Second Reformed Church

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Do The Demons Know You?" Sermon: Acts 19:11-20

“Do the Demons Know You?”
[Acts 19:11-20]
September 26, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Do the demons know you? If you were confronted by a demon, would it know you? How would it react?

Luke give us some details of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus:

First, Luke tells us that God worked extraordinary miracles through Paul as a witness and a confirmation of the Truth of the Gospel. Paul was not only able to heal through the laying on of his hands, but God worked through the handkerchiefs (literally, “sweat rags”) and aprons that touched Paul’s skin. When these pieces of cloth were laid upon the sick and the demon-possessed, their diseases left them and the demons exited their bodies.

This was an unusual and extraordinary proof that God did at that time. It is not a promise that such things would or should continue – or that such things would happen with anyone else’s sweat rags. If I gave you my shirt after worship, it would do you no good – unless, perhaps, you needed a shirt and you washed it – but it would not heal you or drive a demon out of a demon-possessed person.

Today there are people who sincerely belief that such things are still happening. There are also plenty of charlatans – con-artists – trying to get people to believe that they have the ability to do miracles through their sweat rags.

In the Middle Ages, in order to raise money, the Roman Catholic Church came up with the idea that the honoring of relics of saints could help reduce the suffering of loved ones in Purgatory and even help deliver the living from illness. This practice continues today.

If you turn your TV on Sunday morning, you’ll find the con-artists. There’s one I’ve seen who is all about increasing wealth. If you send him money, he will send you his green handkerchief, and you will become wealthy. This is not biblical – this is a con.

Now, are there people who are healed or have a change in their finances after following the con-artist’s instructions? There probably are. But such things happen today only in the Providence of God and not by magic handkerchiefs.

There were con-artists in first century Ephesus: the seven sons of Sceva – a high priest – were itinerant exorcists. There was a tradition in ancient Judaism that engaged in occult practices – in witchcraft – and by the first century, there was a great interest in the occult – witchcraft was respected and practiced among the people – even among the Jews – in clear violation of God’s Law: “There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or a charmer or a medium or a wizard or a necromancer, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 1810-12a, ESV).

Now, that is not to say that the seven sons of Sceva were not successful exorcists. We have every reason to believe that they were successful. They had had enough success that they were making a living out of casting demons out of people – or doing something, anyway. But we also see that they were opportunists – they didn’t just rely on God or on a method prescribed in the Scripture – they looked for any new means or way to achieve the end that they were trying to accomplish. We have a saying today, “the ends justifies the means.” That is what they believed it – it doesn’t matter how you accomplish what you are trying to do – what matters is that you accomplish it.

We know this is true because Luke tells us, “[they] undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits.”

The sons of Sceva were Jews – non-believers – but they attempted to use the Name of Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. And we are certain they were non-believers because they qualified their exorcism, by saying, “I adjure you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul proclaims.” There were saying, “I cast you out in the Name of Jesus – who I don’t believe in – but Paul does.”

And the sons of Sceva and their supports would say, “So what? If using Jesus’ Name delivered these people from demon-possession, isn’t that all that matters?” The answer must be “no.” Why?

First, we need to remember, as we see in Job chapter one and two, the devil and his demons can do nothing unless God permits it. So, if someone has become demon-possessed, God has – at least – allowed it for His Own Reason.

Second, to use the Name of Jesus without believing in Him was to claim authority that they did not have. They were calling on Someone Whom they didn’t believe in and expecting His Support of they “efforts.”

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, to use Jesus’ Name in an exorcism, when they didn’t believe in Jesus, was to use Jesus’ Name in vain. And God will not allow His Name to be used in vain – not even to deliver someone from a demon.

This might be a good place to let you know that demons are real. Angels exist and demons exist. The difference between an angel and a demon is that the angels follow God and the demons are the angels who followed Satan – Lucifer – the devil – who is also an angel who fell

Unlike the movies and other places you hear of demons and the devil – they are not hideous creatures. Paul writes, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (II Corinthians 11:14, ESV). In other words, to look at an angel and a demon, you might not be able to tell one from the other. And, as we see in the Scripture, they can appear in human guise, as well.

Of course, we do not normal perceive angels and demons with our senses; they normally appear invisible to our senses. But as we see in the Scripture, there are times when angels appear in a form such that we can see them. That is not a reason to doubt their existence, however. Based on the Scripture, we can be sure that the angels and demons are among us – even in this sanctuary.

And the demons know Jesus. They hate Him; they do not worship Him, but they know very well who He is. James writes, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder ” (James 2:19, ESV). And when Jesus confronted them and exorcized them, they confessed Who He is, “And behold, they cried out, ‘O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’” (Matthew 8:29, ESV).

So with all this in mind, we return to our text: the seven sons of Sceva come to a possessed man, not believing savingly in Jesus, but they have seen Paul cast out demons in Jesus’ Name, so they say, “I adjure you by the Jesus, whom Paul proclaims.” And how does the demon respond, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” “I know Jesus – He is the Son of God – the One Who will judge us on the last day. And I know Paul – he is a servant of the Son of God. But you – you do not serve the Son of God. You do not believe in Jesus as the Savior. Who are you to call on His Name? Who gave you the authority – the right – to try to cast me out in His Name?”

The demons are not omniscient – they don’t know everything – but they can tell a believer from an unbeliever. A believer has God the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, and the demon cannot enter. The unbeliever has only himself – God does not indwell him.

You may have told your children or grandchildren not to play around with the things of the devil – with Ouija boards and fortunetellers and spells and so forth – because it is dangerous to play with the demonic world. But is it even more dangerous for a non-believer to play with the things of God.

We may remember what happened when Uzzah touched the Holy Ark – which was forbidden: “And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there before the ark” (II Samuel 6:6-7, ESV). Uzzah did not recognize the ark as holy to God and profaned God by touching it, so God killed him.

We may remember more recently, in Acts chapter 5, Ananias and Sapphria sold a piece of land to give the money as an offering to the Church. And when they brought only a portion of the money, they were asked if it were the whole amount, and they lied, and God struck them dead for lying about their offering. They were free to offer whatever gift they wanted – above the tithe – but they did not realize that the offering is an act of worship, holy to God, and in lying, they profaned God, so God killed them.

The sons of Sceva did not take the Name of Jesus as Holy. They did not believe in Him savingly. So when they tried to use His Name against the demon – as just one more magic spell – one more amulet in their bag of tricks – God allowed the demon to rebuke them and ask them how they could profane the Name of God in what they were doing.

And the demon – inside of the man he was controlling – jumped on the seven sons of Sceva and beat them and tore off their clothes and sent them running from the house. That’s one thing Hollywood gets right – demons are strong – not stronger than God – but they are strong – they are nothing to fool with – especially if you don’t believe savingly in Jesus.

And three things happened:

First, all of the Jews and all of the Greeks in Ephesus heard what happened. This was big news, and it spread fast.

Second, fear fell upon all of the Jews and all of the Greeks, and the believers extolled the Name of the Lord Jesus. Why?

The non-believers were in fear because they had just seen seven of the best-known exorcists beaten, stripped, and thrown out of a house by a demon. They were afraid of the power and authority that the demon had.

The believers were in fear because seeing how God values the honoring – the hallowing – of His Name – that God would give the demon authority to attack these humans – made them look at themselves and their lives and consider if they were hallowing God’s Name – if they were treating God’s Name as Holy. And they weren’t, which is why –

Third, “also many of those who were now believers came,” – that’s very important – “also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.”

Some of the Christians – some of the believers – some of the Christians – who were real believers – the text is clear they were believers – some of them had continued to practice witchcraft, thinking they could serve Jesus and work witchcraft. They didn’t think it would be a problem – until they realized that Jesus is the Holy God and He will not allow His Name to be used in vain. Then, they feared, and they hauled out all of their books and other magic items which were inconsistent with the Christian faith and burned them in the public square, so everyone would know.

The scrolls they burned – their books – were valuable because books were rare, and these books – of witchcraft – would have been even more rare. Luke tells us that they estimated the value of what was burned at fifty thousand pieces of silver. Now, if it were the more common piece of silver, fifty piece of silver equaled three months pay. So, fifty thousand pieces of silver, would equal three thousand months pay – or about two hundred and fifty years pay. They took the Holiness of God seriously enough to burn two hundred and fifty years pay.

And due to this response, “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.” When the Christians acted like Christians and did all they could to follow after God in thanksgiving for the gift of His Son – “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

What does this mean for us?

First, let us understand that God works through whomever God wants and however God wants. In the early days of Christianity, God did many profound miracles through people and through objects. We don’t see that today, and we ought to be on our guard against people who try to sell us magic handkerchiefs and other nonsense.

Second, let us believe what God has told us in His Word: angels and demons are real – and powerful – but they can only act as God allows them to act. And since Christians are indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, Christians cannot be demon-possessed.

Third, let us understand that the Name of God is Holy, and we are to keep it holy. We are to let other know that it is holy and strand up when the Name of God is misused. There is nothing “French” about using Jesus’ Name in vain. God is angered when we do, and we should not be surprised if God shows us His Displeasure.

Fourth, let us turn away from all those things which are inconsistent with the Christian faith. Of course, we aren’t like the Ephesians – we don’t dabble in witchcraft – right? I googled, “psychics in Essex County” and I got 5,690 results. The horoscopes are listed in the TV Guide each week. Do any of us have “good luck charms”?

Is there anything in your life that is inconsistent with the Christian faith? The answer, of course, is “yes.” Let us do everything we can to turn from those things which are offensive to God.

But let us also see the encouragement in this passage: the text is quite clear that these were Christians who were practicing magic – witchcraft. They did not lose their salvation for their sin. You and I have not lost our salvation for our sin – thanks be to God None of us is holy yet, but we ought to be striving with everything we are – and by the Power of the Holy Spirit Who lives in us – to continually grow in holiness – to become more like Jesus. When we find something in our life that is inconsistent with the Christians faith, we ought to repent of it and do what is right.

And hear what the text tells us – the demons know who the Christians are – and in Jesus’ Name, they are afraid of us, and will try to lead us into temptation that we might sin against God. But God is stronger than the devil and all his demons, so let us have faith in Him and follow Him, believing in Jesus and proclaiming His Gospel.

Let us pray –
Sovereign God, we bow before Your Holy Name. Help us to be good witnesses and faithful sons and daughters before the world. Let us be recognized as Your children by man and angel and demon alike. Help us to stand for You in difficult times and resist the ways of the world that are contrary to Your Word and Will. May we be known as You are known. And may it be to Your Glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: "Your Money God’s Way: Overcoming the 7 Money Myths That Keep Christians Broke"

My latest review for Thomas Nelson is Your Money God’s Way: Overcoming the 7 Money Myths That Keep Christians Broke by Amie Streater. Product detail can be found at:

http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=1595552324&title=Your_Money_God's_Way&author=Amie_Streater

Streater’s book is not rocket science, and it might prove helpful to those who are stuck in the “money myths” that she enumerates. My one concern would be wether a person caught in these “myths” would be able to get out of them without the help of a financial counselor; I’m not sure this book alone would solve his problems.

After the introduction, Streater enumerates seven myths, which amount to (1) money can fix my problems, (2) Christians need to do and give anything anyone asked of them, (3) I don’t have to do anything; God will take care of my responsibilities, (4) Christians can always be trusted, (5) Giving is magic – if I give, God has to give me back more, (6) I’ll worry about it tomorrow, and (7) Every impulse I have is a command from God.

Each chapter ends by explaining “God’s Way” and giving “Solution Steps” to each of the “myths.”

She ends her book recommending budgeting and working towards 10% for the Church, 10% for saving and 80% for everything else.

I think this book can be useful, but I don’t think it is the end and final answer for someone struggling with his finances.

[This review is posted on Amazon.com and my blog.]

Wisdom of the Fathers

“For to free people from a demon is not so great as to rescue them from sin. It is not demons that prevent one from attaining to the kingdom of heaven. On the contrary, they assist, albeit unwillingly, by making him who has the demon more sensible. Sin, on the other hand, expels him” – Chrysostom on Acts 19:15 in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament V: Acts, 238.

Review: "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Anxiety, Phobias, & Panic Attacks: the All-Natural Program that Can Help You Conquer Your Fears"

Douglas Hunt, MD’s book, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Anxiety, Phobias, & Panic Attacks: the All-Natural Program that Can Help You Conquer Your Fears is a quick an interesting read.

Hunt’s argument is quite simple – many of our anxieties, phobias, and panic attacks are caused by a lack of the proper nutrients.

Hunt begins his book by telling the reader that an accurate diagnosis from a physician is paramount, and he stresses working with a physician throughout the book. This is excellent - he doesn’t leave the reader to figure out what is wrong and heal himself.

He then gives an overview of various disorders and what might possibly help – again – see your doctor.

Then he presents his program of determining what nutrients are lacking and making sure that one gets adequate sleep and exercise.

The book concludes with a resource and reference section, which would be useful, once one has a diagnosis.

The one down side to this book is that there are no footnotes to show how he came to his conclusion – only the reference section at the end.

Even so, there are some nutrients I am going to talk with my doctor about to see if they might be helpful to me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Membership Class

If you are interested in joining Second Reformed Church, or if you would just like to learn more about us, we are planning (D.V.) to hold a membership class after our Reformation study at 8 PM on Thursday September 23, 30, and October 7, and 14.  Please join us!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sermon: "Don't Be Discouraged" Acts 19:1-10

“Don’t Be Discouraged”
[Acts 19:1-10]
September 19, 2010 Second Reformed Church

In the past week, a number of you have come to me about being discouraged with one thing or another – frustrated that things were not going the way that you would like them to, or that things were popping up that got on your nerves.

Understand, in titling this morning’s sermon, “Don’t Be Discouraged,” I am not suggesting that we always have to be chipper, must less fake it. I am not saying that we should deny that there are times when we get down – that there are things and people that wear on us. What I mean to suggest to us is that the example that we are given in the Scripture is that even when things are discouraging – when we get down – we – of all people – ought not to lose hope.

In this morning’s Scripture, as we mentioned last week, Apollos went to minister in the church at Corinth, and while he was there, Luke tells us, Paul traveled back across Asia – what we now call Turkey – to Ephesus – as he had promised – if the Lord was willing. We will remember that he had left Priscilla and Aquila – the husband and wife team from Italy – to minister among the Ephesians while he went back to Jerusalem and Antioch. (And it was among the Ephesians that Apollos had come to a saving knowledge of Jesus through Priscilla and Aquila’s ministry.)

With all that in mind, we might find ourselves dumbfounded by what Luke tells us: Paul came across a group of about twelve disciples, who had been baptized with the baptism of John, but did not know that Jesus is the Savior. They knew about Jesus – His Teachings – but they did not know about His Resurrection. (Remember, last week we understood that to mean that they had been baptized in the manner of John the Baptist – they had been baptized for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of the Savior Who was to come.)

We would not be surprised to see Paul being discouraged: He had ministered among the Ephesians. He had left Priscilla and Aquila. They had explained the faith to Apollos, and he had gone off to spread the Gospel among the Greeks. How is it that there could be people who were baptized in the baptism of John, but did not know about the Resurrection of Jesus?

And even more bizarre, when Paul asked them if they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit – if they had received the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit – they said they had never even heard that there was such a Being. If any of these twelve were Jewish disciples, it is profoundly bizarre, because the Holy Spirit is spoken of in the Old Testament, and they should have known about Him.

Two quick examples:

“Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11, ESV).

“At last Daniel came in before me – he who is named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and in whom is the Spirit of the holy God – and I told him the dream...” (Daniel 4:9, ESV, alt.)

If these were Greek – Gentile – disciples, it would be less bizarre, but still, it is about 54 A.D. at this time – Jesus had risen over twenty years before. Paul had been through the area with other believers preaching the Gospel. It is strange that there were those in that area who had only know the baptism of John.

Let us understand, then, that it is not enough just to know about Jesus to be saved, He must be believed in savingly. It is not enough to know all the facts of the Gospel – or the whole Bible. Anyone can memorize the Bible and know the history and teachings of Jesus. That will not save you. Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised [Jesus] from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).

What does that tell us? It tells us, as Keith Green used to say, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.”

It is possible to grow up in the church, know everything the church teaches, know the Bible inside and out, tithe each week, donate your time and abilities, serve in office, teach the Sunday School, and go to Hell. There is no salvation apart from a true, saving belief in Jesus and His Resurrection as a historical fact.

So let us make sure we know what we believe. Let us make sure that our friends and family know what they believe. Let us make a confession that clearly and honestly states whether we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead as a historical fact – or not.

Paul explained to the twelve that Jesus had, indeed, risen from the dead – that He is, indeed, the Promised Savior – and they truly believed, so Paul baptized them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – and they were indwelt by God the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues and prophesy. They evidenced their belief and the gifts that God had given them to serve Him.

After this, Paul entered the synagogue, and for three months he engaged in apologetics – in arguing, persuading, proving – that Jesus is the Christ – the Savior that God sent. Paul took the Old Testament and went through the prophecies: God said that this would happen, and it did happen. God said the Savior would do this, and Jesus did do this. And so forth. And Luke tells us that after three months of instruction and proof, “some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way [Christianity] before the congregation.”

And this is a place where it is clear that salvation is God’s Gift and God’s Choice. Otherwise, there would be no way to explain how someone could be shown with clarity and in depth that Jesus fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies and then still reject Him.

Have you ever explained something – in a class or just one on one – and did everything you could to make something clear – and have the person still not understand? When I worked with John in the pipe organ company, there were times that he would explain something to me, and I would think that I had understood, but I hadn’t. And I know there were times when John just shook his head in discouragement, wondering what was wrong with me that I didn’t get it.

Or have you ever explained something – or shown something to be true – laid out all the facts that lead from point a to point b – and had the person – after the explanation – tell you that what you said was wrong? On at least two occasions that I can think of, I have presented the facts of a matter and had the person I was talking with tell me, “I don’t care about the facts, this is what I believe....”

Paul showed the Jews in Ephesus that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Savior, and some of them reacted by saying he was wrong and that Christianity was evil. Paul certainly got discouraged – he must have banged his head against the wall at times. He wrote, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:28, ESV).

A good pastor – a good shepherd – will constantly watch out for the flock – to protect the flock from attack of wolves and lions – and to keep the sheep from walking off cliffs. And sometimes the pastor – and even other sheep – will look around the fold and wonder, “What is going on?” “Why are the very people who claim to be Christians frustrating the work of the Gospel? Why are the very people who ought to understand and believe being obstinant in their unbelief?”

Paul left the synagogue and went next door to Tyrannus Hall and rented a space where he preached and taught and reasoned and argued for the Gospel of Jesus Christ for two years. And Luke tells us that all of the Jews and all of the Greeks of Asia – that is, Turkey – heard the Gospel. And we know from history and the Bible that at least seven churches in Turkey came into being from Paul’s preaching: the Church in Ephesus, the Church in Smyrna, the Church in Pergamum, the Church in Thyatira, the Church in Sardis, the Church in Philadelphia, and the Church in Laodicea. If they sound familiar to you, it is because these are the seven churches the book of Revelation is addressed to.

But how could Paul go on with that type of discouragement? How could Paul preach the Gospel day after day, when people rejected what he had to say, and were violent towards him – even trying to kill him – and when the churches quickly succumbed to false teaching?

One place we find the answer is in Paul’s letter to Titus, where he writes, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14, ESV).

How did Paul go on? How can we go on? Because we know and believe that Jesus is the Savior that God has sent and God did raise Him from the dead. We know that He is Truth and He has changed us and is using us to make His Gospel known throughout the world. And we know and are assured by God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us that Jesus is returning in Glory and will bring us with Him into that Glory, into His Kingdom forever.

We have the hope of the life to come with Jesus, and it is witnessed to us and assured us by God Himself. So we can bear with the discouragements in life and in the Church by keeping our eyes set on Jesus and His Return and the Promises He has made us – for He cannot lie.

So let us pray:
Lord, we thank You that the Resurrection is a historical fact, and if we believe that it is and that You have raised Jesus from the dead, You have saved us for Yourself. Help us not to lose hope when we become discouraged for many and various reasons. Let us cling to the hope that You have given us – by speaking to us with the Truth – that You are returning for us – and the Glory is even closer now than when we first believed. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Article: "Did Jesus 'Descend Into Hell'?"

Did Jesus “Descend Into Hell”?

Rev. Peter A. Butler, Jr.

Most parishioners who say The Apostle’s Creed find themselves confessing, in one part of the creed, “He [Jesus] descended into Hell.” Is that true? Did Jesus descend into Hell, and if so, why?

Just as some general background, it is good to understand that The Apostle’s Creed was not written by the Apostles – it is an attempt at a summary of the Apostle’s teachings. And, the phrase “descended into Hell,” is not included in the earliest copies of the Creed (cf. Sacred Dissertations on the Apostle’s Creed, Herman Witsius).

What are we to make of it? That is, what are our options?

The first option is to take its meaning literally – that Jesus did, in fact, descend into Hell – the place of the damned. Those who are of this opinion look to verses such as I Peter 3:18-20 for support: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought to safety through water” (ESV).

The argument goes thusly:

Jesus was dead in the flesh and alive in the spirit after the Crucifixion and before the Resurrection, so that is when this text refers to.

The spirits who are in prison must be a euphemism for Hell.

Therefore, Jesus preached the Gospel in Hell to the damned between the time of His Death and Resurrection.

The only question one might bring to this interpretation is, “Why?” If these were the damned in Hell that Jesus preached to, what good would it do them? If they had already been condemned to Hell, how would the Gospel help them? Unless one argues that Jesus preached the Gospel to them out of pure sadism – which would be another problem, to say the least.

What then might this text mean?

The commentators admit this is a difficult text to interpret, but one possibility, as Martin Luther, William Ames, and John Rogers argue in their commentaries, is that Peter is saying that Christ spiritually presents His Gospel through His Word and through His ministers – rather than Himself Bodily – since His Death – in the same way that the Gospel was preached in the days of Noah. It was the same Gospel – but before the Son was enfleshed, just as the Son has now been re-enfleshed, resurrected, and glorified – seated at the Right Hand of the Father.

A second possibility is that the phrase simply means that Jesus was dead – really dead.

While no Christian would debate that Jesus really and truly died in His Body, this interpretation would make the Creed redundant: “He was crucified, dead, and was buried; He descended into Hell” or – according to this view, “He was crucified, dead, and was buried; He died.” What would be the point of noting His Death twice in the Creed?

A third interpretation is this: when we say that Jesus descended into Hell, what we are confessing is that He suffered the hell of not merely physical death, but the Wrath of God upon Himself for our sins. (cf. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin).

In this third interpretation, we might, like John Calvin, argue that the compilers of the Creed put the phrase in the wrong place, and that is why it has caused such confusion. It would make more sense to have the Creed read: “He was crucified, descended into Hell, dead, and was buried.”

Then we could buffet the Creed with Scripture, such a Matthew 27:46, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried aloud with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ That is, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’” (ESV).

We see then that Jesus did not merely suffer the horrific physical torture of His flogging and crucifixion, but He suffered the absolute hell of God’s Wrath being poured out on Him. In that moment He cried out with the agony of being forsaken by God the Father, we get a glimpse into the mystery of the Father’s forsaking – damning – the Son. In some mysterious way, the Unity and Communion of the Trinity was disrupted for that moment that God the Father poured out the wrath we deserved on His Son, Jesus. And let us understand the hell of this punishment was not just in the amount of wrath – enough for every sin every believer ever commits – but in intensity – rather than suffer God’s Wrath for all of eternity, Jesus suffered it – intensified – in the space of time that He hung on the Cross.

This third interpretation of the phrase is one that keeps with all of the texts and does not disregard logic. However, in the end, The Apostle’s Creed is merely a human document, and it must submit to the Word of God. So, if in any degree it does not accurately summarize the teaching of God’s Word – which is what it is an attempt to do – then it must be disregarded as false, and the Word of God affirmed as True.

Some churches have chosen to delete the phrase from the Creed in the hopes of avoiding confusion, but I would argue that this is a mistake: the early writers had a reason for putting the phrase in, and if we understand what they have written in a way that is in concert with the Holy Scriptures, then it seems it would be a good thing to leave it in – rather than delete it – and, instead, let us disciple and teach the people of God that they might better understand why the phrase is in the Creed. And why it should matter that Christ would suffer the Wrath of God on our behalf.

[This article is being published in Dynadharma (Pune, India) Issue #5.]

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review: "Requiem for Moses"

In William X. Kienzle’s Requiem for Moses, Father Koesler is asked to perform a mass for a Jewish doctor – an abortion doctor – a doctor who was an adulterer, a thief, and a murderer – as Father Koesler would find out after the mass – after the good doctor miraculously rises from the dead.

But the real question is: is revenge ever permissible? Is it possible that a person could be so wicked that his loved ones would be just in “putting him down”?

Review: "Call No Man Father"

The Pope is coming to town, and he is going to say something about “family planning.” It is not what Father Koesler wants to hear in William X. Kienzle’s Call No Man Father.

Why did the Pope decide to come to Chicago to make this announcement? Can they protect the Holy Father in such a dangerous city? And as priests start being murdered, one is forced to ask how the Pope got to be infallible, and what does the doctrine really mean?

Review: "Bishop As Pawn"

Bishop Diego used people for his own ends, no matter what it did to them. For that, he was hated. And when he is murdered, few tears are shed.

However, the investigation does bring about much weeping, over the difference between a marriage in the Roman Church and outside of the Church, and what it means for a Roman Catholic to marry a non-Roman Catholic, and how divorce and remarriage must be handled according to Roman Law.

Father Koesler sorts it all out in William X. Kienzle’s Bishop As Pawn.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sermon: "Apologetics" Acts 8:18-28

“Apologetics”
[Acts 18:18-28]
September 12, 2010 Second Reformed Church

After Paul was brought before Gallio and released, he spent many more days in Corinth. In fact, he ministered among the Corinthians for one and a half years – perhaps longer than he spent in any other place. And Luke tells us that Paul decided to return to Syria with his new friends Priscilla and Aquila – to Antioch – north of Israel. But first, he went to Cenchreae – just east of Corinth – to cut his hair, for he had made a vow.

What?

We’re not sure what this referred to, but it is likely that Paul had taken a Nazarite vow. The Nazarite vow was a special vow that women and men could take to set themselves apart to the Lord for a specific period of time. During that time, the person making the vow was not to eat or drink anything made from grapes, the person was not to cut his or her hair, and the person was to stay away from dead bodies. When the time of the vow was completed, the person was to shave his or her head completely and burn his or her hair, and bring a burnt offering of a lamb, and a peace offering of bread, to the Temple in Jerusalem. After the offerings were prepared, a wave offering was made with the shoulder and the breast of the lamb. Then the Nazarite vow would be completed. You may read the details in Numbers chapter nine.

We don’t know why – if this was a Nazarite vow – Paul made it at this time. Yet we might wonder why he took the vow at all – didn’t we see in chapter fifteen that Paul argued and persuaded the Jerusalem Council that the Ceremonial and Judicial Laws of Israel were not binding? Was Paul going against what he had argued previously by taking a ceremonial vow? No.

Paul later wrote to the Corinthians, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law, I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law (not outside of the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (I Corinthians 9:19-23, ESV).

We looked at this passage when we discussed Timothy’s circumcision: Paul is not arguing that we should be hypocrites. What he is saying is that we Christians are not under the Ceremonial and Judicial Law of Ancient Israel, but, if someone will only listen to the Gospel if you or I do something – and it is not sin – than we should do it to be able to tell them the Gospel. For example: I have no interest in football. However, if someone said that he would let me explain the Gospel to him if I first watch a football game with him, I would watch the football game because it would give me the opportunity to tell him about Jesus.

In the same way, we may look at Paul’s taking of a Nazarite vow: did he have to take it? Absolutely not. May he take it if doing so will allow him to tell certain of the Jews who see themselves as still under the Ceremonial and Judicial Law about Jesus and His Gospel? Absolutely.

There’s one catch: if he takes the vow – even though he is not under the Ceremonial Law – since it is a vow – he was obligated before God to complete the vow. As Solomon wrote, “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5, ESV).

Thus, Paul shaved his head and burned his hair at the end of the vow, and then he had to get to Jerusalem to offer the burnt offering and the peace offering at the Temple. So Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila, sailed to Ephesus on the western coast of what we would now call Turkey.

When they arrived, Paul went to the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews that Jesus is the Savior that God sent. After arguing with them for some time – after engaging in apologetics – the art of arguing, Paul said he had to leave – he had to fulfill the Nazarite vow completely within the time frame vowed. They asked him to stay, but he told them he had to leave, but would return if the Lord willed.

Paul left Priscilla and Aquila behind with the Ephesians to continue to proclaim the Gospel among them, and he got on a ship and sailed for Jerusalem, where he fulfilled his vow. He then went to Caesarea, up the coast of Israel and to Antioch, where he reported all he had done on his second missionary journey. And right away, Luke tells us, he went off on his third missionary journey, beginning by going to Galatia and Phrygia and discipling and strengthening the believers there.

Meanwhile, back in Ephesus, a Jew named Apollos, from Alexandria in Egypt, arrived. Apollos was an eloquent speaker, he knew the Old Testament inside and out, he knew about Jesus and taught what Jesus had taught, “though he only knew the baptism of John.”

What does that mean?

If we remember back to the Gospels, John the Baptist preached repentance and looked forward to the coming of the Savior and baptized for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of that Savior Who was to come. For most of his ministry, John the Baptist didn’t know that Jesus is the Savior that God sent. And that’s what Apollos didn’t know. Apollos knew the Law and the Prophets, he knew about Jesus’ teachings, but he probably didn’t know about Jesus’ Resurrection, and he certainly did not know that Jesus is the Promised Savior. Apollos knew John and Jesus’ teaching, but he didn’t have faith in Jesus as the Savior.

So when Apollos began preaching in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila sat him down and said, “We have great news for you The prophecy of John the Baptist has come to pass, Jesus is the Savior God sent, and if you believe in Him and that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (cf. Romans 10:9). And Apollos believed.

And Apollos said he wanted to go to Achaia – to southern Greece – to preach the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ Alone to them, so Priscilla and Aquila wrote letters to the disciples asking them to welcome Apollos and his preaching. And Luke tells us that when Apollos arrived in Achaia, “he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”

Apollos went to Achaia and encouraged the believers, explaining to them the Word of God as it had been explained to him that they would all understand better and be more faithful in their belief and life. And Apollos engaged in debate – in apologetics – with the Jews, showing them that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies made in the Law and the Prophets.

We know that Apollos ministered in the Corinthian church, as Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but the Lord gave the growth” (I Corinthians 3:6, ESV). Whereas Paul went and first preached the Gospel, Apollos went and taught further, explained in greater detail and corrected misunderstandings in the churches.

Before we move on, let’s notice something: Paul’s first two missionary trips brought him to Syria, Turkey, and Greece. Priscilla and Aquila were from Italy. Apollos was from North Africa – Egypt. Who brought the Gospel to those places?

Remember back in Acts chapter two, there were people from all over the world who had come to Jerusalem to worship. And on the day of Pentecost – after Peter preached – three thousand believed. And then – at least some of them went home – all over the world. The Gospel spreads by our telling our friends and neighbors and then by trusting God to work His Will in their lives.

What does this mean for us?

It is means that you and I, like Paul and Priscilla and Aquila and Apollos, have a duty to teach and proclaim what we know wherever we are. And, truthfully, we ought to want to tell others. The example we find in the Gospel is that when Jesus told people not to tell others Who He was, their response was to say, “I’ve....got to tell somebody ” God has entrusted you and me to tell others about His Savior, Jesus. God will not audibly speak again until the shout from Heaven announcing Jesus’ Return, and then it will be too late.

Larry Norman used to say that we should tell our friends and neighbors about Jesus today...because they might move, or die. We may only have one opportunity to tell someone that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone.

Now, some of you are saying, “That’s not me. I can’t explain all this stuff. I’m not a people person.” That’s ok. We have talked about how God has given us all different gifts and talents. Some people can argue from the Scripture like Apollos, some are not as well versed – and that is not an excuse not to learn and try to understand more. We aren’t all called to a pulpit. Some of us are called to invite people to worship. Some of us are called to give people Bibles or tracts or other good Christian literature. Some people are called to give tapes and CDs. There are many things we can do to get the Gospel out; the one thing we cannot do is nothing. If you can’t think of something you can do, ask me, and we’ll figure it out.

Our text also means that we ought to help each other to better understand God’s Word. We ought to read the Bible together, discuss it together – if we see a brother or sister who is confused about an issue that we understand, we ought to sit him or her down and show him or her what we understand. We are to encourage each other and help each other to grow.

And, we also ought to hold our pastors accountable:

Pastors ought to be well-versed in the Scripture and able to argue – to engage in apologetics – to explain from the Scripture why what he has said is so. Now, again, pastors are different – we have different gifts and abilities – but every pastor ought to spend a great deal of time every day and every week in the Bible, studying, learning, trying to understand, and learning to explain it – teach it – to others. If he is not, he ought to leave the pulpit.

I don’t know why I’m shocked any more, but I am: I know of a pastor in our Classis who listens to a certain preacher on TV early in the morning and then just summarizes what he said as his sermon. I know of a pastor who said he didn’t care for reading the Bible. I know of a pastor, now retired, who never read his Bible, and never prepared a sermon, he just got up in the pulpit and winged it each week. Is it any wonder that we are so biblically illiterate. Have we lost our First Love?

Pastors also ought to preach the Scripture and Christ out of the Scripture. Nothing more and nothing less. The pulpit is not the place for the pastor to talk about anything other than what the Scripture says and how it applies to us today. The pulpit is not the place for the pastor to try to convince the congregation of his political views. It is not the place for him to butter up his congregants. It is not the place for him to show how smart he is.

I heard a “sermon” about how much this pastor enjoyed riding her bike as a child. I heard a “sermon” about how we should give soup to people who are hungry. I heard a “sermon” about how the congregation was not nice enough to the pastor who was preaching. These are not actually sermons.

Hold pastors accountable. Hold me accountable. Ask me if I’m reading my Bible, studying it, trying to understand it. Make sure I preaching and teaching what the text says, where Jesus is to be found in it, and how it applies to us. Come to me or the elders if you have questions or concerns about what comes from this pulpit.

And let us all do everything we can to make the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ Alone known to everyone we come in contact with. Let us find a way that we are able to reach out to other people and let them know that there is hope and life and truth – this sinful, fallen world is not all there is – this is not the end. Let them know Who Jesus is and what He has done and that there is Salvation in Him for all those who will believe.

Let us spend time together to learn from God and each other that we would mature and better be able to tell others about Jesus. I know, I know, you don’t have time. Actually, you do – how much time do you spend watching TV each day?

It’s a matter of priorities, beloved.

Is Jesus our First Love?

Then let us pray:
Almighty God, you have given us the high call of bearing Your Glory and the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Alone in these clay pots that we are. We ask that You would increase our desire for You and Your Word, for understanding and fellowship. Lord, open our eyes so that when we look at the world we will see the need that every human has for You and then do something about it. Gives us the words to speak. Inspire us to do things that will get the Gospel to others. Help us to learn from the book of Acts that You grow Your Church by sending us out and working through us. May Jesus Christ be praised, Amen.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review: "World Without End"

In The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett explored the building of the cathedral in Kingsbridge. In World Without End, he picks up the story of Kingsbridge two hundred years later as four children in the forest view a killing. The knight who survives swears them to secrecy, hides a letter, and enters a monastery to become a monk.

As the children grow into adulthood, conflicts between the priory and the nunnery escalate, and the builder’s guild is split, and war erupts between England and France. A travel to Italy teaches one of the youth about life and the black plaque. Upon returning to Kingsbridge, the plaque arrives there, making for a showdown over priests, monks, nuns, landowners, and royalty. And after the knight turned monk dies a world shaking secret is revealed.

An amazing work which draws me in and kept me reading.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: "Outlive Your Life"

Max Lucado is a very consistent writer, and his latest book and my latest review for Thomas Nelson – that being Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make A Difference – is no exception. Check out the product information at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=0849920698&title=Outlive_Your_Life&author=Max_Lucado

Lucado’s latest book is structured around a number of passages from the book of Acts – the book of the Bible, Lucado argues, best shows us how to “outlive” our lives – that is, that we would be willing to look beyond our mere lives to the Glory of God that is coming upon us and thereby be willing to give everything we are and everything we have for the sake of the Gospel.

Each of his chapters is based upon a Scripture and then amplified with a modern story. He shows that what we do has an impact n others, whether w know it or not. God calls us to live beyond our comfort zone in order to reach the world for Christ. He encourages us to embrace the fact of persecution and to reach out to those who are neglected and looked down upon, the sick and the hurting – the type of people Jesus spent time with.

Lucado also stresses the importance of prayer to center us in God and to prepare us for all that God has planned for us.

As usual, Lucado’s writing is approachable, based in Scripture, and helpful for the Christian life.

If I were to have one complaint, it is his use of many different Bible translations and paraphrases. Paraphrases should rarely if ever be used, and it would help the consistency of the quoted biblical text and its reading if it all came from the same translation. Preferably a good, stable one like the ESV.

That being said, I like Lucado’s writing, and he has much good to say to the Church.

Note: All the author’s royalties from this book and other materials are being donated to World Vision.

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

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Review: "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy"

When I received my latest book for review from Thomas Nelson, Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, I must admit I heaved a sigh over the size of the book. Do not let that keep you from it – you won’t be able to put it down. Check out the product information at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=1595551387&title=Bonhoeffer

Metaxas has written a thorough and extremely engaging biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and leader during the rise of Hitler. I had read some of Bonhoeffer’s works years ago, but I knew little about his life. Metaxas fills in his background, family, the struggle he had in making the profound decisions he made in that violent and dangerous climate – decisions that led to his being executed.

Besides seeing the struggle of decisions that was his life, I was struck with the fact that in all things, Bonhoeffer went back to the Bible to listen to the Voice of God, and, I was also intrigued by Bonhoeffer’s belief in the necessity of the community of the Church.

I would say that this is a vital and enjoyable piece of scholarship. If I would say anything negative about it it would be that I wish Metaxas has gone into more detail about Bonhoeffer’s theology. I also dislike the style of endnotes used, but it is an acceptable style; I just find it difficult to follow.

Metaxas book has renewed my interest in Bonhoeffer and I am going to order Bonhoeffer’s two doctoral thesis to better understand this pivotal and influential theologian. Thank you, Mr. Metaxas.

[This review has been published on my blog and on Amazon.com.]

Review: "Growing Up in Grace: the Use of Means for Communion with God"

Murray G. Brett’s book, Growing Up in Grace: the Use of Means for Communion with God, brought me before God in prayer and repentance, pleading for growth and forgiveness. It is a book, as the Puritans would have called it, of “experimental religion.” It is a book about how to receive the grace necessary to grow spiritually – how to commune with God in such a way as to engender sanctification.

Each chapter begins with Scripture, exposits it with the help of Puritans and other biblical authors, and ends with a study section, a scenario to solve, and a list of books for further study. This work is a goldmine to all those who will use it – individually and in study groups.

He begins by explaining that our happiness (I would have preferred he used the word “joy”) is found in God. The he goes on, chapter by chapter to explain how God’s Grace is give to us through our learning humility, confession, repentance, keeping from presumptive sin, fellowshipping with God, experiencing sorrow for Christ’s suffering, repenting daily – and then he has a chapter “a catalogue of sins seldom confessed or repented of,” prayer – and then he explains how to pray – after the model of the Lord’s Prayer, delighting in God’s Law, and giving up all that we have to gain all that He is.

This is a book I will read and refer to again and again.

Review: "Why Join a Small Church?"

Let’s say you have a family who is interested in participating in the various offerings a church might offer – as you had done in your previous community. Now you have moved, and four blocks away, there is a small church that has Sunday worship and an occasional Bible study and prayer meeting. A twenty minute drive away is a large church with Sunday morning worship, youth groups, choirs, theater groups, small group studies, baby-sitting – pretty much everything you could want. Which church should you go to?

If the preaching is biblical, John Benton argues in his book Why Join a Small Church? That you should join the small church just down the street.

Benton argus that the large church doesn’t need you, but the small church does. Small churches offer fellowship and opportunities to serve that might not be found in a larger church. And small churches will stretch you and force you to work in ways that larger churches won’t.

Benton is realistic: small churches often have strange people, poor facilities, and not much in the way of programs. But, he argues, how terrible would it be to have the small church close and lose it’s witness in the community?

Benton ends his book giving suggestions for making a small church great. But understand, it will take work on your part – faithfulness – and trust in God. You will have to decide if that is worth it.

Review: "A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness"

Jeremiah Burroughs is one of my favorite Puritan authors, so it is always a joy to report on one of his works. A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness is actually two works: A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness and A Treatise of Conversing in Heaven and Walking with God.

Despite stereotypes to the contrary, the Puritans were warm and practical in their writings, and such is the case here. In the first treatise, Burroughs explains that one’s mind is set on earthly things – above God – when we value them most, when we are most concerned about them, when we conceive of heavenly things merely in an earthly way. He goes on to show why earthy-mindedness is wrong – in fact, sin, how one gets to that point, and how to turn away from it.

In the second treatise, he looks at examples of saints who had their conversation in heaven and gives recommendations for how one might converse and walk more deeply with God.

This is the type of book that our entitlement generation is desperately in need of – if we are Christians – because that must come first – how are we to grown in our sanctification – our holiness – how are we to come to the point of being like-minded with God. This is a book every Christian would do well to read – with Bible at the ready.

Thursday Evening Study

D.V., this Thursday, the 9th, at 7 PM, we will begin an 8-week reading and discussion of Stephen J. Nichols' book, The Reformation: how a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World. Despite it’s subtitle, the book is an overview of a number of the major figures of the Reformation – including several women.  Please see the pastor for a copy and the schedule of readings.

Monday, September 06, 2010

"The Judge" Sermon: Acts 1-17

“The Judge”
[Acts 18:1-17]
September 5, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Last week we saw Paul argue with the Jews, the Greeks, the Epicureans, and the Stoics about Jesus being the One True God Who reconciles us to God through His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. When they heard Paul speak of the Resurrection, most of them laughed, because the Greeks thought of the body – the physical/material realm – as evil. Still, some said they would like to debate him more. Only a very few believed in Jesus savingly. But Paul did not stay. Instead, he went about fifty miles west to the capital city of Corinth.

Corinth was along the trade route – it was a rich, metropolitan city – with everything a person could want in goods and thought and, especially, things of the flesh. The chief goddess of Corinth was Aphrodite, and in the name of worship, the Corinthians engaged in every depraved physical pleasure one can think of.

When Paul arrived, he met up with Aquila and Priscilla, believers in Jesus who had come to Corinth from the expulsion of the Jews from Italy. (Aquila and Priscilla will become important in the work of the Church as Paul reveals in his epistles.) And Luke tells us that when Paul was not preaching, he helped Aquila and Priscilla in making tents, since that was the craft he had been trained to do.

Claudius Caesar had grown tired of the uprisings caused by the followers of “Chrestus.” (He probably misunderstood – the uprisings were likely between the Jews and the Christians about whether or not Jesus is the Christ.) In order to stop the uprising, Claudius Caesar had expelled all of the Jews from Italy – which included the Christians, as they were seen as a sect of the Jews.

Paul followed his usual routine and preached first in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and then in the marketplace during the week. But the Jews rejected the Gospel, and they were so vicious in their rejection of Jesus, that Paul responded in kind: first he shook out his robe, after the command of Jesus: “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave the house or the town” (Matthew 10:14, ESV). (Paul shook out his robe, because his shoes would have been off and his feet clean in the synagogue.) Then after the prophet Ezekiel, he cursed them, “Your blood be on your own heads I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (God had told the prophet, Ezekiel, that if he preached to the people and they did not listen, their blood – their punishment – would be on their own heads, but if he did not preach to them, their blood – their punishment – would be on his head. It’s like the modern expression, “you made your bed, now sleep in it.”)

It is at this point, Luke tells us, that Silas and Timothy rejoin Paul on his missionary journey.

Let us notice two things:

First, it is often the people we think ought to be most responsive to the Gospel that reject it. The Jews had the Law and the Prophets. They had been taught everything God said – God had a special relationship with the Jews as His people. Still, most of them rejected the Savior God sent.

Second, there may be a time to move on. Although we ought never regard a person as hopeless, there may come a time when you and I should stop and move on. It may be that God will reach a person through someone else, rather than us. Paul knew he was done at that synagogue and shook out his robe and cursed them. Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6, ESV). There may be a time when you or I have to say, “I have done all I can here” and move on, leaving the work to someone else.

So Paul left the synagogue and began to preach in the house of Titus Justus, which was right next door to the synagogue, and God blessed his preaching there. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, came to saving faith – as well as his entire family – and many other Corinthians came to saving faith and were baptized in the home of Titus Justus.

Even so, Paul must have been experiencing serious persecution, because Luke tells us that Jesus appeared to Paul to comfort him and said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Paul believed the Lord and he stayed in Corinth for one year and six months, preaching the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Alone.

What does that tell us?

First, we ought not to be afraid, but to tell all people the Gospel of Jesus Christ, no matter how they may respond. Jesus said, “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 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. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:26-33, ESV).

In the days of the Apostles, Christians were put to death for believing and telling others about Jesus. In countries around the world today, Christians are put to death for believing and telling others about Jesus. In the United States – we usually don’t get put to death – not yet. People might roll their eyes, or walk away, or call us narrow-minded or bigoted.

Paul wrote, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:24-28, ESV). Yet “I consider the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, ESV). “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (II Corinthians 4:17, ESV).

Don’t be afraid to tell others that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone.

And second, take comfort, when it seems like you’re all alone in telling others about Jesus – you’re not alone God assured Paul that God had many people in the city.

It can be easy to get discouraged when it doesn’t seem like there’s a response or “progress,” as we understand it. The prophet Elijah had seen many of the prophets of the Lord killed, paganism in the Temple, and he was on the run from day to day. And he called out to God and told God that he was tired, that everyone was out to kill him, and he couldn’t take it any more. And once God got Elijah to calm down, God told Elijah not to worry, that God was going to kill everyone that was seeking his life and “I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (I Kings 19:18, ESV). “Elijah, leave judgement to Me. Trust Me. And I’ll let you in on something: you’re not alone; I have seven thousand faithful followers in Israel.”

So Paul stayed in Corinth for one year and six months preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We see, however, that God’s protection did not mean that Paul would be unopposed in preaching Salvation in Jesus Alone: when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews hauled Paul before Gallio and accused Paul of trying to get people to worship God in ways other than were proscribed in the Jewish Law.

It helps us to know a little bit about Gallio. Gallio was the brother of the Roman philosopher, Seneca, the great proponent of Stoic philosophy. Remember as we saw last week, the Stoics believe that you should keep even and not be moved one way or another – happiness and sadness, they believed, were a waste of time. Everything is what it is, and we just need to accept it and get on with life because nothing will change. Gallio also was a Stoic, though he is described as being fair and kind to all people, a no-nonsense judge, but one who had no use for religion.

So, when the Jews brought Paul before Gallio and explained to him that Paul was teaching that Jesus was the Savior, contrary to their understanding of Jewish Law and worship, Gallio said, “I don’t care. What is this to me? This isn’t a vicious crime. You’re getting all excited about names and words and things that are meaningless. Take care of this yourself.” Gallio understood this to be an in-house Jewish squabble, nothing that rose to the level of calling on Roman Law. And he had them thrown out.

The Jews were likely in shock. But they grabbed Sosthenes, another ruler of the synagogue who believed in Jesus, and beat him for good measure. But this didn’t rise to the level to move Gallio to do anything but wave them away.

How ought we to respond to these things?

Let us remember the work that Jesus has called us to: “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15b, ESV). It is our God and Savior Who has command us to tell the whole creation Who He is and what He has done. So we ought to be about this work.

Let us remember that only those God has called to believe will believe the Gospel, and we may be surprised or disappointed by the reactions of some. Nevertheless, ours is to tell the Gospel; we do not make people believe.

Let us remember Jesus’; Promise, especially when we feel alone: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b, ESV). And, as we saw in today’s text, there are other believers that we don’t know about. God has people in this city.

Think about it: if the Gospel could effect a city like Corinth – a city that dedicated itself to debauchery – and we know it did because we have two of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth – Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV) – if God did that through the preaching of His Gospel, God can do the same thing in any city. God can do that in this city, if He is willing – if we follow Him and tell others about His Gospel.

Finally, as we prepare to receive the bread and the cup, let us remember that Jesus meets with us in the elements of the Sacrament to minister to us and give us His Grace that we might be strengthened and assured – able by the Power of the Holy Spirit – to do all those things He has planned for us to do.

Shall we obey our God and Savior? Or shall we be like Gallio and dismiss all these religious words and names?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You have given us work to do. We thank You for Your Salvation through Jesus Alone and for the call on all of our lives to let others know. Help us to know what to say, keep us from being afraid, and assure us that You are with us each step of the way, even now as You prepare us through the Holy Sacrament. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Wisdom of the Fathers

“Let no one who is a craftsman be ashamed, but rather those who are reared for no purpose and do nothing, the ones who employ many servants and enjoy an immense court. For being raised as an unceasing worker is the nature of philosophy. The minds of such people are purer, more vigorous. The one who does nothing is really one who does much in vain and, full of indolence, in an entire day accomplishes nothing. The one engaged in work will take nothing superfluous in haste, neither in deeds nor words nor thoughts. For such a person’s entire soul, throughout the day, has been set on a painful means of existence. We, therefore, ought not to scorn those who support themselves by the work of their hands, but we should really count them blessed because of this.... Paul, after countless journeys, despite such great wonders, stayed with a tentmaker and sewed skins. Angels honored him and demons trembled at him, and still he was not ashamed to say, ‘These same hands served my needs and those who were with me.’”– Chrysostom on Acts 18:3 in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament V: Acts, 223-224.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

"My Hour" Sermon: John 2:1-5

“My Hour”
[John 2:1-5]
September 2, 2010 Old First Presbyterian Church

We look at the beginning of a very familiar history today: the wedding at Cana. Three days after Jesus had called Nathanael to be His disciple, Jesus and His disciples and His mother, Mary, were invited to a wedding in Cana. And they enjoyed the wedding and its celebration, eating and drinking and giving thanks for the wedding of the couple. But, at some point, the host ran out of wine.

We’re not told if this was an oversight or due to a lack of money, but in either event, it would have been an incredible embarrassment when the guests found that there was no more wine to drink. So Mary turned to her Son, Who she understood to be God the Savior, and she said to Him, “They have no wine.” The implication being, “Jesus, they have run out of wine – do something by the Power of Your Divinity to correct this problem before our hosts are embarrassed.”

So let us understand, first, that Mary believed in Jesus’ ability to provide for human needs. She understood that her Son is Divine and that God promises to provide for all of our needs. And by her understanding, having an appropriate amount of wine at a wedding was a need, so she told Jesus to do something about it.

But Mary was out of line. Jesus owed Mary honor as His mother. He owed her respect. He owed her obedience as her Son in His Humanity. But He did not owe her anything – He did not have to submit to her – in His Divinity.

So Jesus rebuked her, “Woman.” Notice, He did not call her, “Mother,” but “woman,” to draw a sharp distinction between her as a human and Him as God. “What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

We see, then, that Jesus, as God, has a Plan, and He will keep to that Plan without deviation for anyone. Solomon wrote, “The heart of the man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, ESV) and “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33, ESV).

We freely make decisions and plans, but they only occur as God has willed them. And Jesus said it was not the hour for this to happen. But, we know that Jesus did change the water into wine, so Jesus must have been referring to something else.

We find the answer in His saying, “My hour has not yet come.” What did Jesus mean by “His hour”? When did Jesus’ Hour occur?

We find it in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, as He prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1b, ESV). “The hour” that Jesus was referring to was the hour of His Humiliation at the hands of humans – when He put aside His Divine Authority and allowed the Romans and the Jews to take Him and mock Him and scourge Him and even crucify Him. This is the hour Paul refers to when he writes, “[Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8, ESV).

Jesus would not be told what to do in His Divinity; He would not submit Himself to the whim of sinful man until it was time for Him to suffer to death. At that hour, Mary would remember that prophecy of Simeon, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34b-35, ESV).

Mary humbled herself and received the rebuke of her Son and God and, no longer commanding Jesus, she told the servants to do whatever He said.

How are we to respond to this?

Let us understand that God has a Plan and that Plan cannot fail. As Nebuchadnezzar confessed, “his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34b-35, ESV).

Therefore, we can trust God to bring about His Plan – to keep all of the promises He has made in His Word. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV).

However, we must remember, even as we trust God and pray to Him, that our minds our limited – we do not always know what God wants or when God will bring something to pass. As Paul writes, “Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repair? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36, ESV).

Where does that leave us?

Paul wrote, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, ESV). God loves us so much that He gave His Own Son to reconcile us to Him – if God was willing to do that, we can surely trust that He will provide for all of our needs – in His Time, according to His Plan.

That is why Jesus taught His disciples to pray, not merely for their “daily bread,” but to pray that his “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10b, ESV). As Jesus’ brother wrote, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15, ESV).

So let us believe in the Sovereignty and Authority of our God and Savior. Let us ask of God boldly, in Jesus’ Name. But let us also recognize that our minds are much smaller than God’s, and we do not know His whole Plan. So let us humble ourselves as Mary did, as James calls us to do, and pray boldly – according to God’s Will, if Jesus is willing, if this is the hour.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we are awed that You give us the privilege to come into Your Presence with our prayers. We ask that You would assure us of Your Sovereignty – Your Plan over all. We ask that we would follow after You and submit to You in accordance with Your Word. And we ask, if You are willing, that You would fulfill the requests of our hearts this day. And we ask all these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

September Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

8/5/10 Communion 
 Acts 18:1-17  “The Judge”

9/12/10
 Acts 18:18-28  “Apologetics”

9/19/10
 Acts 19:1-10  “Don’t Be Discouraged”

9/26/10
 Acts 19:11-20  “Do the Demons Know You?”