of His Kingdom. And the disciples initially thought that Jesus would return in their lifetime, but they came to understand that God’s timing is not our timing and Jesus would return when the time was right.

But consider: if Jesus had returned right away, thousands and millions of people would never have come to faith and believed savingly in Jesus – all those people who were born in the past two thousand years and confessed faith in Jesus would not now be assured of being received into His Kingdom. If Jesus was not so gracious and patient, you and I would not be assured of being received into His Kingdom.

Second, Jesus graciously warned His disciples – and us – to keep alert – to be ready – for His surprising timing.

The disciples asked Jesus when these things would happen – when He would return – when the Temple would be destroyed – when Israel would be torn apart – and Jesus told them that only the Father knows the day and the hour. And Jesus could have left His answer at that – He was under no obligation to tell them anything. But in His Grace, Jesus put them on the alert – He told them to be ready – always – because Jesus was going to return at the very time when no one would expect it.

We remain in that position of knowing that Jesus is returning, but not knowing when. Yet, we have the same warning to be alert and ready, for Jesus is returning at the very moment when we don’t think He will return.

There are plenty of skeptics in the world. There are plenty of people who will tell us we a re fools to believe that a Man Who lived two thousand years ago would be returning to earth for us. But that is the promise He made. If Christianity has any truth in it, He must return for us, just as He has promised.

We ought to live our lives with the fact of Jesus’ Return before us. Let us not be surprised but be ready for when the sky parts and Jesus descends on the clouds to bring His people home. Let us develope such a mind-set and such a life-style that whenever Jesus returns, we will be ready for Him.

And third, Jesus has graciously given this Message of Hope to all who believe in Him.

Jesus has revealed His Gospel to us – that God the Son came to earth in the form of the human, Jesus, lived, died, rose from the dead, ascended to Heaven and is seated on His Throne, until the day that He returns with the fulness of His Kingdom.

Does it ever seem incredible to you that God has entrusted you and me with that message and told us to take it to the world – to the whole Creation? If God were not Sovereign, He would be taking a great risk. But since He is Sovereign, everything must happen according to His Plan, and we are assured that Jesus is returning, just as He said.

Is that Promise – that Sure Hope – good news to you this morning? Are you encouraged to know that Jesus is coming back for you and everyone who believes in Him Alone for salvation? Does it fill you heart with joy to know that you will never be forsaken, but a home is waiting for you – with Jesus – in His Kingdom?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You have not left us in the dark but have brought us into the Light of Your Son through salvation and given us assurance of Your Plan and His Return in Your Word. We thank You for warning us to be alert – to be ready – for the surprising timing of His Return, and we ask that You would help us to be ready at all times – whenever You are pleased to return. We thank You that You have given us time to repent and believe – time to spread the Gospel to the whole world – and for the Hope in the Message that You have given us. As we remember Your first coming two thousand years ago, may we be ready for Your soon Second Coming. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

More School

The pastor will be in school Monday through Wednesday of this coming week and will, thus, be unavailable.  If you are in need, please contact a member of the Consistory.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Remember:  turkeys are people, too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Do Not Weary of Doing Good" Sermon: II Thessalonians 3:6-13

“Do Not Weary of Doing Good”
[II Thessalonians 3:6-13]
November 14, 2010 Second Reformed Church

One of the sins we can fall into as Christians, knowing that Jesus is coming back, is to think that we can disregard the Creation and use it and abuse it. Another sin we can fall into is to think that since Jesus is coming back, we don’t have to work, and we call on the Church and/or the State to provide for us.

A significant portion of the Christians in Thessalonica were committing the second sin – so many of them had quit their jobs, saying, “If Jesus is returning, why should we work?” – so Paul had to address the problem in his two letters to the church. They thought, “if Jesus is returning soon, why shouldn’t the Church just provide for us?”

On this Sunday, we consider ideas about stewardship, as well as thanksgiving. And in our text we find Paul addressing the question: Is it right for a person w Christians who refuse to work. Not that they were wrong about Jesus coming back soon – He is – but soon did not mean within their lifetimes. But that’s not even the point – their sin was two-fold – that they refused to work when they were able and that they assumed that the church should supply their needs.

So Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians that they are not to welcome or assist or eat with any Christian who is able and refuses to work. That is, with anyone who is “walking in idleness” and not with the tradition that they received from Paul.

What was the tradition they received from Paul?

Paul reminds them that Paul and his companions worked while they ministered among the Thessalonians. Paul made tents and sold them to pay for his needs. Paul and his companions ate with them, but they paid for their own food – they did not expect that the church would feed them for free. Instead, they preached the Gospel of Jesus and worked another job so they would not have to burden the Thessalonians by requiring pay from them. And, Paul reminds them, it is the right of the pastor to receive his livelihood from the Church. Paul could have required that they pay him and provide for his needs, but he did not ask for pay in order to show them humility and generosity and to encourage them to act in like manner – not because he wasn’t due that support.

Paul reminds them that while they were with them, he gave them the command: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” If that sounds cruel, consider, if someone in this church was able to work, but refused to work, and came to the Consistory and asked for money for food, how ought they to respond? Should they enable the person’s sin?

No. If these people are truly Christians, Paul says that we ought to command and encourage them – we ought to tell them what they are doing is not right – it is sin, and then we ought to encourage them to work – to work quietly – and to earn their own living – to stop living as though they are entitled to someone else providing for their needs.

Now, the Christians in Thessalonica tried to excuse their actions by saying that Jesus was coming back soon, so why not just live off of what the church had? Most people today who “abuse the system” or family or church don’t do so because they believe that Jesus is returning in days or months, they do so out of greed – out of believing that they are entitled or owed a living.

We cannot allow people to abuse family and church and “the system” in that way – especially in the church – because there are people who honestly need help – people who can’t work for one reason or another or who honestly can’t – at least for the time being – earn enough to pay for their needs.

So Paul tells the Thessalonians – and all of us – “do not grow weary in doing good.” Do not grow weary in doing those things which are good and right and God-glorifying. Do not grow weary in showing the Love of Christ by helping those who really need help – not those who are just unwilling to provide for themselves. Do not grow weary and fade into your lounge chair or your couch.

Why not?

First, we are to work and to do good because God works and does good. Humans were created in the Image of God, and part of what it means to be created in the Image of God is that we – like God – work. In Genesis one and two, Moses tells us that God created everything that is in six days and rested on the seventh. And then, Moses tells us in Exodus 20:8-11, that we – humans – are commanded to work six days and then rest on the seventh. God built into us that pattern of work and rest with which He created everything that is.

The Image of God in us has been marred by sin – it is not as easily seen as it once was or as it will be when we are received into glory. But as people look at us and see us work hard and work honestly – giving the best that we are able in the work that we are called to do – people see in us – though not perfectly – something of the Character – of the Nature – of God Himself.

Second, we are to work because God called work “good.” In the Creation, God called the work that He did “good.” And once He had created humans, God gave them the responsibility – the work – of tending and keeping the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). This was not a punishment – this was a gift from God to engage with God in the creative process – and so it is today.

Now, we know that things are different from the Garden. Today, everything has been infected by sin. So work is difficult, it is not necessarily enjoyable all the time – we have songs such as “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend.” But work was not created to be hard and discouraging, and it won’t be in the Kingdom. So, in working to the best that we are now, we witness to our hope and faith in the world to come when all work will be pleasant and joyful and God-glorifying.

Third, we are to work because God has given us work to do – especially we Christians. And to neglect the work that God has given us is sin. Paul explains, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

Paul explains that you and I were created by God – we are His creation – and all of us that He created in Christ Jesus – all of us whom He elected and called to faith in Jesus, as Christians – God created us in Christ Jesus for good works. God created us and made us Christians – and one of the reasons He did so was so we would do certain good works. And these works God prepared beforehand – before what? Before the Creation. So before anything existed, God chose you and me and all Christians to be created in Jesus – saved through Jesus – to do certain good works that God chose for us to do as Christians. And those are the works we ought to walk in.

I wonder if we ought not be amazed at that: the Almighty God chose to create the world, but before He did so, He decided to send His Son to redeem a people for Himself – Christians. And God created those Christians who would one day exist in Jesus – through His Work which merits salvation. And He prepared good works for each of us to do in obedience and thanksgiving for what He did through Jesus. God decided all that before He created anything. That’s really quite amazing, isn’t it?

Finally, we are to work because if we do the good works that “God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” we cannot help but be successful in what we set out to do. Why? Paul wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to competition at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV).

What did Paul mean? Paul was saying that our salvation is a good work that God began in us and brings to completion at the day of Christ Jesus when we are received into the Kingdom and glorified. That is specifically the good work Paul has in mind in this text, but it does not seem too much of a stretch to say that any good work that God begins in us will be brought to competition because it is God who gives us the work to accomplish and God who gives the ability to accomplish the work He has given us and God Who makes sure the work gets completed – because God is the One Who wants and plans that the work be done.

This is similar to what we saw when we looked at prayer: prayer is not our convincing God of something or giving Him some knowledge He didn’t have. Prayer is the process of becoming in line with the Mind of God so that when we pray for something, what we pray for is what God wants, so God says “yes” to our prayer. So, if we pray for what God wants, God will do it. That’s what it means to prayer “in Jesus’ Name.”

Similarly, if God wants us to do a good work out of obedience and thanksgiving to Him for what He has done for us, and we set out to do that good work, God will make sure that we accomplish that good work – for His Glory and our joy.

For example, God commands us to the work of being holy: “Be holy as I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). Therefore, since that work of becoming holy is something that God wants of us, it will happen – it cannot fail to happen – because God gives us the grace and the power to accomplish it.

Don’t misunderstand, we still have to work hard to accomplish what God has given us to do: becoming holy is not something we can accomplish in an afternoon. In fact, becoming holy is something that we won’t achieve until Jesus returns. Yet, ultimately, we don’t have to worry about failing, because if God is bringing to pass – in us and through us – what God wants us to do and become – it cannot fail to happen. It cannot fail to be. Because God cannot fail.

That’s why I can say to you with confidence that Second Reformed Church will stand and proclaim the Gospel for as long as God has work for us to do. So let us not weary of doing good. Let us seek God’s Will and do everything we understand that God is calling us to do. Let us work hard knowing that everything that God would have for us and have us do will come to pass as God works in and through us.

Let us pray:
Persevering God, we thank You that You will bring all that You have set for us to do to competition. We thank You especially that You will bring the fulness of our salvation to competition. We ask that You would strengthen us and give us Your Grace that we would not grow weary of doing good, but would be invigorated and livened by Your Word to follow after You in obedience and thanksgiving. Help us to know the difference between those who are in need and those who are sinning by not working. Help us to guide those who are not working to jobs that they might honor You in their work. And may Jesus receive all the glory. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"The Lamb Will Be Their Shepherd" Sermon: Revelation 7:2-17

“The Lamb Will Be Their Shepherd”
[Revelation 7:2-17]
November 7, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Today is All Saints’ Sunday, and we have heard one of the Lectionary Scriptures for today from chapter seven of the book of Revelation. All Saints is a time to remember those who had died and been received into eternal life by their God. We have a time when we name family members and friends who have been received into their reward and also our animal companions.

Before we look at the actual text, we need to understand a few things about John’s book: Many people think that the book of Revelation is a fearsome book that we ought to avoid, but that is not the case: the book of Revelation is a book of hope. Its difficulty is that it is written in a first century Jewish code to keep Romans who might intercept the book from understanding the message of hope that John was sending to the Christians who were being severely persecuted by Emperor Nero of Rome.

John tells his readers that while he was exiled on the Island of Patmos, he was given a series of visions concerning the persecution of the Church and her victory in Christ.

In verses two and three, John tells us that John saw an angel come from the sun with the seal of the living God. The seal of the living God is God the Holy Spirit Who lives in everyone who believes in Jesus Alone for salvation. And this angel calls out to four other angels who have been given the power to harm the earth and the sea. Four, in Jewish numerology, is the whole Creation. We talk about the four corners of the earth, the four seasons, and so forth. And the first angel tells the other four angels not to harm the earth and the sea or the trees until we have sealed all the servants of God on their forehead.

So, if the Holy Spirit seals all those who are saved by faith alone through Jesus Alone, John is assuring his readers that God will not allow the end to come until every person who will ever believe – the elect – profess faith in Jesus. Jesus will not lose one that the Father has given Him. The end will not come until everyone that God intends to save is saved.

Then John tells his readers in verses four through eight that twelve thousand people will be saved in each of the twelve tribes of Israel – a total of 144,000. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Judah. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Reuben. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Gad. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Asher. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Naphtali. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Manasseh. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Simeon. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Levi. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Issachar. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Zebulun. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Joseph. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Benjamin.

So, let us understand here that God will save the full number of those He chose to save out of the nation of Israel – that is, biological Jews. But why 144,000? When we consider the number of people on earth – and the number of Jews that have come to professes faith in Jesus as the Messiah – the Savior – that number is way too small. We may know that the Jehovah’s Witnessers teach that the 144,000 are only those who believe in their religion – and they say the 144,00 is a real, literal number – which makes for problems for them, since far more than 144,000 have believed in their religion. But they have figured a way out – the 144,000 – they say – are the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the top floor of the House of God – those with penthouse suites.

But what did John intend for them to understand? How would a first century Jew have understood the number 144,000? Well, 144 is twelve squared. And twelve among other things, is three times four. Four, we have said, is the fullness of Creation. Three is perfect communion – or perfect community. 1,000 is ten to the third power, and, for the Jews, whenever something is raised to the third power, it is indicating an absolute. So, when the Scripture tells us that God is holy, holy, holy – we are being told that God is absolutely holy and there is none more holy than God. So, this is again a message of assurance, telling the biological Jews who have come to faith in Jesus that God will save the absolutely perfect communion of biological Jews from all over the world and out of every tribe – God will not miss anyone, and the tribe one comes from is of no advantage in salvation.

Then John sees something new in verses nine through twelve: “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” – the biological Jews that God will save are only one part of His people – His Kingdom – God will save people from every type of people – from every language and nation and heritage and upbringing and race – there will be representatives of every people in the Kingdom – and they – with the Jews who believe – will be a great multitude. So, don’t lose hope because you were not born a Jew – salivation is about Jesus – not biology.

And this great multitude is before the Lamb and the throne – and we understand that the Lamb is Jesus – “behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” – and they were all dressed in white robes holding palm branches, worshiping the Lamb, crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb ” And the angels and the elders and the four living creatures joined in falling on their faces and worshiping the Lamb saying, “Amen Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever Amen.” Because Jesus is not just the Lamb Who was slain, but He is the Almighty God Who rose from the dead. He is worthy of all praise forever and ever. And He will be worshiped by everyone – from every people – who believe in Him.

And then one of the elders turned to John and asked him a question: “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” John asks that the elder tell him and the elder tells him “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” What is John being told? John is being told that although God will not allow the end to come before all of the elect are sealed with the Holy Spirit and although God will save everyone He intends to save, both from the biological Jews and everyone else, many, many Christians will die for the sake of Jesus; God does not promise that Christians will be spared suffering and death for the sake of Christ. In fact, many, many will be put to death for confessing Jesus before He returns.

That was the hard pill that the Christians were swallowing while John was on Patmos: Nero was turned Christians into living garden torches. He was feeding them to wild animals. And doing all sorts of depraved things to them for confessing Christ. And some were questioning where God was and whether they themselves had truly believed, but John tells them, “Yes, be assured of your salvation. God grants salvation to whomever He will and seals them with the Holy Spirit and then they are His forever and will be brought into His Kingdom. However, many will be brought into the Kingdom by a violent death for the sake of Jesus.

The author of Hebrews writes, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:35b-38, ESV).

Jesus does not promise that Christians will have it easy in this life. In fact, He promises that Christians will be persecuted because Jesus was persecuted. Still, every one that Jesus has chosen from all the peoples of the earth – out of the biological Jews and all the rest of the peoples – every one will be sealed, filled with the Holy Spirit, and received into Paradise with Jesus – the Lamb Who was slain. He will lose none, and the end will not come before each one is sealed. And we know that He will lose none because He gave Himself up – the Lamb allowed Himself to be slaughtered for everyone who would believe – so that each one of us is covered with His Blood and washed clean, so that Father sees in us the Sacrifice of the Lamb – His Beloved Son – and loves us and adopts us as His children.

And then the elders tell John in the rest of this chapter – and John tells the Christians – many of whom will be called to give their lives for the sake Jesus and His Gospel – that the Lamb would be the Shepherd of all those who are sealed with God the Holy Spirit and with all those who die in the faith. That sounds backwards, doesn’t it? The Lamb will be their Shepherd? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that the Shepherd will shepherd the sheep?

Jesus is the Lamb of God Who was sacrificed for all those sheep He came to save. Jesus is the Shepherd Who lay down His Life for His sheep. Jesus, the Lamb of God, shepherds His sheep.

And here we have a picture of life in the Kingdom: the sheep are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in the temple; and He Who sits on the throne shelters the sheep with His Presence. The sheep give thanks to God and to the Lamb, serving Him, and He shelters and protects His sheep for all of eternity.

John is told that in the Kingdom, the sheep – the Christians – will never hunger or thirst any more, and they won’t suffer in the harsh realities of the weather; He will keep them safe from wind and sun. There will be no more lack or distress In fact, the Lamb, as the Shepherd of His sheep – will guide everyone who believes in Him to springs of living water.

We may remember that Samaritan woman that Jesus met at the well, and He asked her for a drink. And she was shocked, because Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, was talking to a Samaritan – and not only that – a Samaritan woman. So, she asks Him why He is talking to her. And He tells her that she should ask Him for living water. And she tells Him that He doesn’t have a bucket. And Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13b-15, ESV). By the end of the conversation, she professes faith in Jesus and received the living water.

Likewise, David wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:1-2, ESV). Part of what Jesus does for us – and all Christians – is give us living water, lead us beside still water, guide us to springs of living water. Jesus satisfies our ultimate need by giving up Himself for us.

And when He receives His sheep into the kingdom, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. The point of chapter seven is that Jesus ultimatly brings His people home. He tells them that they will suffer and many will die. There will be crying and hardship for any who confess faith in Jesus. And many will die before Jesus returns – some died from this congregation this year.

Yet, those who have died in the faith are in Paradise now. Jesus the Lamb is shepherding them now. They are at peace – filled with joy – longing for the fulfillment of the Kingdom and the bringing in of the 144,000 and the great multitude – and then the great restoration. That day is coming.

In the mean time, we look forward with hope and assurance that Jesus is returning. And as we receive the means of grace, such as the Lord’s Supper, which we will soon receive – Jesus communes with us spiritually – and with every believer throughout time and space. So, as we receive the bread and the cup, and each believer communes with Jesus, we, through Jesus, commune with every other believer throughout time and space, looking forward to the day when we all shall be before the Lamb and the throne.

The book of Revelation is meant to be a book of comfort for Christians who are suffering for the sake of Jesus and His Gospel. Be comforted and assured, then, that no matter what happens to us for Jesus’ Sake – He will lose none of us, and will bring us to Him. And be assured and comforted that all those who have died in the faith are now with Jesus – in His Presence, filled with joy, waiting for the rest of us.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, Lamb Who was Slain, Great Shepherd of the Sheep, we thank You for the assurance that all those who have died before us in the faith are in glory with You. And because You are the Great God and Only Savior, each one of us whom You have chosen for Yourself will be received into Paradise and the Kingdom. Give us strength to stand for You in hope. Be with us now – even as we receive the bread and the cup – and may the communion of the saints be ever more real to us as our faith grows in You. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.