Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

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 the seven?” – John Eadie, Paul the Preacher, 297-298.

"Use Politics" Sermon: Acts 22:22-29

“Use Politics”
[Acts 22:22-29]
February 20, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV).

Some people have taken this verse and others like it and concluded that we are to separate ourselves from the world in the sense that we have no connection to it – whether that be by living in a monastery, not participating in “secular” events, only buying “Christian” products, shunning the government, etc. But that is not what this passage and others like it are about. We are not called to avoid, shun, do away with everything that is not specifically “Christian.”

In fact, what we see in this morning’s Scripture is there are times when we should use, politics, government, the world, to our advantage. God works through the things of the world as well as specifically “Christian” things.

Last week we saw Paul defend himself before the maddening crowd who thought he was against the people of Israel, the Temple, and the Law of God. We saw him explain that he was born a Jew, educated by the renown Pharisee, Gamaliel, that Paul himself became a Pharisee, a persecutor of the Christians, that the Sanhedrin – the leading council of the Jews – had hired him to hunt the Christians, but Jesus had stopped him on the road to Damascus, converted him, sent him to the well-known Jew, Ananias, to be healed of the blindness Paul received in encountering Jesus, and from there to bring the Gospel of God to the Gentiles – to bring the covenant of Abraham to the non-Jews and bring them into it.

The crowd had listened quietly, with interest, until Paul explained that God sent him to the Gentiles – to bring the faith of Israel to the non-Jews – that God was including non-Jews in the covenant that God made with Abraham. The crowd was outraged – they considered him to have spoken blasphemy – heresy. The covenant was for the Jews – the Law was clear that the Gentiles were outsiders – not part of the covenant. It was outrageous – it was a crime to be punished by death – to suggest otherwise.

The crowd pushed in, throwing off their coats, throwing dirt in rage, preparing to attack and take Paul by force that they might put him to death. In so doing, they fulfilled the prophecy that Luke recorded in verse eighteen, where Jesus warned Paul, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.”

Were they right? Had Paul overstepped the agreement – the covenant – that God had made with Abraham? Here is what God said, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:18, ESV).

It is true: God chose the nation of Israel to be a special – a chosen – people for Himself. It is true: God promised that the Savior would come through the biological people of Israel. But they had forgotten: God said that every people – every nation – Jews and non-Jews – Gentiles – would be blessed through Israel. Israel was set apart, but God promised to bless every people – not just the Jews – through Israel. So, the mob sinned in wanting Paul dead.

Of course, the Roman tribune, Claudius Lysias, was at a complete loss – he had no idea what Paul had said that had thrown them into such a frenzy. All he knew was that they were not calm any more. So he ordered Paul to be brought into the barracks, and he thought that the crowd might calm down if he had Paul flogged.

We may remember that Jesus was flogged. Flogging was a type of torture which involved being whipped with a whip of many tails that had broken glass, metal, and sharp stones embedded in it, so when the whip hit a person, it dug in and tore the flesh. It was a common form of Roman torture.

So the centurions took off Paul’s shirt and strapped his hands to the whipping post. They got the flog and readied to torture him for the peace of the people – remember, the Romans still had no idea what he had done that got everyone so upset. And as they prepared to flog him, Paul asked, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” And the Romans froze.

It was against Roman law to flog a Roman citizen. Cicero recounts, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to slay him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is – what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed” (in Kistemaker, 798).

They had already violated Paul’s civil rights by binding him to the flogging post – and here they were ready to flog him. But at Paul’s announcement of his citizenship – they froze – and then they unbound him.

Lysias was again in shock: Paul was a Roman citizen? And he asked him, “Are you a Roman citizen?”

“Yes.”

“How did you come to be a Roman citizen? I bought my citizenship, and it was a princely price I paid, and you are certainly not a man of means.”

“I did not buy my citizenship – I was born a citizen.”

Paul was actually of a higher social class that Lysias, as far as his citizenship was concerned, because he was actually born a Roman citizen. One of his family members in the past must have either bought citizenship or had been awarded it by the state for meritorious acts, but Paul was born a citizen. He had all the rights of any other Roman citizen. And at this time – to keep from being killed – Paul called for his rights to be protected.

So, let us understand that there is nothing wrong with a Christian asking that his civil rights be upheld.

Why did God give humanity government? Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that 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 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).

Notice three things:

Everyone who holds authority has been put in that position by God. That does not mean that every person is power is good or godly, but that God has given that person authority for a purpose and for a time.

The government exists for two reasons: First, the government exists to protect her citizens. Second, the government exists to punish evil.

Lysias was put in power by God. The people told him that Paul was to be punished, so Lysias took him away for trial. But when Paul told him that he was a citizen, Lysias protected his civil rights.

So, there is nothing wrong with a Christian asking that his civil rights be upheld. It is not a sin to use politics and the government as they are intended to be used.

However, we ought to notice that Paul didn’t always announce that he was a Roman citizen; he did not always ask that his civil rights be upheld. When Paul and Silas were in Philippi, and the people accused them of teaching the worship of gods which were not approved by the state, Paul and Silas were beaten with rods, thrown in prison, and fasten in the stocks (Acts 16:19-24). Paul could have told them that he was a Roman citizen, and he wouldn’t have been beaten, and he would have received better treatment, but he didn’t. Why not?

What we see here is that is it more important to be faithful to Jesus and His Gospel than to avoid suffering through the use of politics – even if we might rightly use them, as we see Paul calling for his civil rights to be upheld in this morning’s Scripture. There are times when we ought to demand they be upheld and times when we ought not to speak.

When Paul was in Philippi, if he had called for his civil rights to be upheld, he probably would not have been throw in prison, he probably would not have had the opportunity to witness to the other prisoners and the jailer, and the jailer and his family probably would not have come to faith in Jesus Alone for their salvation.

If Paul had not called for his civil rights to be upheld in Jerusalem, the crowd probably would have killed him, and he would not have gotten the opportunity to go to Rome and preach the Gospel before (probably) Emperor Nero.

How did Paul know when to exercise his civil rights and when not to? We’re not told. Did Paul know what the outcomes of Philippi and Jerusalem would be? It’s unlikely he did.

Well, then, what can we say?

We ought to be praying for those in authority.

God has given those in authority important work to do and a great responsibility. No matter whether we care for a leader or not, we ought to be in prayer for him or her for the sake of the office and for the sake that God has given us the leaders that we have. We ought to be praying for them that God would give them wisdom and understanding, that they would act for the good of the people they serve, and punish evil, and not become involved in the sins that tempt them in their positions.

We ought to pray for wisdom to know how we ought to use politics and not use politics, and how were ought to respond to our leaders.

Our knowledge is very limited. So we need to pray for wisdom and understanding from God for ourselves as we seek to react to what occurs around us.

We ought to know something of what is happening in our community and our world – and not hide from the world – but be in prayer both for our leaders and to know how to take action if and when we are convicted to do so.

It is not a sin to be involved in politics or to use politics, but we must do so – or refrain from doing so – with wisdom and always to the glory of God.

So, let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You are the Sovereign Ruler over all Creation, and all those who hold positions of authority have been put there by You. We thank You that You have given us government to protects us and punish those who do evil. And we ask that You would help us to pray for our leaders, and to use politics in ways that will direct people to You and the salvation that You bring through Jesus Christ Alone. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

This Week

With the pastor being away at the Rivera wedding, there will be no prayer meeting this Saturday (26th) and no adult Bible Study Sunday (27th).  The normal schedule will resume next week (D.V.).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Always Have a Reason" Sermon: Acts 21:37-22:21

“Always Have a Reason”
[Acts 21:37-22:21]
February 13, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Peter wrote that we ought “always be[] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (I Peter 3:15b, ESV). We ought to always have a reason – to be able to offer an explanation – for why we do what we do and say what we say when it comes to matters of the faith. It we say we believe something, we ought to be able to say why. If we do something, we ought to be able to say why.

Paul had come back to Jerusalem to report about his work among the Gentiles – and he came to worship in the Temple. While he was finishing his purification rite, Jews from Asia – what we now call Turkey, came and accused him to teaching against the people of Israel, against the Law of God, and against the Temple, and they accused him of breaking the Law by bringing Greeks – Gentiles – into the Temple.

The mob went wild and tried to kill Paul, but it was broken up by the Roman, Claudius Lysias, and the thousand centurions under his authority. He asked for an explanation, but all he got was the mob yelling in confusion, so much so that the centurions had to carry Paul to the barracks to keep him from being puled back into the mob.

When they reached the door of the barracks, Paul asked Claudius Lysias if he might say something to him. And Claudius Lysias was surprised, because Paul spoke to him in Greek. Lysias had assumed that the only person that could make the mob go wild like this was the Egyptian who had recently led an ill-fated attack on Jerusalem with four thousand mercenaries, but he wouldn’t have known Geek, and Paul knew Greek. Lysias was even more confused as to who this was and why he was taking him away.

Paul explained that he was a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia – in modern-day Turkey – in a city that everyone knew. And he asked if he might address the crowd – that he might make himself clear – that he might give a reason for the actions that he had actually taken. And Lysias permitted it. Paul had taken a chance at angering Lysias by speaking to him in his own language and requesting to speak to the mob, because there was nothing more important to Paul than to make sure that the Gospel was heard by this people.

Was Paul going to jail? Was Paul going to be killed by the Jews? The Romans? Or, perhaps, set free? These were, at best, secondary questions. What was foremost in Paul’s mind was he had the opportunity to tell this mob the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that God the Son came to earth in the human Person of Jesus, lived and died to pay the debt for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended back to His Throne, just as the Scripture said He would. Paul could not let the possibility of speaking about the Gospel pass Him by.

So, let us notice first that we should be most concerned that we have the opportunity to tell others the Gospel. Everything else is secondary – including our lives. We ought to look and pray for opportunities to tell other people about Jesus. Knowing Him and believing in Him is the most important thing that anyone can ever do.

“Well, you’ve been to seminary, so you know how to do these things. I wouldn’t know what to say.”

I didn’t learn how to tell others the Gospel in seminary. I learned from friends and family – other Christians – we can learn from each other and find out how we each – with the gifts and graces God has given us – we can learn how to let others know that we believe in Jesus Alone for our Salvation.

After Paul addressed Lysias, and he consented to his speaking, they put Paul down, and Paul began to wave his hands to get the mob’s attention. And everyone was silent. And Paul began to address the crowd in Hebrew.

Let us notice that Paul spoke the language of the people. When he spoke to the Romans, he spoke in Greek. When he spoke to his fellow Jews, he spoke in Hebrew – or, more likely, in Aramaic, the common form of Hebrew.

From this let us understand that we ought to proclaim the Gospel in a language that the people we are addressing can understand. And that is not merely in the type of language – like Greek and Hebrew – but in the style of language. Just as a chemist would not use the same language with someone who has no knowledge of chemistry and one of his colleagues in the lab, so we would not necessarily speak in the same style of language – use the same words and phrases – with each person. We need to understand the ability and capacity of the people we are talking with and address them in a way that they can understand.

So Paul began to speak to them in Hebrew, calling them brothers – equals with him in the faith and heritage – and fathers – those to whom Paul humbly submits. And he captures their attention – they get even more quiet. And Paul explained who he was. Why?

Paul had been traveling throughout the known world for about thirty years now. It is around 60 A.D. at this point, and many people only knew stories and rumors about Paul, but they didn’t actually know him. So, he began by explaining who he was.

“I am a Jew, born in Cilicia – in a place well-known to everyone. I was educated in this city by Gamaliel – perhaps the greatest scholar of Judaism ever to live. Someone who is well known among even those who never met him. He taught me, as you would expect, to respect the Law of God and to adhere to it with utmost strictness, and I was zealous for God, just as all of you are. I persecuted the followers of the Way – the followers of Jesus, Who was called the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior. I killed men and women and children who put their faith in Jesus. The high priest and the whole council of the elders can verify what I am saying – the Sanhedrin knows that this is my background – this is my history – it is true. They were even the ones who gave me letters to pass through Damascus and bring the followers of Jesus back to Jerusalem to be tried and put to death. Just ask them – I worked for the Sanhedrin.”

Paul explained that his life was not a secret. He was a very public figure – highly educated and employed by the ruling body of the Jews. The Sanhedrin was a witness to his zeal for the people of Israel, God’s Law, and the Temple. And he continued –

“But as I was on my way to Damascus – at about noon – a great light from heaven surrounded me, and I fell to the ground, and a voice said to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ So I asked, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He answered, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’”

Paul made sure he was specific in identify Jesus – Jesus of Nazareth – because Jesus was a common name, and he wanted to make sure that they understood that the Lord Who spoke to him from heaven was the Jesus Who claimed to be the Savior – Whom they had crucified.

“The men who were with me were witnesses to what happened – though they did not understand the voice – they can testify to everything else I said. And I asked Jesus what I should do, and He told me to go to Damascus, and there I would meet someone who would tell me what to do. I had to be led to Damascus, because, as the light went away from me, I was left blind.

“When I got to Damascus, I was led to Ananias, a devout man who follows the Law of God, who is well-spoken of by all the Jews of Damascus – you can ask anyone there today, and they will remember him. And he called me ‘brother’ and he restored my sight. And he told me that the God of our Fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, chose me to see and hear the Righteous One, Jesus the Savior, and to be a witness to Him and His Gospel – telling everyone what I had seen and what had happened. And baptized me in the Name of Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins.”

Notice the witnesses that Paul has lined up – the Sanhedrin, the men who were with him on the road to Damascus, the well respected, zealous Jew, Ananias. Why? Because Christianity is a historical faith. One of the truths of Christianity is that Jesus and the coming of His Gospel among humans did not happen in secret – it happened publically, so there is an enormously vast amount of historical and archeological evidence to support everything that is written in the Bible. No one has ever show a single item to be historically wrong – and vast amounts of the Bible can easily be shown to be historically accurate. Christianity is a historical faith – it is not a fantasy; it is rooted in history.

“After I left Ananias, I went back to Jerusalem, and when I returned, Jesus appeared to me again while I was praying in the Temple, and He told me to get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they would not receive my testimony and the Gospel of Jesus. But I objected that you all know that I went from synagogue to synagogue searching out all those who confessed faith in Jesus. They all know that I approved the stoning of Stephen and rejoiced to see him put to death, as I stood by, watching everyone’s coat. But God told me to leave – that He had a mission for me – not to love the Jews less, my brothers and sisters, but to go on His Mission – God sent me to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles – to the non-Jews. You see, I have never departed from the faith of my fathers. I have never renounced Judaism; I still believe the Law and the Prophets and everything that God promised. That has not changed. But God has open my eyes so I understand that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, being the Savior of all those who will believe. And just as God promised our father, Abraham, that he would be a blessing to every nation, so God sent me to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the non-Jews.”

And so, Paul spoke to the Jews.

Paul explained that he was not against the people of Israel. He loved and respected the people of Israel and knew that God had chosen them to be the people through whom God would sent the Savior of all those who would believe.

Paul explained that he was not against the Law and the Temple. He was rigorously trained by the greatest mind of Judaism. He was zealous for the Law. So much so, that the high council of Israel hired him to hunt down the Christians – and Paul was recognized by Law- abiding Jews throughout the known world.

Paul was not fighting against God and His Word, Paul was fighting for it – preaching it – explaining it. Paul was the foremost proponent of the Law and the Prophets. But Paul understood that Jesus is the Savior. And God sent Paul to bring the Gospel to the non-Jews, as God has promised to Abraham.

That was Paul’s defense – that was Paul’s reason for all that he had done for the previous thirty years – complete with high powered and believable witnesses to confirm his testimony.

What’s your defense? What’s your reason? Why do you do what you do? Why are you who you are? Why are you working to become who you are becoming?

Let us work to become a people like Paul:

Let us know what we believe and why we believe it.

We can only tell others what we believe about Jesus if we know ourselves. We need to know Who Jesus is and what He has done and why He has done it and what that means for us. If we believe that the Gospel is the most important thing we can ever tell another person, we ought to know what it is. How do we do that?

Let us spend time in God’s Word, other good Christian books, and in discussion with other Christians so we might better understand together. Paul writes, “And [God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12, ESV). As a pastor, I am called to do everything I can to equip you so you can do the work of the ministry – you are not free once you leave this sanctuary – we all must be working to be the men and women God has called us to be – especially as God uses us to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let us be able to explain to others what we believe in a language that they will understand. That does not mean that we should do away with language that is specific and important to Christianity – especially language in the Scripture, but we need to learn how to explain it in a language that the people we talk with will understand – and that will be different for each of us. We must begin by understanding what and why we believe, and then, as we make friends and learn their “languages,” we can “translate” so they understand.

For example, the first paper I wrote for school this Fall, I wrote in the style that I am currently accustom to writing for preaching and teaching. And my professor noted that the way I was writing was not the style and the language that was required in the program – I had to adjust to a different style and vocabulary to be accepted and understood in the work that I am doing with them. So, we must make adjustments – not in what we believe – but in how we speak and explain to make sure others understand.

Let us strive to live lives in accordance with what we believe. We need to understand that people watch us. What we say is important, but if our actions betray us – show us to really be about something else – to be acting against those things we profess to believe, no one will listen.

Paul challenged his listeners to listen to the witnesses of the Sanhedrin, to check his upbringing and education and his call from them, to question the men who were on the road to Damascus, and Ananias and the people who know him. That is not to say that Paul was sinless, but he had a general track record of faithfulness to what he said he believed and what he taught others.

Let us be honest with ourselves and others. The truth of the matter is that we all sin – we all go against what we believe and profess to others – and we ought to be honest about that. People are watching, and they will notice when we fail – when we sin – and it is much better to admit that we failed at our calling in a certain instance than to try to cover it up, because we will be discovered – and we will have lost the opportunity to speak for Jesus and His Gospel.

Paul told his listeners that he was a murderer – hired by the Sanhedrin – and he acted according to his zeal for what he thought was God’s Will, but he came to understand that he sinned, and now he was preaching the Truth of Jesus, the Savior.

So let us do all we can to be ready.

Jesus, speaking of the work of calling people to faith in Himself said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (John 4:34-38, ESV).

The point is this: God has called His people to Himself, and all those who have been elect to salvation will respond in faith. Now God sends us – God uses us to His Glory – and sends us out to proclaim His Gospel so that those who have been chosen will respond. So let us always have a reason for the hope that is within us.

So let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for calling us to faith and for using us to spread Your Gospel. Help us to understand what we believe and why we believe it and to be ready to tell Your Gospel to others in a language that they will understand. Give us wisdom and strength, and may You be glorified in all that we do. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

"Bringer of Confusion" Sermon: Acts 21:27-36

“Bringer of Confusion”
[Acts 21:27-36]
February 6, 2011 (January 30, 2011) Second Reformed Church

Paul returned to Jerusalem, and after he rejoiced with them about God’s work among the Gentiles, the apostles and elders told him that the Jews in Jerusalem were saying that he had called the Gentiles to abandon the teaching of Moses and the traditions of Israel. We saw that what Paul actually taught was that the Ceremonial Law – things like what foods to eat and what clothes to wear – have no bearing on salvation. Salvation is through Jesus Alone.

Even so, the apostles and elders recommended that Paul put aside his liberty and purify himself according to the Law before he entered the temple, to pay for the shaving of four men who had taken a Nazarite vow, and to pay for the sacrifices that they needed to offer. In that way, he showed that he was not saying the Law should be done away with – just that it was not necessary for salvation.

Paul agreed with them, because if the Jews were upset with his not keeping the Ceremonial Law, they would not listen to him about the Gospel. So, for the sake of being able to proclaim the Gospel to them, he kept the Ceremonial Law. He began with the seven-day purification that was required of him.

Have you ever been in a situation where people disagreed and start offering their opinions, talking over each other, so that no one knew what anyone is saying? Have you ever been in an argument with someone and carried it on long enough that you didn’t remember why you were having the argument? Have you ever found yourself utterly confused, unable to discern what is true and real?

Paul was purifying himself according to the Ceremonial Law so the Jews would not have a bias against him, and so they would hear him explain why Jesus is the long-awaited Savior. But while he was going through the purification process – when it was almost finished – some of the Jews from Asia – that is what we call Turkey – very possibly Jews from Ephesus, where the riots had been – these Jews followed Paul all the way to Jerusalem, and when they found him, they started crying out, “Help Men of Israel, help ”

The Jews from Asia got a crowd together and started to rile them up: “This is Paul who has gone throughout the world, teaching against the people of Israel, against the Law of God, and against the Temple And not only that, he snuck Greeks – Gentiles – into the Temple, where only Jews are allowed ”

Was Paul against the people of Israel? No. “Brothers, my hearts desire and prayer to God for [the people of Israel] is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1, ESV).

Was Paul against the Law of God? No. “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means ” (Romans 7:7a, ESV).

Was Paul against the Temple? No. “[Paul] was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost” (Romans 20:16b, ESV).

Did Paul bring Gentiles into the area of the Temple that was only for the Jews? No. They assumed he did, “for they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.”

As a side note – but an important thing to notice – let us notice that, even though the Christians confessed that they were One Body, the Jewish Christians still tended to worship in the Temple, and the Gentile Christians were not allowed to – so the Christian Church was divided at this time.

But that was not to be: we remember that when Jesus died, He cried out, and “the curtain of the temple [which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple] was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51a, ESV). This is what Christians confessed from the beginning, “Here there is not Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11, ESV). All people who believe savingly in Jesus are one in Him, and any differences that had previously separated us in worship and community are done away with.

The Church came one step closer to that truth and vision when, in 70 A.D., God sent the Roman army to destroy the Temple. Since then, temple worship and sacrifice has been done away with, and that physical separation has been done away with.

Still, the sad truth is that we do discriminate against one another, even in the Church. James writes, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘you sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘you stand over there,’ or ‘sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4, ESV).

This is a work of the devil: the devil wants us to split into groups, even within a single church, when God has called us to be a body – a people. In the House of God, we come to worship God, and we are not to separate people or give preference to people because of wealth or age or youth or poverty or race or language or background. The devil is the bringer of confusion, who works to separate us and get us to work against each other.

So, back to the scene at the Temple: the Jews from Asia brought these false charges against Paul – serious charges if they were true – charges that people would have been confused about if they had not hear Paul speak. So, in their confusion and zeal without wisdom, they grabbed Paul and dragged him out of the Temple and shut the gates, symbolically separating him from God and the worship of God.

And the crowd began to beat him – seeking to kill him. The crowd was incensed – they didn’t know what Paul had done, but they knew he had done it, and God was angry at him, so they were called to carry out God’s vengeance upon him.

It is a very dangerous thing to say God is on our side, unless the Bible is absolutely clear on a point. For example, the Bible says that there is One and Only One God. Therefore, in an argument about whether there is One God or many gods, God is on our side, because He has told us that He is the Only God. But such clarity is not often the case. We don’t know the fulness of the Mind of God, so, at best, we are assuming that something of what we are doing is according to God’s Will. It also makes God out to be very petty – like the gods of the Greeks and Romans – who, in legend, took sides and fought with humans and pitted them against each other. Our God is the All-knowing, the All-powerful, the Sovereign God, and vengeance is His.

Nevertheless, the Jews dragged Paul out of the Temple to kill him for his heresy and blasphemy – so the Jews claimed. But while they were trying to kill him, word got to Claudius Lysias (see 23:26), the tribune of the cohort – the captain of one thousand men, and he brought his soldiers to take charge of this riot – this violent confusion – that was occurring outside of the Temple.

And when the crowd saw the tribune of the cohort, they stopped beating Paul. And the tribune had Paul bound with two chains – just as Agabus had prophesied. And Claudius Lysias asked what Paul had done. And everyone started shouting at once – and not only that – they all started shouting different things – making different accusations. It was pure confusion – it was pandemonium – it was the devil at work.

We may remember a similar situation when Jesus had been scourged by Pilate, and Pilate brought Him before the crowd, telling them that he found no reason to hold Jesus – that He was guilty of nothing – the crowd started screaming and yelling and calling out all sorts of things, until, finally, the word got through to Pilate that they would rather have the terrorist, Barrabbas, released back into the community, and have Jesus taken away to be crucified.

The devil likes confusion. He uses it to distract us, to get us to jump to conclusions, to get us to do things that we shouldn’t be doing – to ourselves and others. The devil uses confusion to open us up to all possibility of danger and destruction.

The Jews continued to shout over the tribune, getting louder and more violent, continuing to issue forth confusion and anger, so the tribune took Paul away quickly – to bring him to the barracks where he could be locked away safely from the maddening crowd, until the truth of the matter was determined. But even as they made their way up the steps to the barracks, the crowd rushed at them like rabid dogs, looking to tear Paul apart, so the centurions lifted Paul up off of the ground to get him past the crowd and into the barracks, as the crowd yelled, “Away with him ”

Jesus called the devil “the father of lies” (John 8:44), and as the father of lies, he is also the bringer of confusion. Understand, that does not mean that every time we encounter something that is difficult to understand, it is the devil at work. We may have difficulty with certain types math problems or with reading certain types of literature, simply because we are not used to dealing with it, or because we are not gifted in that area.

The type of confusion that the devil tries to bring is the confusion of not knowing what is true and what is false. The devil tries to make us unsure about reality, unsure about God and His Promises. He tells a little lie; he suggests a little doubt. The first recorded words we have of the devil are these: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1b, ESV). The devil tried to confuse the issue of not eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – which God had forbidden – by asking Eve if God had not forbidden them to eat from every tree in the Garden. He made the subtle suggestion to her that God was being unfair – that He was holding back blessings from them that they deserved.

In our text, the devil was behind the accusations: “Paul is saying that the people of Israel have been rejected.” No, Paul is saying that he loves the people of Israel – his brothers and sisters in the flesh – but they need to understand that Jesus is the Savior that they have been waiting for. “Paul is saying that we should reject God’s Law.” No, Paul is saying that the Ceremonial Law is not necessary for salvation. “Paul is saying that we should abandon the Temple.” No, Paul is saying that Jesus has fulfilled the sacrificial system and all who believe savingly in Jesus are welcome into the Presence of God, no matter what their background.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church and rebuked them for the confusion in their worship service. People were jumping up during the service, speaking over one another, offering different interpretations of the text, speaking in tongues, and so forth, so no one could understand what anyone was saying. Paul had to write them and tell them that this was not of God – this confusion is of the devil – he was getting them to engage in mass confusion, rather than worship – and the devil loves to get us to take our eyes of Jesus and put them on ourselves.

So Paul told them to stop – only one person was allowed to speak at a time. No one was to speak in a language that no one could understand or interpret. In engaging in worship in this way, everyone may learn and be encouraged. “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33, ESV).

The devil will do everything he can to make the Gospel sound like something else.

The devil likes to tweak the Truth and throw out distractions. Have you ever heard something like this: “Christians are opposed to science.” “Christians are trying to take over the government and force their religion on us.” “Christians are all narrow-minded and ignorant.” “Christians are owned by the Republican Party.” “You can’t be a Christian and a Democrat.” “Jesus would have been a Democrat.” None of those statements are the Gospel, and none of them are true.

What ought we to do?

We ought to be careful to present the Gospel as clearly and accurately as possible.

What is the Gospel? God the Son came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived and died for our sins, rose from the dead, and ascended back to His Throne – just as the Scriptures said He would. That’s the Gospel. That’s it. Keep it clear and simple.

We ought not make assumptions about others and what they believe and understand about the Gospel, but work to understand what is actually being said.

The best way to get people to hear us about Jesus is to be friends with them. Make friends – not like some spy trying to capture an enemy – but, love your neighbor, like Jesus said. Let’s become friends with people around us, get to know them, and let them get to know us. In that way, we can talk with each other, and listen to each other, and as God is willing, we will come to believe the Truth together.

We ought to worship, as Paul writes, “decently and in order” (I Corinthians 14:40b, ESV), so there is no question to anyone who worships here that we worship Jesus as God the Only Savior.

When I was in high school, I went to a Thanksgiving evening service where the pastor asked people to come forward and tell what they were thankful for. That went on for awhile, and then a man came up and began talking about the dangers of the New Age movement. The pastor stopped him and asked him to leave – not because there aren’t dangers in the New Age movement, but because he was bringing confusion to the worship – he was taken us away from the worship and giving thanks to God and trying to get us to fear and get riled up about the New Age movement. In doing that – wittingly or unwittingly – he was doing the work of the devil.

And when we have done all that – to avoid confusion and be clear about Jesus and His Gospel – we ought still be ready to be misunderstood and to suffer for the sake of Jesus, as He promised. Because the devil is the bringer of confusion.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You are the God of Truth and Order. We thank You that You have shown us that the confusion about Truth that exists among us is from the devil. Help us to be prepared. Help us to be clear about what You have said and, especially, about what the Gospel is. Help us to love our neighbors – to truly love them and befriend them, and let them see You through us, that they might receive Your Salvation and the Joy that is found in Jesus Christ. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

February Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach this month:

2/6/11 Acts 21:27-36 "Bringer of Confusion"

2/13/11 Acts 21:37-22:21 "Always Have a Reason"

2/20/11 Acts 22:22-29 "Use Politics"

2/27/11 Guest Preacher:  Rev. Dr. Solomon Tivade

Friday, February 04, 2011

Review: "The Next Christians"

I am skeptical about books that present what a generation or group believes. It is with that skepticism that I approached Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith.

Lyons argues that Christian America is over. Americans are spiritual, but they are somewhere between suspicious and deeply put off by the title of Christian. This is not entirely unexpected, he argues, because every five hundred years there is a seismic move in Christianity – the last one being the Reformation of the 1500's. Modern Christians have either become separatists, like the Pharisees, or Cultural Christians, like the Sadducees. Neither of these are appealing to postmodernity. In fact, they are repulsive.

The “next Christians,” as he dubs them, are what he calls “restorers” (49). These Christians do not flaunt the name Christian, though the do believe savingly in Jesus and have Him at the center of their life. What is different about them is that they do not merely present the Gospel as beginning with the Fall and ending with Jesus’ Return in Judgment. Instead, they present “the whole story,” beginning with God’s good creation and ending with God’s righteous restoration of all things.

Being “restorers” leads these “next Christians” to be of a different mind and lifestyle form the generations before them.

In chapter five, he explains that rather then being offending by the sinfulness of humanity, they are provoked to do something about it.

In chapter six, he argues that rather than just condemning the world, the seek to be creators of what is good and beautiful.

In chapter seven, he argues (as did the Reformers) that one is not merely employed, but one has a calling, and it is in that calling that one shows Christ through doing whatever it is one does to the glory of God. (And here he divides all callings into “seven channels of cultural influence, cf. 116.)

In chapter eight, he compares them to Daniel in Babylon, working within the Babylonian system, but not being distracted by it, instead, developing and practicing spiritual disciplines that keep them grounded in the Word of God.

In chapter nine, he shows that they are throwing off the individualism so well exemplified in the United States and coming to a understanding of the nee and value of being a community – living with the people with whom they work, having them be a part of the community together with them, even those who are of different religious beliefs.

In chapter ten, he argues that they do not try to be “relevant” by assimilating into the culture, but the stand for God’s Word and confront the culture where it errs by example.

Lyons ends his book by saying that we are experiencing something akin to the Protestant Reformation in these “next Christians.” He states that first and foremost, we all must be involved in a clear preaching of the actual and complete Gospel of Jesus Christ and salvation. And then, rather than take the approach of attacking all the is wrong, we ought to take the positive approach of being living examples that will cause others to change, one-by-one.

Although I am skeptical of this being a portrait of the whole generation, much of what Lyons says it a good corrective to failings of the Church. Much of what he says should be embraced by Christians. The whole idea of the goodness of Creation and the restoration of it at the end of the age is something that I have come to embrace with clarity since I became sick and my father died. These are real bookends of the story, though Jesus is the apex and the center of the Gospel. This is very much like Kuyper’s understanding of all that is being Jesus’.

However, I am concerned about some things:

Many of the names he mentions come from the Emergent and Emerging movements, and not all of them are Christians. It is hard to see how someone who denies Jesus is following Him faithfully.

He talks about the popularity of the paraphrases The Message and The Voice as being the Bibles the “next Christians” use (136). No matter how well these may be written, no matter how creative or beautiful they may be, if one does not use an actual translation, one will be misled. There may be uses for paraphrases, but Bible study and preaching are not among them.

My final concern, despite his talking about the centrality of Jesus and his Gospel, in talking about one of the leaders of the “next Christians,” he hails him and then says that his theology is questionable (180). Does theology matter? Can we truly live the life of a Christian by follow a god other than Jesus? That is not to say that anyone has his theology perfect; everyone’s theology is flawed. However, if one is wrong in any essential doctrine – salvific doctrine, we are no longer talking about things we can “agree to disagree on,” but on what the Gospel actually is.

I applaud the book and Lyons and his “next Christians” for emphasizing the good of Creation and the coming restoration of the Creation. That teaching has sorely been lacking in modern Christianity. But I would be careful in buying into everything the people he holds up as examples. “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9, ESV).

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

The Annual Meeting

Due to persisting inclement weather, the annual meeting and potluck lunch are postponed indefinitely.  More information will follow.