Second Reformed Church

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"God Will Make You Worthy" Sermon: II Thessalonians 1:1-12

“God Will Make You Worthy”
[II Thessalonians 1:1-12]
October 31, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Today is Reformation Sunday, so let us consider the primary question of the Reformation: what must a person do to become right with God? This is the question that Martin Luther and others struggled with as they saw that the varieties of works that the Roman Catholic Church was prescribing to become right with God was not in line with the Scripture.

The problem is that the Scripture is clear: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a, ESV). If we sin – if we do anything wrong to or neglect to do anything good for God or our neighbor – we shall die – physically and spiritually – we will be eternally separated from God, suffering for our sin. So, how does a person become right with God? How can you and I pay the debt that we owe for sin – so that we might become right with God – spiritually alive – righteous and holy?

The answer if found throughout the Scripture, and the answer that is found is why the Reformers ultimately split from the Roman Catholic Church. This morning, let us see the answer as it is found in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.

Paul begins with a standard greeting in verses one and two, but let us notice one thing that is unusual – Paul addresses them as “the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” What does Paul mean by saying “in”?

Paul is noting, right from the start that they are not a church because they are a group of believers who have gathered together in the faith. No, by saying that they are a church “in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul is saying that they area a church because they are a work of “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” which is why they are a group of believers who have gathered together in the faith. Paul notes that they are not a church because they made themselves a church, but because “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” made them a church. They are not a work of themselves; they are the work of God. As Paul wrote, “[God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctificatifflict those who have afflicted and give relief to those who have been afflicted.

Jesus will return in a flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who never believe savingly in Jesus, sending them away into eternal punishment. Also on that day, He will be glorified in all those who have believed in Jesus Alone for salvation; He will be glorified in us as He grants us relief and perfects us according to His Own Image. And the saints – those who have believed – will marvel. They will marvel at the Glory, the Love, the Mercy, and the Beauty of God. And all who believe will marvel because they believed the testimony of Paul – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It was important for Paul to stress that when Jesus returns, then the judgment will occur. There were false teaches in the Thessalonian church who were teaching that Jesus had already returned, and this was upsetting many of the Christians who didn’t know what to make of this teaching. So Paul assured them, in both of his letters to them, that Jesus had not returned yet, but when He does, He will set all things right.

To the end that Jesus will return and set all things right, Paul tells the Thessalonians that they continued to pray for them. And Paul tells them four things as he ends the first chapter:

First, God will make you worthy of His Calling.

This is what the Reformers came to understand – the answer to the question, “What can a person do to be right with God?” – is, “Nothing.” On our own, you and I are absolutely hopeless. We cannot possible repay what we owe and make ourselves right with God. That is why Jesus came – because we cannot make ourselves right with God – only God can make us right with God; only God can make us worthy of His calling. So our works do not make us right with God, God’s Works make us right with God; we could not make ourselves right with God, so God made us right with Him.

Second, God will fulfill all resolve for good and works of faith.

As Paul told the Philippians, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). In other words, God not only makes us right with God, but God will make all things come together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and He bring all the good works of faith that He started in us to completion.

When Jesus returns, all that we have suffered will melt from view as Jesus reveals Himself to us, and we will be lost in wonder and praise as we see His Wounds and His Glory. And all the good that God has been doing through us since He made us right with Him, He will bring to completion with Jesus’ Return; all those who belong to Jesus will finish the race – we will accomplish everything that God intends for us to do and be, because God is the One Who works in us and through us and accomplishes His Own Will for His Glory and our joy.

Third, God will glorify the Name of Jesus in you.

This is an amazing promise: this is what Paul wrote about to the Romans, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (Romans 9:22-24, ESV).

Now, we who believe in Jesus savingly – vessel of mercy – have Jesus in us. His Gospel and His Glory shine forth from us. We are not holy and glorious, so Jesus can be seen standing out from us. I’ve used the example before of diamonds and a littler box. If you drop a diamond in a box of diamonds, it will be difficult to see, but if you drop a diamond in a litter box, it will stand out. God works in and through us so He and His Gospel will stand out.

But that’s not all: Fourth, God will glorify us in Jesus.

John Calvin explains that this means that Jesus will “irradiate” us with His Glory. On that final day, we will be glorified – every shadow and spot of sin and its effects will be removed from us and we will shine with the Glory of the Name of Jesus as we – somehow – participate in His Glory.

You see, the work of salvation, the work of making us right with God is entirely God’s Work, and God does not merely restore us to a sinless state, but when Jesus returns, He Will make us holy and glorified so it will be impossible for us to ever sin again. In the meantime, we continue to grow and become more like Jesus – what the Scripture calls sanctification. Our faith grows more abundantly, our love for each other increases, we are steadfast in the faith as we suffer and are persecuted, because God – according to His Sovereign Pleasure – has chosen to make us worthy for His Sake and our joy.

Paul writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the prince of the power of the air, and the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV).

“Amazing love, how can it be, that Christ, my God, should die for me?”

We are all born dead in our sins, so we are unable to make ourselves right with God. But God has chosen to make some right with God by Himself, through Jesus for His Own Pleasure – and our joy. God makes us right with God.

Ours in not to save ourselves; ours is to respond to God’s salvation of us in thanksgiving and wonder and praise. Ours is to live out what God has done in us through Jesus. Ours is to follow God in all that He has called us to do and be in His Word and to love our neighbor because Jesus has saved us – which means we do all we can to help them – in thanks for our salvation – in the hopes that God will show His Mercy upon our neighbor.

Through Jesus, we are freed from slavery to sin and trying to merit our way to God. So now, in thanksgiving and love, we can follow God and seek the salvation of our neighbors by showing them and telling them the Gospel. Some of us are good at talking about what Jesus has done – others may be better at giving something you baked, or giving a meal to someone in need, donating time, and so forth. In whatever way we find to proclaim Jesus and His Gospel, let us do it with prayer, and if someone asks why we do what we do – let’s tell them, it’s because Jesus saved me – and you – and everyone who believes in Him.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for saving us and making us right with You when we were dead in sin – incapable of doing anything to help ourselves. Help us to present Your Gospel rightly, and keep us from leading anyone to believe that we are saved by our works. Let us joyfully show Your Great Gift of Salvation to others. For it us in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wisdom of the Fathers

“For neither ought we, for example, to preach the gospel with this object, that we may eat; but to eat with this object, that we may preach the gospel: for if we preach the gospel for this cause, that we may eat, we reckon the gospel of less value than food; and in that case our good will be in eating, but that which is necessary for us is preaching the gospel. And this apostle also forbids, when he says it is lawful for himself even, and permitted by the Lord, that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel, that is, should have form the gospel the necessities of this life; but yet that he has not made use of this power.” – Augustine on Acts 20:34 in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament V: Acts, 256.

"Are You Ready to Die?" Sermon: Acts 21:1-16

“Are You Ready to Die?”
[Acts 21:1-16]
October 24, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Are you ready to die?

I didn’t ask if you want to die. I don’t want to die – I’m working hard to be healthier and live as long as possible. I hope none of you want to die right now. But, if it were necessary, would you be ready – are you ready now – to die?

Last week we saw that the Holy Spirit told Paul that he would not see the Ephesians again. So he called the pastors and elders together and gave them one final address. He told them that he had given them the entire Gospel – all they needed to know for salvation – and this was against those who were saying there was an additional knowledge they needed besides Jesus. He told them to watch out for the false teachers – to search them out – warn against them – and remove them. He told them to give of the blessings that God has given them in thanks to God. And he told them that the Holy Spirit was sending him to Jerusalem, and the Holy Spirit promised him torture and imprisonment.

After weeping with Paul, they accompanied him to the ship that would take him to Jerusalem, and Paul and his companions sailed.

This morning’s Scripture is largely a detailed itinerary of where they went and how long they stayed in each place:

From Melitus, they sailed along the coast of Turkey, they sailed to Cos, then next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. There they changed ships and boarded one bound for Phonicia – in what we would now call Syria – north of Israel. And as they sailed, they passed by the island of Cyprus – it was on the left as they sailed by – landing in Syria at Tyre. In Tyre, the ship unloaded it’s cargo.

Did you ever read texts like these and wonder, “Who cares?” Who cares if they went to this place and that place and spent this number of days and had to change ships and then unload the cargo? What’s the point? The point is that this is evidence that this is not mythology, but history. These mundane details suggest the truthfulness of the history. If this was mythology, these common details would not be specific, and they probably would have been left out all together.

Once in Tyre, Paul and his companions stayed with the disciples there for seven days. And while they were there, the Holy Spirit told the disciples in Tyre that Paul was going to Jerusalem, and the Holy Spirit promised Paul torture and imprisonment. The disciples were naturally upset about this and they begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. But Paul said he could not resist the Holy Spirit, and he was going. So the disciples of Tyre and their wives and families went with them to the beach and kneeled and prayed and said farewell to one another.

Then they went south to Ptolemais, where they spent one day with the disciples there.

The next day they went to Caesarea, in Israel, and entered the house of Philip. Do we remember Philip? We haven’t heard about him in some time, but he was one of the first deacons (6:5), and the Holy Spirit had sent him to preach the Gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch (8:5), and then he had preached his way north through Israel and settled in Caesarea.

Paul and his companions stayed with Philip and his four unmarried daughters – who prophesied – for many days. And while they were with Philip, a prophet named Agabus came to them from Judea. Do we remember Agabus? The Holy Spirit had sent the prophet Agabus to Saul and the disciples to warn them that a severe famine was coming to Jerusalem – in particular – so the Church, led by Barnabas and Saul, collected money to help the church in Jerusalem (11:27). This time the prophet Agabus came to the house of Philip and walked up to Paul and took Paul’s belt and then bound his own hands and feet, prophesying that the Holy Spirit said that the owner of the belt would be bound by the Jews and handed over to the Gentiles once he reached Jerusalem.

Now Paul’s companions couldn’t take it any more and they, with the household of Philip and others, begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.

What was the Holy Spirit up to? Everywhere Paul went, the Holy Spirit told the local disciples about Paul being tortured and imprisoned in Jerusalem. Why did He keep telling them and upsetting them?

Historically, the Christians would soon come under the greatest persecution they ever faced. So, it is likely that the Holy Spirit was confirming what would happen to Paul so they would be ready and not overcome and dismayed, but rather trust in God and His Plan instead.

But Paul had had enough, “What are you doing to me – weeping and breaking my heart?” “I understand you’re upset, but this isn’t helping me. I am not looking for a way out – I’m not looking for someone to kill me. You know this is God’s Plan.”

“For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.” “For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul was ready to die – for the Name of the Lord Jesus – for the Gospel – as a witnesses to Jesus and His Salvation. For Jesus’ Sake, he was willing to die.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:20-26, ESV).

Paul tells the Philippians: “I want you to understand that whether I live or die, my goal is to honor Christ – to glorify Him – in my body. My desire is that I live in a way that Christ is honored and that I die in a way that Christ in honored.

“For me it is a win-win situation: if I live, then I can continue to live, honoring Christ, preaching His Gospel, carrying out all those things He has set before me to do. And if I die, then I will be in Paradise with Jesus. And, to tell you the truth, even though – if the choice was up to me – I would have a hard time decided whether to live or die, my goal is to die and be with Christ because that is far better – for then I will be unable to sin and I will look forward to being raised imperishable – holy – perfected. But, for now, God has made it clear to me that I am to remain in my flesh for your progress and joy – for the maturing of your faith, and to give you additional reason to glorify Christ Jesus.”

Please understand: Paul was not suicidal. He was not trying to find an easy way out of the suffering that he was continuing to endure. What he was saying was that he existed for Christ – to glorify Him – and if he should live, he would do everything he could to make Jesus and His Gospel known. But, if he should die – for the sake of Jesus and His Gospel – he was not only ready, he was joyful to do so because it would bring him into glory with Jesus – Who is his life and hope and future.

We see this theme throughout Paul’s letters in particular: the Christian is to live his or her life as a witness to salvation in Jesus Alone. We are to live in such a way that other’s attention is draw from us to Jesus. We are to be signs that point to Jesus and say, “Look at Him Look to Him See Who He is and what He has done ”

And if we are living for Jesus – to be sign-posts to Him – there may even be times when people ask why we do or do not do certain things, and then we can tell them, “I do all I can not to cheat on my taxes because Jesus gave His Life for me. I do all I can not to break the law, because Jesus has freed me from slavery to sin. I give to the food pantry because Jesus gave His Life for Me. I spend time reading my Bible because Jesus loves me and I love Him, and I want to know Him better. I try to live a life of thanks to Jesus.” And so forth.

We Christians are also to be ready to die as a witness to salvation in Jesus Alone. In the early Church and in many parts of the world today, Christians were and are put to death for confessing faith in Jesus. Would we be willing to stand for Jesus and submit to execution if it comes to this country?

If Mayor Smith or Governor Christie or President Obama got a bill passed that confession of Jesus as Savior was punishable by death, would we be ready? Would we say – in the face of that threat, “I believe”?

I would like to believe that I would accept death, rather than renounce Jesus, but it’s hard to say until we’re in that position, isn’t it?

We can help to prepare ourselves:

First, let us consider our sin. Let us understand that without salvation in Jesus Alone, we are looking at suffering eternally. That’s the fact: God is infinite and infinitely holy and all sin is against Him, so sin requires infinite punishment.

Second, let us consider what Jesus did. The Holy Son of God left His Throne, became a human, lived under God’s Law – never sinning – submitted Himself to torture and death at the hands of sinful men, suffered the infinite punishment that we deserve – for each one of us who will believe, and since He is God and sinless, He survived, rising from the dead, ascending back to His Throne, crediting our accounts with His Righteousness – His Sinlessness. So now, when God looks at we who believe, He sees, because of Jesus, a holy people for Himself that He welcomes into His Kingdom.

And third. Let us consider how thankful we ought to be for the gift of Jesus – for God rescuing us from our sin and making us His people for Jesus’ Sake. And let us be thankful in our hearts and minds and souls, but also in our bodies. Let us speak and act differently from the world. Let us seek to live out our joy in Jesus through both our words and deeds, no matter what God has for us – whether peace or sorrow, health or illness, long life or violent death.

Paul understood who he had been in his days of self-righteousness and arrogance as a persecutor of the Church – of Jesus Himself. He understood the Amazing Love that changed him into the man he then was as an apostle of Jesus Christ. And Paul was thankful to God – no matter what he had to endure for the Gospel. So, if God would be glorified, if the Gospel would be advanced, if people would believe in Jesus through Paul’s death, then Paul was ready to die.

Are you?

How could the disciples respond to this, but to say, “Let the will of the Lord be done”?

So they accompanied Paul from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and Paul lodged with Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple.

Let us pray:
God of Life, we don’t like to think about death and dying, and we naturally want to avoid suffering. Help us to believe that whatever happens to us – if it honors the Name of Jesus – if more people end up hearing and believing the Gospel – then we can endure all things for Christ, and be joyful that in life and in death, we have witnessed to Him. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Reformed Wisdom

“The harmlessness of error is a modern discovery.” – John Dick, Lectures on the Acts of the Apostles, 329.

"The Best Wine" Sermon: John 2:6-12

“The Best Wine”
[John 2:6-12]
October 21, 2010 Old First Presbyterian Church

Why did Jesus change the water into wine?

We may remember when I was last with you we looked at the fact the Jesus and His mother, Mary, went to a wedding in Cana, and when they ran out of wine, Mary, knowing that her Son is Divine, told Him to do something about it. Jesus rebuked Mary and told her that it was not His hour – that is it was not time for Jesus to submit to the will of humans which would culminate in His humiliation on the cross. However, Mary makes the curious comment to the servants, to do whatever Jesus says.

Jesus had told Mary that it was inappropriate for her to command Him to provide wine, but Mary understood that if providing wine was according to the Will of His Father, Jesus would do it, so Mary told the servants to do whatever He said.

We are told that there were six twenty or thirty gallon jars which were used to carry water for purification rites. That is, they contained water with which a person was washed to remove sin – to purify them. We will remember that the baptism of John the Baptist was with water – a purification rite – where a person was cleansed of his or her sins – not because he or she got wet, but for having faith in the Savior that God was sending.

Jesus told the servants to fill the jars with water, and they filled them to the brim. We might wonder what they were thinking: they weren’t lacking in water; they were lacking in wine. What good was filling the jars up with water? Yet we see in their immediate response that they respected Jesus, so they did what He said.

It is important to note that we are talking about 120 to 180 gallons of water. That is a lot of water. Knowing that there was that much water, as Calvin points out, attests to what happened being a miracle. If the servants had shown up with several small jars of wine, it could be argued that they got it from the market or a neighbor’s, but since it was such a vast quantity of wine, it could only have appeared as a miracle.

It also shows us the apparent foolishness of the ways of God. Paul wrote, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ... But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing that things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (I Corinthians 1:18, 27-31, ESV)

Jesus told the servants to bring the wine to the master of the feast – the one who had organized it – to let him taste the wine. And when he tasted the wine, he tasted the best wine he had ever had – and he didn’t know where it came from – the servants didn’t tell him – Jesus didn’t tell him. And he called the bridegroom to him and complimented the bridegroom for going against culture – which usually served the good wine first, and then when people were tipsy, gave them the poor wine. Instead, he had saved the very best wine for last

Why didn’t Jesus say He had changed the water into wine? Why didn’t the servants say that Jesus had turned the water into wine? As an example fo the foolishness of God’s Ways – that God has chosen to work through human beings rather than just brazenly announce Himself and His Savior. Doesn’t it seem it would be more effective for God to supernaturally announce Himself and His Savior over a cosmic loudspeaker, rather than have human beings preach His Word week after week? But God in His Sovereign Wisdom has chosen to use us and to bring His Gospel to the world through what seems foolish to us.

In the changing of water into wine, we also see symbolism of regeneration – what God does to us in salvation. The servants filled the cold, stone jars with water, and God changed that water into the best wine. Similarly, God in salvation takes we who were spiritually dead – like a cold, stone jar – and fills us with God the Holy Spirit, causing us to come to spiritual life. This is the promise that was made in Ezekiel’s day: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26, ESV).

Yet, with all that being said, we have not said why Jesus turned the water into wine.

After John records the response of the master of the feast, he tells us this: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.” Ah. Jesus changed the water into wine to manifest His Glory. What does that mean? It means that Jesus changed the water into wine to show – to attest – to prove – that He is the Savior, God in the Flesh.

Jesus could have stood up and called to the master of the feast, “Everyone, I am Jesus of Nazareth, Son of the Living God, the Long-Awaited Savior, God in the Flesh. And to prove to You Who I Am, I will change these six jars – these six barrels – of water into best wine you have ever tasted.” He could have done that. But He didn’t. He called the servants aside quietly. They followed His instructions, but didn’t tell the master of the feast where the wine came from. The master of the feast thought the wine came from the bridegroom, and he, apparently, did not contradict that assumption.

So to whom was the Glory of Jesus Manifested? To the servants, the disciples, and Mary. To those whom God in His Sovereign Will and Wisdom chose to reveal it at that time. And they believed.

Jesus accomplished what He set out to do in that act: He changed the water into wine, revealing His Glory to the servants, the disciples, and Mary, and they believed in Him as the Savior Whom God sent.

How ought we respond to this? How then ought we to live?

Paul wrote, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31, ESV). Just as Jesus manifested His Glory, we are to do all things to His Glory. How do we do that?

Just as God worked through the servants to magnify Jesus and show His Glory to them, God also works through us to magnify Jesus and show His Glory. Is it the call of a servant to direct attention to himself or herself? Is it the job of a waiter to bring attention to himself or herself? Is it the job of a busperson to bring attention to himself or herself? No, they are there to point beyond themselves.

God has called us and put us in positions that we might point to Him and show Jesus to be Who He is to others. We wait in the shadows and direct the spotlight on our Savior through all we say and do. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV).

Understand, Jesus is not calling us to be obnoxious: we are not called to file our taxes and then confront everyone we come in contact with saying, “I paid my taxes honestly and to the best of my understanding because I believe in Jesus ” Being obnoxious draws the spotlight on us; it takes the glory away from Jesus.

A more appropriate case would be if a friend were trying to get you to cheat on your taxes, and you said that you couldn’t cheat on your taxes because of what Jesus has done for you in salvation. That puts the spotlight on Jesus and draws the glory to Him. That is how we are to be – glorifying Jesus by showing that the reason for all that we do and say – except our sin – is in thanks to Him for Who He is and what He has done for us.

So let us bring forth the best wine, showing the manifesting of Jesus’ Glory – that He is God the Only Savior – in all that we do and say.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for manifesting the Glory of Jesus before the servants and disciples and Mary and us. We ask that You would help us to draw attention to You and Your Glory and Your Salvation through Jesus Alone. And may we be in all things, to Your Glory. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Reformed Wisdom

"The duties of the ministerial office are so various and weighty, the temptations are so great, and the consequences of error and negligence are so fatal, that incessant vigilance is indispensably necessary."– John Dick, Lectures on the Acts of the Apostles, 327.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jonathan Edwards and the Prayer Meeting

The pastor plans to attend a one-day conference on the Ongoing Relevance of Jonathan Edwards tomorrow.  For that reason, there will not be a prayer meeting at the church.  Please pray alone or in groups.  We will plan to resume our meetings on the 30th.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Pastor's Day Off

Due to a regular commitment, the pastor has changed his day off from Monday to Tuesday.  Please update your phone etiquette, such that when you call on Tuesday, you now begin the conversation, "I know it's your day off, but..."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Give It Away" Sermon: Acts 20:17-38

“Give It Away”
[Acts 20:17-38]
October 17, 2010 Second Reformed Church

After Paul arrived in Miletus – in southwestern Turkey – he sent for the elders of Ephesus – and that would include both the pastors and elders. Why?

Paul had spent about three years with the Ephesians – possibly more than any other group – and he had some final things he wanted to tell them and remind them of – because he did not believe, based on what the Holy Spirit told him, that he would ever see him again.

He begins by assuring them that from the first day he set out through Asia – what we call Turkey – Paul served the Lord with humility and in tears as he suffered at the hands of those who hate the Gospel. However, he never backed down because of persecution; he always preached the whole Word of God – everything he knew – to both the Jews and the Gentiles – urging all of them to repent and believe in salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.

This is not pridefulness – this is not bragging. Paul is stating the facts – that despite his suffering, he did not withhold anything of the Gospel from them. That was important for them to know because, already, there were false teachers going around after Paul saying that they had a further revelation of Jesus Christ – a deeper wisdom – a greater knowledge – that they sought to impart.

Paul needed to assure them – and we need to be assured – that what we have in our Bible is everything that God has said and all that we need to know for faith and life. And salvation is in Jesus Christ Alone. Period. We add nothing – we merit nothing – towards our salvation – and God does not have some secret that we must learn for salvation beyond the Bible.

The Mormons say that the Bible is not enough. The Christian Scientists say that Bible is not enough. The Muslims says that the Bible is not enough. The Roman Catholics say that the Bible is not enough.

Jesus is enough. What God has revealed to us in His Word is enough. What more could God do but send His Son to save us apart from our works?

Paul told the Ephesians that the Holy Spirit was urging him on to Jerusalem and that he didn’t know what was going to happen to him, except that the Holy Spirit told him that he would be imprisoned and afflicted wherever he went.

How would we react to that kind of message from God? “Go to Trenton, and there you will be tortured and imprisoned.”

How does Paul respond to this?

“I do not account my life as of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

Was Paul suicidal? No.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, telling them how God had refused to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” saying that God’s Grace was enough. “For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10, ESV).

Was Paul a masochist? Did he enjoy suffering? No.

The first thing that we ought to understand this morning is that the number one purpose of your life and my life and Paul’s life and the life of the Ephesian elders – and every Christian – the number one purpose of our lives is to glorify God by witnessing to others of salvation in Jesus Alone.

Paul wrote, “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).

Paul is not saying that we should deny that suffering exists, or that it is painful and undesirable, or that is causes discomfort and sadness. No, we are right to feel all those things when we suffer and when others die. Yet, as Christians, we have hope in Jesus of the life in glory yet to come. So we can press forward, looking to our Hope, enduring suffering and persecution and loss in this life, but not being destroyed by it, so long as we are pressing forward in our goal of spreading the Gospel to the whole world.

I have sarcoidosis. Thus far it is an incurable and, ultimately, fatal disease. Some days I feel pretty well, other days I feel horrible. Some times I end up in the hospital. I see many doctors and take many pills to cope with the effects of the disease and the side-effects of the medications. If I did not know that Jesus and His Gospel is the sure hope of salvation, I would probably hate God. I would be full of self-pity and anger. I don’t like being sick and feeling pain. If I could be completely well, I would gladly be so, and I do spend time researching, going to doctors, and relying on their wisdom.

However, I know the Glory is coming, and through Jesus Christ, I will be received into the Glory and perfected and made holy for His Sake. So, for now, I endure my Jerusalem, and strive to achieve the purpose for which I was created: to glorify God by living my life as a witness to others of salvation in Jesus Alone.

What about you?

Paul continues talking with the Ephesians, telling them that he will never see them again, and so he wants it to be clear to them that he is innocent of their blood, because he had declared the whole counsel of God before them.

We will remember that God told Ezekiel to prophesy, and God told him that if he prophesied and the people ignored him, their blood would be on their own heads, but if he did not prophecy, their blood would be on his head. This is what Paul is alluding to – he is warning the Ephesians that he has taught them everything they need to know, so if any refuse to receive Jesus and His Salvation Alone, Paul is innocent of their unbelief and the punishment that will follow.

Then Paul tells the elders to watch over the flock very carefully – over their parishioners– those whom God has given to them to teach and lead – because wolves were coming to mislead the flock and steal them away – false teachers would do everything they could – inspired by the devil and his angels – the demons – to steal them away. And Paul warns them that the wolves come from two places – from the world – which we would expect – those people out there and their crazy and evil ideas – but also from within the Church. It is a terrible but true thing to know that there are people in leadership and in ministry who – consciously or subconsciously – desire nothing more than to lead people away from Christ.

We famously note the TV preachers who are only in the ministry for the money they can get. But money is not the only reason that people wrongly go into the ministry. Some people go into the ministry to tell people that everything that Bible says is wrong. Some people go into the ministry to lead people into the worship of other gods – gods who are not gods, but illusions or demons. Elders, we must watch out that the people who come into worship are not misled or abused or taken advantage of – and we must check each other that we are not preaching and teaching things contrary to the Scripture. And to do that, we must know the Scripture and believe.

Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15, ESV). “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV).

The reality is that there are people and creatures fighting against the Gospel, seeking any way that they can to lead people away from Christ and His Salvation, and to confuse us in what we believe and what is True. Let us watch over the flock earnestly.

Paul tells the elders to work hard, with tears, building up the inheritance of the teaching of the Apostles and the whole Word of God. Christianity is not a game; it is not a social club. We are fighting on behalf of Jesus for the souls of the lost. And thanks be to God that Jesus tells us that He will lose no one – no matter how our lives go, despite our sin and failings, Jesus is victorious, and all those He intends to save and bring into His Kingdom will be there. Our work is hard and painful – and joyful – and in the end we have the sure hope that Jesus will accomplish everything He has intended to do, without fail. So we have neither reason to be lazy, nor to despair.

The value of our lives, then, is found in following Christ in thanksgiving for His Salvation. Our salvation is entirely God’s Work, and God’s Plan cannot fail. Still, we are called to work hard for the Gospel – not for our salvation – not to merit God’s Gift – but because God works through us to accomplish His Purposes, and we rightly show God thanks for all that He has done for us – and especially for our salvation – as we follow Him in obedience and see to glorify Him by being witnesses to salvation in Jesus Alone.

Paul tells them that he was even willing to work to support himself, not receive his needs from the Church – which was his due as a minister of the Gospel – but for the sake of the Gospel and the witness he was making, he took nothing from them. And he gave that as an example to them to inspire them to work hard and to provide for the needs of the poor and the suffering and the needy.

And then he told them to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” What was Jesus saying?

Jesus was not denying that the person who receives from another gets a blessing. Every time we give to someone, the person who receives the gift gets the blessing of the gift. If you give me a gift, I would be blessed by it; if I give you a gift, you would be blessed by it.

What Jesus was saying is that giving reflects God’s Nature. Paul wrote, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, ESV). God’s Joy was made full in giving His Son to glorify Himself and save us from His Wrath and our sin. God was blessed through the giving of His Son to accomplish salvation. We could give nothing to God to make ourselves worthy or to earn our salvation.

Listen to this amazing word: “[let us look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV). Jesus received joy – Jesus was blessed – through giving Himself – through the Incarnation, His Life, Death on the cross, Resurrection, and Ascension.

What does that mean for us?

When we hear Jesus say, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” we ought to also hear, “We fulfill our joy by giving our all away.” As we give away our things, our money, our time, our ability – everything we have and are, for the sake of the Gospel – we are blessed – we receive joy

“Now wait a minute,” some of you are thinking. “Are you saying that Jesus wants us to give away every last cent we have? Are you saying that we should neglect ourselves and our families and our obligations and all become monks or nuns?”

Not at all. Let us remember a few things:

First, God gave us the Creation to enjoy. Everything that is was given to us for us to enjoy – to see God in and to experience joy through. We do not have the authority to abuse and destroy the Creation – we are to steward the Creation with the same care that God shows for us. Yet everything – except sin – is for our joy.

Second, God promises to provide for all of our needs each day. We pray that in the Lord’s Prayer – and it is a promise – “give us this day our daily bread.” God will provide everything we need to be God’s people and to accomplish God’s Plan for today. We may not receive everything we want. We may not receive what we think we need. But God will provide us with everything He knows we need. And God has given us minds to plan and budget so we know what we really need and what is above our need.

Thirdly, God has promised to bless us with more than we need to keep and use for ourselves. How do we know that? Because God has commanded us to give ten percent of our gross income to the Church. Ten percent of our salary, ten percent of our Social Security. Ten percent of our pension. Ten percent of all of the gross income we make is to be given back to the Church. That is money that we do not need to live on, but is given to us that we might give back that offering to God in thanksgiving.

Fourth, God has given many of us more than we need, more than ten percent that we are to give to the Church, but blessing upon blessings over that – not just in money, but in time and talent, and all variety of spiritual gifts that we can use to bless the Church and others.

“Well, what I have is mine. I earned it, and I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that says I have to give it away. I’m saving it for my retirement – my kinds – my grandchildren – my nieces and nephews.”

That’s partially right: God has given us minds and we ought to be wise with everything He has given to us and use it and invest it well. Most of us ought not to just give everything away without thinking. And it is good and biblical to help our family – especially those who are in need. You and I may be the ones God uses to provide for the needs of our relatives.

The point is not that we have to give. The point is that when we give, we receive blessing and joy. And as we are able and willing – the more that we give – and remember – not just in money, but in time and talent, etc. – the more we give, the more blessing and joy we receive.

The point is that we ought to think over what God has given us in every area and ability and consider how we might best use what we have been given to the Glory of God. What is the best way I can use my abilities and my time and my money to show others that God is glorious and that there is only salvation through Jesus Alone?

And consider this: after your needs are met and you have given your thanksgiving offering to the Church, the more you give away, the less you have to worry about If you give away your money, you don’t need to worry about it being stolen or taxed. If you give away your boat and your ninety-six inch TV, you don’t have to worry about them being stolen. If you donate your time to working at the Church, volunteering to help the needy, and so forth, you won’t have to worry about getting bored. If you give away the things you don’t need, you won’t have to worry about dusting them or finding a place to store them, much less their being stolen.

Jesus is not saying we have to live as impoverished hermits. What Jesus is saying is that God has given all of us blessings in many ways, and He wants us to use them – steward them – invest them – in the best, most God-glorifying way. And, as we do that, we will be blessed and filled with His Joy.

Trust God and see what happens.

After Paul said all these things to the Ephesians, he knelt down before them and they wept together – because Paul had told them he would not see them again, because Paul was looking towards martyrdom.

They embraced him and kissed him and sent him on the ship to Jerusalem.

And so let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the witness of Paul and his farewell to the Ephesians. We thank You for showing us that we exists to glorify You by showing others Your Salvation through Jesus Alone. Help us to find value in our lives by following Christ in thanksgiving for our salvation. And help us to be good stewards of all You have blessed us with, even as You bless us and fill us with Your Joy as we give wisely of all You have given us. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reformed Wisdom

“So true is it universally that what men keep they lose, and what they part with they retain, and the highest happiness is to create and diffuse it.” – John Eadie, Paul the Preacher, 349.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Do You Fall Alseep During the Sermon?" Sermon: Acts 20:1-16

“Do You Fall Asleep During the Sermon?”
[Acts 20:1-16]
October 10, 2010 Second Reformed Church

We will remember, last week we saw the Ephesian craftsmen almost causing a riot because they were losing business by people leaving their idolatry and following Jesus. But the town clerk stepped in and got the crowd to disperse.

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, encouraged them, and sailed back to Greece to disciple the Christians there. After three months, some Jews plotted to kill Paul as he sailed back to Turkey – so, rather than sail back, Paul retraced his steps back up through Greece to Neapolis – just east of Philippi – reaching it during Passover. After Passover, Paul, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychius, and Trophimus sailed to Troas – on the Northwestern coast of Turkey – where they met up with Luke and others. And they stayed there for seven days.

Has your mind ever wandered during the sermon? Have you ever fallen asleep during the sermon? I would guess that everyone – including me – has, at times, had their mind wander – and some of us may even fall asleep from time to time. Growing up, we always knew how well my grandfather slept through the sermon by how heartily he thanked the minister for the sermon on the way out.

On the first day of the week – on the Lord’s Day – on Sunday, Paul and the disciples gathered in a third floor room, where they shared a meal and the Lord’s Supper – as they did every time they gathered for worship – and then Paul preached – until midnight. If Paul began speaking at 6 PM – that would have been six hours of preaching.

The room was crowed and lit by lamps. There weren’t enough chairs, so people even sat in the windows. And there was a young man, Eutychus, who was sitting in one of those third floor windows, after eating, in a crowded room, listening to Paul preach for – perhaps six hours – and Eutychus fell into a deep sleep – and fell backwards out the third floor window to his death.

The people ran down to the ground where Eutychus lay – and the people were greatly alarmed that he was dead. And for those who say, “Oh, he was just knocked out” – the physician – the doctor – who was on the scene, Luke, says he was dead – and the people were “greatly alarmed,” which indicates that they understood that he was really dead.

And just so you know – the point of this text – what we are supposed to receive from this text – is not that God will kill people who fall asleep during the sermon. Nor is the point that long sermons kill. We need to continue:

Paul bent down over Eutychus’ body and took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is still in him.” The word “life” here is the Greek word, psyche, which here refers to the “life-principle” – the “breath” that God put into Adam to make him a living being (cf. Genesis 2:7, naphach).

The people who saw Paul’s actions would have been reminded of two occasions in the Old Testament:

The prophet, Elijah, had been staying with the widow of Zarephath and her son while he was on the run from King Ahab. And one day, the son became ill and died, and the widow blamed his death on Elijah. But Elijah took the boy and lay him on his own bed. “And he cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon this widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?’ Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’ And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, ‘See, you son lives.’ And the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth’” (I Kings 17:20-24, ESV).

Elijah’s successor, Elisha, met up with a barren Shunammite woman, and he told her that God would give her a son. And she did bear a son. But one day, the boy started to have severe pains in his head, and he died. “When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bead. So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Then he summoned Gehazi and said, ‘Call this Shummanite.’ So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, ‘Pick up your son.’ She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out” (II Kings 4:32-37, ESV).

And we will remember that Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha got sick and died, and when Jesus arrived, He wept. “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe you sent me.’ When he said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’” (John 11:39-44, ESV).

And, of course, we remember the most important and most famous resurrection – the Resurrection of Jesus, when Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the tomb and found it empty and were greeted by angels who told them that Jesus was alive and to go and tell His disciples. They went and told them, and they ran back and checked. “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him, ‘Rabboni ’ (which means Teacher)” (John 20:9-16, ESV).

So Paul brought Eutychus back up to the third floor, ate some more, celebrated the Lord’s Supper again, and preached to them until sunrise – another six hours. “And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.” That is a very understated way to say that they were rejoicing, praising God and giving thanks, because God raised Eutychus from the dead – giving him back to his family and people.

And that is the first thing that we should understand from this text: God is able to raise the dead.

And then we ought to consider if that fact is important for us and our lives – and the answer is “yes ”

Paul tells us, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:12-19, ESV).

Paul argues that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus was not raised from the dead. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then we have been lying about God. If Jesus was not raised, then we shall not be raised – and we are damned in our sin.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has also come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (I Corinthians 15:20-23, ESV).

But, Paul tells us, the fact – the historical fact – Christianity stands or falls on this historical fact – Jesus did rise from the dead. Through Adam’s sin, death came to every human, and through Jesus, all those who believe are assured the resurrection to everlasting life.

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18, ESV).

“Behold I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (I Corinthians 15:51-53, ESV).

The resurrection of the sons of the two women shows us that God is able to raise the dead. The resurrection of Lazarus shows us that God can raise the dead. The resurrection of Eutychus shows us that God can raise the dead. But the Resurrection of Jesus –

Brothers and sisters, receive the promises and understand that if God raised Jesus from the dead, we will be raised from the dead. And since Jesus’ Human Body was perfected and glorified, our bodies will be perfected and glorified. This life is not the end, and we who believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation will be resurrected, perfected, and glorified, made like Jesus, for His Sake and for His Glory.

That should leave us “not a little comforted.” Eutychus’ resurrection ought to remind us of Jesus’ Resurrection and that we who believe will also be resurrected to everlasting life with Jesus in the Kingdom.

Having this history should encourage us to live the life we are called to live as we hold fast to the sure Promise of Jesus.

Paul writes, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:54-58, ESV).

Let us not deny that death is awful and sad. Death is the last enemy that we have to face as believers. Death is horrible – the last corruption – the culmination of destruction in our bodies. But the day is coming when death will die (cf. I Corinthians 15:26). So let us rejoice – not desiring to suffer and experience death – but let us rejoice and not fear – knowing that death is not the end – death will die – and we have the sure hope and promise – the victory – that we will be raised to life – just like Jesus – forever to be with Him.

And let us work hard for our Lord with all that we are until our day comes or until the Lord returns. For what we do for Christ and His Gospel is not in vain. It is the Word of Life, the Power of the Resurrection.

The people took Eutychus home, rejoicing in his resurrection and comforted in the knowledge and assurance of the resurrection which is to come unto life for all those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation.

Paul went to the ship, and he and his companions sailed to Assos – going south down the western coast of Turkey. Then to Mitylene, Chios, Samos, stopping in Miletus on the southwest coast of Turkey– and bypassing Ephesus – hoping to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost.

Let us pray:
God of Life, we thank You that You have proven Your Power and Your Promise by raising a number of people from the dead. We especially thank You for raising Jesus from the dead, so we can know that we will be raised from the dead and received into the life everlasting. With that fact before us, give us the grace to be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Reformed Wisdom

“Alas! That so many in modern times regard so little the first day of the week, or weary on it for the coming of the second, reckoning Sunday a mere interruption between Saturday and Monday, or otherwise profaning it in the pursuit of lawless pleasure or pastime. And even of those who ‘come together,’ how many stay away for very trivial reasons, a passing cloud throwing a chiller shadow upon their souls as it does upon the earth, and betoking a fall in their religious affections deeper than the depression of the barometer. If one may thus absent himself, why may not all; the minister, too, as well as any of the people? Who keeps at home for such a paltry reason from a scene of secular enjoyment, or the place of ordinary business? Are there not many sicknesses so cunning in their coming and going, so endowed with forethought never to invade a weekday, but to appear with the dawn of the Sabbath and disappear on its evening? Is it not a law of our nature that difficulties grow with indulgence, and if weather regulate church-going, other barriers will soon make themselves be felt – irregularity followed by long pauses, and ending in utter spiritual remissness and death. Does not such fluctuation in duty deprive one of the divine promise, and may it not rob him of the very word which was adapted to his benefit? And if heaven is an eternal Sabbath for which recurring Sabbath prepares, how can one hope to enjoy it who cries out as to ‘the weariness’ of the periodic rest on earth – who fins not exceeding luxury in social worship, or who regards not the day which God has blessed and sanctified as the happiest, holiest day of all te seven?” – John Eadie, Paul the Preacher, 297-298.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

"Watching the Bottom Line" Sermon: Acts 19:21-41

“Watching the Bottom Line”
[Acts 19:21-41]
October 3, 2010 Second Reformed Church

This morning we conclude Paul’s two-year ministry in Ephesus: he had returned to the city to minister among the people who had come to faith in Jesus Alone for their salvation, and when he arrived, he found that there were still people who knew of Jesus, but who didn’t believe in Him Alone for salvation. So he preached to them and explained the Resurrection, and they believed and the Holy Spirit indwelt them and caused them to bear fruit.

God worked miracles through Paul and his clothing, as well. And the non-Christians – seven exorcists in particular – tried to use Jesus’ Name – without believing in Him – to cast out demons – resulting in them being rebuked, beaten, stripped, and chased away by the demon-possessed man. So, we saw that there are angels and demons, and to use Jesus’ Name when a person doesn’t believe in Him is using the Lord’s Name in vain.

However, the Christians of the city who had not gotten rid of all the things which are incompatible with the Christian faith – their practice of magic, for example – responded to the exorcists’ beating by repenting and burning their books – worth two hundred and fifty years salary. And we saw that sanctification – becoming holy – is a process that God works out in and through us.

After all these things occurred, Paul decided to return to Greece to minister among the Christians there. And then he said he wanted to finally make it to Rome – where there were already Christians, as we saw in the meeting of Priscilla and Aquila. But first, he had some things to tie up, so he sent Timothy and Erastus on ahead of him.

Suddenly a disturbance arose – nearly a riot – due to the Way – due to the life that the Christians were living in Ephesus and what that meant for the rest of the community. And a man named Demetrius, “a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis [also known as Diana], brought no little business to the craftsmen” –he gathered the craftsmen of the city together:

“Men of Ephesus, you know that our wealth comes from selling the statues of Artemis and her temple. We make our living off of selling these silver shrines. You are also aware of Paul and how he has persuaded a great many people in most of Asia to believe that the gods are not gods – that Jesus Alone is God. The upshot of this is that our sales have plummeted. We are losing money hand over fist, and if we don’t watch the bottom line, we will be bankrupt and out of business very soon.

“And, it may come that the great goddess Artemis will also be counted as nothing, and she will be deposed – her magnificence lost – the great goddess whom all of Asia now worships.”

Demetrius may not have been a theologian, but he knew how to protect his business – he saw his profits falling because people weren’t buying the statues and shrines, so he called the craftsmens’ guild together and stirred them up – pointed out that they would all be out of business soon if something wasn’t done. Oh, and Artemis might also lose her rank as goddess.

Let us understand, first, then, that Jesus and His Salvation are worth more than anything and everything else in all of Creation. The person who believes savingly in Jesus will be willing to lose everything for Jesus’ sake, because He is of greater value.

Paul wrote to the Philippians against some false apostles, who called themselves, “super apostles,” “I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from of the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:4-11, ESV).

Paul said, “If you want to talk about pedigree, I have the perfect Jewish pedigree. If you want to talk about obedience to the Law, I have been obedient. But pedigree and obedience – good works – cannot save – I am still a sinner, damned to Hell and the reception of the Wrath of God – unless... Unless Jesus gives me faith. Unless Jesus gives me His Righteousness. Unless Jesus saves me from the Wrath of God. And because Jesus has done that for me, everything else – compared with Jesus and His Salvation – is nothing – because it cannot save me from my sin and the penalty for it.”

That’s what the Ephesian Christians believed. That’s why they burned their magic books. That’s why they stopped buying the silver gods and temples. They were not only worthless, but they were contrary to the Truth of Jesus.

But the craftsmen were watching the bottom line. More than truth, they were concerned about their business failing. And there is an extent to which we can understand that. But if we think about it for a moment – they could have made and sold other things out of silver. Yet, there was devotion to Artemis – to Diana. And so, Demetrius gathered the craftsmen.

His words were persuasive, and the craftsmen became enraged – about the loss of their businesses – and began chanting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ”

A riot started, and when the people saw two of Paul’s companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, they grabbed them and brought them into the theater – when court was held.

Paul found out what had happened and tried to force his way into the theater, but the disciples would not let him go in – it was too dangerous – the crowd was out of control. Even some of the Asiarchs – the leading officials of Ephesus – who had become Paul’s friends – warned him not to try to enter the theater.

And the crowd continued to cry out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ” And others cried out other slogans. You see, Luke tells us that the craftsmens’ guild had grown into a large mob – and most of the people had no idea why they were there – they just got caught up in the frenzy of being in a mob and yelling – and they went along for the ride.

And then Alexander, a Jew, stood up before the crowd, wanting to make sure that they did not associate Christians with Jews – because most people understood Christianity to be a sect of Judaism at that time. But as soon as they heard him say he was a Jew, they drown him out screaming, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ”

Luke records that for two hours the crowd cried out: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians ” Can you imagine?

At that point, the town clerk – something like the mayor – stood up and quieted the people: “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?” “Good citizens, of course Artemis is great. The whole world knows that her temple – the grandest temple in the world – is here in Ephesus. And in it we have the sacred stone which fell from the sky. Everyone knows and believes this. There is no reason to get in such an uproar. No one has doubted that this is true.”

“Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess.” “Since these things are true, don’t do anything you’ll be sorry for. These men have not said anything against Artemis or used her name in vain. They have not defaced her temple.”

“If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” “However, if there are any legal grounds to prosecute these men, Demetrius and all you of the craftsmens’ guild, you know we are civilized people – there is a court system and people to pass judgement. You know very well how to file a claim and see that a trial commences. But what is happening here is nearing a riot. Do you really want the government to come in to stop us from rioting? Especially when we have no cause to riot?”

“And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.”

We see, then, that the town clerk ruled in favor of the Christians in this case, because they had not actually done anything wrong. It was the craftsmen who were causing a riot and not following proper legal procedure, which was wrong.

So, let us understand, secondly, that if we are following God and doing what is right, ultimately, we have nothing to fear from the government.– or authority in general.

We may remember what Paul wrote to the Romans: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:1-7, ESV).

How then ought we respond to the near riot of the Ephesian craftsmen?

Let us follow the laws of our towns and countries, so long as they do not cause us to sin. Let us respect, assist, and encourage the leaders that God has given us in whatever way we are able. Let us pray for them. Let us vote and take part in other peaceful political and social gatherings as we are able and have something worthwhile to contribute. (Let’s not just join the crowd because there’s a crowd).

Let us not be antagonistic or rude or derogatory towards those who believe differently from us. We ought to do everything we can to have people see us in a good light for the sake of the Gospel. We do wrong to antagonize people such that they will not listen to the Gospel. Let us be humble and speak the Truth in love – not being willing to back down from our convictions, but stating what is true clearly, strongly, and politely.

And, most importantly, let us reflect and consider what we have been given in Salvation through Jesus Christ Alone. Let us consider what Jesus did in coming to earth, living, dying, rising, and ascending back to His Throne. Let us be in awe and wonder of all that Jesus did to the Glory of the Father and for our salvation – not because we deserved it, but because it pleased Him to save us.

Let us understand then that our life, our joy, our purpose, our goal is to be found in knowing Jesus and His Salvation. This is the Greatest, and our lives are fulfilled in glorifying Jesus – and a life of serving Him in thanksgiving is worth more than all the privileges and honors and cars and houses and money you and I could ever have.

Do you believe that?

If you do, then you will be joyful to know that the God Who gave His Own Son for us has met with us here this morning in worship, and He is continuing to meet with us as we soon receive the bread and the cup. And as we receive these elements, we will be given grace to help us be and do all that God has planned for us. In worship, we not only glorify our God and Savior, we receive more blessings from Him.

Great is Jesus of Heaven and earth Great is Jesus of Heaven and earth Great is Jesus of Heaven and earth

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, we thank You for the life You have given us and for the blessings that You continue to give us as Your people, in worship and throughout our lives, that we might serve You better and with greater joy. Help us to lead lives of thanksgiving that are pleasing to You and show the Glory of the Gospel to all those around us. And may Jesus’ Name be praised. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Prayer Meeting

Due to the pastor being out of town, there will be no prayer meeting at the church tomorrow.  Please meet privately or in groups elsewhere to pray.

October Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

10/3/10 Worldwide Communion
 Acts 19:21-41 “Watching the Bottom Line”

10/10/10
 Acts 20:1-16 "Do You Fall Asleep During the Sermon?”

10/17/10
 Acts 20:17-38  “Give It Away”

10/24/10
 Acts 21:1-16  “Are You Ready to Die?”

10/31/10 Reformation 
 II Thessalonians 1:1-12  “God Will Make Your Worthy”