Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thursday Night Study

We plan to continue our Thursday night study of R. C. Sproul's Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow Thursday at 7 PM.  Please join us!

"Conformed to the Image of God" Sermon: Romans 8:28-30

“Conformed to the Image of God”
[Romans 8:28-30]
March 27, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Have you every conformed a pie crust to a pie plate? Have you ever conformed a meatloaf to a loaf pan? Have you ever conformed to the rules and regulations of a group or organization? Have you ever conformed to the dress code of a group of organization?

Paul uses three words to describe how the Image of God is restored in humans: conformed, transformed, and renewed. Today, we will look at the first of these words.

Remember that we saw that humans were created in the Image of God, which means we have dominion over the Creation. We are to care for, steward, protect, judge, and so forth, the Creation, in the same way that God has dominion over us and the rest of the Creation.

We saw that after the sin of our first parents, the Image of God in us was marred and broken. We did not exercise dominion and care for the Creation as God does, and God was no longer obviously seen in humanity.

But God sent His Son to be human, and so Jesus is the Image of God in the flesh. In Jesus we can see God, and His Perfect Dominion, and His Image in the flesh for the first and only time, and we can continue to see Him through His Word.

Yet, as we know from considering the Gospel – that God the Son came to earth, took on the human, Jesus of Nazareth, lived a perfect life, died for the sins of all those who would believe in Him, rose from the dead, gave His people His Righteousness, and ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father – God does not leave us in our sin.

Although we know that the world is still broken and we are still sinners, even as Christians, we know that is not the end of the story. In the section before this morning’s reading, Paul explains how the entire Creation was cast into corruption and suffering for the sake of our sin, and we ourselves are a mess

Paul writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:15-25, ESV).

This is the state we find ourselves in with a sin nature – with a corrupted and marred and broken Image of God in us. But let us understand, Paul is not making excuses – he is saying that he knows what is right and what is wrong and sometimes he gives in to the temptation to do what is wrong, not because it is inevitable, but because he gives up and gives in to it; we are responsible for our sin. Also, understand, he is not saying that our physical bodies are evil, he is using another term, which we translate “flesh,” to refer to the sin nature – to the inclination we have towards sin, which is not completely removed from us even after we believe savingly in Jesus.

So take heart – in this sense – if you confess faith in Jesus and you still struggle with sin and give in to it – we are all the same. I struggled with sin and give in to sin and throw up my hands and wonder if I will ever mature in the faith, turning from the temptation to sin, following the way of escape that God always promises for us, being an obedient son of the Father Who loves me so much that He gave His Son for me.

We may at times, with Paul, cry out, “Wretched man that I am ” Or, “Why?” Or, “It this ever going to change?”

And the answer, brothers and sisters, is “yes.” Paul exclaims, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord ” In other words, in this life we are in a war against sin, and we will suffer, and we will give into temptation and sin, and we will wonder if we will ever be what God has called us to be – and we will, through Jesus Christ our Lord. We will never become all that we are called to be through our own efforts – though we are to fight to be faithful – but it is God through Jesus Christ our Lord Who is making us and will make us – Who will perfect and restore in us – the Image of God – and all things.

After describing the affliction and depths of suffering that humans and the whole Creation have fallen into through our first parents’ and our sin, Paul writes a very familiar and oft misquoted verse. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard people say, “God works all things together for good,” but there is no such verse or promise in the Scripture.

What Paul writes – the promise that is given – is this: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God does not work everything together for everyone’s good – God works everything together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His Purpose.

The terrible truth is that there are people that never love God and have not been called according to His Purpose. These are the people who will suffer for all of eternity for their sin – they will not find that everything has worked out for their good, because they hated God.

So, who it is whom God will cause all things to work together for good? Who amongst us sinning messes will be made right with God?

Paul explains that these are those who believe savingly in Jesus. And the reason we can be sure the work will be accomplished in us is that the work is completely God’s.

Paul continues in our text telling us that those whom God foreknew – and let us not be confused – when we think of the word “foreknew” we often think of knowing ahead of time or seeing the future –that is not what this word means – it has the same root as when we read that Adam “knew” Eve and she bore a son. The word “knew,” here, means a passionate, intimate love. So, here, we are told that God has a passionate, intimate love for those who believe savingly in Him before – before what? Before we believed – and not based on our doing or not doing anything – or God looking into the future. As Paul explains in the next chapter, referring to Jacob and Esau as symbolic heads of humanity, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good of bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call – [Rebecca] was told ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (Romans 9:11-13, ESV).

What did Jacob do to be loved? What did Esau do to be hated? Nothing. God loved Jacob – he foreknew him – before he existed, before he had done anything right or wrong. God chose to love all those who would believe in Him savingly, not based on anything they would do or not do – no one has merited God’s Love.

Have we got the point?

We know that God will cause everything – sin and failure and suffering – to work together for the good of those who believe savingly in Him, because God chose them and loved them with a passionate and intimate love before they existed and before they did anything right or wrong – before anyone “merited” being loved.

And those whom God chose to love – for His Own Reasons, which have nothing to do with what anyone does or does not do – God “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” God determined that God would conform each one who believes in Jesus into the Image of His Son.

What does it mean to “conform”? Bering conformed means being made to have the same form or nature, to bring into harmony, to make the same, and to be in agreement.

So, what Paul is telling us is that God has chosen and will cause to occur that all those who believe savingly in Jesus will finally have the same Image of God in them that Jesus is. In other words, God will restore the Image of God in us to the way it was before sin entered the world, and the Image of God in us will appear as the Image of God Who Jesus is. We will once again be able to exercise perfect dominion, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “if we endure, we will also reign with [Jesus];” (II Timothy 2:12a, ESV).

But where shall we reign with Jesus? Since we reign with Jesus in the sense that we have dominion over the Creation, we will again, after Jesus returns, reign over the Creation will Him, as it was in the Garden of Eden. For the whole Creation will also be restored to its state before the Fall. As Paul explains in the verses preceding this morning’s text, in the Kingdom, we will live on earth with Jesus – in a perfect and sin-free world.

Why have we been predestined to be conformed to the Image of God? So Jesus “might be the firstborn of among many brothers.” What does that mean? Although we shall have dominion over the Creation with Jesus, since Jesus is no mere man, but God Himself, He will have pre-eminence in having dominion over the Creation, though He shares dominion with His brothers and sisters – all those who believe savingly in Him.

John Calvin explains that “Christ is a living and conspicuous exemplar [of the Image of God,” and there shall not be a single heir of the Kingdom of God who has not been conformed to the Image of God, Jesus.

Paul wrote, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam [Jesus] became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have bourne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (I Corinthians 45-49, ESV).

That is, Adam was created from the dust of the earth and given the Image of God to have dominion over the Creation. He sinned and every mere human being after him was born with a marred or broken Image of God in him or her. But Christ came to earth, and Jesus is the Image of God. And just as Jesus was physically risen from the dead to eternal life, we shall be physically resurrected from the dead to eternal life, and the Image of God in us shall be restored; we shall be conformed to the image of God in Jesus; we shall rise in new and perfected bodies and reign over the Creation with Jesus, perfectly exercising dominion over the Creation.

And those that God predestined, He also called – everyone whom God has chosen to believe, God will call to repent and believe. And everyone that God has called to repent and believe will be justified – everyone whom God called to repent and believe will be declared “innocent” through Jesus, and in fact, we will no longer be able to sin and Jesus’ Righteous Life has be credited to our accounts. So when God looks at us, He sees Jesus’ Perfect keeping of the Law, not our sin.

And just as surely as God has loved all those who will believe since before the Creation, and predetermined that they would be conformed to the Image of Jesus, that they would hear the call to repentance and belief and would do so, having been forgiven and accounted as righteous through Jesus, they are, now, in the Father’s Eyes, and will truly be on that final day – glorified.

What does it mean that we – and all those who believe – will be glorified? It means that we will be put in a position of great honor and authority and power, which will enhance God’s reputation that all the world would praise and glorify Him for Who He is and all that He has done.

What does it mean that we will be conformed to the Image of God? It means that God is restoring in us the same Image of God that Jesus is Himself. On that final day, we will bear the Image of God rightly and truly. We will exercise dominion over the restored and perfected Creation, with Jesus, our Brother, as the Head of the Church and the Head over the Creation.

Let us then look forward with great hope and expectation that though we continue to sin and suffer in this life, the day is coming when Jesus will return and we will be made like Him, bearing the Image of God that we might reign over the Creation with Him as humans were created to do.

And let us trust in our Great Savior, Jesus, that no matter how we struggle in this lifetime, and no matter how we may fall down and not know how God could make us right and use us in having dominion in His Kingdom, let us trust Him, as He has promised us, that He has chosen us for His Reasons, and He has brought us to Himself, forgiven us in love through His Son, making us also righteous through Him, and God is making what was fallen and corrupted and broken in us – including the Image of God – whole again – to His Eternal Glory.

For His is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory Forever.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, we are humbled to look at all we have done wrong and how we have rebelled against You. We stand in Your Presence in awe that You have loved us and made us Your own, that You have forgiven us and made us righteous in Jesus, and You are conforming us into His Image. How can it be? May your Kingdom Come; May You be glorified by all of Creation. And may Jesus Christ be praised, Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review: "Mere Churchianity"

I never met Michael Spencer, but I had the privilege of having him comment on one of my blog entries, so it is an honor now to review his book, Mere Churchianity.

Spencer opens his book by stating that he is writing to those who have left or are leaving the church because, rather than finding Jesus, what they found in the church was “Churchianity.” For Spencer, “Churchianity” is very much like the religion of the Pharisees – it has all the trappings of being about God and His Son, Jesus, the Savior, but, in fact, it is a collection of rules, practices, and promises which are nowhere to be found in the Scripture.

Spencer begins by arguing that the health and wealth gospel is no gospel at all, and that is what many people find in the church, in myriad forms. It’s like a pecan pie without the pecans (26). Church has become a place of motivation speakers and commodities, not the House of the Lord.

“Jesus is God,” Spencer repeated – and biblically – asserts. And he calls his readers to look at Jesus and see how He purposefully broke the traditions and man-made rules to move people beyond the binding and vacuous teaching to the real Jesus (35).

“Jesus-Shaped Spirituality,” which is what Spencer argues is real Christianity, involves, “Jesus, having a genuine experience of God, and figuring out how life gets transformed” (48). Anything less than this is worthless – and it is why many people are leaving the Church.

Spencer goes on to explain the Jesus is being touted and claimed to teach and call people to things He never said. Instead, one ought to look to the Scripture, and he goes on to state key points about Jesus as taught in the Scripture.

Following the “Jesus-Shaped Life,” Spencer argues, doers have much to do with how one lives, but in things like the presence and power of the kingdom, including the excluded, producing disciples, proclaiming the Gospel, encouraging the disciples, and witnessing to the presence of the Kingdom (94-104).

He goes on to say that the Bible. Not the institution must have control/priority. After this he discus another trend of “Churchianity,” that being the so-called “victorious life,” in which he argues, persuasively, that this is not taught in the Scripture. Jesus does not instantly solve everyone’s problems and make them sinless at the moment of conversion.

The truth of the matter is that we are born “screwed up” and after conversion, we are still screwed up, though we ought to be progressing towards the holiness we are saved to and will be in the Kingdom. The Christian life, he states, is a war; not a victorious life club. To confuse the two destroys the soul, because no one lives up to the claims of “Churchianity.”

Real Christian Church life involves making disciples through relationship, constant exposure to Jesus’ teachings, going beyond one’s comfort zones, experience the Power of the Holy Spirit, Who illumines them, being center on the Gospel message in this time (155-157).

Spencer suggests that we find heros – humans that truly walk the Christian life, who one can be discipled by – and that includes the living and the dead, people one knows and people one will never meet.

He concludes by looking at Jesus and showing that there are times to be alone and times where community is the beneficial. There is a difference between be a fan of Jesus and believing Him. True followers of Christ are in mentorship/discipleship and live lives of service, especially to the poor. Finally, he concludes, in the Q & A section, with an orthodox confession of belief – for all those who might wonder.

Spencer’s book is excellent; I would encourage anyone who has left a church or who is considering doing so to read his book – with someone that is a believer and has read it. There might be a temptation to jump to the conclusion that Spencer is recommending that Christians leave the Church, which he is not.

Three areas I did have some difficulty with him were as follows:

He talks about how he likes the WWJD? bracelets. I have to take issue with him, because we are not Jesus, we are not sinless, and we have not been called to do all that Jesus did. We have been called to live as Jesus calls us to live in the Scripture, which is not that same thing.

Although Spencer talks about discipleship, I wish he had talked more about discipline, and how the Church has been given the authority to require conformity to the Scripture – not “Churchianity.”

Thirdly, Spencer talks about his love for the Roman Catholic/Lutheran/Anglican tradition, even as a Baptist, and I would wonder how his understanding of right doctrine would influence the denomination one aligns with. Certainly, he is right that just being right is not Christianity. Yet, I wonder if he might consider one or more denominations – as a whole – as more faithful to Jesus’ teachings than others.

That being said, I do highly recommend the book for discussion and persuasion that the Church is not “Churchianity, and Jesus is not “Churchianity.” May God use this book to make us all more faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Jesus Christ is the Image of God" Sermon: Colossians 1:15-20

“Jesus Christ is the Image of God”
[Colossians 1:15-20]
March 20. 2011 Second Reformed Church

Last week we began our look at the concept of the Image of God. As we looked at the creation of our first parents, Adam and Eve, we saw that God created them in the Image of God. By the Image of God, we saw that our text explained that as humans having dominion. And we came to understand that dominion means having care for, stewarding, judging, maintaining, loving, enjoying, etc., the whole of Creation.

God, Himself, has dominion over all that He has created – all that we have, all that we can do, all that we may be – all of this comes from God, the Father Who loves His people. James tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation due to change” (James 1:17, ESV). And Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to the span of his life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ Or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:25-34, ESV).

And King Nebuchadnezzar confessed, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures form generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34b-35, ESV).

This is the picture we are given of how God cares for us and the Creation – how God sovereignly exercises dominion over the Creation in care and love. We also know from the Scripture that God judges and guides and punishes and forgives – in all ways, like a Good Father, He superintends over us for our good and joy and for His Glory.

And last week we saw that God has chosen to make humans to be His representatives, His undershepherds, etc. – God has given us the responsibility and the gift of exercising dominion over the Creation under Him and for Him. So, we are to care for the Creation in the same way that God cares for us.

However, we also noted that in our first parents’ sin, the Image of God in us has been corrupted or marred. We are now sinners and the whole Creation has suffered for it. The Creation is suffering and not interacting with us in the way that it should, and we continue to sin and not exercise dominion in the way that we should.

Yet, this was no surprise to God: God’s Plan from before the Creation was to send the Savior to make those who believe in Him and the whole Creation right with God. And so we turn this morning to look at the One Whom God sent to pay the debt for our sins, make us righteous, and reconcile us to the Father. That One is Jesus Christ, the Image of God.

Paul beings in our reading by stating that Jesus Christ “is the image of the invisible God.” Let us notice two things:

A distinction is being made between Jesus Christ and the rest of humanity: all of humanity, as we have seen, was created in the Image of God – we are like mirrors that reflect Who God is and like stewards who carry out God’s dominion over the Creation. But Jesus Christ is the Image of God. In His Humanity, He is in the Image of God, but He also is the Image of God. Paul is letting us know that Jesus Christ is not merely a perfect human being, but He is also the Very God in Whose Image we are created.

Paul is also letting us know that it is only in seeing Jesus Christ, Who is God Incarnate – God and Human in One Person – that we can see the Invisible God. God has no physical body, as we have said, so God is invisible to our senses. However, since God came to earth in the form of a human, we are now – and we will be able in the Kingdom – to see God in Jesus Christ.

John explained, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, [the Son] has made him known” (John 1:18, ESV). And Jesus said, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9b, ESV).

God has been manifested in human form among humans through Jesus Christ. God the Son took on the real and whole human being Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus Christ is the Image of God because He is God in the flesh.

Paul then says that He is “the firstborn of all creation.” This does not mean, as some have claimed through history – including the Mormons, that the Son of God is a created creature – that would contradict everything else we have been told. What we are being told is that the Son of God is the foundation of the Creation – which is what we are told in the next verse – everything in all of Creation was created by God the Son. So, again, if God the Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, is the Creator of all Creation, and we know that God created everything that is, Jesus Christ is God; He is the Image of God, because He is God.

All things were created by Jesus Christ the Son of God, “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”

Here we see that Jesus Christ created everything that is, and God created everything that is through the Son – so we have a testimony of Two Persons of the Trinity in this text – and we are told that God created, not because anything was lacking in God, but because God was pleased to created everything that is for Himself, for His Own Reasons.

And, “[the Son] is before all things” – God the Son and God the Father are not rival gods, nor is one greater than the other, but the Father and the Son are the same One God. (We will not perfectly understand the Doctrine of the Trinity this morning, but let us notice that it is plainly taught in the Scripture.)

Paul continues, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Image of God, holds all things together in Himself. As the Image of God Himself, Jesus is the Sovereign God Who has dominion over all of Creation. Everything that is exists by Him and for Him and through Him. He is the Creator, Sustainer, Lover, Provider, and Judge of everything that is.

What does this mean for us?

As we consider the Image of God that we have been created in – which has now been marred or broken through sin, let us understand this:

God created us in His Image, which means that we have dominion over the Creation, which means that we are to care for and steward the Creation on God’s behalf – in the likeness of God’s dominion, stewardship, and care of the Creation.

The Son of God is the Image of God; He is the same One God. This God, in the Person of the Son of God, Incarnate in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, becoming Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Long-Awaited Savior of God’s people.

In Jesus, God has manifested Himself, so, for the first time, humans can look at God and see God and live. We can look at Jesus and see the Image of God. We can look at the record of God’s Word and see what it is – what it should look like – for us to live out our being created in the Image of God. If we want to know how to rightly live out the Image of God in which we were created, we ought to look to God, Whom we can see, Jesus Christ, and see how He lived out His being the Image of God.

That is not to say that we should ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” That is an inappropriate and dangerous and much too simplistic a question to ask ourselves, because we are not Jesus, we are not God, we are not without sin, and we are not called or able to do everything that Jesus did, because He is God.

How might we understand what it means for us to rightly live out our being created in the Image of God? Paul writes, speaking of unbelievers, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (II Corinthians 4:4, ESV). This implies, does it not, that, as God is willing, the Image of God is seen as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and heralded throughout the Creation?

So, we are to proclaim and herald the Gospel of Jesus Christ as those who have been created in the Image of God and those who have received Jesus as Savior. If we do let others know that God the Son came to earth in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, lived, died for our sins, rose from the dead, gave us His Righteousness, and ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father, just as the Scriptures said, the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Image of God will go forth and God will use that preaching to work in the lives of all those God chooses, and to change the Creation itself.

If the Lord is willing, over the next three weeks, we will look at how God is restoring His Image in us, and what that means for our living out dominion to the Glory of God. For now, let us understand that we are called to tell others the Gospel, and it is through the Gospel – through reading and hearing the Word of God – that people will respond and understand that Jesus Christ is the Image of God, the Promised and Only Savior.

As we look back at our text, we see that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church.” That means that there is no Church, no salvation, no people of God, without Jesus. Just as Jesus holds all of Creation together according to His Will as the Image of God, so Jesus holds the Church together from Adam until Jesus’ Return, when all those who believe will be restored and brought into the Kingdom.

Jesus is the beginning of the Church; the Church would not exist without Him.

He is the firstborn from the dead, which does not mean that He was the first person ever to rise from the dead, because others had been brought back to life by God before Jesus in His Humanity rose from the dead. What it means is that Jesus is the Guarantor that everyone who believes in Him will rise from the dead. Jesus has secured salvation and resurrection for all of His people. If we believe savingly in Jesus, we will rise from the dead on the last day.

Because salvation is only through Jesus, He is preeminent in all things. Jesus is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Everything that exists exists because He brought it into existence, and eternal joy is only found through Him and His Salvation.

“For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Let us understand that Jesus Christ is not just a Perfect Human Who had divinity in Him. Jesus is both a real, whole, complete human being, and the Almighty God, Himself, in all of His fullness, together in One Person. Jesus is Wholly God and Wholly Man at the same time in the same Person.

Because Jesus is 100% human and 100% God, He can be our Savior. A Man had to be substituted for humanity, and only God could live a holy life and survive God’s Wrath for sin, Jesus has to be fully human and fully God.

It is through Jesus Alone, Paul tells us, that God chose to “reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Lord willing, over the next few weeks, we will see that God has chosen, through Jesus Christ, to make all those who believe, and the whole Creation, right with God, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross – through the shedding of His Blood – and we will see how God is making us and the Creation right with Him – culminating in the great restoration at the Return of Jesus.

For today, let us understand that Jesus is God – the Son of God became human through taking on Jesus of Nazareth – so Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. And since He is God, in Jesus we can see God in the flesh and the Image of God, Himself.

Let us look to the Word of God to know God and His Savior Jesus, to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Only Way of Salvation. Let us consider the love that God has shown to us and learn to reflect that in our care for each other and the whole Creation. And let us tell others the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Image of God.

Let us pray,
Almighty God, we thank You for coming among us in the Person of Jesus Christ that we might see You in the flesh and know the Image of God, Himself. Help us to be the people You have called us to be, living in Your Image, caring as You care, fulfilling the work that You have given us, especially telling others the Good News of Jesus Christ. And may we look forward to the day of restoration and the full indwelling of Your Kingdom, when our ability to sin will be removed, and the Image of God will be seen aright in us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

5 Things Study

D.V., beginning Thursday evening (3/17/11) at 7 PM, we will be spending five weeks looking at R. C. Sproul's book 5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow.  Please prepare by reading the introduction and chapter one.

"Created in the Image of God" Sermon: Genesis 1:26-31

“Created in the Image of God”
[Genesis 1:26-31]
March 13, 2011 Second Reformed Church

When the One God created humanity, we read that They created humans – male and female – in Their Image. Human beings were created in the Image of God. What does it mean that we were created in the Image of God?

Lord willing, during the five Sundays in Lent we will look at some of the Scriptures that deal with the concept of the Image of God. Today, we begin at the beginning, with the creation of the first man and the first woman when God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

When we say that someone is the “spitting image” of someone else, we mean that they look just like that person – their physical features look just like the other person. Is that what we mean when we say that we are created in the Image of God?

No, that is the one thing it cannot mean. We do not look like God physically. God did not even possess a physical body until the Son came to earth. Someone who looks like an average male from the Middle East might say that he has the physical image of the Incarnate Son, Jesus. But, we know that God is Spirit – and we are talking about the Creation – a time before the Son incarnate, so God would not have ever had a physical body. So, we do not look like God physically. We are not in the Image of God as far as our physical form is concerned.

So, what does it mean? The Hebrew words that are translated “image” and “likeness” are two words that mean “image” or “semblance.” But since we are not talking about a physical image or likeness that doesn’t help us a whole lot, except to suggest that our being in the Image of God has to do with something non-material.

The commentators look at this passage and give us many options – they say that being created in the Image of God means that we were created with “right judgment,” “harmonious reason,” “sound and well-regulated senses,” “a gift of excelling in goodness,” “rule/government/stewardship over the Creation,” and as “lord over the world” and “care-taker of the world.”

Our text actually gives us the answer when it tells us that humans were created in the Image of God, so – therefore – this means, we were created to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Humans were created in the Image of God, meaning that humans were given dominion over the fish, the birds, and every living thing, including the plants.

But...what does “dominion” mean? Some say that having dominion means that we have the authority to do what we want. We can kill the animals and destroy the environment – use up and throw away the Creation. But does that really seem right?

If we are created in the Image of God and that is seen in our having dominion over the Creation, then God also must have dominion – since we are like Him, but what does “dominion” mean?

The author of Hebrews quotes David and comments on him, “‘[God] made [man] for a little while lower than the angels; [God] have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything into subjection under his feet.’ Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control” (Hebrews 2:7-8a, ESV).

So, God has put humanity in charge of all of Creation, but does that mean we can do what we want?

It may help to hear how the Image of God in humanity has been marred or broken through sin. This is our condition now – this is how things have changed from the original endowment of the Image of God: “And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I have commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out it of you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19, ESV).

So, what are we seeing?

Human beings were created in the Image of God.

Being created in the Image of God means that humans were given dominion over the Creation as God’s stewards, under-shepherds, sub-regents, representatives, etc..

So, we were created to exercised dominion over the Creation in the same way that God exercises dominion over the Creation – since we are created in His Image – and thus, we ought not do things to or for the Creation that are contrary to God’s Nature.. (And by “the Creation,” let us understand everything God created – animals, plants, humans, and so forth.)

Thus, humans were created to interact with the Creation, to care for the Creation, to love and protect the Creation, to rightly rule and judge over the Creation, working with everything that we are – body, soul, mind, and heart – for goodness and wholeness and harmony amongst everything that God created. That is what it means to be created in the Image of God.

However, through sin, we no longer communicate and interact with the Creation well, we do not always care for the Creation as we should, we have become corrupt judges, lazy workers who think someone else ought pick up the slack. It is often hard to see the Image of God in fallen humanity.

Here is another description of the dominion in which humanity was created in the Image of God, “Then Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, ESV).

Hear the parallel to this in the blessing that God gave His people: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26, ESV).

Do we see? God created everything that is, including us, and made us in His Image so we would be loving, just caretakers, stewards, and judges of the Creation that God put us in charge of. But through sin, our understanding and ability and desire to have dominion – to love and care and steward and judge the Creation for God – as God would – – has been marred and corrupted. We do not exercise dominion as we ought – we abuse and neglect the Creation to our shame.

If the Lord is willing, over the next four weeks, we will see what God’s Plan is to restore His Image in us. But for now, let us remember these two points:

First, humans we created in the Image of God, which means we have been given dominion over the Creation.

And second, having dominion over the Creation means that we are to care for, steward, love, and judge the Creation with all that God has created us to be – in heart and soul and mind and body, as God’s representatives, in the same way that God exercises dominion over the Creation, even with us having dominion over it for God.

What might it look like if we – as Christians – were rightly exercising the dominion that God has given to humanity? What might it look like if we – as Christians – were truly exhibiting the Image of God in which we were created?

We would recognize that the physical creation, including our bodies, was created by God and God called it “good.” We would care for the physical creation, including our bodies, doing all that we can to promote health and healing and well-being. We would seek to have all of Creation live in safety and peace.

We would seek to know how to understand and heal the mind and spirit, as well as how to make them flourish.

We would be passionate about the things of God – for His Providence, His Care, His Love, His Authority, His Wisdom, His Salvation, and so forth – and we would bring that passion to everything that we do.

We would be involved in every field and call and job and career in existence to make sure that the Image of God is seen and dominion is exercised in love and for the good of the Creation and to the Glory of God.

We would recognize that all truth is God’s truth, and we would seek to learn and understand as much about everything as we can, and use that knowledge for the good of the whole Creation and to the Glory of God. (That does not mean that each of us has to know everything, but that each of us would do everything we can to know and understand all that we can in those areas that God has gifted us and given us interest, so that, together – collectively, all of humanity would have the knowledge and the wisdom of God – as much as we can known it – to use for the good of the Creation and to the Glory of God.)

We would especially seek to know the True Truth of Salvation in Jesus Alone as it is expressed and taught in the whole Bible – as well as we can – that we might be able, as Jesus said to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15b, ESV).

Does that make sense?

You and I – and all humans – were created in the Image of God. That means we have dominion over the Creation. That means we are to love and care for the Creation like God and engage it to the Glory of God.

Through sin, the Image of God is marred in us, and we do not exercise dominion as we ought. But we can begin to picture what it would look like if we did exercise that dominion as we ought, and as Christians, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, we can begin to rightly live out the dominion we have been given, so all of the Creation would look at us and know God and give Him the glory.

May it be so in us.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, as we begin to consider how You created us in Your Image, we ask that You would make it clear to us that You have entrusted us with the care of whole of Creation – including our fellow humans. Help us to understand where we have failed as Your stewards, and give us strength and wisdom to live out Your Image that Your Salvation through Jesus Alone would be known by the whole Creation. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Keep It to Yourself" Sermon: Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

“Keep It to Yourself”
[Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21]
March 9, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Most of us enjoy receiving thanks or praise for a job well-done, or for something that we have achieved, or done for the good of others. And thanking people for what they have done or accomplished, and receiving that praise from others with a humble spirit, is good. We ought to show our appreciation and thanks for each other and the things we do. And we ought to be able to receive thanks and praise from others without denying the truth of what we did or becoming prideful about ourselves.

However, have we ever done something because we wanted to be praised or thanked? Have we ever done something at a specific time and place because we knew we would be noticed and someone would give us thanks and praise? Have we ever “set someone up” so the appropriate thing for them to do would be to thank us and tell us how wonderful we are?

In the selection from the Sermon on the Mount that I read this evening, Jesus addresses three things that are good and right for us to do: give, pray, and fast. However, Jesus explains that our motivation for doing these things can turn these good acts into occasions for sin and narcissism – times when we seek out other peoples’ praise.

In the first verse of the chapter, Jesus warns His disciples that if we practice our “righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” – if we do what is right and good, only because we know there are people who will see us and thank us and applaud us, we ought not to expect God to be pleased with us. In fact, if our motivation for doing what is right and good is to be thanked and praised by other people, then fasting and prayer and giving become sin.

Jesus then looks at the three examples:

“When you give to the needy.” Jesus begins by asserting it is good and right and expected that God’s people will give to the needy. Whether it be financially or in some other form of help, God has given us all blessings that God means for us to share with others, to make us more like Jesus, and that God would be thanked and praised for His Provision.

Do we understand? God gives us what we need and more so we can be a blessing to others. Part of the reason God gives us more than we need is so we will learn to be givers – to self-sacrifice – like God did in coming to earth in the form of a human, living, dying for our sins, rising, and ascending back to His Throne. God gave us the Gift of Jesus – Jesus gave us the Gift of Himself – and we are now called to be like Him in giving.

And, as we give and receive thanks, we ought to direct our thanks and praise and the thanks and praise of those who thank us to God Who enables us to give as we give.

For example, if Barbara donated the money to build a parking lot for the church, we would be right to thank Barbara, and Barbara would be right to receive our thanks in a gracious and humble spirit. But, Barbara ought also to direct her thanks and our thanks to God Who blessed Barbara and inspired Barbara to give such a gift.

What some wealthy people were doing is dressing up in their best robes, walking into the middle of the synagogue or into the main crossroads of the town, and having their friends blow trumpets and announce, “Peter is now donating $1,000 to feed the poor. $1,000 dollars is being donated by Peter that the poor may be fed.” And, of course, everyone would rush around the person and say, “Oh, that’s so generous. Peter, you’re such a wonderful person. If there is anything I can do for you, let me know.”

God is not pleased with that.

Does it occur today? Do we ever heard or read such-and-such a celebrity or politician or billionaire announcing that he or she will be donating fifty millions dollars to this or that? What is the motivation behind such announcements?

Jesus said we are not to seek the approval of humans for the good that we do. We should do the good that God calls us to do in thanks for what He has done, whether or not anyone every knows or thanks us. Let us give and let us give quietly, secretly, to the praise of God. God does not need a spotlight to know what we have done; God knows what we do in secret. God will reward as it pleases Him to do so.

Jesus then talked about prayer – and we ought to be in prayer – regularly. Through prayer, as we have seen, we align our minds and will with the Mind and Will of God, so that whatever we ask for in Jesus’ Name, God will do.

Jesus told His disciples not to be hypocrites. Let us understand that the original meaning of “hypocrite” was a person who assumed a role on a stage – an actor. A “hypocrite” was a person who got up and pretended to be someone he or she wasn’t – for the sake of getting attention – to be watched.

And, again, Jesus talks about people who go into the synagogues and into the intersections of the streets and make a fuss so people will watch them pray and hear what they are saying. We may remember the parable Jesus told on another occasion about this same issue:

“[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner ” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted’” (Luke 18:9-14, ESV)

Jesus didn’t say that the Pharisee was lying. He may well have been a decent person who fasted and tithed. The problem Jesus had with him was his motivation for what he was doing. He did not go into the temple to pray – to pour out his heart before God – to become like God in mind and will. No, he went into the temple to put on a show for whoever was there – that’s why the tax collector could hear every word of the Pharisee’s prayer, even though he was “far off.” What was important to the Pharisee was that people heard him and recognized him as a good person. But Jesus said he was not forgiven.

The tax collector was forgiven for going into the corner and humbly repenting of his sin, asking that God would be merciful to him. The tax collector was centered on God and seeing God honored, not on making much of himself or trying to justify his sin.

It should strike us a rather foul thing to pray to show off and be praised by others. If we ever find ourselves thinking about our prayer, “Hey, that was a really great prayer.” Then let us repent of our pride quickly.

There is a time for us to pray together. But there is even more time when we ought to pray before God and no one else. Prayer is not a game or a show. Jesus very often went off to a quiet place to pray. God listens to those sincere and humble prayers.

Jesus then talked about fasting. Fasting is an appropriate discipline for the Christian. In fasting, we learn to subdue the lusts of the flesh – to control out bodies and deny ourselves – to the end of learning to deny ourselves sin when we are tempted. Fasting ought to also bring us to prayer.

Now, let us understand it is not necessary for a Christian to fast, and for some with medical conditions, it would be wise to talk with your doctor first. A fast does not have to be of every food. It does not have to be for a full twenty-four hours each day. Many people during the season of Lent fast from a certain food or type of food. This type of denial is to learn to rely on Jesus and turn from sin. Jesus fasted for forty days – of all food – before He began His Public Ministry. And before we say that is not physically possible, this is something I have looked into, and a person of average weight and health can easily live without food for forty days. So, those of us who have a “reserve” could, if we feel called to do so, fast of all food for a lengthy time.

Again, in Jesus’ day – and in our own – there were people who were hypocrites about their fasting – they put on a show for others to see. Rather than using the time of fasting to take control of their bodies, renounce sin, and turn to God, these people did everything they could to look and smell awful so everyone would know what they were doing:

Suppose I were to come into church with my hair a mess and dirty, and I was wearing filthy ragged clothes, and I had a big frown on my face. Someone might say, “Peter, are you alright? You look horrible ” “Oh, I’m fine. I’m just fasting to get better control of the temptations that I have to sin.” Jesus, of course, says that is sin. Fasting can been good for us, but it ought to be a private fast between each of us and God. We ought to look normal, and not put on a show, when we are practicing the discipline of fasting or any other discipline.

In each of these cases, people were – and do – taking good things – giving, praying, and fasting, and turning them into shows for which they desired attention and applause – praise and recognition. Worship and its attending disciplines are done to glorify God, not ourselves. Worship is about declaring the Worth of God, not our worth.

Tonight, we begin the Season of Lent – a season of forty days before Easter, during which we meditate on our sin – not to be morose, but to remind ourselves that God didn’t come to earth merely for fun, but because we had a God-sized problem with sin that only He could solve to make us right with Him.

Shortly, all who want to will receive the imposition of ashes and anointing with oil.

We impose the ashes to remind us that we are sinners and our only hope is to receive salvation through Jesus Alone. The ashes don’t earn us “points” with God, and no magic occurs when we receive them. They are a symbolic reminder, which you may remove whenever you want. If you want to go from this sanctuary with the ashes on your forehead so people will see you and think well of you for going to worship, then wipe them off right away. If you want to keep them on for a while as you privately think on your sin and confess it to God, then do so.

We anoint with oil all who want, as James writes, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14, ESV). Again, we need to understand this is not a magic cure; this is a symbolic anointing to remind us that God is the Great Physician and He is able to heal any and all diseases, as He is willing. The oil ought to direct us to God – to reliance on Him.

Perhaps we would do well to think about why we exist and why we worship during this Lenten season. Is there any right answer but we exist to glorify God and we worship to show the worth of God?

We ought to give out of thanksgiving and generosity, not so other people would see and praise us.

We ought to pray to become like God in Mind and Will, not so other people would see and praise us.

We ought to fast – and engage in other spiritual disciplines – that we might learn to refuse to follow our temptations into sin, and, rather, learn to follow after God in holiness, not so other people would see and praise us.

Let us seek to do good, in thanks to God, and keep it to ourselves.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for saving us from our sin, providing for all of our needs, and being our Great Physician. Help us to turn from sin and not seek out the applause of the world. Help us to be satisfied with following after You and seeking Your Glory. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Ash Wednesday

We plan (D.V.) to have our Ash Wednesday service tomorrow -- Wednesday -- at 7 PM.  Join us for worship and, as you are willing, the imposition of ashes and anointing with oil.

Monday, March 07, 2011

"Divide & Conquer" Sermon: Acts 22:30-23:11

“Divide & Conquer”
[Acts 22:30-23:11]
March 6, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV). Even in the polite United States, as we witness to the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are engaged in “wrestling” – in warfare – with the variety of forces that seek to have the Gospel put to shame – whether that be a quiet disbelief or all the way up to violence and murder.

We have been looking at Paul’s defense before the crowd of Jews that followed him from Asia and then stirred up the crowds in Jerusalem to try to kill him by claiming that Paul was against the Law, the Temple, and the people of Israel.

We saw the Roman, Claudius Lysias, give Paul permission to address the crowd and explain to them who he is and what he had done. He explained his upbringing as a Jew, his being taught by the greatest of the Pharisees, Gamaliel, how he had become a Pharisee, himself, and been hired by the Sanhedrin – the Jewish high council – to hunt down Christians and bring them for trial. He explained that Jesus had met him on the road to Damascus, converted him, sent him to Ananias for instruction, and then sent him forth as the apostle to the Gentiles – that it was time to fulfill the promise made to Abraham, that the Gospel – the Covenant made with Israel – would extend to every nation and every people – not just the Jews. With that, the crowd exploded and demanded that Paul be put to death.

So, then, Claudius Lysias, took Paul and decided to flog him – to torture him – to quiet the crowd, but, at that point, Paul called on Lysias to uphold Paul’s civil rights as a Roman citizen, so he would not be flogged, and would, in fact, be protected by the Romans from the mob. Lysias was shaken by the revelation that Paul was a Roman citizen, and, in fear, he protected Paul from the crowd, again, and did not flog him.

The next day is where our Scripture picks up this morning. Lysias was completely confused about why the Jews were angry with Paul – angry enough to kill him, and Lysias wanted an explanation – he wanted to understand why he had been put in this trouble and now had to protect Paul and see that he made it safely to Rome, since Paul claimed his right to appeal his case before Emperor Nero.

So Lysias called the Sanhedrin – the Jewish high council – to come before him, with Paul, and explain what was really going on. Lysias realized the problem was not a political one, but a theological one, and he had gotten himself stuck in the middle of it by Paul being a Roman citizen, so he wanted to understand what he was in the middle of.

Paul stared at the council members – taking stock of them – who was there – who he knew, and he spoke first, addressing them as equals – “Brothers” – not as his superiors or judge, as they would have preferred. And Paul professed that he had “lived [his] life before God in all good conscience up to [that] day.” Paul told them that he had lived a righteous life and God was a witness to it. He was telling the Sanhedrin that they had no reason or right to put him on trial.

The high priest, Ananias, (not the Ananias that had helped Paul in Damascus), was outraged and told those closest to Paul to punch him in the mouth. (This was a customary action of contempt and reproof.)

Paul responded by revealing Ananias’ true character and prophesying against him:

Paul said, “God is going to strike you.” This prophecy was fulfilled in 66 A.D. when Ananias was assassinated.

“You white-washed wall ” A wall is “white-washed” when it is cracked and falling apart, and rather than repair it with mortar, it is plastered over. It looks good, but it is lacking integrity; it looks strong and solid, but it was actually weak and falling apart underneath. That was the character of Ananias – he looked good on the outside, but inside, he was rotting and falling apart.

“Are you sitting to judge me according to the law” Paul tells Ananias that he doesn’t have the authority to judge Paul. Paul answered to the true High Priest, Jesus, not to the false high priest, Ananias, who was a hypocrite.

“and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Ananias had, indeed, broken the law by instructing Paul to be struck. The law says that a person may only be struck after a court proves guilt.

Other members of the Sanhedrin responded in shock, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” We will remember that Paul explains in Romans that all authority is put in place by God and we are to submit to the authority as long as it does not require us to sin. The Sanhedrin understood Paul’s words to mean that he was despising the authority and position of the high priest. But he wasn’t.

Paul responded, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” What did Paul mean? Let’s assume that Paul was not lying – even if Paul did not know that Ananias was the current high priest – because the high priest changed rapidly under Roman appointment – Ananias would have been dressed in the high priestly robes and seated in the position of authority. It really would have been impossible for him not to know that this man – even if he didn’t know his name – this man was the current high priest.

So what did Paul mean by his response? Paul was most likely saying this, “You may call Ananias the high priest, but neither God nor I recognize him as the high priest. However, I do agree with you that God calls us to honor the office and the authority and the person that God has legitimately installed in the office.” More bluntly, Paul would be saying, “I respect the High Priest, his office, and his authority, but Ananias is a charlatan, a poser, a false high priest.” And so we see that there are times when we are called to expose false teachers – false ministers. Jesus tells us how we are to correct our brothers and sisters and bring them back to faith. But there are times when a teacher is so outrageous and so obstinate in teaching falsehood – even attacking the very Gospel, that we are right – cautiously, with wisdom – to call that person out and expose them – for the sake of the Church.

A modern example would be the TV preacher, Kenneth Copeland. I have watched him and read him, and his primary message is that God wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy. That’s a lie, and it distorts and distracts from the True Gospel – that God came to earth as a human being, lived, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and ascended back to His Throne, just as the Scriptures said He would.

Paul called out the high priest Ananias for who and what he was, and while they recovered their composure, Paul looked at the Sanhedrin: the Sanhedrin was made up of the two major Jewish religious parties – the Pharisees, who were in the majority, and the Sadducees, who were in the minority. Both groups claimed to believe and follow the Torah – the Old Testament, but the Pharisees believed that there was a resurrection of the body to come, that angels exist, as does the human spirit or soul. The Sadducees denied all of these thing; the Sadducees believed that the material world is all that there is and when you’re dead, you’re dead.

And Paul used the wisdom God gave him to divide and conquer – these two parties – the Pharisees and the Sadducees – were united against Paul, and they were getting violent. The Romans might not have been able to keep the Jews to taking and killing Paul, so Paul turned the Pharisees and Sadducees against each other – taking their interest and rage off of him for the moment.

Paul cried out, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of a Pharisee. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”

And the Sadducees said, “What nonsense ”

And the Pharisees said, “There’s nothing wrong with that – perhaps an angel or a spirit did speak to him – who are you to say?”

“We can say because there are no angels or spirits – it’s a bunch of mythology that you Pharisees believe in.”

“You dare to go against the teaching of the Torah in this holy council?”

“We’re not going against the Torah – just your misguided interpretation of it.”

“Why you ”

“Get them ”

Paul had turned the Pharisees and Sadducees against each other, and they began to violently attack each other. And the tribune, Claudius Lysias, likely with his mouth hanging open, ordered Paul to be taken back into the barracks before he – and all of them – were torn apart by the crazed mob.

Could that ever happen today?

Let’s suppose a Jehovah’s Witness and a Mormon arrived at your door at the same time, and they were both in very bad moods. Let’s suppose that you did your best to explain why you didn’t believe either of their religions, and they began to get hostile with you and pushed you into your house and began berating you and saying you would go to hell if you didn’t follow their religion now. This might be a time to divide and conquer – if you knew that the Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Jesus was only a human being – that He was not God, and that the Mormons say that Jesus was a human being Who, through His good works, became God – just like we all can do with hard work. It might be wise to say something like, “Well, the reason I believe what I do is because Jesus is God.” The Jehovah’s Witness will argue He was not; the Mormon will argue He became God, and they might end up arguing with themselves and going away.

Of course, the goal is not merely to get them to go away – the goal is to tell them the Gospel, but, in certain cases, it is wise to divide and conquer, as we see in this morning’s Scripture.

Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:1620, ESV).

Healthy and wealthy, indeed

What is Jesus saying?

Jesus is telling us that He knows very well that He is sending us into danger. The life of the Christian and the witness of the Gospel will bring us into danger. However, we have been sent by our God and Savior. And He tells us to be wise as serpents – we are to use all of our skills at understanding and all of the wisdom that God gives us through His Word and through the Holy Spirit working in us that we might address those we meet with words of power from God. And, we are also to be innocent as doves – we are to do everything within and by and through the Power of the Holy Spirit working in us to live lives of holiness, innocence, and righteousness. We are to do everything we can by the Power of the Holy Spirit to keep from sinning. Why? Because God calls us to holiness, and because people look to seek if our words and our actions align. If we don’t live what we say, people won’t believe us.

Often we end up being as innocent as serpents and as wise as doves: we use inappropriate means – sinful means – and speak and explain ourselves poorly. It is a sin to shoot a doctor who practices abortion. It is counterproductive – and possibly a sin, depending on the circumstances – to burn another religion’s “holy book.” It is a sin to deface another religion’s meeting place.

Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will help to us speak, but let us understand that the Holy Spirit will not give us something that we are unacquainted with. The Holy Spirit may help us to form our words and explain what we believe, but we have to know what God has said in His Word. This Scripture is not a promise that God will suddenly enable us to know and speak and present Scripture we don’t know. One of the most important things you and I ought to be doing is reading our Bibles.

Yes, there are difficult passages. Ask someone. Ask me. Look up commentary on a text. Come to our Bible study and adult studies. I read the Bible using a reading plan that takes me through the Bible each year – I continue to find things and understand and make connections that I had never seen before. If you spend your life reading and studying the Bible, you will not understand everything, because the Bible is the Word of God, and our minds are finite.

I know some of you are reading the Bible. Let me encourage you to keep reading and read again and seek understanding and ways to put into practice what you have learned in thanks for what Jesus has done. Your thoughts and questions have guided me to look at the concept of “the Image of God” for our Lenten sermons, and we will likely look at the book of Hebrews starting around January, based on your comments and questions about it.

God helps us to understand and remember His Word as we read it and study it and hear it preached – and God has promised to bring His Word to our memory when we need it (John 14:26). Wisdom is formed through the knowledge of God’s Word, and innocence is formed through obedience in thanksgiving to Jesus.

So let us learn what God has said and rely on Him to help us to understand and to apply His Word as we face those who oppose God. Let us pray that God would help us to know how to proclaim His Word so people will hear the Truth of the Gospel and false teaching would be defeated. And let us pray that God would help us to follow after Him in thanksgiving and holy obedience.

With the crowd still screaming and trying to break into the barracks, Paul was visited by the Lord Jesus, Himself, and Jesus told Paul, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Jesus told Paul not to lose hope, but to take courage in Jesus, because Jesus is faithful and He will bring about whatever He has planned for His Glory and our joy. Jesus planned for Paul to be a witness to the Gospel in Jerusalem and in Rome. Paul had witnesses in Jerusalem, and Jesus would make sure that he also had the opportunity to witness in Rome. That does not mean that everything would go well between now and then – Paul would suffer between Jerusalem and Rome and after he arrived in Rome. But Jesus was faithful to bring him to where He would have him to accomplish His Will.

That should be an encouragement to us – not that we will be healthy and wealthy – but that Jesus will never forsake us. He is always faithful to His Plan and to His people. Jesus will accomplish all that He intends with us and through us and for us – without a doubt. We can take confidence and hope in that. As Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b, ESV).

Let us take comfort in His Word and in His Promises, as we trust in Him for wisdom, and seek to know Him better, as we continue to be formed into His Image.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we take hope and courage in the promise that You will never leave us nor forsake us. Help us to be diligent in reading and studying Your Word that we might always be prepared, that You might use us to make Your Gospel known and defeat the false teachings that are ever around us. We ask as we receive the bread and the cup and meet with You in the elements, that You would strengthen us and prepare us for all that You have planned in Your Sovereign and Good Will. Give us Your Joy and Grace for this day. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Annual Meeting & Pot-luck

D.V., we will finally have our annual meeting and pot-luck lunch tomorrow.  Join us at 10:30 AM for worship, and stay for the meeting and meal!

March Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

3/6/11 Communion/Transfiguration
Acts 22:30-23:11 “Divide and Conquer”

3/9/11 Ash Wednesday 7PM
Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21 “Keep It to Yourself”

3/13/11 Lent 1
Genesis 1:26-31 “Created in the Image of God”

3/20/11 Lent 2
Colossians 1:15-20 “Jesus Christ is the Image of God”

3/27/11 Lent 3
Romans 8:28-30 “Conformed to the Image of God”