Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Puritan Wisdom

“A further proof is this, when spiritual things must give way to earthiness upon every little business. Prayer must pay for it. If I have business to do, I will take it out of prayer timer, or converse in the Word less, or hear the Word less. When earthly things are as high as spiritual things, heaven must stand by until earth is served. This is an evil sign of an earthly spirit. Whereas, were the spirit heavenly, the very first thing that you would do when you awake in the morning would be to season your heart with something that is spiritual.” – Jeremiah Burroughs, A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness, 54.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Puritan Wisdom

"There is no question but that it's lawful for parents to provide in a providential way for their children, and they that do not are worse than infidels.  But what is your chief provision for?  Are your thoughts more solicitous to provide portions for them, that that they should have instructions in the fear of God, an interest in Christ, grace wrought in their hearts?  You are loathe to die before you can bring your estate to its fullness so you may leave it to your children.  Are you not loathe to die before such a time as you can see some work of grace wrought in the heart of your children?  These would be your thoughts if you were spiritual!" -- Jeremiah Burroughs, A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness, 49-50.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Puritan Wisdom

"Many a man, through one lust, will seem as if he hates the other, but the truth is he does not hate it as sin but because it is opposite to some other lust that he has." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness, 46.

"Is Circumcision Necessary?" Sermon Acts 15:1-35

“Is Circumcision Necessary?”
[Acts 15:1-35]
June 27, 2010 Second Reformed Church

What place do the laws of the Old Testament have in the life of the Christian? Are we still to keep the laws of the Old Testament? Are we free to ignore the laws of the Old Testament? What does Jesus’ Salvation mean for us with regards to the Old Testament Law?

Paul and Barnabas had returned to Antioch after their first missionary journey, and word came to them that there were people in Judea who were teaching the Gentile believers that they must be circumcised, or they cannot be saved. That is, there is no salvation in Jesus apart from circumcision.

We might wonder where this came from – why this was a question: does not Jesus save us apart from any and all works that we may or may not do? Why would Jewish believers come to the conviction that circumcision is necessary for salvation?

Let us revisit the institution of circumcision for the answer:

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and multiply you greatly.’ Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, ‘Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.’

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male through out your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant’” (Genesis 17:1-14, ESV).

Abraham is the father of the people of God – the people with whom God has made His Covenant. What is a covenant? A covenant is a treaty, a testament, an agreement – between parties. So God made an agreement with Abraham. Which was? God promised to make Abraham the father of a great people – many nations – the people of God. God promised to bless all nations through Abraham. God promised to give His people the land of Canaan as an inheritance. Abraham was to keep God’s Law and to symbolically mark every male member of the Covenant through circumcision. Every male who was not circumcised was cut off from his people and, thus, from God (cf. Genesis 15).

So, the Jewish Christians understood that – since Jesus said that none of the Law will be abolished until heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:17-18) – in order to receive salvation from Jesus, circumcision must occur. And let us understand that circumcision was representative of the entire Law of God. As we heard in our text, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the Law of Moses.”

Notice we are told that the apostles and the elders took time to consider whether or not these Jewish Christians were correct. They took time to check the Scriptures and to see if they were right that our keeping of the Law is part of the basis of our salvation. After taking the time to consider what God had said, they came to the conclusion that, no, it was not necessary for the Gentile Christians to be circumcised. They concluded that keeping the Law is not part of the basis of our salvation. Why not?

Peter offered the first argument, based on what he had experienced in his missionary work: if God Who knows the heart chose some Gentiles to believe savingly in Jesus, and God gave them the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, just as had happened with the Jewish believers, there could be no further requirement for Salvation. “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Not based in any part or degree on the keeping of God’s Law.

Paul and Barnabas then recounted their missionary journey and all that they had seen among the Gentiles. Including all those who had come to faith in Jesus Alone for their salvation.

Finally, James presented the witness of prophecy, quoting at least from the book of Amos: “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.”

James argued that God promised to rebuild His people by including the Gentiles, and God nowhere states that the Gentiles have to keep the Law of God to become His people though salvation in the Promised Savior. The Gentiles are included and have done nothing to merit inclusion. Becoming part of the people of God is purely an act of grace on God’s part.

However, the apostles and elders concluded that the Gentiles were to keep four laws: they were not to eat meat that had been offered to idols, they were not to commit sexual immorality, they were not to eat an animal that had been strangled to death, and they were not to eat blood. Why?

Paul addressed the issue of meat offered to idols in his first letter to the Corinthians: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but seek the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.’ If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who has informed you, and for the sake of conscience – I do not mean your conscience, but for his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” (I Corinthians 10:23-30, ESV).

We will remember that when certain sacrifices were offered to God, the people were invited to eat some of the meat. The same was true of meat that was sacrificed to idols. Only the meat sacrificed to idols was supposed to have magical properties because it had been sacrificed to idols. Paul tells the Corinthians that we know that is ridiculous – there is One God Who gives us all the food we have to enjoy. So, don’t question where the meat comes from, just eat it and give thanks to God.

However, if someone makes a point of telling you that the meat has been offered to an idol – thereby implying that it is special or has magic properties – as a witness against idolatry, you should not eat it.

OK? So, we can see that the meat itself is not really the issue here – it’s what the meat supposedly represents or can do. What does this tell us about the Gentile Christians?

It is true that God forbid eating food offered to idols, sexual immorality, and eating animals that had been strangled to death, and eating blood. But to understand our text, we need to know that part of the Gentile, pagan, worship, as Paul indicates in writing to the Corinthians, was eating the meat offered to idols, because it was believed to be magic. The also engaged in “worship” with the temple prostitutes, and in eating strangled animals and blood – to gain health and stamina, and so forth. The four things that the apostles and elders told the Gentiles that they must not do are things that commonly occurred in pagan worship.

The apostles and elders were not saying that they must abstain from these things in order to receive salvation from Jesus – as though Jesus saves us part way and we save ourselves the rest of the way by keeping certain laws. No, the apostles and elders were instructing the Gentile Christians to stay away from these things because it would have been very tempting and very easy for them to slide back into their old, sinful ways. (And because it could look like they were giving credence or approval to the ideas and practices of pagan worship if they did engage in those things.)

The apostles and elders were showing care and concern for their Gentile brothers and sisters – trying to put a hedge around those things that would be the most tempting for them and might cause them to sin. It would be like our telling a recovering alcoholic not to become a bartender. It would be like our telling a repentant prostitute not to become a sex therapist. The apostles and elders were setting these rules in love to attempt to keep the Gentile Christians from falling back into their old, sinful habits. They were saying, “Don’t allow yourself to be put in a situation that you know will be extremely tempting for you to sin in.”

If someone easily sins by lusting, he ought to be careful about the movies he watches, being alone with women, and so forth. Whatever sins we find the most appealing, we do well to put up a hedge to keep us – as much as possible – from opportunities to pursue that sin. That’s what the apostles and elders were doing. They were not saying that the Gentiles contributed to their salvation by keeping those four laws.

And the whole Church agreed with their decision. So they sent Judas called Barsabbas and Silas with a letter explaining their decision, and they went throughout the world that they would know that salvation is through Jesus Christ Alone, and, out of love and concern for them, they are not to go anywhere near those things they formally engaged in in their pagan worship.

And the Gentile Christians rejoiced that circumcision and the keeping of the Law are not necessary for salvation. And Judas and Silas preached throughout the world, while Paul and Barnabas went back to Antioch, where they continued to preach the Gospel. Let us understand, as we have seen before in our look at the book of Acts, the Gospel is for all types of people. No matter what our background, heritage, upbringing, etc., the Gospel is the same for all peoples: God came to earth in the form of a human being – Jesus, He lived a perfect life under His Law, died, rose, and ascended back to His Throne, having secured salvation for all those who will believe and having glorified His Father.

Let us also understand that our good works have no bearing on our salvation – we contribute nothing to our salvation. The Work is entirely Jesus’. He Alone saves us by Himself. However, let us also understand that we are called to be holy. Peter writes, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (I Peter 1:15-16, ESV). That means, we are to keep God’s Law.

“Wait a minute, didn’t you just say that we don’t have to keep God’s Law as part of our salvation?”

Yes. We do not and cannot add to our salvation. Christ is all in all. However, as a response to what Christ has done – completely of His Own Work – we respond in love and thanksgiving by keeping God’s Law, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

“But didn’t you just say that the apostles and elders said that the Gentile Christians didn’t have to keep God’s Law – they didn’t have to be circumcised?”

Yes. We do not have to be circumcised today.

What we need to understand is that there are three types of law: Ceremonial, Judicial, and Moral. Ceremonial Law includes laws like being circumcised, not wearing clothes of more than one fabric, not eating meat and cheese in the same meal, not eating pork, priests needing to wear underwear, and so forth. Judicial Law including stoning witches to death, stoning persons involved in adultery to death, stoning children to death who talk back to their parents, how to mark off boundary lines, and so on. Moral Law includes such things as worshiping the One God Alone, keeping the Sabbath, not committing adultery, not stealing, loving our neighbors, etc.

Now, the Ceremonial Law and the Judicial Law were given to Ancient Israel for Ancient Israel, while they lived in the land as Ancient Israel. They broke the covenant with God, so the promises and laws that related only to them no longer apply. We are not obligated to keep the Ceremonial and Judicial Law of God.

The Moral Law is for all people for all time. That Law we must keep, not for Salvation, but in response to God’s Salvation, to evidence our thankfulness for God saving us and working sanctification in us – for making us holy.

So, how ought we respond to this text?

Let us preach the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ Alone to all peoples. We may not say, “I don’t want that type of person in our church.” All people are welcome to come and hear and respond to Jesus and His Gospel.

Let us remove all impediments. As Peter said, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” We may not require anything of a person for salvation that God does not require, and we see in the Scripture that salvation is by Christ Alone, by grace alone, by faith alone, to the Glory of God Alone.

And let us do all we can to lead each other away from those things that lead us into sin and, instead, encourage each other to live lives of holiness, following God’s Moral Law out of love and thanksgiving for all He has done for us, and especially, for salvation through Jesus Alone.

The Only Hope of the Jews, the Gentiles – for any person – is salvation through Jesus Alone. Believe in Him, repent of your sin, follow after Him in joy.

Let us pray:
Almighty and Holy God, we thank You that You do not require anything of us to be saved, otherwise, no one would be saved. We thank You for saving us and calling us to a life of being witnesses to Your Salvation. Help us to live lives worthy of You – lives of joy and thanksgiving and obedience. Help us to lead others away from sin and into paths of righteousness for Your Name’s Sake. May we be known as Your people, for by Your Grace we are. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Free Food

If the Lord and Costco are willing, we intend to continue to give away free baked goods after worship each Sunday.  Please join us for worship at 10:30 AM, and then help yourself to whatever you can use.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Puritan Wisdom

"The fish is not weary with swimming, but man is quickly weary.  It is because the fish is in his element and the man is not.  Observe this, when a man's spirit is in this kind of temper, let him be busied about earthly things, wherein earthly advantage comes in, no difficulties will hinder him, no wind or weather.  He will rise in cold mornings and go abroad, do anything in the world.  Oh!  What difficulties will men endure in storms at sea, and hazards there and troubles at land, and sit up late, and rise early, and toil themselves, and complain of no weariness or difficulties.  But, let them come to spiritual things, to soul business that concerns God and their spiritual estates.  Every little difficulty puts them aside and discourages them.  Every mole hill is a mountain in their way.  I would do so and so, but it's so hard, and 'tis tedious to rise in the morning, especially in cold winters.  It is very hard and difficult to read and pray.  And so he complains of the difficulty of these things." -- Jeremiah Burroughs, A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness, 12-13.

We're 94

Come join us for worship, tomorrow, at 10:30 AM, and join with us for a pot-luck lunch (as required in Leviticus), as we celebrate the 94th Anniversary of the founding of Second Reformed Church in Irvington.  May God be pleased to continue to use us, making us useful, and glorifying Himself.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"Classis, Do You Love Me?" Sermon: I John 3:13-16

“Classis, Do You Love Me?”
[I John 3:13-16]
June 22, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Do you like your body? Is your body everything you would like it to be? I suspect not. Probably most, if not all of us, have things about our bodies that we would like to change. But let me ask a different question: do you love your body?

In the short time that we have this evening, let us look at the passage that I just read for us and see in it four doctrines and four applications:

First, John tells us that we should not be surprised that the world hates us, because the world hates Jesus. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has 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 this world, but I chose you out of this 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 kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:18-20, ESV).

So, we should not be surprised if non-Christians don’t like what we teach. We should not be surprised if they take action against us. Instead, we ought to understand that we – those who preach and teach and proclaim that Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Alone – are called to a life of persecution.

Second, we who have received Salvation in Jesus Alone love our brothers and sisters in Christ, which proves we have passed from death into life. Paul writes, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, ESV). And, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:11-14, ESV).

Christ has moved us from the Kingdom of Death into the Kingdom of Life by taking on God’s Wrath for all of our sin and by imputing to us – crediting to us – His Righteousness. And one of the natural results of this is that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, simply because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Third, we cannot claim to have received Jesus Alone as our Savior and hate our brothers and sisters in Christ. Why not? (After all, some Christians are creepy.) We cannot, because one who hates is a murderer – a descendant of Cain – and anyone who persists, unrepentantly, in murder – in hatred – does not have eternal life.

Understand, John is not telling us that we have to like every Christian and be best friends with every Christian. There are Christians that we are more naturally attracted to as friends due to temperament or interests, and so forth. What John is telling us is something different – we cannot hate – we must love – our brothers and sisters in Christ – whether or not any particular person is someone we would want to spend a great deal of time with.

And fourth, we know Love and we know how to love in this: Jesus laid down His Life for us, and so we ought to lay down our lives for each other. Jesus laid down His Life to glorify the Father and to secure the salvation of all those who would believe, but He also lay down His Life as an example of what we ought to do for each other.

So, what does this look like?

First, we won’t bad-mouth each other or spread rumors or gossip or take revenge on perceived wrongs or be jealous of each other or tear each other down.

We know very well that believing Christians in our churches have engaged in these hateful pursuits against fellow Christians. We know very well that believing Christians in our Classis have engaged in these hateful pursuits against fellow Christians. And before we shake our heads and say to ourselves, “Yes, I remember when so-and-so did such-and-such – what a terrible person” – let us consider ourselves – whether we have ever acted in a hateful way towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This ought not to be. There are appropriate ways to confront a wrong, and then there are inappropriate ways. Let us consider whether what we are about to say or do is hallowing to the Name of Jesus, and not bad-mouth each other or spread rumors or gossip or take revenge on perceived wrongs or be jealous of each other or tear each other down.

Second, let us biblically confront each other when we are persisting in sin or false doctrine.

We, pastors and elders of the Church, will be judged more strictly on the Day of Judgment – we who have been called to speak and teach the Word of God (James 3:1). It is a terrible and honorable thing to ascend the pulpit and also to teach God’s people. And it is a good and loving thing to biblically confront each other when we are persisting in sin or false doctrine.

Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17, ESV).

Third, we are to encourage each other in pursuing the good works that “God has prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10b, ESV).

We are in a race, but not in a competition. God has given us work to do, and I truly believe, as we have heard it in Classis before – God gives us the church we can handle. God has gifted and fitted each of us for a work to glorify Him and give us joy. Some of us are gifted with youth. Some of us are gifted with the elderly. Some of us are gifted in music. Some of us are gifted in writing. Some of us are strong administrators. Some of us are not. We each have different gifts and abilities and churches, and it is to the glory of God that we encourage each other in the ministries that God has given to us.

Someone might tell you about a work going on in his church, and you might be thinking to yourself, “Thank you God for not giving me those people or that work, because I don’t have the temperament or abilities to handle that work.” That’s ok to think. But rather than say to the person, “Better you than me ” Let us find a way to encourage each other in the unique works that God has called each of us to – for His Glory.

And, fourth, let us do anything and everything we can do to maximize our joy in glorifying our Triune God – even to the end of laying down our lives for each other.

Few of us, in this day, in the United States, have or will be asked to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel – for our brothers and sisters in Christ. But the day may come – and it is already happening throughout the world – Christians are being put to death. We ought to be in prayer for them and doing what we can as individuals and as the Church to support the work of the Gospel in these dangerous lands.

Yet, we can also lay down our lives for the Body of Christ – for our brothers and sisters in Christ – we are His Body – in a less dramatic way: We already saw that God has gifted us for the congregations that He has called us to. Yet, it is also true that God has given each church and each Christian needs and gifts and abilities that are not met or used in-and-of themselves.

What does that mean? It means that we must get our eyes off of ourselves and look to the larger Church – to the Body of Christ. We ought to look to the Body when we have needs that we are unable to meet on our own – there are people or churches that have the means, the gifts, the abilities to address our needs. Let us ask. We ought to also look to the Body with the gifts and abilities that go beyond what we need – we have gifts and abilities – in each person and each church – which are more than what we need, so we ought to be ready and willing and looking for opportunities to share them with the Body. Each one of us and each of our churches has something in such abundance that we can share it with others who need it. Let us figure out what those things are and help fulfill the work of the Gospel by sharing them.

If we love Jesus, we will do these things. If we love the Body, we will do these things.

Classis, do you love me?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for making us brothers and sisters in Christ. Help us to love each other as members of Your Body, seeking out ways that we can help and mature each other that You would be glorified and our joy in You might grow. And we pray this in the Name of our Savior, Your Son, Jesus, Who taught us to pray, saying...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Classis Meeting

The Classis of Passaic Valley will meet in stated session (D.V.) on Tuesday, beginning with prayer at 5 PM at Second Reformed Church.  Join us for dinner, worship, and a meeting focused on student exams.

"Continue in the Faith" Sermon: Acts 14:19-28

“Continue in the Faith”

[Acts 14:19-28]
June 20, 2010 Second Reformed Church

When we left Paul and Barnabas, they were trying to convince the residents of Lystra that they were not Zeus and Hermes in human form – that they were not to be worshiped – and that they would not turn them into wolves, as their mythology suggested. Paul and Barnabas explained that they were just men, and the Message they brought – the Gospel – was about God Who became Man – it is about Jesus – not them.

The Message that Paul and Barnabas brought to the people of Lystra was that God did come to earth as a human – Jesus Christ – He is the Savior of all those who will believe – Jew and Gentile. He lived and died and rose and ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father and now intercedes for all those who will believe in Him. He Alone is Salvation – not any of the idols and false gods that they had previously served.

While they were trying to convince the Lycaonians that they were just men, the Jews who had persecuted Paul and Barnabas in Antioch in Pisidia and in Iconium arrived in Lystra. Can we imagine the rage that brought the Jews – some from over a hundred miles away – to hunt Paul and Barnabas down?

These Jews began to persuade the crowds, “See, they admit they are not gods. They have come here to mislead you – to confuse you. They have blasphemed the gods; they ought to be put to death.”

And they convinced the crowds. Since Paul was the main speaker, the crowd surrounded him and stoned him until he appeared to be dead – or perhaps he was dead – the commentators disagree. And they left his body outside of the city, where the garbage was thrown, showing their contempt for him and his message. And they went back into the city, satisfied with themselves.

But those who had believed his message – the disciples – gathered around him, and Paul walked back into the city. Can we imagine the faces of those who saw him? They thought they had just killed him – and even if he wasn’t dead – here he was coming back into the city that had shown him such violence – was he crazy? He spent the night, and then left for Derbe.

Let us understand, first, that attempts made on our life, for the sake of the Gospel, are no reason to keep quite. Even if someone should try to kill us for the sake of telling others that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone, that is not a reason to keep quite. We who have believed savingly in Jesus must speak and let others know that there is Salvation in Jesus Alone.

Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28, ESV). Don’t be afraid of the death of the body – as Christians, we shouldn’t fear even being put to death, because we know that the same God Who breathed life into Adam when he was a lifeless being will gather us up on the last day and breath life into our bodies and bring us back to life, perfected and holy. The worst the enemies of God can do to us is put our bodies to death. But those who deny Jesus will be cast, body and soul, into Hell – it is God Who is to be feared – not man or devil.

Has anyone tried to kill you for talking about Jesus? Probably not. The worst that has happened to me, thus far, is I have been cursed at. How about you?

The bigger concern is that in this country, in this place, in this time, is that we don’t say anything. We say that the two things we shouldn’t talk about are religion and politics. Well, we talk plenty about politics. And we may talk about religion – our-pot luck lunches, why the church is dirty, why the lawn isn’t trimmed the way you like, why the coffee hour food isn’t what you like, whether or not we should recycle, how everyone’s hair looks – and fellowship of this type is fine. But do we ever talk about Jesus?

Do we ever say, “In then end, I believe that the Only Hope we have is to believe that Jesus is the Savior God sent. Jesus has forgiven me for my sins. I’d love it if you would come to worship with me to hear more about Him”?

Do not be afraid. The devil is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). But our God is the Almighty – our Savior – our Father – our Hope – and the Hope for the world. Is this Good News not worth sharing with everyone, no matter what the cost – not matter what the risk?

Fall in love with Jesus and seek Him first. Jeremiah Burroughs wrote, “[Paul] accounted all things dung and dross, dog meat, for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Luther accounted the whole Turkish empire as a crumb that the great Master of the family casts to His dog. Here’s an argument that the saints have their conversations in heaven, that they can look upon the things of the earth as so low and so little, as indeed they are” (A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness, 107).

In the morning, Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe. Derbe was about seventy-five miles east, and there, again, the preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Only Way to Salvation to the residents, and, again, many people believed and became disciples.

After spending some time in Derbe, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra and Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia – the very places where they had almost been killed. So, we have to ask – following Jesus aside – were they suicidal? They had been to these towns and preached there and many had believed, and then God had allowed them to leave with their lives. Why did they go back?

For two reasons:

First, Paul and Barnabas knew that Christians need to be discipled – the Church needs to provide discipleship. What does that look like? In this passage, we have three things noted that Paul and Barnabas went back to teach these news believers – these new disciples:

First, Paul and Barnabas discipled the new believers by strengthening their souls – by further teaching and explanation of the Scriptures. Understanding the Word of God is a life-long process – and we won’t fully understand it until we enter into glory – and even then, we will not know the full Mind of God, because God is God and we are humans, with finite minds. Yet, what we can understand, we will understand perfectly.

The Church then and the Church now needs to offer times of teaching and instruction, both during the worship service and outside of the worship service that we all might learn the Word of God better and grow in our love of God and neighbor. That’s why we have our Sunday morning Bible study and our periodic Wednesday evening studies and our Saturday prayer meeting.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, I listen to so-and-so on the radio or on the TV, and that’s good enough for me – it’s all I have time for – and so-and-so is a better preacher, teacher, and/or storyteller than anyone we have here.”

And that’s true – there are better preachers, teachers, and storytellers than anyone we have here. But if this is where God has called us to serve, we ought to be involved in learning – and teaching – here. And we also need to learn with each other in groups. Learning on our own is all well and good, but there is an added dimension in meeting together with other Christians that is essential to our health and growth. Yes, you and I are healthier and grow better – even when we are in worship and study with so-and-so...you know who I mean.

We are a body that is learning how to function at its maximum. All the parts of the body need to be together to be healthy and grow in the most productive way. If one of our fingers decided to break off and be by itself, the nail might grow for awhile, but we must admit, the finger would be much healthier if it remained attached to the hand, right? In a similar way, it is good for us to study on our own, but we need to be with our fellow Christians to learn from each other and teach each other and grow in the most healthy way, as we receive the Whole Word of God.

So, Paul and Barnabas risked their lives to return to organize these churches and to teach them – for a time – to gather them together as the Body of Christ – that they would grow and mature as they ought.

That teaching included the second point of continuing in the faith – to stand strong against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and the temptations that confront us. They taught them that the way to live this life for Christ is to keep our eyes on Him and on the Promise of the Kingdom which is even now coming among us. If we get distracted by the shiny things of the world, we will take a wrong path, but if our eyes remain fixed on Jesus, we will more likely walk the narrow road that God has set before us.

And so we ought to ask ourselves questions like: Is a fleeting moment of pleasure worth the effects of sin? Is a fleeting moment of pleasure worth throwing the crucifixion back in Jesus’ Face? Is what I am doing now something that brings glory to Jesus – to our Triune God? Or is it something that takes my eyes – others eyes – away from Who God is and what He has done?

Our purpose, as we have heard John Piper explain it, is to make much of God – to show others how great He is – how great the Salvation is that He gives those who receive Him. And when we do that, God blesses us with His Joy. The only pleasure that is lasting is the pleasure of showing others how great God is – of seeing how great God is – of worshiping and praising God for how great He is. Do you want everlasting pleasure?

Continue in the faith. Hold fast to the Promises of God. Don’t be discouraged by pain and disease and failure. Jesus will return. You will be healed and perfected and glorified. Remember what Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, ESV). Being stoned to death was nothing compared with the glory that is to be revealed. Paul believed that and could continue in the faith and encourage the new believers to do the same as persecution followed them – and they were crucified and fed to the lions and stoned to death. Has that ever happened to you? Can you continue in the faith? Do we believe that what is coming is that much greater that the worst we could ever endure on earth? If we do, we can continue in the faith.

And so we see that Paul is realistic with the new believers – they had just seen him stoned to death, and he told them that tribulation – suffering – is expected and normal for us as we enter the Kingdom. As bizarre as it sounds to the world – and maybe even to us at times – if we are suffering for Jesus and His Gospel – that is proof that we are entering into the Kingdom. Paul promises, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12, ESV).

The Church needs to provide discipleship through teaching and preaching both in the worship service and outside of it. It is through this discipleship that our souls are strengthened – and we mature in the faith, we continue in the faith – understanding the worth of Jesus and His Salvation as compared with everything else in all of Creation, and we understand that suffering is normal and to be expected, so let us remember the Promises: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long, we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things were are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39, ESV).

Lastly, Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for the churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia. God is a God of order – and there is to be order in the Church – and God has called some to be elders – those who are to teach and maintain doctrinal purity in the church – to enact discipleship.

Paul and Barnabas could not stay at every church that they organized – they set up elders to teach and keep false doctrine out. And from among these elders, pastors were chosen to lead the people. And the elders made sure that the pastors did not stray from the clear teaching of the Scripture. And the elders also taught the people that all would mature in the faith – continuing in the faith – through the tribulation that they faced.

Nothing has changed today: we have elders in our churches who are charged to teach and make sure that what is taught is according to the Word of God.

Paul and Barnabas went home to Antioch in Turkey and they gathered the Church together and told them all that God had done with them and how God had opened the door to the Gentiles. And they stayed with them for some time.

God has work for the Church – for us – and God will accomplish it through us. God will accomplish His Plan and bring us into His Kingdom.

Would you like to have joy?

Let us tell others that there is Salvation in Jesus Alone – let us invite people to worship to hear about Jesus.

Let us join together in discipleship – in teaching and learning together – that we would be strengthened and continue in the faith and endure suffering in the joy of the glory that is to come.

And let us support and encourage the work of those called to church office.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for not asking us to pretend that this life is not hard – that there is no suffering – that no one will be persecuted for following You. Thank You that despite the various forms of suffering that we will endure for You, You provide us with each other and with Church officers that we might be encouraged, and strengthened, and continued, and matured in the faith. May we always seek Your Kingdom first and receive Your Joy. Come, Lord Jesus. For is it in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Still More Food

D.V., we plan to provide FREE baked goods -- bread, bagels, muffins, etc. -- after worship each Sunday.  Join us for worship at 10:30 AM, and then help yourself to the baked goods.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Just Men" Sermon: Acts 14:1-18

"Just Men”
[Acts 14:1-18]
June 13, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Would you like to be idolized? Whether it be as an “American Idol” or as a great actor or politician or someone else – would you like people to know you name and ask for your autograph and scream in joy when they see you and try to touch you? Carol admits to trying to pass for Kelly Clarkson.

Remember that Paul and Barnabas had been driven out of Antioch in Pisidia, so they left and continued on in their missionary journey to Iconium. And remember that they didn’t stop preaching the Word of God – they didn’t go into hiding because of the persecution they faced – no, they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. Despite having to endure persecution, they were joyful because the persecution meant that the Message of the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Alone was heard. And God the Holy Spirit strengthened them and prepared them for the next work they would have to do.

So, when they arrived in Iconium, they went directly into the Jewish synagogue and began to preach that Jesus is the Savior that God sent to earth, Who lived and died and ascended back to the Throne of the Son, where He reigns sovereign over all. And Luke tells us that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed the Message of the Gospel that they preached.

Yet, again, other Jews stood up and disputed the message of the Gospel, so Paul and Barnabas stayed for a long time, speaking boldly, witnessing to the work of Jesus in their lives, and giving miraculous signs as God the Holy Spirit worked through them as confirmation that what they were preaching was true.

And let us remember: the signs that they performed were meant to confirm the message, not to bring conversion by themselves, because the devil and his angels can do miracles. So, it is not through doing miracles that people are brought to faith: God normally brings people to faith through the right preaching of God’s Word. That’s why the Word of God and its preaching has to be central to the worship service – God meets with us and ministers to us and matures us through His Word. And God normally brings people to faith through the right preaching of God’s Word.

Luke records how Lazarus and the rich man had a conversation across the divide after they had both died: the rich man was in Hades, and Lazarus was in Paradise. And the rich man had left behind five brothers who were not believers, and he pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead, believing that such a sign would cause them to believe. “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And [the rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:29-31, ESV).

All the pomp and show and miraculous signs that we could muster will have no effect on a person who rejects the Word of God, because God normally brings people to faith through the right preaching of God’s Word.

So, let us understand, signs and wonders do not cause faith, they confirm the Word of God.

The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:1-4, ESV).

The author of Hebrews tells us that we must pay attention to the Word of God read and preached because it is through it that we know and come to faith. It is through the Word of God that we learn that every sin requires punishment, and there is only One Hope through salvation in Jesus Alone. And this salvation – this message of the Gospel – is witnessed to and confirmed by the working of signs and wonders and miracles – as God is pleased to do them. Yet, signs and wonders do not cause faith, they confirm the Word of God.

The people of Iconium were divided: some came to faith through the preaching of the Word of God and His Gospel, and they were strengthened and confirmed as Paul and Barnabas did signs and wonders among them, but others remained steadfast in their unbelief, and they plotted with the rulers of the Gentiles and the Jews to stone Paul and Barnabas to death.

But word got to Paul and Barnabas first, and they thought it best to go on to the next stop, rather than confront their persecutors, so they went on to Lystra – about twenty miles south, and they continued to preach the Gospel.

It will help us to understand what happened by quickly reviewing the mythology of the founding of Lystra. The story goes (cf. Eadie or Kistemaker) that a group of settlers came to the land and began to build houses, and Zeus and Hermes came to them in human form and asked for a place to sleep. Everyone turned them down except for one elderly couple. Zeus and Hermes were outraged at the lack of hospitality and turned all of the residents – except for the elderly couple – into wolves. The Greek word for “wolf” is lykos. Thus, Lystra is “wolf town.”

Back to the Holy Word of God: Paul and Barnabas arrived in Lystra and met up with a man who was crippled in his feet – lame from birth, and Paul was given the knowledge to know that as this man listened to Paul preach, he truly believed in Jesus with saving faith. And Paul said to him, “Stand upright on your feet.” And, notice, the man didn’t struggle to get up and haltingly take a few steps and then walk. No – he leapt up and began walking all around.

Everybody knew this man – he had been asking alms all of his life. They knew he had been born lame – that there was nothing the doctors could do. And then they remembered their mythology, and in excitement and fear, they stopped speaking Greek and began speaking the local language of Lyconian – which Paul and Barnabas did not understand – but they later found out what they were saying – “Zeus and Hermes have returned Let’s not be like our forefathers – let’s treat them with respect and worship them ” So the people of Lystra ran and got the priests of the temple of Zeus, and then brought oxen to sacrifice before Paul and Barnabas, and garlands to put around their necks.

And then someone filled Paul and Barnabas in – “They think you’re Zeus and Hermes, come to visit them again, and they are setting up altars to worship you.”

Paul and Barnabas were horrified. They tore their clothes in abhorrence of this blasphemy and rushed out to the crowds and demanded that they stop what they were doing: “Stop What are you doing? We’re just men. We are the same form and nature as you are. We are not gods. We have come to bring you the Good News that you would turn away from the vain things – these idols and false gods – that you have worshiped and instead worship Jesus.”

Now, notice, since Paul was speaking to Gentiles – non-Jews – he did not turn to the Prophets to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Promise of God for a Savior – not initially. Instead, he appealled to natural theology, because they were not versed in the Hebrew Scriptures. He told them that the God Who provides salvation through Jesus Alone is the God “who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them”

In the past God did allow the nations to walk in their own ways – to go after idols and false gods, but God never left Himself without a witness in nature: He is the True One God Who did good for all people by giving rain and fruitful seasons, “satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

Paul explained to them that God is the God of the rain and the harvest, the Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth. This One God Alone brings health and joy, and He is also that God Who Alone brings Salvation from the sin that we all do.

The Gospel is not about us – it’s about God. And we must focus our message – our preaching – our ministry – on God. It is all of God and all through God, and we do a disservice – at best – when we confuse it with anything else. We are just men and women. God saves. Jesus saves. God works through us – through the reading and preaching of His Word. But, the Message is not me and it is not you – it’s God – it’s Jesus.

Even with that explanation, they were hard pressed to convince the people that they weren’t going to turn them into wolves. They wanted to worship them – just to be sure. What if this was a test? Wouldn’t it be best to just let them worship Paul and Barnabas and then tell them the Gospel? It wouldn’t hurt anything, right? They would know that they weren’t really worthy of worship, right?

Sometimes we idolize pastors. Sometimes we skip worship when the “regular” pastor is away. We shouldn’t do that. Worship isn’t about the pastor. We shouldn’t idolize or worship a pastor. We are here to worship our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, and if the pastor in the pulpit – whether he be the “regular” pastor or not – is preaching the Word of God Alone, we do right to be in worship to worship God.

God said, “You shall not bow down 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 generations 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).

There is no such thing as “casual” worship. And God will not accept less than all of our worship. We cannot worship God and.... That’s what we have found Israel did throughout the Old Testament, and every time God warned them to stop, they turned to God and told God that they were worshiping Him – just a few other gods in addition – just to be safe. And God was furious God deserves all of our worship and no one and nothing else deserves any of our worship. Anything that we put in the place of our Triune God – is idolatry – it is worship of something other than God.

God requires that one day in seven be wholly set aside for His worship. And that is for our good – by setting aside one day in seven, we break the work cycle, we fellowship with other Christians, and we are met by God Himself, and He ministers to us as we worship Him.

Sometimes it’s easier to understand why people don’t come to worship than why some people do: people don’t come to worship because they don’t believe it is necessary or important – it’s not a priority. It’s not worth their time. And then there are people who go to worship – or, actually, they go to “church” – but they don’t believe the Bible, they don’t believe in Jesus, they don’t want to be there for more than an hour.... People have told me that they go to “church” to feel good, to become better people, and so forth. But how can that be, if they don’t believe what is read and preached?

Let us understand something that ought to be basic, though it seems it is not: God is God. God is the Almighty, the Thrice Holy, the Only One worthy of our worship.

Paul and Barnabas are not to be worshiped. I am not to be worshiped. None of you are to be worshiped. We are just men and women. God is God. God is the Almighty, the Thrice Holy, the Only One worthy of our worship.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, help us not to be confused, but to be passionately desirous of Your Worship. Have it be our joy and strength to come into Your sanctuary and offer up ourselves to You as living sacrifices of praise and worship. Make Yourself and Your Worthiness known to us. And cause us to turn aside from everything that is unworthy of You, that we might find ourselves all the more satisfied in Your Presence in worship. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

More Free Food

We still have more baked goods to give away after today's lunch and give away - twenty-one people showed up -- besides us -- yeah!  Come to worship tomorrow at 10:30 AM, and then take a bag of baked goods home.  See you then!

"What We Preach" Sermon: Acts 16:25-34

“What We Preach”
[Acts 16:25-34]
June 12, 2010 Second Reformed Church – Community Lunch

In about ten minutes, I’d like to tell you what Second Reformed Church is and strives to be from the perspective of the pulpit – that is, what it is that we preach here at Second Reformed Church. It is not up to me to preach on whatever I want to preach – you won’t hear any “sermons” on ways to save on car maintenance or my favorite recipes from the Scripture. No, what you will hear preached is what God has said – God’s Word alone – and specifically Salvation in Jesus Alone.

That’s what we find in our Scripture: Paul and Silas had gone to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Philippi, and while they were preaching, false accusations were leveled against them, and they were thrown in prison – which is where we find them in our text.

Paul and Silas were in prison, waiting for trail, and they were praying and singing hymns to God, because they were confident in Jesus and His Salvation – that no matter what happened to them in the hands of the law, they were safe in the Arms of God.

And as they were singing and praying, there was a great earthquake, and the prison collapsed around them – freeing them – and no one was hurt. Now, the jailer woke up and realized what had happened, so he drew his sword and was about the kill himself with it, because he figured that all the prisoners had run out, and he didn’t want to face whatever the law would bring down on him.

But no one had left. At Paul’s command, everyone had stayed right where they had been. And Paul called out to the jailer, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” Can you imagine the combined relief and confusion that must have come over the jailer? He was relieved – everyone was still there – he wouldn’t be jailed or put to death himself for losing the prisoners. But why had they stayed? What was going on? They had a chance to escape and they stayed right where they were.

So he fell down before Paul and Silas – and having heard them pray and sing throughout the night – he knew what they believed and why they were in prison, and he understood that they were in the right and his only hope was to know and believe what they knew and believed, so he asked them, What must I do to be saved?”

“And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”

Their message – the Gospel – the Good News – was the only hope for the jailer – and it is for each one of us – in this life and in the life to come – is to believe that Jesus is the Promised Savior – that He is God, come to earth in human form, to live and die under God’s Law, and then to rise victorious over sin and death and Hell, and ascend back to the Throne of the Son at the Right Hand of God the Father.

After he received that Good News, he was to be baptized and then to live a different life – a life that followed after all the commandments of God – summarized as loving God and loving neighbor. Such a life would be marked with the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit who would now enable him to do the good works that God put before him and would mature him in the faith.

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV).

Paul preached Jesus – Who Jesus is – what Jesus had done – and he called people to believe and then to live according to the Word of God afterward. Now, when Paul says that he did not know anything “among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” he does not mean that he knew nothing other than the Gospel. We see that Paul had a masterful knowledge of Greek and Roman philosophy, religion, and literature, not to mention his knowledge of the Hebrew Scripture. What Paul meant is that he was not called to be a scholar, but to be a preacher of Jesus, so everything that he was and did would be to make Jesus and His Salvation known.

That is my goal – that is our goal – here at Second Reformed Church. I preach that you might know and believe Jesus and then follow after Him. That is what this church is about. That is what being a Christian is about – we are all to direct others to Jesus. That is what a church is to be. That is what I pray you find here each Sunday.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for giving us Salvation through Your Son. Gather us together in faithful churches with faithful ministers who preach Your Word Alone and Salvation in Jesus Alone. Call Your people to Yourself and draw them into Your churches. Let us be found faithful in Jesus, and glorify Yourself through this church. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Community Lunch

Join us for a FREE LUNCH today at 11 AM.  Learn a bit about Second Reformed Church and what we preach and enjoy a FREE LUNCH.  Come on, you've got to eat.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wisdom of the Fathers

On Acts 14:15 --

“We find a reason for some illnesses in the saints, such as the apostles, for, lest he appear to go beyond the bounds of nature and lest anyone consider him to possess, in his nature, something greater and more excellent than is fitting – which was the case among the Lyconians, who offered him crowns and bulls – he was struck with ilnness in order to show his nature was human.” – Basil the Great in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament V: Acts, 176-7.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 14:15ff --

“Man is delighted with the view of what is sublime and beautiful, and with the instances of curious contrivance, and exquisite workmanship; but the ultimate design of this delight, is to conduct him to the knowledge and love of its Author.” – John Dick, Lectures on the Acts of the Apostles, 200.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Ads

Both of you who normally read this blog will notice that there are now ads on it.  I decided to accept ad posting to raise money for school.  (I believe I have made thirty-two cents this week.)  I am paid a small amount for each "click."  Please understand that the listing of an ad on this site is not necessarily an endorsement of anything contained in the ad by me or Second Reformed Church.  Thank you.

Free Food

Today, after worship, we are offering free food -- bread, cakes, bagels, cookies, muffins, etc. -- to any who will.  Join us for worship, and pick up free food afterward, during coffee hour.

"Joy and the Holy Spirit" Sermon: Acts 13:44-52

“Joy and the Holy Spirit”

[Acts 13:44-52]
June 6, 2010 Second Reformed Church

We return to our look at the book of Acts this morning, and we will remember that Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch in Pisidia – in what we would now call Turkey. (John Mark had returned to Jerusalem.) They preached the Good News – that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Davidic Kingship and the Promised Savior. They preached that Jesus is the Savior of all those who will believe in Him and the Final – Eternal – King to sit on the throne of David.

The people begged Paul and Barnabas to return to preach to them again on the next Sabbath, and they promised they would. Surely, during the week that intervened, they spoke with people and told them the Gospel that Jesus is God Incarnate, Who came to earth as a human being, lived, died, and ascended back to the Throne of the Son of God, at the Right Hand of God the Father. They were excited and wanted to know more. That is – the Gentiles – the non-Jews – in particular – wanted to know more.

So, the next Sabbath, Paul and Barnabas preached again in the synagogue, and Luke is quite specific in noting that “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” It was the message of Jesus Christ that drew people into the sanctuary and made them want to hear more – not tricks or programs. And the majority of the city crowded into the synagogue because they were hungry for this Good News. They recognized the truth of what Paul and Barnabas were preaching.

But there were Jews who were jealous: “Who are Paul and Barnabas that they would draw such crowds to hear them speak in the synagogue? It’s our synagogue. We are the leaders – we are the sons of Abraham – they should be listening to us. And why are Paul and Barnabas offering the message of salvation to Gentiles? Salvation is for the Jews. God is the God of Israel. Who do Paul and Barnabas think they are?”

In their jealousy for attention and to keep the Promise of God for biological Jews, these Jews flew into a rage and began yelling at Paul and Barnabas – contradicting what they said, cursing at them, calling them blasphemers.

Paul and Barnabas responded, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’”

What were they saying? In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:26, ESV).

The Promise of Salvation was, indeed, given to the people of Israel through the prophets, but the promise made through father Abram was “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3b, ESV).

The Savior was given to and through Israel to the Jews first, but “He came to his own, and his people did not receive him” (John 1:11, ESV). Therefore, the Promise was opened – as God had planned from the beginning – also to the Gentiles – to the non-Jews. Believers in the Savior – Christians – come from every background throughout time and space. The message of Salvation in Jesus Alone is for “the whole creation” (Mark 16:15b, ESV).

But these Jews did not understand the Promise – they did not believe in Jesus. They wanted to jealously hold on to God and His Word and not allow God to reach all of the people that God had intended. We have churches – today – where to be a Christian, you must be a white man with a tie, or you must speak in tongues, or you must be baptized as an adult, or you must be married.... Jesus is the Savior of everyone who will believe – no matter what they have done or where they have come from – nothing will keep a person from Jesus who truly believes. And we dare not put up road blocks like these Jews did.

This was an age-old promise: the prophet Hosea was called by God to condemn Israel, and he did it symbolically, in part, by naming his children “No Mercy” and “Not My People.” And God said, “And I will have mercy on ‘No Mercy,’ and I will say to ‘Not My People,’ ‘You are my people;’ and he shall say, ‘You are my God’” (Hosea 3:23b, ESV).

Jesus said the same thing in a parable: “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet, he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to the servant, ‘Go quickly to the streets and the lanes of the city, bring the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you have commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (Luke 14:16b-24, ESV).

These Jews wanted the Promise of God’s Salvation to be just for the biological Jews – even though God had always said it was for them first, but also for the rest of the Creation. Jesus had come to them, and they rejected Him. And when Paul and Barnabas told the Gentiles that Jesus is Salvation for them, as well – for everyone who will believe, these Jews were angry.

We should not be surprised, because Jesus promises those who believe in Him will be persecuted: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep among the wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:16:-18, ESV).

So, let us not be surprised, even in this day, that when the Word of God is truly preached, there is opposition to it. It may be polite or it may be violent, but when the Word of God is truly preached, there is opposition to it.

The reaction of the Gentiles was different: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading through the whole region.”

The Gentiles heard that salvation was available to them, as well as the Jews. They were not second-class citizens compared with the Jews. No, they were equally dead in their sins and lost without hope unless God changed them and made them His people. The same salvation in Jesus Alone was and is available to the Jews and the Gentiles – to everyone who would believe. There was hope The God of the Jews had chosen a people from all of the world

And in case we have forgotten the state in which we are all born, remember what Paul wrote, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1a, ESV). Every human being is born spiritually dead – unable to change or choose Jesus and His Salvation. We see this very strongly in our text: “and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” We could restate it: all those God chose to believe believed. Or, all those God chose to save believed. Salvation is wholly of God.

This is a distinctive of Reformed Theology – what we understand to be biblical theology. We understand that I cannot save myself and you cannot save yourself and I cannot save anyone and you cannot save anyone; God Alone saves all those whom God chooses to save, for God’s Own Reasons, not due to anything we would or would not due. Salvation is a Gift of God, as God freely chooses to give it.

Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (I Corinthians 1:18-21, ESV).

Paul is saying what researchers argue today: preaching is about the worst way to convey the Message of the Gospel. Of all the methodologies of presenting information and getting people to understand it and believe it – standing before people and preaching – so the experts say – is about the lease effective. So, people argue that were should have powerpoints and dancers and clowns and all kinds of visuals and interactive things going on during worship. But – and you may have heard this expression – the ends don’t justify the means. Generally speaking, the people who tells us that we should change the way we worship and minimize – or even eliminate the sermon – honestly believe that doing so will bring more people to faith in Christ.

But God said that we are to preach His Word – event though preaching is “folly” – because it is not through my skill as a preacher or debater that anyone believes in Jesus – it is God working through His Word read and preached. For God’s Own Reasons, God is pleased to normally bring people to faith through preaching. But it is God that changes a person’s heart and brings him to spiritual life – no me, not my abilities, not you, and not your abilities.

God has not done what the experts find to be the best way. But God says that this is what we are to do and this is how we are to worship, and we dare not do other than what God has called us to do. If we do continue in the “foolishness of preaching” as the heart of our worship, as God is willing, God will apply His Word and cause people to believe. So, let us understand that when the Word of God is truly preached, all those whom God intends to believe will believe.

I am to study and prepare and preach. You and to study and prepare and tell others. But God saves. Jesus saves. And when the Word of God is truly preached, all those whom God intends to believe will believe.

The Jews should have rejoiced to see so many Gentiles coming to faith in the God of Israel and His Savior, but they did not. Instead, they went to the leading women of the city – Gentile women who had converted to Judaism – women who were known for their character and devotion to the Word of God – and to men as well. And they stirred them up – they convinced them that what Paul and Barnabas were doing was against the Word of God, so they used their standing and power and money to bring a persecution against Paul and Barnabas and drive them out of the city.

What did the Jews say to these women and men of influence? How did they convince them to persecute Paul and Barnabas? Luke doesn’t fill in the details for us, but given that he notes that these were women and men of “high standing,” a threat to their standing – especially financial – might have been involved.

We will remember what Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23b, ESV).

How did Paul and Barnabas respond to this persecution? They shook the dust from their feet, as Jesus had said to do (Matthew 10:14), and they went on to Iconium, about seventy-five miles east.

“And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Does that make sense? They were persecuted and forced to leave the town, so they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit? Were Paul and Barnabas and the disciples masochists? No.

We may remember what Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of Glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (I Peter 4:12-16, ESV).

In other words, if we preach the Gospel and we are persecuted for it, we should rejoice because the Gospel has been heard – the Glory of God has been made known – those whom God meant to hear His Word and believe it have done so, and those who oppose it are being shown for who they are.

Paul and Barnabas were not joyful to be persecuted and run out of town, but they were joyful to be persecuted and run out of town because the Gospel of Jesus Christ had been understood and believe by some, and others – the persecutors – had made themselves known. Paul and Barnabas were joyful because God the Holy Spirit had worked through their preaching, causing some to believe. The fact that some people rejected the Gospel and persecuted them let them understand that God had made the Gospel known – that it had been understood – and that brought them joy, as the Holy Spirit worked in and through them.

That doesn’t mean they weren’t saddened or angered by those who did not believe. But they understood that it was not their job or ability to make people believe. They and we are to preach the Gospel and God will apply it by the Holy Spirit and cause faith as He sees fit – as it pleases Him. We are to present the Gospel – to preach it – to the best of our ability. God will use it as He wills.

And when the Gospel is received and believed, the Christian responds in joy, and the Holy Spirit wells up in the Christian, working His Will among those to whom we preach. Our job is to preach. We are not to worry about how God applies His Word to the world. We are to rejoice in any and all who come to faith – to belief – to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

And so Paul and Barnabas did: they preached in Anitoch in Pisidia, and many Gentiles believed in Jesus Alone for their salvation, and they were persecuted by some of the Jews and some of the leading women and men of high standing, so they went on to the next stop on their missionary journey – rejoicing that God had caused some to believed, and they were filled and strengthened and made ready for their work by the Holy Spirit.

When the Word of God is truly preached, there is opposition to it.

When the Word of God is truly preached, all those whom God intends to believe will believe.

And, when the Gospel is received and believed, Christians respond in joy, and the Holy Spirit works in and through them.

As the Word of God is read and preached this morning, the Holy Spirit is applying it – as God wills – to us in this church. Perhaps God is maturing some of us. Perhaps God is making Himself known to some of us who have never truly believed. Perhaps God is convicting some of us to a strong faith in His Word.

As we receive the bread and the cup, Jesus, Himself, spiritually meets with us and gives us His Grace that we might be strengthened and made ready for the work that God has for us. The bread and the cup are not magic – they remain bread and fruit of the grape. Yet, God has chosen to minister to we who believe through the Word and through the sacraments – as often as we come together (I Corinthians 11:17) – so let us rejoice in all that God has done and go forth in the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, You have told us that we are to spread Your Gospel through the reading and preaching of Your Word. You have given us the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit to help us to study and prepare and preach Your Word as You have called us. We ask that You would help us to trust that You will apply Your Word as You see fit and bring all those whom You have called to be Your people to eternal salvation in Jesus’ Name. Cause us to rejoice when anyone hears the Gospel and especially when someone believes the Gospel. And send us forth, renewed and reformed for the work You have called us to do. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, June 04, 2010

June Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

6/6/10 Communion
 Acts 13:44-52  “Joy and the Holy Spirit”

6/13/10
 Acts 14:1-18  “Just Men”

6/20/10
 Acts 14:19-28 “Continue in the Faith”

6/22/10 Classis Meeting 6:45 PM
 1 John 3:13-16  “Classis, Do You Love Me?”

6/27/10 94th Anniversary Sunday
 Acts 15:1-35  “Is Circumcision Necessary?”

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Consistory Dinner

Tonight at 6 PM, D.V., we will celebrate and enjoy each other at The Appian Way in Orange.  We will be honoring Doug Durgie for his years of service on the Consistory.  If you forget or did not get a chance to sign up, just show up with $35 in hand, and we'll pull a chair over for you!