Second Reformed Church

Sunday, February 28, 2010

"The Peace Offering" Sermon: Leviticus 3:1-17

“The Peace Offering”
[Leviticus 3:1-17]
February 28, 2010 Second Reformed Church

We come this morning to the third offering: the Peace Offering.

Let us remember what we have already seen:

We first looked at the Burnt Offering and saw that God’s Law required blood to be shed and an animal to be devoted in its entirety to the fire to make atonement – reconciliation – between the person bringing the offering and God.

We saw that Jesus fulfilled the Burnt Offering by living a Perfect Life under God’s Law and giving Himself to be sacrificed on our behalf, taking on God’s Wrath and crediting us with His Perfect Life, so we could be right with God. The Burnt Offering was an offering for atonement and concerned the consecration of one’s life and living.

Then we looked at the Grain Offering and saw that God’s Law required that grain – either as fine flour, unleavened bread, or toasted grain – be offered with oil, salt, and frankincense. We said that this was a thanksgiving offering, showing that one understands that everything we have comes from God, that God has chosen a people for Himself and set them apart to be holy unto Him. We also saw the obligation to support God’s Work, as only a small portion of the grain, oil, and salt were burned – the rest was for the sustenance of the priests.

We saw that Jesus fulfilled the Grain Offering in being the Bread of Life. Jesus fulfilled the Grain Offering by offering Himself as the True Heavenly Bread. He is made of Perfect Flour. And all those who believe and “eat” of Him will live forever. He sets us apart and makes us holy through the oil through which He has called us to be His and through the salt of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

Now we turn to the Peace Offering, and at first glance, it may seem to be no different from the Burnt Offering, but there are significant differences that make this a different offering:

As we have seen before, God in His Mercy allows for people of different means to bring different animals. In the case of the Peace Offering, one could bring a bull or a cow or a lamb or a goat, depending on what one could afford. However, notice that one could bring a male or a female. For the Peace Offering, God did not require that the animal be male.

Like the Burnt Offering, God required that the animal be without blemish – it could not be sick, injured, or deformed. The person who brought the animal to be sacrificed was to lay hands upon it, symbolically transferring their sin to the animal, and then, that person was to slit the throat of the animal in the doorway of the tent of meeting. Then Aaron’s sons – the priests – would collect the blood and throw it against the sides of the altar – just like in the Burnt Offering.

But, then, we have another difference: although the priests skinned and dismembered the animal, only the fat surrounding the intestines, the kidneys and their fat, the fatty lobe off of the liver, and – in the case of the lamb or goat – its tail, were burned on the altar as “a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

Why? Because the rest of the animal was eaten by the family who brought the animal in the sanctuary in the presence of the priests. They were not allowed to bring any of the animal home; it was cooked and to be eaten there as a holy feast of thanksgiving, symbolizing the friendship and fellowship that God has made between humans and Himself.

All of the animal except for the fat and the blood was to be eaten by the family. The fat and the blood was offered up to God. Now, if an animal was killed or died in some other manner than in being offered to God, the people were still not allowed to eat the fat or the blood, but the fat could be used for other purposes.

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, You shall eat no fat, of ox or sheep or goat. The fat of the animal that dies of itself and the fat of the animal that is torn by beasts may be put to any other use, but on no account may you eat it. For every person who eats of the fat of an animal of which a food offering may be made to the Lord shall be cut off from his people. Moreover, you shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwelling places. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people” (Leviticus 7:22-27, ESV).

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood” (Leviticus 17:10-12, ESV).

Fat was not to be eaten by humans because it was the richest part of the meat, and it was to be offered to God alone as a sacrifice, or, in certain cases, it could be used for other uses, but never for food. And the blood was never to be eaten, because the life is in the blood, and blood is only to be used for atonement – redemption – for becoming reconciled to God.

The Peace Offering takes the person from being reconciled to God – in the Burnt Offering – to being a friend of God – to being one who may fellowship with God – enter into His Presence and not only live, but rejoice. This we find through Jesus Christ in His fulfilling of this offering:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2, ESV).

“Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in this world. But now in Jesus Christ you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Sprit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:11-22, ESV).

The Lord’s Supper, which we will celebrate next week, Lord willing, is one way in which we who have been reconciled to God and given His Peace join together with Him in friendship and fellowship. As we receive the bread and the cup, we partake of the fat parts and the blood of Jesus, symbolically, and He meets with us spiritually, yet in reality, and we look forward to that day when we will be with Him, face-to-face, when the Bride shall join together with her Groom in eternity.

Jesus told a parable about that day:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ But they paid not attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:2-14, ESV).

And John saw a vision of the day of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, when Jesus and His Church are united in Eternity: “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

“And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God’” (Revelation 19:6-9, ESV).

Through Jesus’ fulfillment of the Peace Offering, we have a taste of what it will be like to be with Jesus, in perfect friendship and fellowship, joined together with Him as a Bride to her Groom.

So let us understand, as the author of Hebrews tells us, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV). Blood must be shed, or we cannot be made right with God.

Also, in the offering of the fat to God, let us understand that our best is always to be given to God. Whether it be in offering our things or our time or our talents, God deserves and expects that His people will given Him their best.

And as we look forward to that final day when Jesus Returns and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is our present reality, let us recognize that we have been made friends with God now through Jesus. We have fellowship with God – with the Trinity – now – in the reading and preaching of the Scripture and through the sacraments. Let us not neglect fellowshipping and seeking out the friendship of our God and Savior and Bridegroom.

So let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for showing us that there is no forgiveness except through the blood and that You deserve the best parts of all things in thanksgiving for what You have done through Jesus Christ in reconciling us to You. We thank You for the Gift of Salvation and for making us not merely servant, but friends and family through Your Son. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Review: "The Voice"

After reading The Gospel According to Lost, I made the comment that I hoped I would be able to read and review The Voice, which is the “translation” that is primarily used in the book. I got my wish. For those who are interested, the product information on this book can be found at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=1418534390&title=The_Voice_New_Testament_%28VOICE%29_

Let me state right up front that I am not a linguistic scholar. Although I had to learn Greek and Hebrew in seminary, and I can use the tools to do translation to a fair degree, I cannot simply plop myself down in front of the original text and translate off the top of my head.

That being said, let me say that the Ecclesia Bible Society and Chris Seay seem to have wonderful intentions. That is they want to present the Bible in a readable text with all of the character of the individual authors (vii). That is laudable. Then they lose me.

One of the reasons they did this work is due to the fact, they state “Most English translations attempt to even out the styles of the different authors in sentence structure and vocabulary” (vii). My reading suggest that this is a rather bizarre claim.

Then they say “Words that are borrowed from another language or words that are not common outside of the theological community (such as “baptism,” “repentance,” and “salvation”) are translated into more common terminology” (viii). This is outrageous. Certainly no other discipline does away with it vocabulary. (Would anyone go to a urologist who wants to look at your “wee willy winky”?) But the problem is worse than this.

After claiming this is a translation, they go on to say this is a “retelling of the Scriptures” (ix). Out the door with translation, then. And this “retelling involves translaiton and elaboration” (x). Uh-oh.

Throughout the introductory material, there is the claim that in this post-modern and emerging/emergent world that we now live in, words are not as effective as the visiual, so “preaching” as it were, ought to be narrative. After all, that’s what Jesus used to get the Gospel accross, right?

Actually, Jesus spoke in parables – in the narrative – so that His listeners would not understand (cf. Matthew 13:10-17). Instead, we read, “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17, ESV).

Three examples from the text that elucidate trouble:

First, in John1:28 and following, the “translators” replace the troublesome word “baptism” with “cleansing” or “cleansing with water” – somehow, that doesn’t help me. And in the footnote, they write, “literally immersing, to show repentance” (161). Now, anyone who has ever discussed the issue of baptism knows that the word baptism does not necessarily mean “immerse.” If it did, there wouldn’t be traditions that sprinkle, dip, and drip. So, the meaning is skewed here to a particular tradition, rather than to what the text says.

Second, Romans 8:29-30 is “translated” “From the distant past, His eternal love reached into the future, and He chose those who would be conformed to the image of His Son. God not only knew which part they would play, but He chose them especially to be united with His Son, the firstborn of a new family of believers, all brothers and sisters.” The problem here is using a “retelling” of the words “foreknew” (which cannot simply mean “knew before” here) and “predestination” such that we are not being told that salvation is based on God’s choice apart from anything the human does or does not do, but rather that God looks down the corridor of time and falls in love with some...perhaps based on their works? It’s confusing to say the least.

Third, and I could go on ad nauseam, but in I Timothy 3:11, which says, in the ESV “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” Now, there is a footnote which says the word for “wives” can be translated as “women” here. However, that gives not right to the “translators of this work to “expand” the text to say “Again the same applies to women in key positions;...” as though Paul was saying that these are the qualification for male elders and female elders and male deacons and female deacons. To say to contradicts where Paul clearly states that only men are to hold positions of spiritual authority.

I will grant the Eccelsia Bible Society good intentions. But this is not a translation. At best it is a commentary; at worst, this is a rewriting of the text to suit the “translators.”

I urge everyone to stay away from this “translation.” Instead, buy a faithful one, such as the ESV, and, if possible, work to be able to handle the biblical languages yourself.

[This review appears on Amazon.com and my blog.]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"The Grain Offering" Sermon: Leviticus 2:1-16

“The Grain Offering”
[Leviticus 2:1-16]
February 21, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Wednesday night we began the Lenten Season and our look at the offerings of the opening chapters of the book of Leviticus. Wednesday night we looked at the Burnt Offering and saw that God’s Law required blood to be shed and an animal to be devoted in its entirety to the fire to make atonement – reconciliation – between the person bringing the offering and God.

We saw that Jesus fulfilled the Burnt Offering by living a Perfect Life under God’s Law and giving Himself to be sacrificed on our behalf, taking on God’s Wrath and crediting us with His Perfect Life, so we could be right with God. The Burnt Offering was an offering for atonement and concerned the consecration of one’s life and living.

In this morning’s Scripture, we heard the laws of the Grain Offering. We immediately see a difference in this offering in that what is being offered is grain – the harvest of the ground – not an animal. In this offering, blood is not shed. So this offering does not have to do with the payment of the debt for sin in any way. This offering has to do with something else. The Grain Offering was an offering of thanksgiving and concerned the consecration of one’s labor and blessings – all of one’s material goods.

Yet, both of these offerings are said to be “a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” Again, let us understand that God does not eat; God is a Spirit. What we are being told is that God accepts the offering – God is pleased with the offering – not that God actually eats the offering.

We find three, or four, things necessary for this offering: flour, oil, frankincense, and salt, and one thing that was forbidden: leaven.

If one was offering up the grain as flour, it was to be the best flour, fine flour, well-milled flour, with no lumps or imperfections. The priest would take a handful of the flour and pour some of the oil the person had brought on it. Then the priest would take all of the frankincense the person brought and put it on the handful of flour with the oil, and that would be burned as the offering. The rest of the flour and oil would be kept by the priest as his food.

If one offered up baked bread, it was to be bread that was not made with leaven. It was to be made of fine flour and salted and brought to the priest, who would break a piece of it off and pour some of the oil that the person had brought on it. Then he would put all of the frankincense that the person had brought on it and burn it as the offering. The rest of the bread and the oil would be kept by the priest as his food.

If one offered up the grain itself, it was to be roasted and crushed. The priest would take some of it and pour some of the oil the person had brought on it. Then he would put all of the frankincense the person had brought on it and burn it. The rest of the grain and the oil would be kept by the priest for his food.

Let us notice that God was merciful in the requirements for this offering, just as He was in the Burnt Offering. At least initially, there are no quantities listed for the amount of the Grain Offering. The person bringing the offering would bring what the person was able to based on what one had and the thanks one wanted to express.

God was also merciful in allowing the grain to be brought in different forms, based upon one’s ability and income. The roasted grain would be brought by the poorer people – those who did not have access to the mill or baking equipment, whereas those who were able to refine the grain and/or bake it, would bring flour or bread, based upon their ability to do so.

Our God is merciful beyond our ability to understand: grain, flour, and bread symbolize our blessings – our sustenance – the goods that we have in this world. The oil symbolizes the setting apart of the offering for God. Frankincense symbolizes the prayers and offerings of God’s people – with God’s acceptance of them. Salt symbolizes being preserved – consecrated to holiness – especially through God’s working in and through us. And leaven symbolizes corruption – which is why it was not allowed in the offering.

The person binging the Grain Offering would be recognizing several things:

Everything we have is from God. James wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV). Do we believe that?

Have you said – or have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t owe anybody anything; I worked hard for everything I have. Nobody every gave me a handout or a leg up. Everything I have I earned”?

In a sense it’s true – we are paid – or rewarded – for our work. But ultimately – that is what we are considering here – where does our work come from? Where does our ability to work come from? Where do our gifts and talents come from? The Bible is clear – God is clear – everything anyone has is – ultimately – from God. So God deserves to be thanked. Don’t you think? Everyone owes God thanks – even Job owed God thanks while he was suffering.

Bruce Cockburn sings a song, “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” in which he says it may be a bad thing that it is so easy to be a Christian in North America. And I’m sure we all know people – are we people? – who would say, “Well, you don’t know how hard I have it.” I wonder if any of us would prefer to be Christians in China, where the secret police would put us in jail without trail for years on end and try to “re-educate us.” I wonder if any of us would prefer to be Christians in India, where they are locked in churches and set on fire. Or would any of us prefer to be Christians in Iran, where they are decapitated?

The person bringing the Grain Offering would also understand that those who believe in God and His Salvation have been set apart. Peter put it this way to the early Christians: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Peter 2:9-10, ESV).

We in this church, and Christians in general, do pretty well in asking for things from God, but do we proclaim His Excellencies? Do we bring our grain offering in giving thanks to God and telling others of Who He is and why that is so wonderful? We don’t need to be obnoxious or “hit people over the heads,” but we should let them know why we are who we are and why we do what we do. Even if they curse us – or God – when we say it – it has happened to me.

The person offering the Grain Offering would understand that just as the grain was received by God, so our prayers are received by God – like incense: “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel” (Revelation 8:3-4, ESV).

For those of us with allergies, this may not being an appealing image – but try picturing your favorite smell. Imagine that smell being all around you, filling up the room – whatever that smell is – for many of us, it would be a food, and our mouths would be watering – we would be happy and longing for what was behind the smell. Symbolically, that is what is going on with the frankincense – God rejoices in the prayers of His people and receives them like receiving a favorite smell. Don’t we want God to be delighted with what He smells from us?

And the person bringing the Grain Offering would understand that God has set His people aside as holy to Him. Again, as Peter explains, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:4-5, ESV).

I said Wednesday night that all of these ceremonial laws – these offerings – have been fulfilled in Jesus. Listen to God’s Word as recorded by John:

“On the next day [after Jesus fed the five thousand] the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with the disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

“When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”’ Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I say to you that you have seen me and do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’

“So the Jews grumbled about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, “And they will be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me – not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and died. This is the bread that comes from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

“The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever’” (John 6:1-58, ESV).

Jesus fulfilled the Grain Offering by offering Himself as the True Heavenly Bread. He is made of Perfect Flour. And all those who believe and “eat” of Him will live forever. He sets us apart and makes us holy through the oil through which He has called us to be His and through the salt of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

We no longer have to offer up the Grain Offering because Jesus has fulfilled it in setting us apart and making us holy according to His Work. So, may we disregard it altogether? May we forget about it, or is there something yet for us as we live this life waiting for Jesus’ Return?

Do we not understand, as Christians, to a greater degree than the fathers, that everything we have is from God? And should that – especially the Gift of Jesus – cause us to be all the more thankful to God? Don’t we, of all people, have reason to give God thanks without ceasing?

Do we not recognize – as the Scripture so plainly teaches – that our blessings and gifts and talents aren’t to be hoarded away for ourselves, but they are to be shared with others in and out of the Church that Jesus Christ and His Salvation would be know?

And should not our thanks first be seen in the support of the Church through the sharing of our gifts and talents and offerings?

We are to give thanks. Jesus gave thanks by offering up Himself for us and to His Father. How much was that worth? In that moment on the cross when God turned His Face from Jesus and Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus suffered the Wrath of God – an eternity of suffering in Hell – times the number of everyone who will believe – in a moment. Do we understand that? Jesus suffered the Wrath of God – an eternity of suffering in Hell – times the number of everyone who will believe – in a moment. How much was that worth?

Through Jesus, the Grain Offering is fulfilled, and we have reason to give thanks, and we have God the Holy Spirit within us, Who is making us Holy – into the Image of the Son.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for loving the world so much that You sent Your Only Son to be offered up as the Greatest and Final Grain Offering. Help us to show thanks that is worthy of You, and cause us to live lives that are set apart and moving towards holiness as You work within us. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"The Burnt Offering" Sermon: Leviticus 1:1-17

“The Burnt Offering”
[Leviticus 1:1-17]
February 17, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent – a forty day period (not including Sundays) in which we reflect upon our sin and the desperateness of our condition apart from Jesus. It is a time when we put off bad habits and take on good practices.

During this season, if the Lord is willing, we plan to look at the first eight chapters of the book of Leviticus – looking to see what they tell us about humanity and about the Work of Jesus and Who He is. The opening chapters of Leviticus explain the types of offerings that God gave to the nation of Israel when they were at the foot of Mount Sinai. These are offerings which are part of the Ceremonial Law and are no longer for us to practice because they were fulfilled in Jesus.

The book of Leviticus opens with the laws for the Burnt Offering. Let us notice five “movements” in the sacrifice:

First, the Burnt Offering must be brought by one of the people, not the priest – “when any one of you brings an offering to the Lord.” The priest did not provide the offering, the person who wanted to make the offering voluntarily brought it to the Tabernacle – and then the Temple. There is an acknowledgment that the relationship between God and humans has been broken, and it is not the place of the priest to make it right. In fact, as a mere human being, the priest could not atone – reconcile – anyone to God.

Let us notice the mercy of God: God required that an animal be brought for the burnt offering, but God allowed for the fact that there are people who could not afford a bull. So, there are instructions for the sacrifice of a bull, for those who could afford a bull, for a goat, or, for the very poor, a turtledove or a pigeon. It was more important that the sacrifice be made, than that it be a bull. So God allowed for the substitution of a few different animals based on one’s income. In that, we see God’s Mercy.

The two non-negotiables about the animals were that the animal be a male and that the animal be without blemish – that it have not physical defect or injury. The people in the days of Malachi tried to get away with offering God the injured, sick, and deformed animals, and God was outraged: “But you say, ‘What weariness is this,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and you bring this as your offering Shall I accept this from your hand? Says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am the great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations” (Malachi 1:13-14, ESV).

Second, when the animal was brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting the person bringing the sacrifice would lay his or her hands on the head of the animal. This was more than just touching of the head of the animal – the words suggest a leaning heavily upon the head – symbolically transferring the person’s sin – designating the animal as the victim through which the person would receive atonement – reconciliation – with God.

Third, we see that it was not the priest, but the person bringing the sacrifice who killed the bull or the goat by slitting its throat. (The priest wrung the heads off the birds, but it is not clear why that was.) This was the final act of responsibility by the person bringing the sacrifice – the person must come freely, the sacrifice must be male and without blemish, and blood must be shed by the person seeking atonement – to be reconciled with God. It was at this point – through the shedding of the blood that atonement – reconciliation – was made. It was neither the person bringing the sacrifice, nor the priest who caused atonement to occur. Atonement was made through the blood.

In the fourth movement, the priest took over. The priest collected the blood that drained from the animal and then threw the blood on the altar, offering it to God – opening the way of approach to God through the blood. Then the priest removed the skin from the animal and completely dismembered it. Then he cleaned the intestines and legs – so even the natural filth was removed from the offering. And then the whole animal was reassembled and arranged on the altar.

In the final movement, the entire animal was burned on the holy altar at the door of the tent of meeting. Unlike the other offerings we will look at, the whole animal was burned and the whole animal was burned on the holy altar there in there doorway to the house of God. In this we see the symbolic acceptance of the offering to God. We read it is “a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” Now, of course God doesn’t eat; God is a Spirit. This expression symbolizes God’s acceptance of the victim of the sacrifice for the reconciliation of the person who brought the sacrifice to God.

The Burnt Offering showed that complete consecration is necessary to become right with God. In order to receive atonement, perfect obedience was necessary. Through the sinless, perfect animal being sacrificed and completely devoted to and consumed by fire, the person bringing the animal could be made right with God – for the moment.

Can we see how this offering has been fulfilled in Jesus in a perfect and everlasting way?

Jesus’ Sacrifice was voluntary; He gave Himself as the Sacrifice of Atonement for all who will believe. So Jesus came to give Himself as the Sacrifice, submitting Himself in all obedience to His Father, and took upon Himself our sin, allowing His Blood to be shed by sinners:

Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38, ESV).

And, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39b, ESV).

Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord, I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18, ESV).

“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written in the scroll of the book.’ When he said, ‘You have nether desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:5-10, ESV).

Again we are told, “...Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5b-8, ESV).

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2, ESV).

In order for Jesus to fulfill the Burnt Offering, He had to be without blemish, and we are told:

“Yet we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, ESV).

Jesus freely received the laying of our sin upon Him:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5, ESV).

Through Jesus voluntarily submitting to all that the Father required, being the One, Perfect Sacrifice, completely consecrated to God, without sin, freely taking on Himself our sin and suffering God’s Wrath for it on the cross, He has made atonement – reconciled us to God:

“For through [Jesus Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18, ESV).

“In [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7, ESV).

“But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7, ESV).

Now that Jesus has fulfilled the Burnt Offering and made atonement for all who will believe through His Perfect Obedience to God the Father, He has given us God the Holy Spirit that we might be perfected and made holy like Him:

Paul wrote, “...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25b-27, ESV).

And, “For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14, ESV).

We being the Lenten season today with Ash Wednesday, and we are even symbolically anointed with ashes to symbolize that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We cannot save ourselves; we can only be saved by One Who lived a life of perfect obedience and gave Himself to pay the debt for our sin.

As we go through this season, let us remember that we are sinners, but let us not be overwhelmed by that fact. Let us acknowledge and give thanks, instead, that God knew that the Burnt Offering would never be enough, and came to earth Himself, to fulfill the Burnt Offering and to secure Atonement for us by Himself. Let us praise God and rejoice in Him and what He has done for us.

And then let us do all we can, by the Power of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us, to put off our sin – to run from sin and to run to Jesus – to take the way of escape that He always provides, rather than giving in to sin, and let us learn all that the Father would have us do and do those things – not for our salvation, but in thanks to God. Let us live lives of thanksgiving by learning all we can about God and doing those things He has called us to do.

Let us begin again today to live lives of complete devotion to God and our Lord Jesus Christ Who reconciled us to God through the Sacrifice of His Perfect Life.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we have tried to make it on our own, but we know that it is futile, we are all sinners in need of a Savior – someone outside of ourselves that lived a Perfect Life under Your Law. We thank You for sending Your Son and for the Sacrifice He made to save us. Be glorified in our lives. Make us useful and use us to Your Glory. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ash Wednesday Worship

D.V., we will have our Ash Wednesday Service tomorrow evening at 7PM. Please plan to come. We will anoint with ashes to symbolize our recognition and repentance of our sins, and we will anoint those who wish with oil for healing as per God's instructions in James. Join us!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Don't Stand in God's Way" Sermon: Acts 11:1-18

“Don’t Stand in God’s Way”
[Acts 11:1-18]
February 14, 2010 Second Reformed Church

The Gospel had spread to the Jews and Jewish converts in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, but until the Scripture we looked at last week, it had not reached out to the ends of the earth as Jesus said it would. It had not been received by a Gentile.

Last week we saw Peter receive a vision of clean and unclean animals, and God told Peter three times to eat the animals that were before him. Being a good Jewish Christian, Peter kept the kosher laws and told God, “no,” but God told Peter not to call unclean what God had called clean.

Cornelius was a Roman soldier, a Gentile, who, with his family, had come to believe in the God of the Jews, the Jewish Scriptures, and the promise of a Savior to come. They had not converted to Judaism, but they prayed and gave alms.

Cornelius also had a vision, and in it, he was told to send for Peter. When Cornelius’ men arrived where Peter was staying, Peter understood the vision he had received – that the Gospel was to be preached to all peoples including the Gentiles.

So Peter returned to Cornelius’ home and preached the Gospel to him and his whole household, and the Holy Spirit indwelt them and they all spoke in tongues and praised God. When Peter saw this happen, he understood that the Gentiles would receive the fulness of salvation – like the Jewish believers – so they must be baptized as well. And they were.

In this morning’s Scripture, Peter returned to Jerusalem, and those of the circumcision party – that is, those who believed that the Gospel was just for the Jews – confronted him and asked him how he could break God’s Law – going into the home of an uncircumcised Gentile and eating with him – not to mention (as it is implied) that he would preach to them and baptize them.

In answer to them, Peter recounted all that had happened to him during the previous few days that led him to the home of Cornelius – and then the events that happened there.

Then the Holy Spirit reminded Peter of what Jesus had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” It was obvious to Peter and the six men with him that Cornelius and his household had been indwelt by the Holy Spirit – they had been baptized by the Holy Spirit. They had received the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit in exactly the same way that they had received Him. So, Peter knew that the Gentiles and the Jews were now completely equal before God and in the reception of the Gospel and its benefits. Therefore, he had to baptize them. If he did not, he would be standing in God’s Way, and who was he to stand in God’s Way?

The apostles and the brothers agreed with Peter and what he had done based on receiving the Word of Jesus as the Word of God and seeing the fruits of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

What was going on with the circumcision party in Jerusalem? Was this merely racism on their part? Was it simply because Cornelius and his household were not Jews that they were angry?

No. Remember what Peter had said to Cornelius when he first arrived at his house, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28 ESV). Peter stated the same objection that the circumcision party made: it was against the Word of God – it was against God’s Law – for Jews to associate with Gentiles.

The circumcision party was asking Peter if he had forgotten God’s Law – if he thought that through sin he could bring about something good – that is, the conversion of the Gentiles. But we see that Peter had not forgotten God’s Law, in fact he stated it to Cornelius. But Peter also told Cornelius that God showed him that that Law was no longer in effect.

How did God show him that? But indwelling Cornelius and his household and evidenceing the same fruits of the Spirit – speaking in tongues, praising God, etc. – that the apostles and disciples had experienced on the Day of Pentecost. Peter understood through his vision and the events at Cornelius’ house that the Ceremonial Law – including what things are clean and unclean – was for the biological nation of Israel until the Incarnation of God – Jesus Christ. Now, the Ceremonial Laws are no longer mandatory.

But didn’t Jesus say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therfore, anyone who relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20, ESV).

Is Jesus contradicting Peter? Is Jesus saying that all of the Law must be followed by all people until the end of this age? No. What Jesus is saying is that the Law remains exactly as it is and exactly who is was intended for, but the keeper of the Law must understand that some of the Law is fulfilled and accomplished in and through Jesus and His Work. Some of the Law is only for biological Israel under the rule of God. Some of the Law completes its work in pointing to Jesus and by being fulfilled in Him. (Yet, some of the Law – the Moral Law – remains for all of eternity.)

For example, according to the Law of God, we are to offer daily blood sacrifices to God. Have you engaged in daily blood sacrifices according to the Law of God? If you have, it might be best to keep it to yourself. The blood sacrifices were part of the Ceremonial Law that has been fulfilled in Jesus. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after comes the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:24-28, ESV).

The author of Hebrews explains that the imperfect blood sacrifices offered by humans had to be offered again and again and again, but Jesus has offered up Himself once for all those who will believe from Adam throughout the end of the ages. Jesus fulfills and completes the sacrificial system. No more sacrifices are necessary, because His Sacrifice was enough for all forever. So, this ceremonial law is not done away with, per se, but it is fulfilled in Jesus.

Does that make sense?

In this morning’s Scripture: God’s Law that a Jew should not enter the home or eat with a Gentile is fulfilled in Jesus such that it is no longer a violation of God’s Law – in fact, it is the fulfillment of the Gospel Promise to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

If Peter had agreed with the circumcision party’s error – that this ceremonial law was not fulfilled in Jesus and, thus, they were not allowed to enter the home of a Gentile, Cornelius and his household would not have heard the Gospel and the Gospel would not have gone to the ends of the earth. He would have stood in God’s Way.

They had rightly believed that all of the Scripture is the Word of God and must be obeyed, but they had mistakenly assumed that there would never be any change – in the sense of fulfillment – in any of the Law. Peter set them straight on that.

And we should understand that as well – as we said last week – we are not to hold people to requirements that God does not hold them to. No matter what we think is good or proper, if God has not commanded something about an issue, we have no right to command it. For example: some people like men to wear ties in church. But nowhere in the Scripture do we find a moral law that states men must wear ties in church. Therefore, we may not require it of those who worship with us.

But our problem doesn’t seem to be making people keep laws that don’t need to be kept – whether they be fulfilled laws or non-existent laws. No, that does not seem to be our problem. That does not seem to be the problem in the churches in this area. We are more likely to stand in the way of God by saying, “Well, yes it says such and such in the Bible, but I don’t believe it.” Or, “Yes, it says such and such in the Bible, but I’m don’t agree because of x, y, z.” Have words like that every crossed your mouth?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, ESV).

Well, yes, the Bible says that, but science has proved that a “big bang” occurred and then everything accidently came into being.

With the exception of all the hoaxes, “missing links,” and the lack of a single piece of supportable evidence, that’s true.

“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations’” (Jeremiah 1:5, ESV).

Well, yes, the Bible says that at the moment of conception there is a real human being, but science has shown it is only a fetus.

That’s absolutely true, except for the fact that fetus is Latin for baby, so the argument is, “It’s not a baby; it’s a baby.”

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passions for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for error” (Romans 1:26-27, ESV).

Well, yes, the Bible says that, but we now know that homosexuality is biological, so we should merely encourage monogamy.

Whether that’s true or not, it misses the point – whether or not homosexuality is biological is moot – the point is that God has forbidden homosexual acts, regardless of why one desires them.

But that’s not fair. It’s too confusing. The Bible was written so long ago, don’t we have to get with the times?

Here’s the crux of the matter: what is this Bible? We call it the Word of God, what do we mean by that?

Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God...” (II Timothy 3:16a, ESV). The word that is translated “breathed out,” qeo/pneustoj, theopneustos, means “the Scriptures as communication that has been ordained by God's authority and produced by the enabling of his Spirit; strictly God-breathed; hence divinely inspired, inspired by God” (Bible Windows).

All of the Scripture – all of the sixty-six books of the Bible – although they were written down by humans, were superintended over by God such that what we have received is God’s Word, Holy and Inspired, Inerrant and Infallible.

Peter was challenged by the circumcision party, based on God’s Law, for going to a Gentile, preaching the Gospel, and baptizing him and his household. Peter explained to them that this law – part of the Ceremonial Law – was fulfilled in Jesus, and now expands into bringing the Gospel to the whole world, fulfilling the promise that was made to Abraham.

When the circumcision party understood that the Gentiles had received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, just as they had, they understood how the one law had been fulfilled and another taken precedence.

When the circumcision party understood what the Word of God actually said they fell silent and glorified God. When they realized that Peter did act according to the Word of God, they repented and received what he did based on it’s being according to God’s Word.

Do we receive the Word of God as truly being God’s Word? Or do we question it? Deny it? Try to twist it into something more acceptable? If God has said something that we don’t understand or don’t like, do we humbly submit ourselves to God, or do we stand in God’s way?

There are things in the Bible I don’t have a good explanation for. There are things in the Bible that I wish were different. But there is every reason to believe that every word contained in these sixty-six books is the Holy Word of the One Almighty God – as written down by humans, in their own times and styles, yet perfectly. So I may wrestle with a passage – and I encourage you to wrestle with those passages that trouble you – don’t stop wrestling with them until God gives you peace about them. But do not deny that God has said what God has said, or you will find yourself standing in God’s way.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, as sinners, we find passages of Your Holy Word not to our liking. We are willing to close our eyes to sin or to fold under certain arguments. But You are Holy, and You will not allow sin in Your Sight, much less to stand in Your Way. We thank You for the gift of Your Word. We thank You for the Gift of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us and helps us to understand Your Word. We ask that You would humble us and help us to receive everything You have said, to walk in Your Ways, and to submit to Your Will, even when we don’t fully understand. For You loved us so much that you sent Your Only Son to die in our place, and it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: "An All-Round Ministry"

C. H. Spurgeon’s An All-Round Ministry was first recommended to me by HUL at Random Responses six or so years ago during my Classical exams. It was recommended to me again not too long after by our dear friend from Ars Theologica. They should have pressed it to me more strongly, but I have now read this extraordinary work.

An All-Round Ministry is a collection of twelve of the “best” of his opening addresses to the students at his pastor’s college. They lovingly, biblically, humorously, and without compromise present some of what it means to have received the high call of being a pastor and to live out that call, personally, in the world, and amidst the congregation.

Spurgeon is, above all-things, Christ-centered. We live and serve and die in Christ – otherwise, our work is in vain. He is realistic in portraying how difficult, wearing, and time-consuming the ministry is – if one does it right! There were people in his day, as is in fashion today, who made the ministry more carnival than Word of God:

“The danger lies, at this time, in setting up theatricals, semi-theatricals, concerts, and so forth. Until I see that the Lord Jesus Christ has set up a theatre, or planned a miracle-play, I shall not think of emulating the stage or competing with the music hall. If I mind my own business, by preaching the gospel, I shall have enough to do. One object is enough for most men: one such as ours is enough for any minister, however many his talents, however versatile his mind” (274).

I do not agree with every word Spurgeon writes (he was a Baptist, after all!), but this is a volume that ought to be in every minister’s hands and every seminary student’s hands. Each should read it for perspective and encouragement in the ministry and refer back to it to be refreshed and corrected. I will.

This is an extraordinary work. Buy extra copies of it and give it away to your fellow ministers and your seminary students. It will do them good.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

"Break Kosher" Sermon: Acts 10:1-48

“Break Kosher”
[Acts 10:1-48]
February 7, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Before Jesus ascended, the disciples asked Jesus when He would restore the kingdom to Israel, and Jesus responded, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8, ESV).

Up to this point in our look at the book of Acts, we have seen the apostles and disciples bring the Gospel to Jews and converts to Judaism in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. With this morning’s Scripture, we see the Gospel going to the end of the earth.

Cornelius was a Roman Centurion. He was the commander of one hundred soldiers. He was stationed in Caesarea where he and his family had a home. And we understand that at some point Cornelius and his family had come to believe in and worship the God of Judaism. They had not converted to Judaism formally – they had not been circumcised and they did not participate in the bringing of sacrifices to the Temple, but they believed the Scriptures of the Old Testament and looked forward to the coming of the Messiah – the Jewish Savior. They joined together in regular prayer and gave alms to the needy.

During one of these times of prayer, an angel of God came to Cornelius and brought a message to him from God: Cornelius’ prayers had been heard, his giving had been noticed, and God had answered his prayer. Although we don’t know what specifically he prayed, we understand by God accepting and answering his prayer that he prayed in faith. So, when God told him to send for Peter, Cornelius immediately obeyed, dispatching a soldier and two household servants to bring him to Cornelius’ home.

Meanwhile, Peter went up on the rooftop of the home where he was staying – with Simon the tanner – to pray while he waited for the meal to be made. While he was praying, a giant sheet descended from heaven – held at the four corners – and it was filled with all types of animals – both clean animals and unclean animals. And a voice from heaven said, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

Now Peter was a good Jewish Christian. He kept the kosher food laws. So some of those animals would have been forbidden for him to eat. God had said, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, you may eat. Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you” (Leviticus 11:1-8, ESV).

God goes on to say that of the creatures in the waters, everything that has both fins and scales is clean, all other creatures are unclean. God lists a number of birds that are unclean. Then God explains that four-footed insects that have jointed legs are clean, all others are unclean. And so forth. Leviticus chapter eleven explains which animals are kosher – clean – and which are unclean. Peter, as a Jewish convert to Christianity, recognized that many of the animals in the sheet were on God’s list of unclean animals that God-fearing people were not to eat, so Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”

The sheet went up into the air and came back down again, and God told Peter to eat and Peter again objected. But God said, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” And the sheet went up into the air and came back down again, and God told Peter to eat and Peter again objected. But God said, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” And Peter was confused.

Just then, Cornelius’ men arrived at the house, and God told Peter to go with them. And then Peter understood what God was saying to him, so Peter immediately went downstairs and left with the men.

Upon seeing Peter, Cornelius fell on his face and worshiped Peter, thinking he must be divinity – an incarnation of the Voice he had heard. But Peter stopped him and assured him that he was a mere human like Cornelius. And Peter explained to Cornelius that according to the Law of God, he should not be in Cornelius’ house or eat with him, but God had shown him that the ceremonial food laws were symbolically fulfilled and now they had been disbanded. More importantly, they symbolized that no person was to be avoided – no person was unclean in the ceremonial sense. Every type of person was to be given the Good News of the Gospel of God.

Cornelius was obviously thrilled to hear this and recounted to Peter how he came to have him brought to his home, and he asked Peter, before them, and in the presence of God to tell them all that God had commanded him to speak.

Peter began by telling them that he now understood that every person, no matter what their heritage – no matter what country they came from – no matter what religion they were raised in – no one is to be excluded from the Gospel Message. And anyone who believes in God and the Savior that He sent will be received by God. God shows no partiality.

The Good News is this – sent to Israel through Jesus Christ. Now, having lived in Caesarea, they had heard of Jesus. They knew about John and the baptism that he proclaimed. They knew that Jesus had been anointed by God – set apart by the Holy Spirit. And that He went throughout Israel doing good works, healing the sick, and delivering people from the oppression of the devil. What they had not heard – and Peter and his friends were there as eyewitnesses to them – is that after Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried, God raised Him from the dead, and He appeared to a number of eyewitnesses, including Peter and his companions. Now Jesus commanded them to preach and testify that Jesus is the God who will judge the living and the dead at the end of the age. And Jesus is the One of whom all the prophets spoke that would be He through whom all those who believe would receive the forgiveness of sins.

We can imagine Cornelius’ heart beating faster and harder. He had believed in the writings of the prophets. He worshiped and prayed to the God of the Jews. He looked forward to the promised Savior of Israel. And now Peter was telling him that the Savior has come, and He is Jesus. And anyone – even Cornelius and his family – who were never Jews – anyone who believes in Jesus Alone for their salvation will be forgiven of their sins – made right with God – saved – and enter into His Kingdom. They must have been about to burst!

And in that moment, the Holy Spirit fell upon and indwelt Cornelius and his family, and they began to speak in tongues and praise God in the highest. Notice, that even after everything Peter had said, he and his companions were still amazed. They understood that God was receiving all types of people into His Kingdom – all types of people could be received by Jesus as their Savior. But they still thought that the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit was just for the Jews – but here they were, evidencing that God had indwelt them So, Peter said, if they had believed and been indwelt by God, they must be baptized, and so they were – Cornelius and his whole household – the beginning of the ends of the earth.

What does this history teach us?

First, the Ceremonial Law – including the laws about food – was given to the nation of Israel, fulfilled in Jesus, and is no longer necessary for Christians. All those laws in the Old Testament about what to eat, how to dress, the sacrifices that are to be made, etc. – these laws were fulfilled in Jesus and we, Christians, do not have to obey them. There is nothing wrong with obeying the food or clothing laws if you would like to – if a person ate kosher, he or she may be healthier – but it is not necessary for life and salvation. Obedience to those laws of food and clothing, if we choose to keep them, are matters of Christian liberty and have no bearing on our standing before God. (However, we ought not to offer up the sacrifices of animals and grain as prescribed in the Old Testament Law, because the Final and Eternal Sacrifice was made through Jesus.)

Second, let us understand that God does not show partiality. All people are the same before God – all equally needing salvation through Jesus Alone. It doesn’t matter if you were born in Haiti, or Trinidad, or Africa, or Puerto Rico, or New Jersey. It doesn’t matter if you were raise a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or with no religion at all. God has made One Way through Jesus Christ Alone for our salvation. Thee is no other way to be right with God. For all people, Jesus is the One and Only Way.

Thirdly, let us understand that God gives faith, salvation, and the Gift of the Holy Spirit to whomever He pleases. Salvation is God’s choice; we are all born lost and hopeless, and God intercedes as it pleases God to save a people for Himself. And we may wonder why God chose one person and not another. Some of us may wonder why God chose you or me. But that is not our business. Our business is to tell everyone that there is salvation in Jesus Alone and then God brings whomever God will to faith and belief.

And fourth, in breaking down these distinctions – not merely of kosher and non-kosher food – but between Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, and any other distinction we may put to separate one people from another, God has fulfilled His Promise to Abraham. Remember what God promised: “Now the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Genesis 12:1-3, ESV).

How ought we to respond to this?

Let us trust God to keep all of His Promises which have yet to be fulfilled. God cannot lie, and we have the history of God keeping His Promises recorded in the Bible. We have good reason to believe that God will keep each and every promise He has ever made.

Let us not hold people to requirements that God does not hold us to. We may want people to dress a certain way. We may want them to look and speak a certain way. We may want people to listen to certain types of music. And so on. But none of these things are required by God, so we dare not require them of those who come looking for His Salvation. God says that everyone who believes that Jesus is God Incarnate, Who lived, died, rose from the dead, and ascended back to the Father, bearing God’s Wrath for our sin and crediting us with His Perfect Life – all such as these will be saved.

And let us proclaim the Gospel to all people without distinction. The President needs Jesus just as much as the homeless person on the street. You and I need Jesus just as much as those people who we have looked down upon. All people are equally in need of Jesus. There is Only One Way.

So let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You are the God Who keeps His Promises. We thank You that You came to save all those who will believe, not merely the nation of Israel, for if You had, most of us would be lost forever. Keep us from looking down on people who are not like us and for adding requirements to Your Gift of Salvation that You have not made. Cause us to go forth boldly, telling others about the salvation that You provide through Jesus Alone, and let us not be deterred by those who hate us or dismiss us. For You are the God of Salvation and Your’s is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever, Amen.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Febrary Sermons

D.V., this month I plan to preach:

2/7/10 Communion Acts 10:1-48 “Break Kosher”

2/14/10 Transfiguration Acts 11:1-18 “Don’t Stand in God’s Way”

2/17/10 Ash Wednesday 7PM Leviticus 1:1-17 “The Burnt Offering”

2/21/10 Lent 1 Leviticus 2:1-16 "The Grain Offering”

2/28/10 Lent 2 Leviticus 3:1-17 “The Peace Offering”