Second Reformed Church

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Be Like Me" Sermon: Acts 26:1-32

“Be Like Me”
[Acts 26:1-32]
June 26, 2011 Second Reformed Church

We return again to our look at the book of Acts this morning, and we are met with the question: is there anything about our lives that would make us say to everyone we meet, “Be like me”? Is there anything about us that we believe is absolutely necessary, worthwhile, and valuable for everyone else in the world?

We will remember that Paul was in prison in the care of the governor, Festus, at Caesarea. Festus had heard Paul and the Sanhedrin – the Jewish ruling council – speak as to Paul’s guilt, but Paul explained that he was on trial for believing everything that the Law and the Prophets taught – including that there is a physical resurrection of the just and the unjust.

Festus didn’t know much about the Jewish religion, so he offered that Paul return to Jerusalem to be tried by the Sanhedrin there. Paul knew that if he went back with them, they would kill him, so, invoking his rights as a Roman citizen, Paul asked to be tried by Caesar Nero, himself. The law was the law; Paul was going to Rome. And we remember this was the promise that Jesus made to Paul – that he would preach the Gospel before Caesar, himself.

Yet, Festus had a problem: while it was law that a Roman citizen could ask to be tried by Caesar, himself, only the most serious crimes, with thorough evidence, were considered worthy of Caesar. And here was Paul, with a dispute about whether or not people physically rise from the dead, and no evidence that he did anything worthy of a Roman crime. Festus was in trouble.

The answer to his prayers came in the form of King Agrippa and his wife, Bernice. They had come to visit the governor, and Festus explained everything that had happened, and how Paul had called for his right to be tried by Caesar. Festus explained to Agrippa that he was not wise enough to determine what to write to Caesar about Paul and the accusations brought against him, and he hoped the wise and just Agrippa would help him. Agrippa fell for being buttered up, and, as we get to this morning’s Scripture, he calls for Paul to stand before him and present his case.

Paul – out of respect for the authority and position of the king, as well as the fact that he was not merely a Roman lackey, but a Jew – told the king that he considered himself fortunate to be able to stand before the king to present his case. The king, he believed, would understand his case, based on his knowledge of Judaism – being a Jew – and also based on his knowledge of current events. Surely, he knew about Jesus and His followers, the Way, and what they taught.

So Paul began by telling Agrippa that from his earliest years Paul was a devout defender of Israel and Judaism. In a short time, he became one of the most learned members of the Pharisees. Anyone would have been able to testify both to the zeal of the party of the Pharisees and to Paul’s keeping of the minutia of the Law. Paul could have been the poster boy for obedience to the Word of God.

Paul then turned to the accusations against him and told Agrippa that the reason he was on trial was due to the fact that he believed and followed the Law and the Prophets so whole-heartedly. He believed the Prophets when they said that God had made a promise, and given a hope, that the day will come when the dead will rise and stand up out of their graves.

Why, Paul asked Agrippa, was this thought incredible to the Jews – who have the Prophets and claim to believe them – that God raises the dead?

Paul explained that he was most zealous in pursuing the Word of God, and when Jesus and the Way appeared, Paul understood them to be going against the Law and the Prophets, so he persecuted them with all his might. He persecuted them in Jerusalem – locking men and women and children in prison, and cheering when any of them were put to death. He tortured them in the synagogues, and tried to get them to blaspheme – that they might quickly deserve the death penalty. And in his raging fury, he got permission from the Sanhedrin – the very Jews who are now seeking his death – he worked for them, capturing Christians – the Sanhedrin even sent him to foreign lands to find Christians. And that is when everything changed.

The Sanhedrin sent Paul – he had papers from them – to go to Damascus, to capture Christians and bring them to Jerusalem for trial. But on the way there – at noon – a light from heaven – which could only have been the Glory of God – shone down on him and his companions, and the a voice spoke to him in Hebrew, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

For those of you who were not raised in an agricultural area, “goads” are sharp metal or wooden object that would be attached behind the oxen as they worked. So, if they got angry and kicked back, rather than hitting the farmer, they would kick back and get stabbed by the goad. The idea being that after a few times, the oxen would learn not to kick the goads.

So, Jesus told Paul, persecuting Him was like kicking the goads. Paul was only hurting himself by persecuting Jesus and His followers.

Paul recognized that it was God speaking, and he asked Who it was, and Jesus told him it was Jesus, the One Paul was persecuting. Yet, Jesus told him to stand, for Jesus had appeared to him to appoint him as a servant and as a witness to Jesus and His Gospel. And Jesus told him to preach His Gospel in Damascus to the Jews, and then in Jerusalem to the Jews, and then to go out and preach the Gospel to the Gentiles – fulfilling the Word of the prophets – that the Gentiles would have their eyes opened to the Truth of Salvation in Jesus Alone, that their eyes would be opened, and they would see the light, turn from Satan to God, that they would receive forgiveness of sins and a place with those who are sanctified by Jesus. That is how Paul came to do a one-eighty – he completely turned around from being the chief persecutor of Christians, to the chief proclaimer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Since Paul knew it was God speaking to him, and God identified Himself as Jesus, Paul went right to work, preaching Jesus in Damascus, and Jerusalem, and Judea, and then to the Gentiles. That is why the Jews seized Paul in the Temple – they didn’t want the Gentiles to know the Way back to God; they wanted to keep the Gospel and Salvation in Jesus away from the Gentiles.

From that day he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, to this, Paul explained, by the help of God, he had spent every moment of his life telling both great and small that there is no Salvation except through Jesus Alone. And he taught them that the Scriptures – the Law and the Prophets – all teach that the Christ – the Savior – must suffer and die, and then physically rise from the dead, being the Savior of both the Jews and the Gentiles.

As Paul was making this defense before Agrippa – and Festus, and Bernice, and all the nobles and others in the hall – Paul was likely quoting Scripture from the Law and the Prophets. Agrippa would have known the Old Testament, and it would have buffeted Paul’s case to do so.

At this point, the Roman governor, Festus, who had heard enough about dead people coming back to life, shouted with a loud voice, “Paul you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” One commentator wrote, “[Paul] was regarded by [Festus] as an unfortunate monomaniac, heated into fanaticism by intense application to occult and superstitious learning” (John Eadie, Paul the Preacher, 417-418). In other words, Paul had spent so much time studying difficult and strange books that he had gone nuts

Paul replied to him courteously that he was not out of his mind, but everything he said was rational – if you believe the Word of God – the Law and the Prophets. And then he turned back to Agrippa saying, “the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”

Paul spoke to Agrippa, saying that he knew that the King knew what he was talking about. The king was well versed in the Word of God. The king knew what the Prophets said. The king knew what had been happening since Jesus came on the scene. The king knew that Jesus and His teachings were all very public, so the common person on the street would have known about what Jesus said and did.

Paul publically asked the king if he believed the Prophets, and then Paul graciously answered the question – which the king would have been unable to answer. For, if the king said, “yes,” then he would have to take Paul’s side, and if the king said, “no,” then the Jews would revolt against him. So, Paul wisely, kindly, answered the question for him, “I know that you believe.”

Agrippa responded, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” This question is not an easy one to translate, and there are variations of meanings that could occur – especially since we don’t know the tone he spoke in. What he being sarcastic? Was he laughing – mocking Paul? Was he seriously considering what Paul had said?

Consider for a moment the blessings God gave in revealing Himself to the family of the Herods: the first Herod, Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1, 16), was visited by the Magi and told that the prophecy had come to pass – the Savior had come. Herod the Great responded by killing all of the male infants in Bethlehem.

After his death, his three sons divided the kingdom: Herod Archelaus (Matthew 2:22) was a wicked king and kept the Holy Family out of Galilee, fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. His brother, Herod Antipas (Mark 6:8) stole his brother, Herod Philip I’s, wife, Herodias. Because he had done so, John the Baptist rebuked him, and though Herod loved listening to John, he allowed himself to be tricked into beheading him.

Herod Agrippa I came next. He knew the apostles and their teachings first hand, and he had James put to death and imprisoned Peter for the sake of the approval of the Jews. This Herod was later eaten by worms.

His son, Herod Agrippa II had Paul standing before him, preaching the Gospel, and Herod’s response, based on his tone and other considerations, may be understood as anywhere from “Get out of here ” to “Everything you say makes sense, but I’m not ready to believe.”

Whatever, exactly, Agrippa meant, Paul responded with his characteristic humility, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am – except for these chains.” “My concern is not for how long it takes you to believe, O King Agrippa, and all of you here in this hall – Festus, noblemen, and the rest of the crowd. My concern, may prayer to God, is that every one of you – in God’s time – will be like me – except for these chains.”

Paul said, “I pray that God will raise each of you from the dead that you might believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation. I pray that each one of you would have your eyes opened so you would see that Jesus is the long-awaited Savior Who was promised in the Law and the Prophets. I pray that each of you would have your heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh that you might be fervent and passionate believers in Jesus and His Salvation. I want you to be like me – except for the chains – I want you to be someone who is completely convinced by – complete obsessed with – God Himself – knowing that the Whole Word of God is True – it is the Word of God – it’s authority comes from God. God has provided the Savior He promised – He is here – now – believe and repent of your sins. Come to Him. Have the hope that we had been waiting for for thousands of years. Be sold-out for Jesus. Know Him to be God the Only Savior, and follow Him in obedience and faith and love and joy.”

Do you ever feel like that? That you want people to be like you – in the sense that they believe that Jesus is God the Promised Savior – prophesied in the Law and the Prophets, physically raised from the dead, and ascended back to the Throne of the Son at the Right Hand of the Father? Do you ever just want to bust wanting to tell someone – wanting someone to believe in Jesus?

We’re not in “hyper-drive” all the time – there are times when I just want to be left alone – and I’m sure you do, too. But do you ever find yourself unable to hold back – unable to control yourself, because you want others to know Who Jesus is – Who God is – what salvation is? I hope so – that is an evidence that we believe.

After Paul spoke his prayer for the king and all those there, Agrippa and the governor, and Bernice, and all those sitting with them got up, and Agrippa said, “This man has done nothing to deserve death or imprisonment. ... This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Agrippa said, “As far as Roman law is concerned, this man has broken no law and should never have been held. I would release him right now, but he has appealed to have his case heard by Caesar, and once an appeal to Caesar is in the works, you can’t take it back. So, send him to Caesar. And tell Caesar, we are not sending him because he is guilty of anything, but because he insisted on being tried by Caesar. Then, everything is on Paul’s head.”

Let us understand:

First, God, the Resurrected Jesus, is the Gospel. And if He did not physically rise, we are fools, and we are damned.

Paul says over and over and over again – the reason I’m on trial – the whole point to Christianity – is that Jesus, Who was stone-cold dead and sealed in a tomb, came back to life, stood up, and walked out in that same wounded body, which the disciples saw, and Jesus told them to touch.

Second, the Christian religion is based on a Person and historical facts about that Person.

Christianity is not fantasy or myth or fiction. The writers of the New Testament were careful to load the text with historical evidence – names, places, events – that could be easily verified or refuted.

Unlike many other religions, Christianity is not based on things that happened among the gods or in far-away times and places to which we have no evidence. Christianity screams out, “Check what I said ” Christianity is a religion for which the evidence of its being true is overwhelming.

Perhaps what has hurt Christianity the most is Christians, because, thirdly, people watch to see if we truly believe what we say – if we live out what we say. And the fact of the matter is that the best of us doesn’t. None of us live out the Gospel perfectly. And rather than read the Bible for themselves and check the facts of the history presented, people look at our lives and say, “ah-hah ”

People have the misperception that we must live out what Jesus has commanded in order to be saved. But the whole point is that we can never do all of what God commands us, which is why we need Jesus If we could live perfect lives, we wouldn’t need Him, but since we are sinners – failures – from birth – dead, in fact – we need Him immediately, constantly, and wholly. There is no hope without Him.

Lastly, if we have believed savingly in Jesus Alone, we ought to desire and do all we can to proclaim the Gospel to the whole Creation that everyone who hears would also believe.

If we are Christians, we ought to want everyone else to be like us – in the saving knowledge of Jesus. Because we have the Answer. We know the Way to the Truth and the Life – to everlasting joy.

If you had a friend who suddenly became joyful in a way he never had before, wouldn’t you want him to tell you what happened? Wouldn’t you want him to want you to be like him?

We have gathered for worship this morning at Second Reformed Church. Some of us may have come because we have friends here. Some of us may have come for the food after service today, as we celebrate our anniversary. But we all ought to have come because Jesus, our God, is worthy of our worship. He Alone is the One Who changes our hearts and makes us new creations. He Alone saves us from God and fills us with His Joy. He is the Reason we would want someone to be like us.

Let us pray:
Almighty and Creator God, You spoke everything that is into being, and you raise us from the dead in salvation through You Son. Yours is the Power and the Glory and the Honor and the Kingdom. We thank You for changing us – for making us people who would want others to be like us in the sense that we know You and have been made new creations by You. Help us to be useful witnesses to You. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Today

Happy 95th Anniversary, Second Reformed Church!  Join us for worship at 10:30 AM and then a potluck lunch afterward.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Why Don't We Give an Altar Call?"

"Why Don't We Give an Altar Call?"

By Rev. Peter A. Butler, Jr.

I was recently asked why we in the Reformed Church and here at Second Reformed Church do not give – or issue – an altar call at the end of the worship service. This is my answer.

The altar call is a method used in a number of Protestant denominations whereby at the end of the sermon – or at the end of the worship service – all are commanded (invited) to believe in Jesus, to come forward to the pulpit as a sign of wanting to receive Him, and to receive prayer and/or instruction.

What is positive about this method is that it takes seriously the call to all humans to believe the Gospel and repent of sin. Yet, we do not use this method, because:

1. The altar call is nowhere commanded or practiced in the Bible.

What is commanded and practice in the Bible is preaching the Whole Word of God.  Jesus said that the Whole Word of God is about Him. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to the in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV). Thus, every sermon ought to be Christo-centric, (and this will occur in various ways). The sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) declared what the prophets said, interpreted them in the light of the Saving Work of Jesus, and then Peter stopped. There was no call to faith and repentance, nor was anyone asked to come forward or sign anything. The response came after the service as God stirred the people to life and faith (Acts 2:37-41). Then Peter instructed them to be baptized.

Let us remember: we are to call people to faith and repentance, but it is not possible for any human to have faith or to repent prior to God's regeneration. In other words, we are born dead (Ephesians 2:1), and no one can respond unless and until God brings him or her back to spiritual life. No one can have faith and repent until he or she is a Christian. God chooses and makes a person alive and a believer in Jesus. God gives him the faith to believe. Then he or she can repent.

2. The altar call may give someone the false belief that coming forward, feeling emotional, and/or signing a card is the same as salvation.

Mere confession of the facts of Jesus being the Savior, coming forward during a service, and/or signing a document – sinner's prayer – what have you, saves no one. As stated above, our job is to proclaim the Whole Word of God; God saves people – God brings people back to life as it pleases Him. God is Sovereign in Salvation, and everyone that God intends to receive Salvation will receive it. God will lose no one, and we do not – and ought not – have to set up an emotional and pressure-filled method to bring about a confession.

Even Rev. Billy Graham has commented in recent years that the altar call method is flawed, and a significant percentage of those who walked down the isle in the heat of the moment, believing something had happen, later realize that nothing happened, they did not believe, and they go back to their "normal" lifestyle.

3. The altar call puts the focus of the worship service on the people in the congregation – and particular, the non-Christian.

As stated above, the good behind the altar call is the desire to see people believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation and repent of their sin. However, in arranging the service such that the apex of the worship is non-Christians coming forward to make a profession of faith – or to see non-Christians coming forward to make a profession of faith – puts the focus on the on-Christian.

The worship service may deteriorate to the point where it is nothing more than waiting to see who and how many respond to the call to come forward.

4. The altar call makes the worship service primarily about calling unbelievers to faith and repentance, and that is not the purpose of the worship service.
I
f the purpose of worship is not to call unbelievers to faith and repentance, what is the purpose of the worship service? It is to worship God! Primarily, first and foremost, the worship service is for believers to worship God.

D. Elton Trueblood said that most people think of the worship service in this way: God is the prompter, the pastor is the actor, and the congregation are the listeners. But this understanding of worship makes it no longer worship! – at least not the worship of God. Trueblood says the biblical model is the God is the listener, the pastor is the prompter, and the congregation are the actors.

In worship, we come to worship God – to show His Worth – to proclaim His Worth. The
pastor helps the congregation to express themselves towards God in an appropriate and God-
honoring way. In hearing the Word of God read and preached, in receiving the sacraments, and in praying, the Christian better understands Who God is, and in so doing, the Christian is drawn more deeply in love to God, and the urgency and delight of worship increases.

One can see, then, that as the Christian worships God, the Christian becomes better equipped by God to be the person God has called him or her to be. The secondary part of worship is the edification and the increase of knowledge and experience of the Christian that he or she would better be able to worship and glorify God through doing all those things that God has planned for him or her to do. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

The fact that people come to faith and repent under the preaching of the Word is a tertiary purpose to “regular” worship (evangelistic preaching is a different topic). It is true, as Jesus explains, that our congregations are not just of Christians, but mixed Christians and non-Christians (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), still the worship service is for the worship of God, conversion in the worship service is by God as God is pleased to convert.

That is not to say that there is never to be a call to faith and repentance in the worship service – it is just not central to the worship service. There are texts where it is absolutely appropriate to – in the context of the worship of God – show humanity’s desperate need to believe and repent. (An explanation of this would be better saved for another essay.)

Thus, we do not have an altar call because:

1. The altar call is not practiced or prescribed in the Bible.

2. The altar call may confuse people as to how one is saved – justified – made right with God.

3. The altar call makes the non-Christian the focus of the worship service.

4. The altar call makes the purpose of worship evangelism, rather than worship.

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright an pure” (Revelation 19:6b-8a, ESV).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 26:24: “[Paul] was regarded by [Festus] as an unfortunate monomaniac, heated into fanaticism by intense application to occult and superstitious learning” – John Eadie, Paul the Preacher, 417-418.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 26:17: “...as George Whitfield said, ‘I am immortal till my work is done’” – Melancthon W. Jacobus, Notes – Critical and Explanatory – on the Acts of the Apostles, 395.

Consistory

Due to the lack of a quorum on Sunday, we are scheduling a Consistory meeting on July 10th after worship.  Please plan to be there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 26:9: “We learn, by the way, that the standard of our duty is not conscience, which sometimes calls good evil, and evil good, but the perfect and unchangeable law of God; and that it will not be a sufficient apology for our errors of practice, that we can plead its dictates. Because there is a higher authority, by which its commands are controlled. We perceive, too, that sincerity, if which some men speak, as if it were the only virtue, or as if it would atone for almost every mistake, is of no value, unless we be sincere in what is right. No man was ever more sincere, or more fully convinced of the lawfulness of his proceedings than Paul, when he perfected the disciples of Christ; but notwithstanding this persuasion, he afterwards reflected upon his conduct with shame and detestation, and pronounced himself the chief of sinners” – John Dick, Lectures on the Acts of the Apostles, 382.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"I Go" Sermon: John 16:5-15

“I Go”
[John 16:5-15]
June 19, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Today is Trinity Sunday. Although the word “trinity” is not used in the Bible, we recognize the word as expressing a doctrine – a teaching – that is found throughout the Bible: there is One and Only One God, and God exists in Three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We do not believe there are three gods, but Only One. We do not believe that God changes from the Father into the Son and into the Holy Spirit at different times, but that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are distinct Persons. That is what the Bible teaches – that is what God has revealed to us – and it is what everyone who believes the Bible believes; it is what every Christian believes.

This morning’s text is one of many places throughout the Bible where we see – among other things – that the One God is Three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it continues from the same conversation Jesus had with the disciples that we looked at last week.

Jesus tells them again that He is going back to the Father – “to Him Who sent Him” – but now, they know He is returning to the Throne of the Son at the Right Hand of the Father. They know He is going to be taken from them and put to death.

Jesus understands that they are sorrowful about this, because they will be losing Him.

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth.” Jesus tells them to listen to Him – as the One Who loves them – as the One Who is going to lay down His Life for them – He tells them to listen.

“It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

Why would it be to their advantage for Jesus to go? Wouldn’t it be better for them to have Him there so He could continue to teach them? We see that the disciples were concerned about themselves and their future – they were not focused on Jesus and the work He came to do. But Jesus knew it was to their advantage that He leave – He was thinking of them, as well as the Will of God.

It was to their advantage that Jesus leave them for two reasons:

It was to their advantage that Jesus go, for, unless Jesus was put to death, His coming would be in vain. If Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies about the Savior being put to death, He could not be the Savior.

Second, it was to their advantage that He go, for, if He did not, there would be no reason to send another Helper – Comforter – Advocate. And, like Jesus, the Holy Spirit needed to come to fulfill the prophecy and Will of God.

Then Jesus said, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.” The “world” in this verse refers to those who are not disciples – to those who will not believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation – to those who deny that Jesus is God the Savior.

What does it mean that “he will convict the world”? We often look at the word “convict” and understand it to mean that someone will make a case to persuade, as though this sentence read, “he will persuade the world” or “he will make a case to the world,” but that cannot be what the word means here, because that would mean the verse could be expounded, “he will persuade the world that they are sinners, so they will repent, knowing that Jesus is righteous, so they will believe in Him for salvation, and they are judged and damned to Hell, and there is nothing that they can do about it.” That makes no sense: how could the Holy Spirit persuade the world to repent of their sin, believe in Jesus, yet they still be damned to Hell? It is not possible.

What this text – and this word – must mean here, is not that the Holy Spirit will do these things to persuade, but, as a consequence of His coming, these things will be objective realities – facts – testimony that will condemn. The Holy Spirit will not try to persuade the world – Jesus already said – as we saw last week, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him” (John 14:16-17a, ESV). No, what Jesus is saying is that the coming of the Holy Spirit will be objective evidence – evidence that would hold up in court – that the world did not receive Jesus.

Jesus tells them that the coming of the Holy Spirit will bring objective evidence against the world – condemning the world – convicting the world – passing judgment against the world: The difference between the two understandings of the word is the difference between trying to explain why something is true and passing judgment. What the Holy Spirit is doing here is passing judgment.

“Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” The Holy Spirit only indwells Christians – those who have believed savingly in Jesus and repented of their sin. So, He is evidence against the world, by their not being indwelt by Him, and they are condemned.

“Concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you will see me no longer.” The Holy Spirit would not have come to indwell believers if Jesus were not God the Savior and if He had not returned to the Father. So the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus as a witness to His having returned to the Father. The fact of the Holy Spirit being on earth is objective evidence against the world who now stands guilty of not receiving Christ.

“And concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” The fact that the Holy Spirit indwells believers is objective evidence that Satan lost – that Jesus rose victorious from the grave – so that the devil and all his angels and anyone who follows them is condemned to Hell.

The fact that the Holy Spirit brings objective evidence against the world is also an objective assurance to we who believe that Jesus is God the Savior, and our believing in Him is not in vain. We will be received into the Kingdom in all its fullness when Jesus returns.

Jesus continues, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Why not? Jesus was telling the disciples that they both would not understand all of what He had to say to them if He told them now, and they would not have the spiritual strength to understand and believe if He told them now. But, in this sentence is the promise that He would tell them another time. When?

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

When the Holy Spirit indwells a believer, He does not give them information that we have not already been given by God in the Bible, but He leads us to understand the Truth – He leads us in interpreting the Bible and understanding what God has said and what it means for us. The Holy Spirit does not speak independently from the Godhead – from the Trinity – but He speaks what He hears.

In last weeks’ text, we saw Jesus say, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10, ESV).

So, Jesus gets His Authority from the Father, and the Holy Spirit gets His Authority from the Father and the Son. Don’t get confused. This does not mean that the Father is the greatest God and the Son and the Holy Spirit are lesser gods; there is only One God. The One God is also Three Persons and the Three Persons are co-equal, co-eternal, equal in worth and ability and glory. However, within the One God, the Three Persons are ordered, such that the Father sends the Son, and the Father and the Son send the Spirit.

It’s like on our Consistory: the Consistory is made up of the pastor, elders, and deacons. We have parity – that is, we have equal authority – but the pastor primarily teaches and preaches and studies and prays, the elders primarily teach and discipline, and the deacons primarily care for the well-being of the physical. (Of course the analogy breaks down because we are not one being, like God is One Being.)

Even if that is a bit difficult to wrap our heads around, we see that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all the One God. They have One Authority. One Mind. One Will.

Jesus ends this section saying, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

God the Father is the Sovereign God over all Creation. Everything is His. The Father has given everything to the Son. And the Father has given everything of the Son’s to the Holy Spirit, so the Holy Spirit would declare Jesus to us and glorify Jesus by directing our attention to Jesus.

There is One God and God works through the Persons to glorify Himself and to get us to glorify Him. The point of the book we gave out for Easter, God is the Gospel, is that the greatest and primary gift of the Gospel – the Good News – is not salvation or any other blessing we might receive – it’s God. So, God created everything that is to bring glory to Himself, and God sent Jesus to be our Savior to bring glory to Himself, and the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all those who will believe to glorify Himself. So, the greatest joy we can have is to know God and to glorify Him – to show to the whole world – to direct everyone to the greatness and majesty and awesomeness of God as He is known through His Creation – including us – and through His Work in and through believers, and through the testimony of the Word of God.

So, what do we see:

Jesus’ leaving the disciples was for their benefit – and ours – because in going, Jesus attained and assured salvation for all those who will believe, and the Holy Spirit came and indwells all believers.

Jesus explained that one of the things the Holy Spirit would be is a witness against the world – against all those who will never believe, because they did not repent of their sin, and they did not receive Jesus as God the Savior, and they are, subsequently, condemned with the devil.

Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit would also explain to them – and us – the things that they could not bear in mind or spirit without the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

And Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit came to glorify Jesus. In part, that means that the Holy Spirit would give all those who believe understanding of God’s Word so we would also glorify Jesus.

We also noticed that since there is only One God, and the Father is God and the Son is God and the Spirit is God, though They are Three distinct Persons Who work orderly in the Godhead, They are completely equal as the One God.

The Trinity is not an easy concept. We can only go so far with it, and then we just have to affirm that this is what is taught in God’s Word: God is Three in One – One God and Three Persons. Our minds are not capable of fully understanding how the Trinity “works,” but it is important to affirm that it is true, because God has said it is true in His Word.

So let us pray:
Almighty God, our Father, we thank You that You have told us what we can comprehend, and for the Gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Who teaches us and reminds us of all You have said. We ask that Holy Spirit would help us to understand, and that, as we understand, we would, all the more, glorify Jesus. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

What to Do with the Homosexuals?

Almost exactly four years ago, I received a letter urging me to side with the Episcopal Church in embracing practing homosexuals into ordained ministry in our church and denomination.  The issue has far from gone away -- in fact, it has come to a head again in our church.  For that reason, I repost my reply to that letter, for I still stand by my response:

Dear Members and Friends of Second Reformed Church, and especially my anonymous letter writer,

This past week I received an article with a short note attached to it. It was sent anonymously, which is fine, but, should the sender ever wish to talk, I am willing to talk, and look at the Scriptures with you.

The article concerned the Episcopal Church's debate over granting membership and ordination to practicing homosexuals. The priest about whom the article was largely garnered, who was not a homosexual himself, argued that the practice of homosexuality is just one sin, and as Christians, we have greater and more pressing issues to deal with, especially since our sins are forgiven in Christ. So, he was in favor of granting membership and ordination to practicing homosexuals by virtue of the fact that all Christians are sinners, and to deny practicing homosexuals membership and ordination because they sin, would be reason to deny all Christians membership and ordination.

The note asked me, as the minister of Second Reformed Church, to be compassionate, loving, and progressive by adopting the same stance.

I cannot.

I agree with the priest and my anonymous friend, that all Christians are sinners and continue in sin until they reside in glory. However, the issue here is not whether or not we allow sinners to become members and be ordained in the church, the issue here is, do we allow unrepentant, happily persisting, sinners to become members of the church and ordained to office.

Now, before we raise all the popular issues, let me answer them, so we can answer the question of my anonymous friend:

Is homosexuality genetic? I don't know.

Does it matter? No.

Why not? Just as we are born sinners, with the guilt and disposition of the will only to sin, which we didn't choose, but were born with, and are still guilty of through our representative inheritance, so, if the practice of homosexuality is a sin, whether it is genetic or not is a moot point.

Is the practice of homosexuality a sin? Let's leave out the Old Testament for those who get into side arguments about that. Instead, here are two quotes from the New Testament:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

"Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted" (I Timothy 1:8-11).

The practice of homosexuality is a sin, just like all the other forbidden items in these lists are sins.

So, what shall we do?

Shall we invite practicing homosexuals into our churches? Yes!

Shall we sit with them and talk with them and treat them like they are human beings? Yes!

Shall we touch them and pray with them? Yes!

Shall we allow them in our Bible studies and worship services? Yes!

Shall we tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Salvation in Him Alone? Yes!

Shall we call them to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Alone for their Salvation? Yes!

And if they repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Alone for their Salvation, then, shall we make them members of the church and even ordain them? Yes!

Because each and every one of us is a sinner. Each and every one of us has committed sexual sins, if not of body, then surely of mind. And no unrepentant sinner, not one who happily persists in their sin, ought to be considered for church membership or ordination. Because someone who continues happily in unrepentant sin is not yet a Christian.

And if you are a persistent gossip, and you love to hear about others and dig up dirt about them and spread it around and you see nothing wrong with it, you ought not to be allowed to become a member of the church or to be ordained. It is the same for every sin -- whatever sins plague us, and we all have our weaknesses.

Can a man who struggles with lusting after women, who has received Jesus Alone for his Salvation, and repents of and struggles with his lust, be allowed to become a member of the church or be ordained? Yes.

Can someone who struggles with homosexual lust, who has received Jesus Alone for his Salvation, and repents of and struggles with his lust, be allowed to become a member of the church or be ordained? Yes.

If someone is unrepentantly, happily persisting in his sin, he is not a Christian, and ought not be made a member or ordained -- whatever his pet sin is.

But anyone who has repented and received Jesus Alone for Salvation and fights not to sin may become a member, and such who are called by God to office may be ordained.

At Second Reformed Church, all sinners are welcome, whether believers or not. I am a sinner, I fight against my pet sins and continue to repent of them when I give in to them, but I am not unrepentantly, happily pursuing them. All are welcome to Second Reformed Church, but only those who have repented and believed in Jesus Christ Alone for their salvation will be allowed to become members, and only such who have been called by God will be ordained to office.

Is that compassionate and loving? That we invite all people to Second Reformed Church, that we welcome all people to Second Reformed Church, that we call all sinners to repentance and belief in Jesus Christ Alone for Salvation and the life-long fight against sin, that we don't fool people into believing that you can continue in unrepentant sin and escape eternal Hell? I believe so.

Is it progressive? Perhaps not, but I have often said, I have trouble trusting anyone who hasn't been dead for four hundred years.

Dear reader, member, friend, and anonymous one, you are welcome at Second Reformed Church, and I call you to repent of your sin and believe in Jesus Christ Alone for Salvation.

This is the call I have been given:

"But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time -- he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen" (I Timothy 6:11-16).

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is the judge of the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, enduring suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (II Timothy 4:1-5).

Know that I am a sinner, just like you. I have to fight against my sin, just like you. And I have to repent of my sin, just like you.

I pray I'll see you in worship,

In the Name of the Only Savior,

Rev. Peter Butler, Jr., pastor
Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"He Who Has Seen Me" Sermon: John 14:8-17

“He Who Has Seen Me”
[John 14:8-17]
June 12, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Today is Pentecost Sunday. And we remember what is recorded in the book of Acts about this day: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4, ESV).

Fifty days after the Resurrection – as Jesus had promised – God the Holy Spirit indwelt all those who believed in Jesus Alone for salvation. And ever since then, all believers receive the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

We are directed to a different text this morning, which I just read for us. Jesus had just explained to the disciples that they should not be troubled, but believe that there are many rooms in God’s house, and all those who believe in Him will be received into that house in the Kingdom. He explained that He was going to prepare that place for them and they could not go. Yet, Jesus told them that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

And then, in this morning’s text, we see Philip ask Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” How could Philip ask to see God the Father? He knew that anyone who looks upon God must die, so what was he thinking. And more than that, Jesus shows how discouraged He was with Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” Jesus told Philip that he didn’t need to ask to see the Father because Jesus and the Father are the same One God. To know Jesus is to know God. To see the Son is to see the Divine Father.

Understand, Jesus was not saying that He and the Father are the same Person. This is part of the mystery of the Trinity – which we will look at next week, if the Lord is willing. Jesus, the Son of God, and God the Father are distinct Persons, though They are the same One God. As we confess in The Athanasian Creed, “For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.” So, in seeing the Divinity of the Son, Philip had seen the Divinity of the Father, since the Father and the Son are the same One God.

Jesus continues: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”

Jesus tells Philip to consider what he has seen of Jesus and what Jesus has done. The only conclusion one can draw is that the works Jesus did were the works of the Father – of God, and the authority which Jesus has is the authority of the Father. No one could do the things Jesus did unless He is God. So, Jesus tells Philip to consider, not merely Jesus’ Words, but the witness of the works that He did. How could these be explained, but that Jesus and the Father are the same One God?

What we see here is that Jesus is not just a manifestation of God; Jesus is God in the flesh. So God the Father sent God the Son, Who incarnated as Jesus, Who is our Substitute and Savior.

He continued, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

What works did Jesus do? Jesus did the Will of the Father; Jesus did what God the Father told Him to do. So, Jesus is saying that those who believe in Him will also do the Will of the Father. What is the Will of God the Father for you and me? Everything that is written in His Word. We ought to begin with that. That will keep us busy for a lifetime.

But what does Jesus mean that those who believe in Him will do “greater works”? What greater works could you or I do? Jesus kept the Law of God perfectly. He performed miracles, including raising the dead. He voluntarily took on our punishment for sin that we would be right with God. That is what Jesus did, what could we do that would be greater than what Jesus did? Is there any good work in all of Creation that we could do that Jesus – Who is 100% Holy God and 100% Holy Man – did not do?

There is only one thing: we can proclaim the Gospel – fulfilled in history. We can proclaim to the world that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, that He lived a perfect life under God’s Law, took our place before the Wrath of God for our sin, suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, physically rose from the dead, ascended back to the Throne of the Son at the Right Hand of the Father, where He reigns Sovereign over all. Jesus could not say all of that, because He had not yet taken our place before God’s Wrath on the cross. We can do one thing greater than Jesus – we can proclaim the Risen and Exalted Jesus.

Then Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this the Father will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Is Jesus saying that we can have anything we want if we just say, “in Jesus’ Name”? Of course not. Jesus is saying if we ask anything of Him – because He is the Sovereign Creator and Ruler of all – so He has the authority to answer and provide – in His Name – that is, according to His Will – then He will do it. Jesus is able to provide us with anything, but He will give us according to our prayers if we ask for what He Wills.

Now, why does Jesus tell them this after He tells them that they will do greater works than He? Jesus was telling them that there is an intimate connection between prayer and good works. Specifically that we are guided and strengthen through prayer to be able to do the good works that God has planned for us. Our prayers ought to more and more become in line with what God wants – including the greater work of proclaiming Jesus and His Gospel. If we pray that we will be able to proclaim Him – and to do all those things He calls us to do – He will enable us to do so. We are able to do the good works that God calls us to do when we pray that we will be able to do them, and God enables us to do them.

Then Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

How does that follow from prayer? Well, Jesus says He will do anything we ask in His Name, and we just said that Jesus will do whatever we ask in His Name that is what He Wills. Now, we see there is a connection between prayer and love: if we are praying for what Jesus wants to be done, we do so in love of Him. And we said that what Jesus wants us to do is obey the Father as He obeyed His Father – which is keeping the commandments.

One way that we show our love for Christ is obedience to His Commands, as we find them in the Bible. Following Christ in this way is the “spring of true faith” (Pink). The true goal of prayer is to show our love to Christ by being and living as He has called us.

Jesus continued, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells in you and will be in you.”

Here, now, we see Christ’s love for His people: Jesus knows that we will not be able to pray rightly or receive all we need to do God’s Will unless God the Holy Spirit is living in us. So, when Jesus returned to the Father on the day of Ascension, He asked the Father, and They sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all those who would believe. That is what happened that first Pentecost.

Notice, God the Holy Spirit is sent only to believers, not to the world. Non-believers do not have the Holy Spirit living in them; He only inhabits believers. And God the Holy Spirit is not just a feeling, He is not the Spirit of Jesus (as though He were not distinct from Jesus), He is not our spirit made right, but He is a Person of the Godhead, just as Jesus, the Son, is, and just as God the Father is. We find in Holy Scripture, Three Persons – equal, yet distinct, Who are the One God.

Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “another Helper” – Comforter – Advocate – Someone Who can stand by us as our legal representative and counsel – in the case of the Holy Spirit, before the Father. Paul explains, “Likewise, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26, ESV). So, just as Jesus stands between us and God the Father as our Substitute in taking on God’s Wrath and meriting a holy life. So, the Holy Spirit stands between us and God the Father to help us to pray as we ought. When we are at a loss for words and don’t know how to pray and what to pray for in a situation, God the Holy Spirit intercedes on behalf of believers to pray according to Jesus’ Name and the Will of the Father, that our prayers might be answered.

Shortly after our text, Jesus explains more about why God the Holy Spirit is given to believers: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV). So, God the Holy Spirit does not only help us to pray, it is by Him that we understand what God has told us in His Word, and He helps us to remember what we have read in His Word and what we have been taught about it.

God knows in our fallible and sinful minds, we will not know how to pray rightly or what to pray for, or how to understand all that God said in His Word, or to remember it, or to apply it. So, in love, God has given us Himself, dwelling in us, to enable us to do what God has called us to do.

If you are a Christian, God lives in you to help you and instruct you and provide for you and to make you what He would have you be and do.

The Good News of Pentecost is that we are not left alone. The disciples were not left alone – after Jesus ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell them. And He does the same for every believer throughout history.

So, let us review:

Jesus testified that He is the same One God as God the Father, the God of Israel.

Jesus said to not merely look at His Words, but His Works, and recognize that only God could do the things He did.

Jesus told the disciples – and all we who believe – that if we believe that Jesus is God, then we will do a greater work than He did before the crucifixion: we will proclaim the Gospel of Jesus – risen and exalted to the Throne of the Son.

And if we believe that Jesus is God, we will do all we can to follow Jesus in obedience to all He has revealed and commanded us, because we love Him.

And if we desire to obey Him, we will pray for things, and as we pray in Jesus’ Name, according to His Will, those requests will be granted.

Yet, since we do not know what to pray and we need help to understand and remember God’s Word, God will send God the Holy Spirit to indwell everyone who will believe – just like on that first Pentecost, because He loves us. And He will teach and remind us and intercede for us.

We are not alone, brothers and sisters. Since Jesus ascended back to the Throne of the Son at the Right Hand of the Father, He asked that Father that They might send God the Holy Spirit to live in everyone who will believe. And if you believe, He lives in you.

So, let us be in prayer, asking God that God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us will help us to pray rightly and wisely. Let us ask God to help us to understand His Word, to remember it, and to proclaim salvation in Jesus Alone to the whole Creation.

And let us remember the love of God, Who sent His Son to be our Substitute before Him, and then send the Holy Spirit to live in us, that we might live in the love of God as His witnesses to the world.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, we thank You that You chose to glorify Yourself through loving us and sending Your Son to be our Savior. We thank You that You have sent the Holy Spirit after Him that we might never be alone, but always have Immanuel – God with us. We thank You for the promise that You will teach us and intercede for us, and make us to be Your people in every way. Lord, help us to love. And cause us to follow after You in love. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

"Above All Rule" Sermon: Ephesians 1:15-23

“Above All Rule”
[Ephesians 1:15-23]
June 5, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Today is Ascension Sunday. It is the day that we remember that forty days after the Resurrection, in the presence of His disciples, Jesus physically rose up through the clouds, out of sight, and, (as we are told in various places), returned to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father. In our text from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we see something of why this is important for us today.

Paul beings this section by telling the Ephesian Christians that he had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints – for all Christians. Ephesus was in what we now call Turkey – on the central western coast of the peninsula. It was a church that Paul had founded, but hadn’t been back to in many years.

Paul tells them that he prays for them, giving thanks for them as he remembers them in his prayers. Please pray for me. I pray for you, and I hope you pray for me. I hope you pray that I will be faithful, that God will give me wisdom to be your pastor, that God will sustain my health according to His Will. We ought to be praying for each other, and I hope you are thankful for each other – for every Christian that God has brought to faith.

Paul prayed for the Ephesians, and he told them that he prayed that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [them] a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of [their] hearts enlightened.” What does that mean?

Paul prayed that God would give them “a spirit of wisdom.” He wanted them to have a knowledge and understanding of Who God is and what He has done. He wanted them to be able to practically apply all that they knew about God the Father from the Scripture. That’s something we ought to pray about for each other – that each of us would better understand the Scripture and what we are told about God and why it matters – why God made sure it was recorded in His Word for us.

He also prayed that they would have “a spirit of revelation.” Paul was not asking that God would speak to them with new information that is not in the Bible. What he was praying was that God would make His Word fresh to them every time they read it – that they would be excited and energized as they read God’s Word. Again, that’s something we ought to pray for each other: First, that we would be reading our Bibles every day. Second, that God would help us to understand what is written in His Word. And third, that God would make His Word alive to us – fresh – exciting – something we long to go to again and again for refreshment from God.

And, he prayed that as they receive “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation [it would be] in the knowledge of [the Father].” That’s not merely a book knowledge or an intellectual knowledge, but a personal knowledge – an intimate knowledge – that two people would have. If you are a Christian this morning, we’re told that God “knows” us – and that is a knowledge that is passionate and loving.

And, in receiving this wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of the Father, he prayed that they would have “the eyes of [their] heart[s] enlightened.” In other words, he prayed that those whose eyes have been enlightened – those who have received Jesus Alone as their Savior – would progress in their salvation – that they would progress towards holiness and faithfulness.

So, Paul says that since he knows that they are Christians who love each other, he gives thanks for them and prays that they will understand God’s Word, that it would be fresh and exciting to them – in that intimate relationship that Christians have with God – and that they would progress in becoming holy. Does that make sense?

Would you please pray that for me? I pray it for you. I pray that you would understand God’s Word and be excited about it and experience intimacy with God and progress towards holiness. Would you please pray that for me? Would you pray that I would understand God’s Word and be excited about it and experience intimacy with God and progress towards holiness?

Now that we understand that – and we will be praying for each other after this example of Paul to the Ephesians – we might ask the question, “Why?” Why does Paul want them to understand God’s Word and be excited about it and experience intimacy with God and progress towards holiness?

Paul gives three reasons in our text:

First, Paul prays these things “that [they] may know what is the hope to which he has called [them].” “He” who? Here, “he” is God the Father. So – that they may know what is the hope to which God the Father has called them. So, what is the hope that God the Father called the Ephesians believers to? What is the hope to that God the Father calls all Christians to?

Paul wrote, “To [the saints] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27, ESV).

The hope that God calls all Christians to is the hope that we have been redeemed. Jesus has taken our place under the Wrath of God, having been punished for our sake, and having credited us with His Righteousness, so that we can stand before God now and in the Kingdom. This is the Work that Jesus accomplished for us and the fact of what Jesus accomplished – and the surety of the hope we have of being received into Glory is not changed by our emotions – by the way we feel, because “Christ is in you.” Jesus lives in every person who believes in Him, and the Holy Spirit witnesses to our Salvation, so we can be assured by the Witness and the Promise and the Word of God, that we – and all those who believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation – will be received into Glory.

Paul explains that the whole Creation is waiting for that hope to come – because when it does, the whole Creation will be freed from its slavery to corruption and it will be received into the Glory that we will be received into. Just as our physical bodies will rise again, made like unto Jesus’ Physical Body, so will the Creation be perfect once again (cf. Romans 8:19-25).

So, the first reason that Paul wants them to understand God’s Word and be excited about it and experience intimacy with God and progress towards holiness is so they would have assurance of their salvation and the hope of resurrection and of a life to come in the Kingdom with Jesus.

Do you have assurance of your salvation and the hope of resurrection and of a life to come in the Kingdom with Jesus? I pray you do. It comes through reading God’s Word and from the testimony of the Holy Spirit – Who lives in you – to the truthfulness of God’s Word.

Second, Paul prays these things that they would know “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Paul wants them to understand what they will inherit as sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus – when they are received into the kingdom

Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, ESV).

What do you consider your greatest suffering right now? Is the climate control in your car not working properly? Are you not your perfect weight? Have you not been to a movie theater in over a year? Is your suffering greater than that? Do you have physical ailments? Arthritis, problems with sight, hearing, digestion, etc.? Mental disabilities? Addictions? Paul was writing to a people who were being tortured, crucified, burned alive, thrown to the lions – and he tells them that all of that is “nothing” compared with the inheritance of glory that they will receive in the Kingdom.

Now, Paul was not making light of their suffering – Paul suffered with something and he tells us that he prayed to have it removed from him, but God said, “no.” Paul was not denying the reality of suffering – and of terrible, painful suffering. What Paul was saying is that as horrible as the worst suffering that they would ever experience in this lifetime would be, inheriting glory is so much greater that Job, himself, would say that his suffering – comparatively – was nothing.

We can only begin to approach what that means – perfection to the utmost degree of perfection, holiness upon holiness, glory upon glory. All those who believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation will be received into that glory, and it will be theirs. Do you believe that, brothers and sisters? I do. I have not suffered much in my life, but I know that if I was not going to inherit glory with the saints, I could not bear the suffering I suffer; I would give up.

Much of the suffering that we have suffered has been physical suffering. The good news is this: “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20b-21, ESV). We will be transformed in the Kingdom – and our failed bodies will be transformed into glorious bodies like Jesus had after the Resurrection. Everything that we who believe suffer with in our bodies now will be transformed, and we will inherit glorious bodies, like Jesus’.

And that is only the beginning, “as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (I Corinthians 2:9, ESV). The best understand we can get from the Word of God about what our inheritance will be in the Kingdom is only a tiny percentage of what the reality will be.

So, the second reason that Paul wants them to understand God’s Word and be excited about it and experience intimacy with God and progress towards holiness is so they would have assurance of their inheritance of the riches of Christ’s Glory – which is life with Jesus, a perfect body, no pain or suffering, and far more than we can possibly imagine.

Do you have assurance of your inheritance of the riches of Christ’s Glory? I pray you do. It comes through reading God’s Word and from the testimony of the Holy Spirit – Who lives in you – to the truthfulness of God’s Word.

Third, Paul prays these things that they would know “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe.” Paul is not saying that they will receive more power, but that God’s Power is already working in them and through them.

In the next chapter of Ephesians, Paul explains, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV). Paul says that those who believing savingly in Jesus are His Creation, and Jesus created us as His to do good works which God predestined that we would do. Jesus has raised us from the dead, recreated us, and now works through us to do good works to His Glory.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). Paul assures the Philippians that one of the good works that God is working through each one who believes savingly in Him is restoring the Image of God in us, making us into the Image of His Son, sanctifying us – making us holy. This work God is completing by His Power in and through us until Jesus returns – at which point we will be completed and made holy, never to sin again.

We are already what we will become, and God is continuing to make us new. As Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17, ESV).

If you have believed in Jesus Alone for salvation, God the Holy Spirit lives in you and by His Power, He is doing good works through you. God is changing you by His Power, making you the into the man or woman you will before forever in the Kingdom with Jesus.

So, the third reason that Paul wants them to understand God’s Word and be excited about it and experience intimacy with God and progress towards holiness is so they would have an understanding and assurance of the Power of God that is working in and through them – first to raise them from spiritual death, then to sanctify them – make them holy, and finally, to make them like Jesus as they are received into His Kingdom when Jesus returns.

Do you have assurance of God working by His Power in and through you – changing you and doing good works through you? I pray you do. It comes through reading God’s Word and from the testimony of the Holy Spirit – Who lives in you – to the truthfulness of God’s Word.

Now we know why Paul was praying for them and what he was praying for, yet we still may wonder how these things will come to pass in the Providence of God.

Paul says that these things will come to pass according to – or, by virtue of – “the working of [God’s] great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.”

The “how” of all these things – for the Ephesians – and for you and me – and for all those who believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation is the fact of the Ascension of Jesus: God raised Jesus from the dead: “God raise him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24, ESV). And He spent forty days eating, drinking, touching, and interacting with the disciples – more than five hundred people.

“And when [Jesus] had said these things, as [the disciples] were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of sight” (Acts 1:9, ESV). As Peter says, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, ...” (Acts 2:32-33a, ESV). “[Jesus] who has gone into heaven [] is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (I Peter 3:22, ESV).

How is it possible that we who believe savingly in Jesus will receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of the Father, having the eyes of our hearts opened that we would know the hope we are called to, the riches of His glorious inheritance for us, and the immeasurable greatness of His Power in us and through us?

It is possible – it is sure – because Jesus was received into Heaven and is seated on the Throne of God, being the Sovereign of God – having all power over all people and all creatures and all authorities, so that His Will will be done – whatsoever He has willed to come to pass will happen. Everything is under His Feet – that means He is Sovereign over everything – even you and me. And He is the Head of the Church and we are His Body.

The fact of the Ascension assures us that Jesus is God, Sovereign, willing and able to accomplish all that He intends and has promised. So we have hope and assurance – we can turn to Him in prayer – we can meet with Him in the reading and preaching of His Word – we can meet with Him in the receiving of the Sacraments – as we propose to do this morning. And we will begin to understand Who God is and what He has done – and we will become excited to read His Word – and we will long to be with Him now in the Word and Sacraments and prayer – and ultimately in the Kingdom when we will be with Him face to face.

As we rest in the assurance of Jesus’ Ascension – and His Authority over all of Creation – we will find the assurance of salvation, the assurance that God is working in us and through us to make us holy, revealing Himself through the means of grace that He has set before us in the Word and Sacraments and prayer.

We can go forth from this place unafraid, because Jesus has ascended to His Throne – He is Sovereign, and He loves us and died for us, and not only that, He rose and ascended and reigns – He meets with us now and ministers to us, and He is coming back.

With our eyes on our Ascended Savior and God, let us be in prayer for each other, thanking God that He saw fit to save us and all those who will believe. Let us pray that we will all receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God, that each of us would have our eyes opened, and we would be assured, and strengthened, and hope-filled in the knowledge that Jesus reigns above all rule.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, we have seen the example of prayer that we have from Paul in Your Word. We thank You for the history of the Ascension, and we ask that You would cast all doubt from our minds, and we ask that by Your Power, You will witness to us with our spirit of the Truth of Jesus’ Sovereign Rule. Help us to know You and to rejoice in You and what You are doing in all who believe in You. And now we ask that You would meet with us in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – that we would receive Your Grace, assuredly knowing the Power that is at work in us, until the day of Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

More Useless Ministry?

My mail carrier was just complaining to me that he was overworked, and I said he should be happy that he's paid well.  He said he is only paid nineteen dollars an hour, and I told him that was more than I get.  And he said, "But...you don't do anything."

Evening Studies

Due to a variety of conflicts, D.V., we will start our next evening study in September.

June Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach in June:

6/5/11 Communion/Ascension  Ephesians 1:15-23  “Above All Rule”

6/12/11 Pentecost  John 14:8-17  “He Who Has Seen Me”

6/19/11 Trinity  John 16:5-15  “I Go”

6/26/11  Acts 26:1-32  “Be Like Me”