Second Reformed Church

Friday, April 30, 2010

Prayer Meeting -- May 1st

Tomorrow's prayer meeting is canceled since the pastor will be at Regional Synod, or Particular Synod, (depending how old and/or anal you are). Please be in prayer at home and plan to join us for worship Sunday morning at 10:30 AM

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"The Jealousy of God" Sermon: Acts 12:20-25

“The Jealousy of God”
[Acts 12:20-25]
Acts 25, 2010 Second Reformed Church

What would you think if I said that one of the attributes of God is jealousy? What would you think if I said that one of the things that makes God Who He is, is His Jealousy for Himself and His people?

What would you think if I said that I was jealous of Carlos being married to Maria? What would you think if I said that I was jealous of Carlos and Maria having their own business? Would I be using the word “jealous” in the same way – with the same meaning – when I say that God is Jealous and when I say that I am jealous? No, I would not.

When we say that a mere human being is jealous, we are saying that such a person is “resentfully envious,” as one dictionary definition has it. When we say that a mere human being is jealous, we are saying that he is sinning – jealousy takes the sin of coveting – desiring that which belongs to someone else – and takes it up a notch – saying that one not only wants what someone else has, but believes that he is more deserving of having what someone else has.

With the examples I already mentioned – they could be restated thusly: I am jealous of Carlos being married to Maria, could be restated as, I desire Maria to be my wife and I am more deserving than Carlos to be married to her. I am jealous of Carlos and Maria having their own business, could be restated as, I desire to have my own business and I am more deserving than Carlos and Maria to have it.

It is a sin for a mere human being to be jealous because we are sinners, and thus deserving of nothing more than God’s Wrath, so, if it has pleased God to give something to someone else and not us, we haven’t a leg to stand on in demanding it be otherwise. Do we understand?

For God, on the other hand, it is a Holy Attribute for Him to be jealous, as God said, “You shall not bow down to [idols] or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6, ESV).

God is jealous for the worship that humans offer to idols, but it is not a sin, because God is deserving of all worship and idols are deserving of nothing. For God to be “resentfully envious” of what He deserves, is not a sin, but a Righteous Attribute, because it cannot be wrong for God to desire and, in fact, demand, what He deserves. Does that make sense?

Human jealousy is over things we don’t deserve; God’s jealousy is over things He does deserve. This is how the one word can refer to both a sin and God’s Attribute. With this in mind, let us turn to this morning’s text:

King Herod, who had been leading a persecution of the Christians – having James, the brother of John, executed, and having failed to accomplish the same with Peter – turned his attention and his anger toward the people of Tyre and Sidon.

Now, Tyre and Sidon were major port cities in Syrio-Phonecia – which is modern-day Lebanon. However, due to neglect or conditions generally, they were not able to produce enough food for themselves off of the land, and they relied on trade with Herod. However, we are told at this time Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon and he had imposed sanctions against them – to the effect that he would not sell them food.

We are not told what the specific thing was that made Herod mad, but think about our modern trade embargos – we refuse to trade if we don’t like certain politicians, or political policies, or if there is too high a tax on importing and exporting, and so forth. It was likely something to do with the functioning of the ports that Herod was mad about, and until he got his way, he cut off their food supply.

So the people of Tyre and Sidon – as one man – came to Herod to make peace with him – one way or another. And they found a way: they made friends with his right-hand man, Blastus – perhaps through bribes – and Blastus convinced Herod to sell food to them again.

Apparently, the people stayed, and on the second day of the Roman games in Israel, honoring the birthday of Emperor Claudius Caesar, Herod got dressed in his royal robes, sat down upon his throne, and delivered an oration to the people.

The historian, Josephus, tells us that Herod was dressed in silver robes with silver ornaments, so when the light hit it, it reflected back on the people, shining in their eyes. Picture a disco ball hit with a spotlight – that’s what Herod looked like in his robes.

And as Herod spoke, the people cried out, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”

Now, Herod thought of himself a good Jew, so he should have denounced the people’s cry. He should have told them that there is Only One God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He should have told them to repent – to be ashamed of giving him the glory that only God deserves.

But he didn’t. He ate it up. It felt good to have these people groveling before him, kissing up to him, calling him a god among men. Yes, it felt good. But God is jealous of His Glory. He said, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11, ESV).

“Immediately, an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory” – in mid-rapture, Herod fell to the ground – the historian, Josephus confirms the event. God was jealous of His Glory – the Glory that God deserves and no one else, and since Herod did not rebuke the people for giving it to him, God sent an angel to strike him down.

“And he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” Luke gives us the short version, because he has made his point. The historian, Josephus, records that Herod was taken back to his bed chamber, and over the next five days he suffered as his body filled with worms, and then he died – in agony.

God is very serious about His Glory. God is jealous for His Due. God is the Only Being Who has the right and can say, “This is Mine; I will share it with no other ”

Herod is not the only example of God’s Jealousy and Wrath:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (Leviticus 10:1-2, ESV).

God is worthy and jealous of His Worship, and Nadab and Abihu decided to worship God in a way that God had not authorized – they thought they had come up with a better way to worship God than the way God said He was to be worshiped – so God killed them.

King Uzziah also thought he knew better than God how God ought to be worshiped, and he thought he could usurp the role of the priest: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.’ Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out because the Lord had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land” (II Chronicles 26:16-21, ESV).

Uzziah thought that since he was king, he could do what he wanted, not matter what God said. He wanted to worship God, and he wanted to worship God as a priest, even though he was not a priest. The priests warned him, but he would not listen, so God, jealous of His Worship, struck him down – not killing him, but giving him leprosy, so he would have to live separately from his family and all other healthy people, and he was forbidden to enter the temple.

God will not let us worship Him in ways other than what He has commanded, because the way God has told us to worship is the right way to honor God and give Him the glory He deserves.

When the Psalmist describes the sin of Israel in the wilderness, he writes, “For they provoked [God] to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols” (Psalm 78:58, ESV). One of the major ways in which Israel sinned was in thinking she could worship God and idols. They complained that they worshipped God and gave Him His Due, they were just worshiping the other gods as well. But God is deserving of all worship and all glory – He will not share it with the false gods – so God sent Israel into captivity again and again to punish her and cause her to repent.

Let us not hear these texts and think that God is only jealous for Himself against His people – God is jealous against anyone who tries to take what is rightfully His. Even those whom God sent to punish Israel aroused God’s anger and jealousy for choosing to attack Israel, so God said, “Surely I have spoken in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, that they might make its pasture lands a prey. Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and valleys. Thus says the Lord God: Behold I have spoken in my jealous wrath, because you have suffered the reproach of the nations. Therefore thus says the Lord God: I swear that the nations that are all around you shall themselves suffer reproach” (Ezekiel 36: 5b-7, ESV).

Israel sinned against God, so God allowed the Edomites and others to conquer Israel. But God was jealous for His people, Israel, for the Edomites and the other nations sinned against her, so God promised to make the nations suffer that had made Israel suffer.

Continuing the idea of God being jealous for His people, Israel, we read, “So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry out again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and against choose Jerusalem’” (Zechariah 1:14-17, ESV).

God was jealous for His people, Israel, and though He sent them away to punish them, God had chosen a people for Himself, whom He would not lose – they were chosen by Him for eternity – and no nation would utterly destroy them. So, God promised in His Jealous Love, to bring Israel back to Jerusalem and Zion – to restore all that had been lost.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Well, that doesn’t sound like the God I know. All the Scriptures you have referenced are from the Old Testament.”

Don’t be confused – our God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow:

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians – to the Church in Corinth – Paul warns the Christians to stop committing idolatry and engaging in sexual immorality. He says that to do so is to partake of the table of demons, and God will not stand for it: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (I Corinthians 10:21-22, ESV).

The Corinthians Christians were acting just like Israel in the wilderness and in the days before the exile, and Paul warns them that God is jealous for His Glory, for His Worship, for His people – and He will not stand for it. In fact, it was such sin that God responded to in righteous anger, and Paul recorded, “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (I Corinthians 11:30, ESV).

So, just as with Herod, and Israel, and the Corinthian Church, God may, in Holy Jealousy, make people sick, or even kill them, that He would not be dishonored – that His Due would not be taken away from Him.

How shall we respond to the Jealousy of God?

First, let us understand that God’s Jealousy is not sin, because God is deserving of those things which He is jealous of. Jealousy in only a sin when we mere humans resentfully desire something that someone else has.

Second, let us understand that God is jealous of the way He is worshiped, so we ought to know how God ought to be worshiped and do that and that alone. Throughout the Scripture we have an outline of the way God calls us to worship Him. There is room for some differences from church to church. Yet there are things that God has commanded be done and things God has commanded not be done, and we ought to heed them.

Third, let us understand that God is jealous for us – God loves His people — all those who come to faith in Jesus Alone for their salvation – and God will never, never allow one of His chosen to be eternally lost. We are safe in the hands of God Who will never let us go.

C. S. Lewis got it right when he had one of the characters in his book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, respond that Aslan – who is symbolic of Jesus – is not a tame lion, but he is very good. That is what we need to know about our God and Savior from this text: He is not tame – Jesus has not been domesticated – He is the Almighty God – worthy of all glory and honor and power and wisdom – but He is Good. He is the God Who came to save His people. What more could He do?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, You have revealed Yourself as All-Holy, All-Glorious, All-Powerful – and rightly jealous of being worshiped as You ought to be worshiped. Lord, help us to balance the truths that You are our Friend, our Bridegroom, our Savior, with the truths that You are the Holy, Holy, Holy God, the Creator and Judge of All. Help us to worship rightly, knowing that it is You Who speak to us in Your Word. Assure us by the Passionate and Unfailing Love You have for us that we are forever Yours. And may we rejoice and give You all the Glory. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"The Surprising Work of God"

We will continue (D.V.) our look at Jonathan Edward's work this Wednesday evening at 7 PM. Please read chapters one and two. Books are still available for $1.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Answered Prayer" Sermon: Acts 12:1-19

“Answered Prayer”
[Acts 12:1-19]
April 18, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Have you ever had a dream that you really thought was reality? Have you ever woken from a dream and not been sure if what you just dreamt was a dream or something that really happened?

In this morning’s Scripture, we turn to look at what was happening in Jerusalem after the famine that was prophesied in the previous chapter. We read that Herod – that is Herod Agrippa – the grandson of the Herod who “interviewed” Jesus before the crucifixion – was leading a persecution against the Christians. He captured James, the brother of John, one of the two sons of Zebedee – the sons of thunder. And for his crimes – blasphemy in particular – for he taught that Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah – the Savior – the Only God and Hope for humans – Herod cut off his head.

So let us understand right away that those who hate God will try to hurt God and stop His Gospel by hurting God’s people. But such people are wrong, as we know. Gamaliel had warned the Pharisees not to punish Peter, but to wait and see if their message proved false and faded away, or if it proved to be true – in which case they would not want to be fighting against God.

Jesus was put to death, but since He is Truth, He rose from the dead, confirming His Gospel, and when the persecution began, the Christians moved out from Jerusalem and spread the Gospel as they went – to Samaria, Judea, and the rest of the world.

Jesus said that they – and we – should not be surprised at the persecution of Christians, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they keep my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:18-20, ESV).

How did the people react to Herod’s quest – to his hunting down one of the Apostles – a member of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples? How did they react to Herod having James’ head cut off?

“It pleased the Jews.” The word that is used for “pleased” does not merely mean that they thought, “OK, Herod is doing his job; that’s nice.” This is a stronger word – they gave him a standing ovation – “Hooray for Herod! That was great! Get those heretics! Do it again! Let’s see those heads roll! ”

We need to understand that the devil tempts and incites the enemies of God to rejoice when evil is done against God and His people. And Herod was smart – he didn’t just make a point of hunting down any Joe and Mary Christian – he went to the key figures – the people who were in the spotlight. So he arrested Peter as well.

We don’t currently decapitate Christians in this country, but being a Bible-believing Christian is considered one of the worst things you can be – and if you talk about your beliefs! You can believe anything else, but if you say that Jesus is the Only Way – that’s it.

The media has been very accommodating to John Travolta talking about his faith in Scientology and how all would benefit from it. The media has been very accommodating to Madonna’s believe in Kabbalah and how all would benefit from it. The media has had no problem with Tiger Woods talking about his Buddhism and how he let down his principles by his adultery. But when one of the newsmen, who is a Christian, made the comment that Tiger would only find true peace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ and His Salvation – and he said this on the air – there were immediate demands for an apology – for him to be fired – and so forth.

So Herod arrested Peter. But it was Passover, and being a good Jew, Herod did not want to dirty the celebration of the Passover by bringing attention to the evil that Peter had done, so he determined to keep Peter in prison until after the Passover. You see, those who are against God may have the appearance of being religious – of being those who love and follow God.

Many people love all the trappings of Christianity, but hate God Himself. You may be familiar with Bishop John Spong, until recently, a Bishop in the Episcopal Church, preaching in Newark. Bishop Spong loves all of the pomp and circumstance of the Church, but have you heard him or read his books? His says that Jesus was not born of a virgin. He says Jesus is not God, He did not rise from the dead, He did not die for our sins. In fact, most of the Bible is not true. He honestly believes that he can be faithful to God and be a believing Christian and deny Jesus.

When I was in high school, I was talking to my Chemistry teacher after school, and we got to a point in our discussion where I asked if he was a Christian. He said, “yes.” So I continued on, and he suddenly stopped me and said, “You don’t believe the Bible, do you?”

Brothers and sisters, Christianity is not a buffet: you cannot pick and choose what you like and leave out the rest. You cannot say you love the Psalms, but don’t believe the claims of Jesus. We can disagree about things that are not taught in the Scripture – we can argue about whether we should use drums or not during the worship service. But we cannot say we are Christians – we love the stained glass and the hymns and the organ and the coffee hour – but we don’t believe that Jesus is God the Son Who came to earth, lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died at that hands of sinners, rose from the dead, and ascended back to His Throne – we cannot say that.

Herod loved Judaism. He loved the praise of the people. But he hated God. So he arrested Peter, but put him in jail until after the Passover, and he set four squads of soldiers – sixteen centurions – to guard him. They likely took guard in shifts – two were chained to him. Two were at the cell door. Two were at the jail door. And two were guarding the city gate. So, they guarded him in shifts of eight. “But earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he tells the Christians to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To the end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplications for all of the saints” (Ephesians 6:18, ESV). Paul says that we are to pray for all other Christians – according to the Will of God – by the Power and through the Holy Spirit – asking that God’s Will would be done – that every creature would hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be called to repentance and belief in Him. And we are to do that, nonstop, without fail, until the end – until we die or until Jesus returns – whichever comes first.

God calls us to prayer – even in impossible situations. And God hears us – we can come before His Throne. When Jesus hung on the cross, He tore the temple curtain from top to bottom, opening the Holy of Holies, so now we who believe can enter into the very Throne Room of God and call on Him as our Father and ask, if it be His Will, even for the impossible, in Jesus’ Name.

Peter was in jail, guarded by sixteen centurions. Herod had determined to kill him so the crowd would continue to praise him and throw support his way. What chance did Peter have? James had already been beheaded. Surely the Church had been praying for him. What was the point? If God didn’t save James from the sword, why would He save Peter? We don’t know – they didn’t know – but God called them and us to prayer.

Peter was asleep on the ground, chained to two centurions with two chains. Two more centurions were at the door. Two were in front of the jail. Two were station at the city gate. And the Church prayed fervently that God would save Peter.

And an angel of the Lord stood next to Peter and kicked him in the side, waking him up. His chains fell off. Peter looked at the angel and thought he was having a dream – seeing a vision. And the angel said, “Get up quickly.” So, Peter got up. And the angel said, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he walked past the guards at the cell door and passed the guards at the jail door, and when they reached the gate to the city, an invisible hand opened the gates and Peter walked through them past the guards, and the angel disappeared. At that moment, he realized this wasn’t a dream – or a vision: “No I am sure that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” He said, “Whoa That was really the angel of the Lord and I am free from Herod and the will of the Jews – I’m not going to be beheaded tomorrow! ”

So Peter ran to the house of Mary the mother of John Mark – the author of the Gospel of Mark and Peter’s friend and traveling companion – they were all praying there for him – that God would do something to save him.

Know then that God hears the prayers of His people and responds to them according to His Will. We need not doubt that God hears us, and if we have prayed according to His Will He will do whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name. But that’s the rub, isn’t it? Sometimes we don’t know what God’s Will is. Sometimes we don’t know how to pray except to ask that if something is God’s Will it will happen. We pray for what we believe is best – what we would like to see happen – what we believe would be according to God’s Will. But sometimes we’re wrong. The Church prayed for Peter and he was freed because it was God’s Will. But if it had been God’s will for him to die at the hand of Herod at that time, God would not have saved him, even though He heard the prayers of His people. So we need to do all that we can to know God and His Will and then submit to it, believing that God does hear us and answer us according to His Will.

So Peter ran to Mary’s house and banged on the door and Rhoda came to the door and asked who it was, and he said it was Peter, and she was so excited, she forgot to open the door – she ran back to the Church and told everyone that Peter was at the door, and how did they respond? “You’re nuts. It’s not Peter – it’s someone with a message from Peter.” (The word that is translated “angel” in our text can also be translated “messenger.”)

But Peter kept knocking at the door, so they all ran back to the door and opened it, and they were amazed. And Peter motioned, “Ssh! Let me in! ” And they let him into the house and he explained everything that happened.

And this is the point of the history where I scratch my head, and I would like to say to them: “You were amazed? Really? Were you amazed that Peter was standing there right then? Were you amazed that Peter was freed in the way God chose to free him? If that’s what the text means, I can understand it. You certainly were not amazed that God could and did free him, right?”

Here’s why I would ask: the writer of the book of Hebrews writes, “And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV). In the context of prayer, what this is saying is that our prayer does not please God unless we believe that God exists and can actually do what we are asking Him to do. If we don’t believe there is a God, or if we don’t believe that God can answer our prayer, then that prayer is not pleasing to God and we do better not to offer it. If the Church didn’t believe that God could free Peter, they should not have been praying for his freedom. Likewise, if we don’t believe that God can heal, we should not pray for someone’s healing. If we don’t believe that God can bring peace, we should not pray that God will bring peace. We must believe in our God and that He is able to do the things that we ask of Him before we ask Him for those things in prayer.

Maybe some of the Church doubted, but I’m sure some believed, and God answered their prayer, according to His Will, and freed Peter the night before he was to die, and he went to tell the Church that he had been delivered. And then for his safety, he left town – he went to away for a time. But before he left, he said, “Tell these things to James [the brother of Jesus] and to the brothers.”

When God answers our prayers, we ought to tell each other. It is good and an encouragement to the Church to see the Hand of God in our lives and in the lives of those we pray for. Paul wrote, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (II Corinthians 1:11, ESV).

As we heard that God has worked in others’ lives – that He has heard and answered prayers, in His time, according to His Plan, even in surprising ways – we are encouraged in the faith – and give thanks and praise to God, Who Alone is worthy of worship.

Why did God save Peter from Herod and not James? We don’t know. That is part of the Secret Counsel of God. When morning came and Peter was gone, Herod had the sixteen centurions executed. Why didn’t God save them? We don’t know.

What we know from this text is that there are people who hate God and will joyfully do everything in their power to stop His Plan. But God’s Plan cannot be stopped or even hindered, and God calls us to pray fervently for our fellow Christians and for God’s Will to be done on earth, as it is in Heaven. And we are to believe that He does hear us and answer our prayers according to His Will. So let us encourage each other with the answers to prayer that we have received and give praise to our God Who has answered them.

Let us pray:
We thank You, Lord, that You are the Holy and Almighty God. We thank You that You loved the world and sent Your Son to save all we who will believe. We ask that You would encourage us to pray and to believe that You are able to answer our prayers. Grow us and bring us more in line with Your Mind that we would pray according to Your Will and in Jesus’ Name. And keep us from neglecting to tell the story of answered prayer – open our mouths in praise to You, for You have heard us, and You have done great things. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Prayer Meeting

Due to the pastor being out of town, today's prayer meeting is cancelled.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"The Provision of the Lord" Sermon: Acts 11:19-30

“The Provision of the Lord”
[Acts 11:19-30]
April 11, 2010 Second Reformed Church

This morning we return to our look at the book of Acts, and we do well to remember where we are: Stephen was the first martyr of the Church, stoned to death for blasphemy for claiming that Jesus is God the Savior. A young, zealous Pharisee, by the name of Saul, stood by and encouraged the stoning. So zealous was he that he got permission to hunt Christians (who were known as “the people of the Way” at that time) in Syria. But on the way, Jesus confronted him and called him to faith and commissioned him to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Meanwhile, a great persecution of the Christians by the Jews raged, and many Christians fled Jerusalem to Egypt, Syria, Samaria, and Turkey. Thus, God began to fulfil the spread of the Gospel to the whole world.

Saul went into the desert for some time and was taught the Gospel by Jesus, and when he was ready, Jesus sent him forth, and he started preaching the Gospel in Syria, and many came to faith. But the Sanhedrin, which had commission Saul to go and hunt the Christians, were now amazed and appalled that he had become one, so the Jews began to hunt Saul.

Saul went to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles, but they were afraid of him. Barnabas, though, spent time with Saul and became convinced of the truth of his conversion, and introduced him to the Apostles, who decided it would be best for Saul to go home to Tarsus for a time for his safety.

Meanwhile, Peter, who was in Jerusalem, had a vision from God, who command him to eat foods which were forbidden for Jews to eat. He didn’t understand the vision until Cornelius, a Roman centurion who believe the Old Testament and worshiped God, sent for him to preach the Gospel to him and his family. Peter had believed that all peoples could come to worship the One True God, but he had not understood that they would also receive the gifts and indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. This is what happened to Cornelius and his whole family, so Peter returned to Jerusalem and argued that God had removed all of the ceremonial boundaries between the Jews and the Gentiles and they were now equal in the Lord.

We return in this morning’s Scripture, and we see that Antioch in Syria had become like a second Jerusalem: it was a center of preaching and teaching the Good News of salvation in Jesus Alone. The refugees from Jerusalem had traveled to Syria, and here we are told that some went to the island of Cyprus and others to Cyrene, which is in modern-day Lybia in North Africa, and some of them, those who spoke Greek, were going to Antioch to preach to the Greek-speaking Jews who lived there.

And we are told that the Hand of the Lord was on these lay people – these weren’t the Apostles, these weren’t trained missionaries – these were regular believers like each one of us – and through them, God turned a great number of the Greek-speaking Jews to faith in Jesus Christ. There was such a revival in Antioch, that word of it spread to Jerusalem, and the church sent Barnabas to go and see what was happening.

So, let us understand that God does accomplish His Plan. God works in His own time, but God does bring His Plan to pass. Here we see the spreading of the Gospel by God through His people, and as we have already said – God worked through the lay people. The work of spreading the Gospel is not just for those who have gone to seminary or been ordained to the ministry – every believer in Jesus Christ should be letting others know – through the gifts and abilities that God has given each one of us. God’s Word will not return void – if we tell other people about Jesus, God will accomplish His Purposes. Let us pray for opportunities to tell and show others that we are Christians and Jesus is the Only Savior for the world.

When Barnabas got to Antioch, he rejoice to see the Grace of God in so many believing savingly in Jesus, and he rejoiced, and he exhorted these new believers “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” – to have their whole selves focused on Jesus – to follow Him and trust Him – even in such a dangerous time. And a great many more people believed in Jesus, and Barnabas realized he need help, so he went to Tarsus and brought Saul back with him to Antioch.

Saul and Barnabas spent the next year teaching and preaching to these new believers – helping them to grow in their faith and understanding. It was during this year that “the people of the Way” were first called “Christians.”

Let us understand, then, that when a person comes to faith in Christ, he or she is not a mature adult in the faith. And so long as any of us sin, we have not reached the end of our maturing – our sanctification – our becoming holy – in Christ. So it is necessary for the Church to preach and also to teach her people. Christianity is not merely a matter of the intellect – the mind – but we are to continue to learn and understand more as the Holy Spirit works in us and we hear God’s Word read and preached and taught. We are to provide opportunities for such teaching to occur and we are to take advantage of those opportunities in every possible way. Why? Because if we love Jesus and want to mature in Him, we will pursue our maturity vigorously – zealously. If we are true believers in Jesus, we ought to love Him and want to spend more time with Him, getting to know Him and becoming like Him.

That’s the main reason we have Sunday morning Bible study, and our occasional Wednesday evening studies, and our Saturday afternoon prayer meeting. It’s why we publish the newsletter and host a blog on the Internet. These are all designed to help us to grow in the faith – to fulfill our vital need to know Jesus and become more like Him. This occurs as we read our Bibles and other good books on our own, but there is a necessary added dimension in joining together to do things as the Body of Christ. Individuals come to faith in Christ, yet He died to save a people.

Another thing we ought to understand is that we ought to rejoice when anyone comes to saving faith – when even the person we hate believes in Jesus Alone for salvation. The Jews had been taught to keep themselves separate and to be repulsed by the Gentiles, but now, Jesus had put everyone on equal footing, taking down the ceremonial wall the separated them.

Now, you may say, “I don’t hate anyone.” Alright, well, picture the person you don’t like the most – that person also needs Jesus for salvation – and you and I ought to rejoice if that person comes to faith.

As we’ve seen before, we are not commanded to be best friends with every Christian, but we are commanded to be humble enough to worship Jesus with any and every Christian. Everyone who confesses Jesus Alone as their Savior is welcome to come and worship with us and join in this church. Don’t forget, there may be people who would not normally want to be seen with you, either.

Today, we don’t think twice about being called Christians, but when “the people of the Way” were first called “Christians,” it was mean to be an insult. “Christian” means “little Christ” – it was a way in which people made fun of those who believed in Jesus. But they quickly embraced the name, glad to be associated with Him and to suffer insult for Him. (Similarly, the name “Puritan” was an insult thrown at those Bible-believing people of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but they came to embrace the name as well.)

We are told that some of the prophets went from Jerusalem to Antioch. (Let us remember that the New Testament was still being written at this time, so there were still prophets.) One of the prophets was a man named, Agabus, and the Holy Spirit told him to tell the people that a great famine was coming and that they should prepare for it.

Luke tells his readers that this took place during the reign of Claudius. Now, the reign of Emperor Claudius Caesar of Rome was from 41-54 A.D., and there were several great famines during his reign. We can narrow the date of this famine somewhat by noting that Herod Aggripa dies in the next chapter of the book of Acts, and he reigned from 37-44 A.D. So the famine that Agabus warned the Christians about was one that took place between 41-44 A.D.

Why did God send Agabus to tell the Christians in Antioch that there would be a great famine? Because the Lord God provides for our needs in many and various ways that His Purposes might be accomplished.

Remember: God worked miracles through Moses that the people of Israel might be delivered from Egypt. God provided manna in the wilderness when they had nothing to eat. God gave us Jesus when there was absolutely no way we could become right with God on our own.

So, here we see the provision of the Lord in warning the Christians that a great famine was coming so they would be prepared for it. God made provision for them so they would not be caught off-guard and all succumb to the famine and die. Why? Because God was working through them to spread the Gospel to the whole world. But there was at least one other reason:

Historians note that Jerusalem was the place hit hardest by the famines during the reign of Claudius. And Luke tells us that this was also part of Agabus’ prophecy, or they came to be aware of it when the famine hit, and they responded to this by “everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.”

The Christians in Antioch had been warned of the famine that was coming, and when it came, Jerusalem suffered greatly, so the Christians in Antioch determined to put together relief aid for those in Jerusalem. In thanks for the salvation that they had received from Jesus and in thanks for the warning that God had sent them to prepare for the famine, the Christians in Antioch – every one of them – according to their ability – gave the Christians in Jerusalem food and supplies – joyfully, abundantly, thankfully. And the gift was brought to Jerusalem by Saul and Barnabas.

Has the Lord provided for you? Are you filled with joy to know and understand that everything you have has been given to you by God – for your good? Are you willing to help others when they are in need and you are able? (Understand the example we are given here is not that we must do everything anyone in the church asks of us. It is that out of joy and thanksgiving for what Jesus has done, as we are able and when we are able, we contribute in various ways to help others.)

Of course, the most important way that we give to help others is through telling them about Jesus. And, as we have seen before, this is done in many and various ways: we can explain Who Jesus is to someone. We can give someone a book or a pamphlet. We can invite someone to worship, to Bible study, to our evening study, to prayer meeting. We can bake for someone. We can give someone a ride. We can talk to someone on the phone, listen, send cards. There are many things we can do – everyone can do something.

Let us purpose to do something this week to let another person know that God sent His Son to live, die, and rise again. Let each one of us do something. Invite someone to worship. Give someone a copy of the bulletin – even just drop it in their mailbox Just don’t do nothing.

Consider what Jesus has done to provide for you, and then respond accordingly.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we are amazed at all You have done to provide for all of our needs – each day – every day – and especially for providing Your Own Son to be our salvation. Help us to concentrate our whole selves, our whole lives on You, and then to respond in our lives, in our families, in our neighborhoods, and in our world in ways that are pleasing and glorifying to You and which reveal Jesus to be Who He is. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Article: A Christian View of Animals

A Christian View of Animals
Rev. Peter A. Butler, Jr.

Peter Singer famously said, “A pig is a dog is a boy.” What Singer meant is, morally speaking, all animals, including humans, are completely equal with regards to what we do and do not do to and with them. The most extreme example, to draw the parallel, would be to say that since it is morally reprehensible to kill a child, it is also morally reprehensible to kill an animal.

While I have sympathy for what Singer is trying to accomplish, as a Christian, I cannot follow him all the way down the road that he takes. But what does Christianity teach about animals and our relationship to them?

First, one needs to consider what the Bible says about the status of animals and humans, and the answer is fairly straight forward: humans and animals are not completely equal in the realm of morality.

David wrote, “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas” (Psalm 8:5-8, ESV)

There is a clear hierarchy with God at the top, then the heavenly beings, then humans, and then the other animals. One cannot conclude from the Bible that humans and animals are the same in the realm of morality.

What does the Bible teach about the human relationship to animals?

Just as in Psalm 8, Moses records that God created humans to have dominion over the animals: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26, ESV).

The question is answered by saying humans are to have dominion over the animals. Well, what does that mean? The Hebrew word “radah” which is translated “dominion” is used to describe God as the Sovereign over Creation in Psalm 49:14; 72:8; and 110:2. To use New Testament terminology, God is the Shepherd, and He has appointed humans to be His undershepherds. God has appointed humans to have dominion over the animals like God has dominion over all of the Creation. Thus, one can certainly say that those who claim that “dominion” means that one can abuse, destroy, neglect, and use animals in any and every way one can conceive of is not acting in accordance with what God has exemplified as One Who holds dominion. Humans ought to care for and steward the animals as God stewards and cares for the whole Creation.

Does that mean it is wrong for Christians to eat animals? No, while it is obvious that humans and all creatures were created to eat only plants (cf. Genesis 1:29-30), after the Fall – after Adam and Eve sinned – among all the other things that entered into the created order was the spilling of blood for food. And God allows it. One may choose not to eat animals – or to eat them as infrequently as possible – as I do – if one so chooses, but the justification cannot be a moral one. Mine is my understanding of body and health issues which lead me to conclude that it is more healthful not to eat animals.

However, in the raising and killing of animals for food, one must also consider how they are raised and how they are killed. This becomes a moral question when one finds that large segments of the animal population that are being raised for food are abused during their lives and put to death by horrific, rather than humane, means. If one chooses to eat animals, one ought to be aware of these abuses and choose to purchase only from places one is confident does not abuse the animals.

Is it wrong for Christians to kill animals for “sport”? While there is no direct prohibition for the mere “sport” of killing animals, in considering what it means to steward and care for the animal world, it would seem more prudent not to engage in it.

Is it wrong for Christians to practice and/or support animal experimentation or dissections? Here again, there is no direct prohibition of it, but it seems that such actions go against the intent of humans having dominion. Besides which, my research has led me to conclude that there is no test that needs to be done on an animal that could not be done better and more accurately performed on human volunteers and/or technological devices of one sort or another. Animal experimentation and dissection are unnecessary and, therefore, cruelty and abuse. That is why I support an anti-vivisection society (a group that fights against animal experimentation).

Some might ask, “What’s the big deal? Animals don’t have souls. They’re just going to die anyway. You already said that God allows humans to eat animals, so shouldn’t we focus on bigger problems than how humans treat animals?”

It is true, there is no indication that animals have souls. Yet there is a fascinating passage in one of Paul’s letters: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:18-22, ESV).

What does Paul say? The Creation – including the animals – did not sin and fall into futility, as humans did, but the Creation was subjected – punished – for Adam and Eve’s sin. Now, the Creation – including the animals – is waiting – groaning – longing – for the day when God brings the elect into glory, because when He does, the Creation – including the animals - will be restored and brought into glory as well. The animals will be in the Kingdom of God.

But, aren’t there bigger problems? Yes, biblically – morally, it is much worse for someone to kill a baby in her mother’s womb than it is for the neighborhood bully to beat your dog with a bat. It is much worse for someone to rape a child than it is to skin an animal and wear it. However, that does not negate the fact that one can find a Christian view of animals in the Bible.

The principle for human and animal relationships, according to the Bible, is that humans are to care for and steward animals in a way that reflects the way that God cares for humans. There is flexibility in what that means: Since God allows animals to be eaten, one may eat animals or choose not to. One may debate the merits of animal experimentation and dissection. Etc.

What cannot be denied is that humans have generally not cared for animals in the way that God cares for humans. For those who adopt a Christian view of animals, that must change.

[This article is being published in Dnyndharama Issue #4, 2010 (Pune, India).]

Sunday, April 04, 2010

"The Truth & The Story" Sermon: Matthew 28:1-15

“The Truth & the Story”
[Matthew 28:1-15}
April 4, 2010 Second Reformed Church

One of two things is true: either Jesus rose from the dead and walked out of His tomb, or Jesus did not rise from the dead and walk out of His tomb – there is no third option. Well, that’s not entirely true, there have been a few who argued that Jesus didn’t really die after His being beaten, flogged bloody, crucified, pronounced dead by the Pharisees and the Roman centurions, and having a spear thrust through Him for good measure. While such an idea might be popular for conspiracy theorists, it makes absolutely no sense medically, politically, or historically.

So, one of two things is true: either Jesus rose from the dead and walked out of His tomb, or Jesus did not rise from the dead and walk out of His tomb – there is no third option.

We will remember that Jesus told His disciples on several occasions that He would rise from the dead, and the word of His Promised Resurrection had reached the ears of the Pharisees, and they were worried. We read, “Next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember how that imposter said, while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise.” Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, “He has risen from the dead,” and the last fraud will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:62-66, ESV).

The Pharisees didn’t believe that Jesus was the Savior; they didn’t believe He would rise from the dead, but they did think it was possible that the disciples would go to the tomb and steal His Body and say that He had risen from the dead. So they went to Pilate, and Pilate allowed them to do what they wanted – they sealed the stone with wax and had the wax marked with Pilate’s signet ring, so that everyone would know, if the seal was broken, he would be liable to Pilate. They were also given a guard of soldiers. Now a guard of soldiers consisted of between four and sixteen centurions – so there were a minimum of four, well-trained, armed, Roman guards standing at the tomb, making sure it wasn’t tampered with – and perhaps as many as sixteen. Surely, that would have been enough to keep a group of terrified fishermen and some women from overpowering all of the guards, making sure they didn’t tell the truth of what happened, pushing the stone up and away from the tomb, and stealing Jesus’ Body.

Now, let’s remember, the men – except for John – were hiding (Matthew 26:56b). They were afraid of the Pharisees and the Romans and thought that they had been wrong about Jesus. Their own sad confession was that they “had hoped that [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21a, ESV). So, they men were in hiding, hoping this would all blow over, and they could return to their old lives in safety.

It was the women who had the courage to go to the tomb – not because they believed Jesus was alive – but because they believed He should be properly anointed and buried. So, on the third day, several of the women went to the tomb to finish embalming Jesus.

And let’s not forget, even in Ancient Israel, women were considered much less reliable witnesses than men, so their testimony would not have held up in court against men who countered what they said happened.

But this is the testimony we have from the women: they got up at dawn to go to the tomb to finish embalming Jesus. On the way, they began to worry about who would move the stone away – certainly the Roman guards weren’t going to help them (Mark 16:3). But when they arrived at the tomb, there was an earthquake and an angel of the Lord descended and the stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb and the Roman centurions all fainted.

The angel, who had taken a seat on the stone, told the women, who were also afraid, but hadn’t fainted, as the Roman centurions had, that Jesus was not there – in the tomb – that He had risen from the dead, just as He said He would. And the angel told them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee.

So the women started to run back to where the men were hiding – leaving the Roman centurions passed out on the ground – and on their way back, Jesus appeared to them, and He told them to tell the men to go to Galilee, where He would appear to them. And the women fell down and worshiped Him as God, the Savior.

When they got to the men, they told them all that had happened, and the disciples said, “Oh, you women ” They didn’t believe them. Still, Peter and John ran to the tomb to see what had happened, and they did find it empty (Luke 24:11-12).

Meanwhile, some of the guards went to the chief priests to tell them what had happened – that Jesus had, indeed, risen from the dead – and they wanted to know what to do – they wanted protection – because if Pilate found out they had failed to keep a dead body from disappearing, they would have been executed.

So the counsel convened – the Sanhedrin – and they came up with a great story – and they were willing to bribe the guards to make sure they stuck to the story. The chief priests told the guards to say that they had fallen asleep, and while they slept, the disciples came, broke the Governor’s seal, rolled the massive stone up and away from the tomb, took Jesus’ dead body, and escaped without waking them up.

Why wouldn’t they have told them to say that the disciples overpowered them and stole the Body? Because there was no evidence to support that – the guards didn’t have a mark – a scratch – on them.

But if word had gotten back to Pilate that they had fallen asleep on the job, they still would have been executed. So the chief priests assured them that if they kept to the story, they would make sure that Pilate understood and would not harm them. So, that is the story that was told among the Jews.

Meanwhile, the eleven met Jesus in Galilee and got instructions from Him to go forth and proclaim the Gospel. And so they did. Before forty days were up, Jesus met with over five hundred of the disciples who were eyewitnesses to His Resurrection – and most of whom were still alive when the New Testament was being written – and they ate with Him, touched Him, and saw the scars of His crucifixion (I Corinthians 15:6).

So, which story has the ring of truth to it? Does the report of the women make sense? Or does it make more sense, as the chief priests framed it, that the soldiers fell asleep and the disciples – somehow – managed to open the tomb and steal the Body without waking any of them? And if that is what really happened, why did the guards report the same story as the women? And if the disciples did steal the Body – somehow – what did they gain by stealing it?

Some would argue that they were trying to gain power and authority, but how? What happened in reality is that after the Resurrection, Christians endured about three hundred years of fairly constant persecution and slaughter – until the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion.

What sense would it have made – on the third day – to steal the Body of Jesus? I don’t have a rational answer for us – do you?

Let’s ask one other question? Does it matter? There are many today who say that Jesus didn’t physically rise from the dead – He spiritually rose from the dead – (whatever that means).

In the Church at Corinth, there were some teaching that Jesus did physically rise from the dead, but we do not. Paul explained that that is not a possible scenario: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. And if Christ has not been raised, you faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (I Corinthians 15:12-19, ESV).

Paul says, you can’t say that Jesus was raised, but we are not raised. Jesus is a real human being like us, and His Salvation is to save the whole of us, so, if He was raised, we who believe in Him Alone for salvation will also be raised.

If Jesus was not raised, then we will not be raised, and Christianity is a lie. Jesus did not defeat sin and death and Hell. We, then, are liars about God and Who He is and what He has done. And those who have died believing in Christ are in Hell.

If Christianity is only for this life, we who believe in Jesus are to be pitied above all people. Why? Because the hope and the glory and the mystery of Christianity and Salvation in Jesus Alone is based on the fact – the Truth – that He did rise from the dead on that first Easter morn

So, is the Gospel the Truth, or just a story? Remember, only one of two things is true: either Jesus rose from the dead and walked out of His tomb, or Jesus did not rise from the dead and walk out of His tomb – there is no third option.

Your answer makes an eternal difference.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, help us to understand what You have done for us in the Resurrection. Give us the Grace to believe. And give us assurance as we receive the Sacrament. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, April 02, 2010

"Consecrated With Blood" Sermon: Leviticus 8:1-36

“Consecrated with Blood”
[Leviticus 8:1-36]
April 2, 2010 Second Reformed Church

This Good Friday evening we conclude our look at the opening chapters of Leviticus by looking at the instructions for the consecration and ordination of the priests of Ancient Israel. In doing this, we will merely look at the three consecrations – the three “setting aparts” – that are mentioned in chapter eight and show their parallel to Jesus as the Fulfiller of the Sacrificial Offerings and the Sacrificial System of Ancient Israel.

When it was time to consecrate Aaron and his sons as the first priests of Israel, Moses brought them to the entrance of the tent of meeting, in the presence of the whole congregation, and Moses washed Aaron and his sons with water. Moses poured water over Aaron and his sons, baptizing them. This baptism was the baptism of the Jews which was practiced up until John the Baptist – it was a baptism which symbolically washed a person clean of his sins. And in the case of the priests, water was not merely dribbled on them or spritzed on them, but it was poured over them, because the priests symbolically carried with them the sin of the whole nation.

We will remember that Jesus was also baptized: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17, ESV).

Now, notice that John didn’t want to baptize Jesus. John knew that Jesus was without sin; He had no sin to be washed clean of, but Jesus countered him by saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What was Jesus saying?

Jesus did not deny that fact that He is sinless. What He was telling John is that in order for Jesus to act as our Representative – in fact, our Substitute – He had to go through everything a normal human being would go through, but not sin. Jesus had to honor His earthly parents. Jesus had to learn the trade of carpentry. Jesus would have the same, normal, bodily functions as any other human, because Jesus is completely human. So Jesus submitted to baptism – not because He was a sinner – but because it identified Him with humanity and those He came to save.

After Aaron and his sons got dressed in the ceremonial clothing of the priests, we see that Moses anointed them with oil – not merely with a few drops as would normally be done – but the oil was poured over them. Oil symbolized being set apart, and it also can symbolize the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, because the call to the ministry is not something that is chosen – it is given by God and empowered by God.

And in the text we just heard about the Baptism of Jesus, we saw that the Holy Spirit did descend and remain on Jesus. Here, also, we see Jesus identified as God, as God the Father declares Him to be God the Son, as God the Holy Spirit indwells Him.

We see the use of oil for setting Jesus apart as our Sacrifice and Substitute, as Matthew records:

“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at the table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have ben sold for a large sum and given to the poor.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always will have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her’” (Matthew 26:6-13, ESV).

Returning to Moses, we see that after the anointing with oil, a variety of sacrifices would be offered – sacrifices we have looked at these past few weeks, seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of each of them – culminating with the Burnt Offering, which was the oldest and primary offering for the forgiveness of sins. And Moses took blood from the ram of the Burnt Offering and threw it against the altar – and then Moses took blood from a second ram – the ram of ordination – and consecrated the priests with blood – spreading ram’s blood on their right ears, right thumbs, and right big toes – signifying a total dedication of themselves – like the Burnt Offering – in the service of God. The blood marked the priests as the ordained representatives of God’s people before God.

On that first Good Friday, Jesus was consecrated with blood, but not with the blood of a ram. We read, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest for the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 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 9:11-14, ESV).

Jesus was consecrated with blood – with His Own Blood. After the crowd rejected Jesus being freed for the sake of the Passover, Pilate has Jesus flogged. Thirty-nine-times, Jesus was hit with a whip embedded with sharp stones and glass. They would sink into His flesh and then be torn out again – thirty-nine times. Then the centurions taunted, hit, and punched Him. They made a crown of large thorns and pressed it into His head. The historians of the day wrote that there was not a spot on Jesus’ Body that was not torn, bruised, and bleeding. Jesus’ Own Blood was poured all over Him.

Then He was taken and thrust down upon a cross, and three large spikes were pounded through His wrists and ankles. He hung – our Sacrifice, our Substitute – as the Burnt Offering on the altar, wholly consecrated until He finished the work He came to do.

“Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for the Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth – that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’

“After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:31-42, ESV).

Thankfully, we know that is not the end of the story. If it was, Christianity would be a lie. But Easter morn was yet to come, and Jesus was proved our Victorious Savior, Substitute, and High Priest.

It is He Who meets with us this evening, no longer hanging on a cross or dead in a tomb, but alive, ministering His Grace to us, through the reading and preaching of His Word and through the Sacrament which we will soon receive. Let us remember what Jesus did as our High Priest in offering up Himself as the Final Sacrifice, Consecrating Himself with His Own Blood.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, how can we give thanks and praise enough for Jesus? We marvel at the horror of His Suffering and at the way He fulfilled all of the symbols of the Old Testament, including the Sacrifices and the Priesthood. Let us continue to be amazed and yet stand firm in the faith. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Good Friday

Join us for our Good Friday worship service this evening at 7PM! We will be receiving the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

"The Fat, the Breast, and the Thigh" Sermon: Leviticus 7:22-38

“The Fat, the Breast, and the Thigh”
[Leviticus 7:22-38]
April 1, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Last Sunday, we considered that the offering that was made to God – in all of the offerings that we looked at in the opening chapters of the book of Leviticus – required that the offering be wholly offered to God – consecrated to God – set apart as holy to God – even those portions which would be shared with the people and the priests.

We have already discussed that it was unlawful for Israel to eat the fat of an animal, as we see again in this evenning’s Scripture. The fat was holy to God – it was burned and was a pleasant smell in the nostrils of God. There was a partial exception in this: though they were never to eat the fat of an animal, if an animal died naturally or by another animal killing it, they were allowed to use the fat of those animals for soap or any other use other than eating it.

Likewise, we have seen that it was unlawful for Israel to eat the blood of an animal because the life was in the blood and the blood was to be used to signify the paying of the debt that was owed to God for sin. Blood had no food use in Ancient Israel according to the Law of God.

We have not said much about what is covered in verses twenty-eight through thirty-eight of this chapter, which concerns the portions of the sacrifice that are given to the priests for their sustinance. Specifically, we are considering here the breast and the thigh of the animal sacrifices which were to be given to the priests as their food.

We are told in these verses that the breast and the thigh which were given to the priests for their food were to be offered to God as a wave offering before they ate it. What this meant was the priest would take the breast or the thigh of the animal and lift it up and down and side to side – or north and south and east and west – over the fire in consecration – in setting it apart as holy to the Lord – in spirit – and for them to eat.

Why would they do this? What does it symbolize? Commentators suggest that when the priest lifted the breast or the thigh up and down over the fire, it was symbolizing their dependance on God for all that they have. We will remember that the Levites – the priests – did not own land and their food was provided for them from the offerings of the people. So, their livelihood was provided by God through the congregation. This is also the New Testament understanding of the relationship between the pastor and the congregation – the pastor does not own his own home and relies on part of the offerings of the people for his sustinance and to provide for all of his needs.

Commentators also suggest that when the priest would wave the breast or the thigh from left to right and back, it was to symbolize that God is among His people. We also understand that as the Word of God is read and preached and the sacraments are rightly administered, Jesus is spiritually among us, ministering to us, giving us His Grace that we would be strengthened and enabled to do the good works He calls us to do.

As we receive the elements of the bread and the cup in the Lord’s Supper, we say that we are eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood. Now, in the Reformed Church – and most Protestant denominations – we do not understand that to mean that we are literally eating His Physical Body and drinking His Physical Blood. Although we are untied in Jesus and consecrated by Him – set apart as His people – we understand what is happening to be both symbolic and spiritual, not crudely of the flesh.

Jesus prayed for us on that first Mandy Thursday, saying, “‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them, I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except for the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in your truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I concecrate myself, that they may be sanctified in the truth” (John 17:1b-19, ESV)..

In this first part of Jesus’ prayer for us, we understand several things:

Those who confess faith in Jesus are the Father’s and the Father gives them to Jesus. Just as we recognize that all we have comes to us from God – just as the priests recognized in the wave offering that everything they received came to them from God – so Jesus – in His Humanity – recognized that everything He had been given as the Savior of a people – was given to Him by God the Father.

Consequently, Jesus receives all those who are given to Him. And since all those who are given to Him are given to Him by God the Father, none that the Father intends to make right with Himself – save – reconcile – justify – none of these will be lost.

Jesus moves from praying about how He has received us from His Father just as we have received Him and His Salvation to praying for three things:

Jesus prays that we will be one as He is One with the Father. How are Jesus and the Father One? They are One in the sense of having One Being. And here we start to talk about the Doctrine of the Trinity again – Jesus and the Father are two distinct Persons, but they are the same One God. They are united in Being in all those things that make God, God, and make God worthy of worship and able to save.

Jesus is not saying that we all should like the same movies and the same type of ice cream. What He is saying is that we should be united – of one mind and understanding and will – with regards to those things which are essential – necessary. For example, we – as Christians – are to be one in confessing that all those who the Father draws to Jesus – and only those who the Father draws to Jesus – will come to faith in Him. And Jesus is both at the same time one hundred percent Human and one hundred percent God, the Only Savior. These are things which are clearly taught in the Scripture.

Second, Jesus prays that we will have joy because He has gone back to the Father. Why will we have joy – (especially when in the next verse He says we will be hated?) – because in Jesus’ return to the Father, He finishes His Work and secures us as His people – eternally. We have joy because we know how much greater the Kingdom is than what we have now. The best and the worst we experience are both nothing compared to the glory we will be received into – there is our joy.

Third, Jesus says in the verse where we ended, “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

Like the Wave Offering, Jesus was consecrated – that is, set apart – He descended to earth, ascended to the cross, descended to the grave, and ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father as a confirmation that all we have and our Only Hope is from God Alone.

Like the Wave Offering – Jesus was consecrated – God the Son now lives in the Person of Jesus, a Real Human Being, Who, two thousand years ago lived among us. Do we remember, He is called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us”?

Jesus gave Himself up as the Final Sacrifice – as He tells us in this verse – that we might be sanctified in the truth – that is, that we might be made holy in the Truth of Jesus. This, we will remember, happens through God the Holy Spirit working in and through us.

So, as we remember the first Maundy Thursday, let us understand as we receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, that Jesus gave Himself as a wave offering to the Father. As we lift the bread and the cup, let us understand that everything we have, and especially our salvation, comes to us only through Jesus Alone. And as we share the bread and the cup with one another, let us understand that Jesus is here now among us, working in and through us, ministering to us with and by His Grace.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, “great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: [God] was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up into glory” (I Timothy 3:16, ESV). We pray that we would humbly recognize that everything we have and are is from You and through Your Sacrifice. Make us one. Fill us with joy. Sanctify us in the Word of Truth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Maundy Thursday

Join us this evening at 7PM for Maundy Thursday worship! We will receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

"The Lamb of God" Sermon: John 1:29-34

“The Lamb of God”
[John 1:29-34]
April 1, 2010 Old First Presbyterian (Newark)

Last week, we saw the priests and the Levites question John the Baptist about who he was, and we saw John deny that he was the Savior, Elijah, or the Prophet. He said that he was the herald – the voice – that Isaiah prophesied would come to announce that the Savior had come. And John criticized the priests and Levites for being concerned with him when the Savior was in their midst, and they didn’t recognize Him.

Today I’d like to quickly look at Who Jesus is and what He came to do, as we have heard it expressed in the Scripture that I read:

The next day – the day after John had this discussion with the priests and Levites, Jesus came towards him and John announced, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” Now, did John mean that Jesus was furry and had four legs? Of course not. What John was saying is that Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system and, specifically, the feast of the Passover, which began Monday evening this year.

We will remember that God led the people of Israel out of Egypt, and the night that He freed them, He told them to sacrifice a lamb and to spread its blood on the lintel and doorposts of their homes. “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight” (Exodus 12:1-6, ESV).

John was drawing a parallel between the reconciling effect of the blood of the lamb and the reconciling effect of the Blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. This made no sense to the priests and the Levites. They would have understood if Jesus had come as a savior and prophet – someone to challenge the social norms and offer wisdom. They would have understood if Jesus had come as a savior and king – to overthrow the oppression of Rome and make them a free and powerful nation. But the idea that Jesus came to be the Savior Priest, Who offered Himself up as the Sacrificed Lamb – as the author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to explain – that just didn’t make sense to them.

One reason it didn’t make sense to them is that they didn’t think they had such a big sin problem that a savior was needed to make things right. They thought that they were pretty good people, and if there were any little slips here and there, it could be covered through the sacrifices.

But John makes it clear that Jesus came to take away sin – because we are all sinners who can never do enough to make ourselves right with God. We are all in need of a Savior Who will pay our debt to God for sin and credit us with His Righteousness. And, John tells us, this Savior is not just for the Jews, as many thought, but He is the Savior of every type of people in the whole world. There is One Way and One Savior Who can make us right with God, and He is Jesus, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.

As Isaiah prophesied, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7, ESV). And as Peter wrote, “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Peter 1:18-19, ESV).

John continued by saying that Jesus is the Savior he kept mentioning – the One Who was greater than John because He was before John. And we might want to ask John what he meant by that – after all, John the Baptist, the son of Elizabeth, was six months older than his cousin, Jesus. John was before Jesus, as far as human birth is concerned. But that is not what John was referring to – John was making it clear that Jesus is not just a Man – though He is a Real Human Being, but – as we saw in the opening verses of John – Jesus is at the same time the One Eternal God. So, John was pointing to Jesus’ Divinity by saying that He was before him.

And John confessed that growing up, he didn’t know that Jesus was the Savior. John had been told that the Savior would be revealed to him – that when He baptized the Savior, God the Holy Spirit would descend and remain on Him, and that would be how John would know Him. That was why John was baptizing – even without the permission of the Sanhedrin – God told him to baptize that it might be clear Who the Savior is.

We read, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17, ESV).

So we see that, in John’s confession, we are taught that Jesus is the Eternal God. Jesus fulfilled the Sacrificial Law on behalf of all of the types of people in the world. And, as the Priest, Sacrifice, and Savior, He makes all those who will believe in Him right with God.

We should keep in mind that the image of Jesus as the Sacrificial Lamb did not end that first Holy Week with His Crucifixion: when John, the writer of the Gospel, was exiled on the island of Patmos received visions from God. In part we read, “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’

“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and glory and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped” (Revelation 5:6-14, ESV).

The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, the Sacrificial Lamb, Who gave Himself to satisfy the debt to God the Father as our Substitute and makes our accounts full of His Righteousness, our Risen Savior, is the One Holy God, Who is worthy of worship.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, as we celebrate the days of holy week, we are reminded that You came to earth in the Person of Jesus to fulfill Your Sacrificial Law, standing as the High Priest over the sacrifice of Yourself. Help us to understand more of the mystery of our salvation. And may You receive all the glory and all the honor. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.