Second Reformed Church

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: "Confessions of a Reformission Rev."

Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons From an Emerging Missional Church is Mark Driscoll’s second book, and the account of the founding and growth of Mars Hill Church.

Driscoll is humorous and centers his founding, growth, and governing of his church in Jesus first, and then in love for neighbor and community. Although his church is “nondenominational,” as he describes his theology and government, he is functionally a Reformed Baptist and a non-cessationist (though eh does not require tongue-speaking as some non-cessationists do).

I have not heard him preach as yet, but I very much want to and plan to, having read this and his previous book. Although I don’t agree with all of his theology, I think he is likely a very engaging preacher.

Driscoll has an interesting argument against Sunday School classes (159): Driscoll states that they don’t have Sunday School classes because if one brings a non-Christian to Sunday School, the non-Christian will likely not want to stay for worship as well, and worship takes primacy. Second, Driscoll argues that teaching opportunities are best in small groups in homes of parishioners, not in the church building..

I see two advantages of his thinking: one, there is the potential for “deeper” discussion, rather than frequent return to the basics. (Not that they are unimportant!) Two, it allows people to get to know each other better through the comfort and intimacy of the home.

However, I did have some problems with his book:

Driscoll writes, “The church exists to welcome and convert lost people” (109). I think what he means is that the Church exists to reach out first, not to care for Christians first. Whatever he means, I believe he is wrong. The Church exists first to Glorify God, second to equip the saints, and third as a witness to unbelievers.

Driscoll writes that a “deacon...grow[s] up to be an elder” (146). Although this is a popular notion, it is not biblical. The elder and the deacon are two different offices, but equal. They are not junior and senior offices. One may be an elder, then a deacon, or a deacon, then an elder, or just and elder, or just a deacon. One is not a higher position than the other.

And then there is a general impression I get: Although Driscoll says that any size church is just fine, it seems as he goes through his history and, especially, as he describes the distinctives of a large church, Driscoll really believes that larger churches are better, more faithful, and more spiritual. He has no justification for this.

Driscoll’s book is interesting, and it gave me food for thought, but I cannot recommend it without serious caveats.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Changes

Due to unsafe conditions, we are reluctantly closing the church tomorrow.  Lord willing, we will adjust our schedule and be open as usual during the week.  D.V., plan on the following:

Thursday, 2/3/11  8AM-12PM  The office is open.
Saturday, 2/5/11 9-11AM  More From Men
                           3-4PM Prayer Meeting
Sunday, 2/6/11  10:30AM, morning worship
                          12 PM, Annual meeting and potluck lunch.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Annual Meeting and Potluck

D.V., we will have our annual meeting and potluck lunch this Sunday, January 30th, after morning worship.  Please plan to attend and bring some food to share!

Review: "The Radical Reformission"

I finally read Mark Driscoll’s The Radical Reformission: reaching out without selling out, and I was impressed.

Driscoll opens his book by talking about his background and the revelation that sin is not primarily what we do but who we are. He then defines his title: “This ‘reformission’ is a radical call to reform the church’s traditionally flawed view of missions as something carried out only in foreign lands and to focus instead on the urgent need in our neighborhoods, which are filled with diverse cultures of Americans who desperately need the Gospel of Jesus and life in his church, Most significant, they need a gospel and a church that are faithful both to the scriptural texts and to the cultural contexts of America” (18).

Driscoll calls the reader to remember the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, rose and ascended back to His Throne, according to the Scriptures – as central and uncompromisable. He then calls us to repent of making anything else uncompromiseable, to obey God and act according to His Will, and to reflect and minister to our communities via the teaching of the Scriptures (22-23).

I have read a number of books on missions and community ministry lately, and this one outshines them all in stressing that Jesus and His Gospel must be first and foundational.

Driscoll alternates his chapters with short interviews with “regular” Christian people in their “regular” jobs, and he asks them about how they are being Christians in their workplace and how they can be Christians in their workplace. These interviews richly support his chapters.

Driscoll is modern, though he is obviously well-read in good works, and he can speak the language of modernity and postmodernity – both of which he rightly argues are subordinate categories to the Kingdom of God. His observations are humorous, heart-breaking, and compelling to action. This is a great book for a Mission Commission and any church leader.

For all of his argument against innovation, one area which I wish Driscoll had fleshed out more is his theology of worship. He seems to indicate that as long as the Gospel is clearly preached, what we do in worship is open to preference (73, 100). I would beg to differ with him on this, if that is what he is saying. The Scripture clearly states that certain things are to occur in worship, and these ought to be what occurs in worship. (The Regulative Principle.) (Perhaps he deals with that in another book. I hope so and would like to read him on it.)

Driscoll provides a compelling and useful call to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ Alone without compromise in our culture and addressed to our culture. It is a valuable read, with a prophetic appendix, written in 2004, speculating on what will be in 2025 in America – we are well there.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Rejoice & Be Wise" Sermon: Acts 21:17-26

“Rejoice and Be Wise”
[Acts 21:17-26]
January 23, 2011 Second Reformed Church

We return to our look at the book of Acts this morning; let us remember where we are. Acts is Luke’s second book of the history of Christianity. And we will remember that Paul – once the persecutor of the Church – is now ministering among the Gentiles, in particular. And this led to the question – the contention – of whether or not the Gentiles had to keep the Ceremonial Law.

Eventually, a council was held in Jerusalem, and it was decided that the Ceremonial Law had been fulfilled in Jesus, so it was no longer necessary for anyone to keep the Ceremonial Law – and certainly not those who had never kept it before. They did, however, require four things of the Gentiles: they were not to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, they were not to eat blood, they were not to eat an animal that had been strangled, and they were not to engage in sexual immorality. Why?

Well, we are all called to keep from sexual immorality – that’s part of the Moral Law, but the other things are ceremonial – having to do with food. Why did the Jewish Christians require these three things about their food?

Because they were trying to protect the Gentile converts to Christianity from slipping back into pagan worship: four marks of pagan worship was eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, eating blood, eating animals that had been strangled, and engaging in sexual immorality. The Jewish Christians required these things of the Gentile Christians, not because eating has any bearing on salvation, but to protect them and set them apart – to emphasize to them that they were no longer part of pagan worship – they were worshipers of Jesus.

We saw Paul lead three missionary journeys, through Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Greece, and perhaps other places. We saw that he had met converts from Rome – so the Gospel had reached Italy.

We saw that Paul had taken a Nazarite vow during his third missionary journey, which meant he would have kept himself from grape products, not cut his hair, and kept away from dead bodies. We’re not told why he made this vow, but it was not for anything to do with his salvation. As part of the end of the vow, he cut his hair in Cenchreae, and was heading home to Jerusalem for the Passover, to complete his vow by offering up sacrifices in the Temple.

On his way back, he stopped in Ephesus, and the craftsmen rioted, because Paul’s preaching of Jesus had decreased the sale of idols, and he was introducing “unknown gods,“ which was against Roman Law. Paul met with the Ephesian elders, told them he would not see them again, and sailed for Jerusalem, despite their pleading with him not to go.

Paul arrived in Ptolemais, spent time with Philip and his daughters, and was visited by the prophet, Agabus, who told Paul that he would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles. Still, he went on to Jerusalem and lodged in the house of Mnason of Cyprus – which brings us up to this morning’s Scripture.

Paul and his companions, including Luke, went to meet with James, the brother of Jesus, the remaining apostles, and the other elders in Jerusalem. After they greeted each other, Paul told them the history of his missionary journeys – how he had gone through Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Greece, and how he had met converts from Rome – and all of the things that God has done among the Gentiles – all that we have seen thus far in the book of Acts. Why?

Because we are all One Body; the Church is the Body of Christ, and we ought to want to hear from each other about what is happening in each others lives – both good and bad – and especially as it relates to our being witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (I Corinthians 12:26, ESV). We are witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our words and our actions.

What is the Gospel? I reviewed a book this week called, The Gospel According to Jesus, and the author stated that most Christians don’t know what the Gospel is. What is the Gospel? “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:1-6, ESV).

The way we live, the way we act, the way we interact with each other, and call on each other to hear what has happened in our lives, reflects what we believe about God coming to earth as a human, living, dying for our sins, rising, and ascending back to His Throne to the Glory of the Father. We’ve seen before, Jesus does not give us the option to be neutral about Him – everything we are and do either draws people to Him or pushes them away from Him.

Well, how did the apostles and the elders react to all of the things that Paul told them? They rejoiced and glorified God. When they heard how so many had repented and believed in the Gospel, as they heard how many had been healed, how others had been delivered from demons, how God had delivered Paul and his companions from those trying to squelch the Gospel, they rejoiced. Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, ESV). Why?

We are the Body of Christ. When you are healed, when you better understand, when you get a better job or a raise, when your children and grandchildren confess faith in Jesus, when anything good happens to you and yours, when you and yours receive a blessing from God, we all as parts of the same One Body of Christ receive the same gift and ought to find ourselves rejoicing with you. We ought to be joyful for each other’s joys, because they reflect on the world’s perception of Jesus and His Church.

When we lose our job, when a loved one dies, when we are frustrated, sick, or depressed, when something goes wrong, we all as parts of the same One Body of Christ also suffer with each other and ought to find ourselves weeping with you. We ought to weep for each other’s sorrows, because they reflect on the world’s perception of Jesus and His Church.

The world knows we are Christians by our love for each other – love that shares in joys and sorrows – really rejoicing in the good and really weeping for each other’s sorrow. Then the world will look at us in wonder, seeing that through Jesus, we love each other and are one in all things.

Paul told the apostles and the elders all that had happened and the response of the Gentiles to the Gospel. And they rejoiced with Paul and his companions, and gave glory to God for all that God had done through them in saving Gentiles and building up the Church, the Body of Christ.

After rejoicing with Paul and his companions, they told him, “There are thousands of Jews in Jerusalem who are doing everything they can to keep the Law, believing that they will be saved and made right with God through the keeping of the Law. They have heard that you teach the Gentiles and any Jews who might be among them that they should forsake the Law of Moses, not circumcise their children, and to ignore everything that we have taught in Judaism throughout history.” So, the Jews in Jerusalem would have a bias against Paul and his preaching of the Gospel.

Wasn’t that true? Wasn’t Paul teaching that? Wasn’t Paul telling his hearers to forget the Ceremonial Law – not to worry about what the Old Testament taught?

What have we seen Paul teach?

Paul teaches us that the Ceremonial Law is not necessary for salvation. We do not need to keep the laws that God gave Israel that have to do with worship and ceremonial cleanliness for salvation. In fact, Paul explains that the Law – none of it – was ever intended to grant us or merit us salvation: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7, ESV).

The Law was never intended to merit or grant us salvation; one of the purposes of the Law is to show us what sin is – to make us understand what sin is. For example: the stoplight in the intersection outside the church does not make someone drive safely – it does not take hold of the wheel or inhabit one’s muscles. But if someone goes through the red light, the person knows that he has sinned – he has broken the law. OK?

So, Paul teaches us that the Ceremonial Law is not necessary for salvation.

Paul also explained that the Ceremonial Law was fulfilled in Jesus the Savior.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4, ESV).

In others words, God has called every human being to keep all of the Law perfectly. But we don’t. So God sent Jesus, His Son, Who kept the Law perfectly and took on the whole penalty for our breaking the Law, so that He could credit us with His Perfect Keeping of the Law. So, for we who believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation, there is now no condemnation.

Paul also saw nothing wrong with keeping the Ceremonial Law, if one wants to, for some reason other than merit.

“Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.’ If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But, if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience – “ (I Corinthians 10:25-28, ESV).

The Law says that the people of God are not to eat meat offered to idols, but that Law has been fulfilled in Jesus. So Paul says, if you want to eat meat that has been offered to idols, go ahead, meat is meat. But, if you are with someone who would be turned away from the Gospel if you ate meat that had been offered to idols, don’t eat it for their sake.

Similarly, if someone wants to keep the kosher laws because one believes it to be a healthier diet, have it at, all food is God’s. If you don’t want to wear clothes of mixed cloth, that’s fine, so long as you realize it won’t merit you anything. If you want to take a Nazarite vow as a spiritual discipline, but understand it gains you no merit with God, go ahead. And so forth.

The final thing we should observe here is that Paul did not condemn the keeping of the Ceremonial Law. Paul kept it at times for a variety of reasons, and it’s fine if someone wants to, so long as one understands that keeping the Ceremonial Law does nothing as far as one’s salvation is concerned.

So, the zealous Jews were wrong: Paul did not tell people to forsake Moses, not to circumcise their children, or to abandon the traditions of Judaism. What Paul said was the Ceremonial Law is not necessary for salvation, the Ceremonial Law was fulfilled in Jesus the Savior, there nothing wrong with keeping the Ceremonial Law, if one wants to, for some other reason than merit, and Paul did not condemn the keeping of the Ceremonial Law by anyone who wanted to for any reason other than merit.

So, what did the apostles and elders say should be done, given what was being said about Paul?

The apostles and elders told Paul to do three things: (1) Purify yourself – Paul had eaten with Gentiles, so the Law said he would need to undergo a purification rite before he was allowed into the Temple. (2) Go to the Temple with these four brothers who have completed their Nazarite vow. And (3) pay for the four brothers to be shaved and for the sacrifices they were to offer for themselves. Why?

Because if Paul did these things it would show that he respected the Law, even though he knew the Law did not have the power to save him or anyone. Doing these things would show respect for the Law to those who still believed that there was salvation in the Law, and it would remove the bias they had against Paul so Paul would be able to preach the Gospel to them.

The apostles and elders said that, otherwise, they agreed with Paul and the Jerusalem Counsel, that nothing should be required of the Gentiles other than to abstain from meat offered to idols, from eating blood, from eating a strangled animal, and from engaging in sexual immorality. And this was required of them to help them not slip back into their old ways of pagan worship.

Paul agreed with the apostles and elders and did the things they asked of him: he purified himself before he entered the Temple, in accordance with the Law, he brought the four brothers to complete their Nazarite vow, and he paid for them to be saved and for their sacrifices.

As Christians, we understand that the Law cannot save us – only Jesus can save us. We understand that the Ceremonial Law was only for the nation of ancient Israel – not for all people throughout time, so it is not necessary for us to keep the Ceremonial Law. However, there is nothing wrong with keeping it because one prefers it, or to keep from offending someone else.

What does this mean for us?

It means that if we invite an Orthodox Jew or Muslim over for dinner and some theological conversation, we ought not order a ham and pineapple pizza, because that would offend his belief about food, and we won’t get to say a word about Jesus.

It means that if a family of Buddhists move in on our block, and we want to invite them to worship, we ought not go over to welcome them to the neighborhood with a pot roast, because that would offend their belief about food, and we won’t get to say a word about Jesus.

It means, in things that don’t matter, for the sake of being able to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we will be wise – we will use our brains – we will not do anything to put a stumbling block in the way of someone hearing the Gospel.

Paul wrote, “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 being outside 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 all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (I Corinthians 9:19-23, ESV).

Paul is not saying that we should become hypocrites or liars. What he is saying is that the most important thing we can do is to point people to Jesus and Salvation through Him Alone. Therefore, we ought to do everything we can to remove impediments to people hearing the Gospel and believing in Jesus. Therefore, in the things that don’t matter, we ought to be willing to put aside our preferences if it will allow someone to be able to hear the Gospel.

Jesus said, “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).

In our dealings with the world, we are called to be holy – sinless – innocent. Yet, we are also called to be wise, to do everything we can to get people to hear the Gospel.

Then, as we preach the Gospel, God will bring those to faith as He wills, and we will have opportunity then to rejoice with each other as we see God work through us to His Glory.

So let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You have given us each other as part of the Body of Christ. Help us to love each other and rely on each other – weeping and rejoicing together as we have occasion. Cause us to love each other as we love the members of our own body. And as we go about our daily lives, let us be useful witnesses to You – wise and willing to put aside the things that don’t matter that Your Gospel would be heard, that You would be glorified, and that many would call upon Your Name for Salvation. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: "Soul Print"

Mark Batterson’s latest book, Soul Print: discovering your divine destiny, is a challenging read – not because it is difficult to read, but because of what he says and holding what he says in proper biblical tension. Batterson writes in a conversational a popular style which is very easy to read. Yet, the premises/doctrines/teachings of his book were challenging to me as I seek to understand my place in Christ. See the product information at http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/catalog.php?isbn=9781601420398

Batterson’s book is divided into seven sections, presenting seven theses. Each of these is supported by Scripture and illustrated by the history of David’s life, Jesus’ life, and something out of Batterson’s life. The book ends with a thorough discussion guide, which would prove very useful for group discussion.

The seven theses or doctrines – in my words – are these:

1. God created you to be you.

2. God is working His Will in us, so we ought to trust Him and not our circumstances.

3. God gives us lifesymbols to remember His Faithfulness.

4. God cares more about our integrity regarding Him than anything else.

5. Our identity/security is in Christ Alone, so embarrassment for the sake of Christ should be encouraged.

6. God breaks us in order to heal us; we’re defined by what Christ does in us.

7. To truly know ourselves, we must sit before the Lord.

Read Christocentrically, as it is intended, this book may be a good antidote to our modern narcissism, for our meaning, our purpose, and our joy can only truly be found in understanding our place in Christ. May God use this book to His Glory.

[This review appears on Amazon.com and my blog. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: "The Gospel According to Jesus"

Chris Seay’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus: A Faith That Restores All Things, presents a real and terrible truth: Christians don’t know how to state the Gospel. Check out the product information at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=0849948169&title=The_Gospel_According_to_Jesus

Seay presents the problem and then argues that the best way to understand the Gospel is to get an accurate understanding of the word, “righteousness.” Seay defines it as “restorative justice.”

Seay alternates chapters with interviews with Gabe Lyons, Shane Claiborne, Rich McKinley, Alan Hirsch, Mark Batterson, and Dan Kimball on what he has written in the chapter. In the middle of the book, there are a series of color paintings by Scott Erickson, for visio divina.

The good of this book is that Seay recognizes the problem in modern Christendom – most people don’t know how to state the Gospel. He explains that the Social Gospel of doing good for neighbor is not enough and mere intellectual knowledge is not enough. This is wonderful, and it reminds me of the Reformational word that Salvation is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. In other words, salvation through faith alone leads to good works in thanksgiving to Jesus for Salvation.

The disappointments of this book are these:

First, he uses his The Voice so-called translation, which I have reviewed before and find inaccurate and unusable.

Second, in attempting to address the issue from many direction – chapter, interview, and paintings – he has put together what I found to be an exceedingly confusing book to read.

Third, not helping, is his use of modern “in-the-know” terminology.

And fourth, so far as I can tell, the Gospel is never defined.

For these reasons, I cannot recommend this book.

What is the Gospel? “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:1-6, ESV).

[This review appears on Amazon.com and my blog. I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson Publishing Group for this review.]

Monday, January 10, 2011

This Week

This week the pastor is on "vacation" to take his next DMin course.  If you are in need, please call a member of the Consistory.  Since the pastor is "away," there will be no prayer meeting on Saturday -- please pray in private and/or with each other even so.

Join us on Sunday as Rev. Dr. Solomon Tivade leads us in worship and preaches from "The Sermon on the Mount."

Sunday, January 09, 2011

"The Beloved" Sermon: Matthew 3:1-17

"The Beloved”
[Matthew 3:1-17]
January 9, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Today, we remember the Baptism of Jesus. For the first thirty years of Jesus’ Life, He worked with Joseph in the carpentry business. During the same time, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, received training in the wilderness. John the Baptist studied with the Holy Spirit as he was prepared to be the herald of the Promised Savior, Jesus.

John the Baptist took his place as a prophet of God, and he came out of the wilderness and carried out his ministry at and around the Jordan River. We see three themes in the message of John as Matthew records it.

First, John preached that all should “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John called all people to make a one hundred and eighty degree turn away from their sin and, instead, to turn to God – to follow after Him in love and thanksgiving and obedience. And the reason that John gave was that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. By this, John meant that this is the time of the gathering of the people of God back to God. The Coming of the Savior is the inauguration of God receiving those who believe in Him Alone into the Promised Savior and the Restored Kingdom that He will finally bring to earth.

John told the people that the Savior was here, and He is the Bridge that causes us to cross the chasm between God and us. Now was that time then and now is the time still. Until Jesus returns the second time, now is the time to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Second, John condemned those who came to the waters of baptism claming works-righteousness. John condemned the Pharisees and the Sadducees who thought that they came with something that would bridge the gap between God and them. John warned them that they dare not put their trust in father Abraham – not even father Abraham was made right with God based on Abraham himself, but on what God did through him and for him. Abraham was made right with God through grace, and grace through the Son is the only way that anyone will every be made right with the Father.

Third, John explained to those coming to him for baptism that he baptized with water, but the Savior Who was coming after him was greater than him. John humbly told them that he was not worthy to carry the Savior’s filthy sandals. The Savior, he explained to them, was coming, not to baptize with water, but to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Holy Spirit would proceed from the Savior and dwell within all those who believe in Him Alone for their salvation, and the Savior would purify those who believe and make them holy, just as He is holy.

John also explained to them that the Savior would come, not only as the Savior, but as the Judge would divide the world before Him, gathering some unto Himself, and throwing others into the unquenchable fire. The Savior will not be fooled by hypocrites, but will bring the humble to Himself and make them righteous for His Name’s Sake.

In Jesus’ thirtieth year, He came from Galilee to the Jordan to John and asked that John baptize Him. John recognized Jesus as the Savior and would announce Him as such in the days to come, so he was shocked and taken aback when the Savior asked him to baptize Him with the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It didn’t make sense: the Savior had no need to be forgiven for His sins – the Savior is sinless – He must be if He is going to make His people right with God.

John said, “You don’t need to be baptized. I need to be baptized by You. I am the sinner. I am the one who needs to be made right with God. You have nothing to repent of – You have brought the Kingdom of Heaven to Your people. Why would You come to me to be baptized?”

Jesus told John, “Let is be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does that mean?

Jesus did not deny that He did not need to baptized for His sins – He is sinless. But, He asked John to baptize Him to assure us that we are ingrafted into Him – that He obeyed the Father in everything – that Jesus experienced all that we experience.

Paul writes, “We were buried therefore with [Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, ESV).

Baptism is symbolic of death and burial – death towards sin and burial of our sinful nature. Jesus was baptized that we would be like Him in baptism, and whereas He was really put to death and buried, we are symbolically dead and buried with Him through baptism. So we will really walk in new life now and really be resurrected from the dead – just as He was – in the days to come.

And so, John submitted to Jesus and baptized Him in obedience to the Father, and when Jesus walked out of the water the heavens were torn open. Can you imagine what they saw? I can only come up with a cartoonish image of what it would look like for God to tear open the heavens...

And the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. We know that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit do not have physical bodies – only God the Son in the Incarnation took on a human body – the real human person of Jesus. But so that everyone would see that God the Holy Spirit was indwelling Jesus – bringing the inauguration of His Mission – the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove.

(We may ask, if Jesus is God, why did God indwell Him? This is part of the mystery of Jesus being One Person with two natures – a human and a divine nature. Jesus is One Person, but He is 100% God and 100% human in the One Person. So, the Holy Spirit indwelt Jesus in His Human Nature.)

And then the Father spoke, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is the Beloved of God, and the Father is well pleased with His Son.

What does this mean?

Before the Creation, all that existed was God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God existed and was in perfect harmony with Himself. He loved Himself perfectly. He was in perfect communion – fellowship – with Himself. God was all God needed, and God was passionately in love with Himself. There is no greater love than the love that the Father has for the Son and the Spirit, and the love that the Son has for the Father and the Spirit, and the love that the Spirit has for the Father and the Son. (And all of these things remain true of God.)

This love was revealed most dramatically in God’s Declaration of Love at Jesus’ Baptism. This love is confirmed and the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit as Isaiah prophesied: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1, ESV). And Peter confirms this declaration, as it was repeated at the Transfiguration, “For when [Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (II Peter 1:17-18, ESV).

God the Father has loved God the Son with a perfect and infinite love from infinite eternity past into infinite eternity future. God the Son is the Only Begotten of the Father – there is no other God the Son – all of the love for God the Son was given to the One God the Son from God the Father. We are sons and daughters of God – we who believe in the Savior, but there is only One God the Son; there is only One Son Who is co-equal with the Father – the Same One God.

Is your head spinning a little bit? That’s ok. We are not God. We have not always been. We are not Infinite Beings of perfect love.

But, may we begin to understand?

Most of us had parents. Our parents were not perfect, or infinite, but they loved us. Some of us may not have been loved well. But we can understand to some degree what it would mean or does mean to be loved by our parents. Can we not imagine or understand what it means to say that our parents loved us? Even if all of your experiences have been bad, you can think of what they ought to have been, what you wish they had been, you can draw the picture in your mind of what it would mean for your parents to love you. In one way or another, we can understand what it means to say that the Father loved the Son, can we not?

Now, let’s stretch our minds as far as we can and try to begin to understand what it would mean that the Perfect, Eternal, Infinite God the Father has Perfect, Eternal, Infinite Love for God the Son. Let’s take our best understanding of parents loving a child, and raise it to the absolutely perfect and infinite power. That’s how much God the Father loves God the Son. That is the Love of God that rests on Jesus, the Incarnate Son. And Jesus is the Only Begotten Son, so He receives all of the Father’s Love for the Son. There is no other God the Son to take any of His Love away – if that were even possible.

And why did the Father say He was well pleased with the Son? Because the Son perfectly obeyed the Father in love, accomplishing everything that the Father called Him to do. Jesus said, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:4-5, ESV).

Jesus is the beloved of God because of Who He is – the Second Person of the Trinity – and because He perfectly carried out the Will of the Father for Him on earth. Does that make sense?

Now, let’s consider something a little easier for us to understand: you and I are not perfect. We are not infinite. We are not always loving. In fact, we, even as Christians, continue to sin against the very God Who has reconciled us to Himself. You and I are sinners. And, if we were to compare ourselves to the Infinitely Perfect, Eternal, and Beloved God the Son, the very best word that we can use to describe ourselves is “wretched.” Paul considered who he was as a Christian and wrote, “Wretched man that I am Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, ESV).

Do we remember Paul’s answer? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord ” (Romans 7:25a, ESV).

What is Paul talking about? “[God the Father] predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:5-6, ESV). “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14, ESV). “[God the Father] 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).

Paul is telling us that God the Father not only sent His Only Begotten Son, His Beloved Son, to earth in the Person of Jesus, but He gave His Son, His Only Begotten Son, His Beloved Son, over to the hands of evil men, that He might suffer and die the horrific death of crucifixion, and not only that, but for the only time in all of eternity, the Father ruptured the perfect love and communion and fellowship between the Father and the Son in that moment on the cross that Jesus cried out that He was forsaken, so that Jesus might experience the whole of God’s Wrath for the payment of the debt for sin for everyone who would ever believe in Him.

We will remember in Genesis 22, God gave Abraham a son, Isaac, and God promised that Isaac would be the son of promise – that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed – that God would carry out His Plan for His people through Isaac. And then God told Abraham to take his son, his only son, his beloved son, and to offer him as a burnt offering to God on the mountain.

So Abraham took Isaac and went up the mountain, and Isaac noticed that they brought fire and wood, but they didn’t have a lamb to sacrifice. And Isaac asked his father where the lamb for sacrifice was. And Abraham answered that God would provide the lamb. And he tied up Isaac and put him on the altar and lifted up a knife, ready to plunge it into his son, his only son, his beloved son, in obedience to God, offering him up as a sacrifice to God. And God said, “Stop ” And He provided a ram which was stuck in the thicket for the sacrifice; Isaac was redeemed; Abraham’s trust was proved.

But that day on Calvary, God allowed His Only Begotten Son, His Beloved Son, to be taken by wicked men and impaled on a cross, crucified, and hanged to suffer not only the horror of crucifixion, but the unimaginable, eternal wrath of God. And God did not stop it. God did not yell, “Stop ” God did not reach down and save His Beloved; He allowed Him to be slaughtered.

Throughout His Earthly Life, God the Father declared that Jesus is His Beloved Son – in His Baptism, in His Transfiguration – why would God allow this to happen to Him – the Perfect, Holy, Infinite Son of His Love?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).

We moderns – even modern Christians – have a warped sense of self. We believe we are pretty good people. I can’t tell you the number of times that people have told me that they would “go to heaven” because they were basically good people. Eighty percent of Americans say they are better than average people. It’s mind-boggling how well we think of ourselves. That’s why “reality” TV and court TV gets such high ratings – we can watch these people and tell ourselves how much better we are than they.

But God tells us we are “wretched” sinners.

God said that Jesus is His Beloved.

God said we are “wretched” sinners.

God gave His Beloved Son up to a horrifing, unimaginable, undeserved death. Why?

Because the God Who loves His Son, Jesus, and declared Him to be His Beloved, God the Son, His Eternal Beloved – this God loves you and me and everyone who will believe in Jesus Alone for salvation so much – that He gave His Beloved up for us – to pay our debt and make us righteous before God.

Why? I have no idea. Why was God willing to put His Beloved to death for me? I can’t tell you. Why was God willing to put His Beloved to death for you? I can’t tell you. The Scripture tells us that God did not give His Son because of anything we are or do or would be. God did not give up His Beloved for us because we are so good or because He needs us or because God can’t accomplish His Plan without us. We’re not told why God chose to sacrifice His Beloved in love for us. Let us accept that God has a plan and a purpose of His Own, known only to Him.

And let us be amazed by His Love. Are you amazed? It can be hard to believe. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that God loves me and God’s Church and the Israel of God with such a love that He would give us His Beloved to torture and kill. But in those moments when we find it difficult, we need to tell Satan to get behind us. We have been baptized in Jesus’ Death and rise to new life through Him.

I am a wretched sinner; but thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, He has made me His beloved. And everyone who believes savingly in Jesus is loved by God the Father with a love that we find incomprehensible – that He would sacrifice His Beloved.

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Beloved of God. We need to hear that – not to become prideful, but to be humbled and amazed. God has made us His Beloved through His Son, the Eternal Beloved. Let us cover our lips in amazement:

“And can it be that I should gain and interest in the Savior’s blood? Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued? Amazing love How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

“‘Tis mystery all The Immortal dies Who can explore his strange design? In vain the first-born seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine ‘Tis mercy all Let earth adore, let angel minds inquire no more. Amazing love How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me ”

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, we can hardly understand what it means that You have loved the Son from all of eternity with Infinite and Perfect Love. We thank You that You have revealed to us that Jesus is the Beloved God the Son. And we approach You with amazement that You chose to sacrifice Your Beloved for us. Help us to receive and to begin to comprehend what it means that You have loved us with that incomprehensible a love for Your Sake and according to Your Plan and Purposes. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

"The Newborn King" Sermon: Matthew 2:1-11

“The Newborn King”
[Matthew 2:1-11]
January 2, 2011 Second Reformed Church

During our Christmas Eve service, we looked at Jesus as being the Son of David, the promised heir to the throne of David, Who would rule over spiritual Israel forever. We came to understand that Jesus is King over all of Creation, including His people – all those who believe in Him Alone for salvation – you and me. Jesus is our Sovereign King.

This morning, we heard the history of the visit of the magi – how they prophetically recognized Jesus as the Newborn King of Israel. We may remember that the magi were a class of astrologers out of what was then call Persia – modern day Iraq and Iran.

These magi followed a star from Persia to Israel. They understood that the star signified the birth of a king, so they went to Jerusalem, to the palace to look for the Newborn King. But He was not there; they found King Herod.

King Herod was the wicked puppet-king of Rome, and the magi asked him where the Newborn King was, that they might worship Him – that is, that they might bow before Him in recognition of His Rightful Authority. God had chosen the magi to be witnesses and heralds of the birth of God’s King.

Herod was concerned about his position on the throne, and his supporters were concerned about a rival for the throne, especially with Rome watching. Herod called for the priests and scribes to tell him where the prophets said such a king would be born, and they found for him one of the Scriptures we read Christmas Eve – a prophecy from the book of Micah, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler, who will shepherd my people Israel.”

Herod was not about to let his throne be taken – prophecy or no prophecy, and he met with the magi in secret and got them to tell him when the star appeared, and he sent them on to Bethlehem, according to the prophecy, and told them to go and find the Baby that he might also worship the Baby. Herod was no fool. He wanted the magi to find the Baby so he would waste his time and resources looking for Him, and so, when the Baby was found, he could take care of the threat.

The magi left Herod’s palace, and the star appeared before them and led them towards Bethlehem. And the magi rejoiced that they would soon be in the presence of this mighty and Newborn King. And the star moved ahead until it stopped over the house where Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus were staying.

When the magi entered the house and saw the Child with Mary, they fell down and worshiped Him. They understood He was the Newborn King, a Mighty Authority, and One to Whom they owed respect. Did they understand that He is God the Savior? Probably not.

But the Truth has been revealed to us; we know that Jesus is God the Savior, our King, and the Sacrifice that makes us right with God. Jesus is worthy of our worship because He is God and because He has given Himself for the sake of His people.

How do we worship Jesus? How do we show the Worth of Jesus to others and glorify Him for His Worth?

We join together in worship – in the services that we hold here in the sanctuary. We join together in prayer and singing, hearing what God has said and meeting with Jesus in the Sacraments. We encourage each other and point out the truths of the Gospel to each other. We rejoice when we have reason to rejoice, and we mourn together when we have reason to mourn.

When we are apart from each other, we ought still worship Jesus through living lives that are pleasing to Him. We ought to do those things which improve our mind and body and soul and heart. We ought to do those things which are pleasing to God and joyful to us and refrain from doing those things which are against God’s Will. We ought to submit to Jesus as our Sovereign King and let others know that He is our Sovereign – that we trust Him and have our hope in Him, not in the plans and pursuits of humans. And in thanksgiving for what Jesus has done for us, we ought to do all we can to make others’ lives better. We ought to be honest and helpful to those we come in contact with.

Have you made any new year’s resolutions? I have set some goals for myself for the coming year...

Let us make this resolution together: in all that we do and say and think and are, let us do everything in worship and to the glory of Jesus. How might we do that? Let us get in the habit of asking ourselves – before we act, before we speak – will this attract people to Jesus or turn them away? Will my saying this, doing this, becoming this, attract people to Jesus or turn them away? And, yes, the answer is not always easy. And, yes, we will stumble and fall and not always do those things which attract people to Jesus.

If we have the choice between picking a beer bottle up off of our neighbor’s lawn, or looking the other way, what might we do? If we have the opportunity of keeping the extra change we were given at the supermarket, or telling the cashier that he gave us too much money, what might we do? If we have the time to read our Bible or watch another soap opera, what might we do? If we have the opportunity to voice a concern about our town, or assume someone else will do it, what might we do? If we have the opportunity to invite someone to worship, or to just keep quiet, what might we do?

Does it matter that Jesus is King? Does it matter that He Alone is Savior? Are we thankful for Him? Does our thankfulness make us desire that others would believe in Him?

The magi not only worshiped Jesus, they brought Him gifts; they brought Him three of the most priceless gifts to be found at that time in the Middle East: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The magi gave Jesus gold. We know what gold is. Gold has always had a value and an economic stability about it. Gold was a gift for a king – it symbolized kingship, wealth, and power.

What is your greatest treasure? Of all the material wealth you have – of all the gifts and blessings and abilities God has gifted you with – what do you consider the greatest, the most valuable to you? What is the last thing you would want to see taken away from you? Do you have something – or maybe even someone – in mind?

How are you using your “gold” to worship the King, to give thanks, and to acknowledge before the world that He is your King? If you don’t know how, ask me – ask another Christian.

The magi also brought frankincense. What is frankincense? Frankincense is a type of incense that was burned in the worship of God.

Now, we are not a tradition that burns incense in worship, and it is not mandatory in the Scripture that we burn incense in our worship. However, there is a way that we can offer up incense to God, even without physically burning incense: John writes, “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8, ESV). Our prayers are received as incense before God – they are sweet smelling in the Nostrils of God. God loves to smell our prayers coming before Him.

And we pray during the worship service. Do you pray during the week? Alone and with others? It is a good practice to begin the day with prayer – asking God for all those things we want to accomplish that day, asking that God would be glorified in our day, that He would guide us and protect us, leading us in the paths that He has prepared before us. We usually have a prayer meeting on Saturday from 3 – 4 PM. You are welcome to come to pray and to be prayed for and with.

God is pleased to hear our prayers when they are according to His Will. We have seen before that prayer is the practicing of aligning our minds and desires with God. Prayer is not a magic formula to get what we want from God, it is the way in which we learn what God wills and how to ask God for what God wills. And we have the promise that if we pray for anything that God wants, God will do it – without fail.

For example, God wants us to witness to the Kingship and the Salvation of His Son, Jesus. And if we pray that God will help us to witness to Him in word and deed and character – with everything that we are – God will help us to become the witnesses that He wants us to be.

We worship the King when we offer up prayers asking that we might be and do all that He would have for us.

The third gift of the magi was myrrh. Myrrh is a spice for embalming the dead – a rather strange gift to give for a newborn. They gave it because of it’s worth, but it also foreshadowed the death of Jesus and the embalming He would receive.

Jesus, our King, gave His Life for us, and He has called us to live our lives for Him – even to death. Are we sure enough of Who Jesus is to die for Him? Are we sure He is the Sovereign King of all Creation? Are we sure that He will raise us from the dead to live forever with Him? Is life with Jesus worth more than everything on earth?

Jesus said, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39, ESV). That’s not an easy word, is it?

I hope no one here is trying to find a way to die. I hope we are all seeking to live as long as we can and as well as we can. We live in a relatively safe nation, but there are countries around the world where converts to Christianity are put to death. We may never be call to that, still, are we willing to live and even die for Jesus – to show Him to be Who He is?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was executed by Hitler, wrote, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” What Bonhoeffer was saying is that when God calls us to Salvation in Him Alone, He also calls us to die to ourselves, to live for Jesus and His Gospel, and to be willing to give up our lives for the sake of the Gospel.

As we begin this year, let us remember what is revealed to us in the visit of the magi: Jesus is the Sovereign God and King of all of Creation – everything is in His Hands. In thanksgiving for Who He is and what He has done, let us worship Him, trusting Him with the things that are most valuable to us, through praying according to His Will, seeking that we might become more like Him, and through living for Him, as witnesses to Him, in the way He has called us to live, that we might joyfully die for Him, whenever He calls us.

And let us make this resolution together: in all that we do and say and think and are, let us do everything in worship and to the glory of Jesus. How might we do that? Let us get in the habit of asking ourselves – before we act, before we speak – will this attract people to Jesus or turn them away? Will my saying this, doing this, becoming this, attract people to Jesus or turn them away? And, yes, the answer is not always easy. And, yes, we will stumble and fall and not always do those things which attract people to Jesus.

Still, let us come to the table of our Lord, remembering what He did for us, receiving the bread and the cup, meeting spiritually with Jesus, receiving grace and strength and wisdom from Him in that meeting, and believing, looking forward in hope, that this year – and all time and space – is under Jesus’ Sovereign Rule. He is our King, so we are safe in His Hands. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, on this Epiphany Sunday, as we remember the visit of the magi and the gifts they brought in worship of the Newborn King, we ask that You would continue to make us into the likeness of Your Son. Help us to live lives of worship to You, and grant us the grace that we so desperately need, as we meet with You in the bread and the cup. And may Jesus Christ be praised, Amen.