Monday, October 31, 2011
Sunday, October 30, 2011
“A Box, Feet, and Rocks”
October 30, 2011 Second Reformed Church
“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Raphaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites’” (Genesis 15:18-21, ESV). The promise was made by God to Abram – who became Abraham – about 2000 B.C. It was recorded by Moses about six hundred years later in the book of Genesis.
Moses led the nation of Israel out of Egypt in about 1490 B.C. Exodus records that there were over 600,000 men over the age of twenty who were able to serve in the army. The actual number of people who left Egypt may have been upwards of two million. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years, due to their sin. They finally arrived in Moab, where Moses died in about 1450 B.C., after naming Joshua as his successor.
As the book of Joshua opens, Joshua tells the people to decide whether they will serve God will all their heart and soul and mind and strength, or whether they will serve idols. When they reached Shittim, about ten miles east of Jericho and across the Jordan River, Joshua sent two spies, who came back and reported that the Lord had given Jericho into their hands – just as God had promised over five hundred years before. And they reported that the people of the nations were terrified of Israel and her God.
Joshua led the people to the edge of the Jordan and told them that they were going to wait three days before they crossed the Jordan. During those three days, they were to purify themselves according to the Law of God, and then they were to arrange themselves with the priests and the Ark of the Covenant out front. You will remember that the Ark of the Covenant was a box that was kept in the Holy of Holies, where the Presence of God rested. Inside the box, were the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a bowl of manna.
“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.’”
In other words, God told Joshua that the people weren’t sure whether he was the right man to succeed Moses. “Maybe he’s a good military leader, but remember the miracles Moses used to do? Now, that was real power – we knew God was with him. Joshua? It could go either way.” God told Joshua that He would prove to the people that He was with him.
“’And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘”When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.”’”
Why did God send the Ark of the Covenant – with the priests – into the waters – and across the Jordan – first?
To symbolically emphasize the Sovereignty of God and His Presence with them. Don’t get confused – God was not in the Ark of the Covenant – God was not in the box. The Ark symbolized God’s Presence, and in sending it into and across the Jordan first, they were confessing that God is Sovereign. God is the One Who brought them up out of the land of Egypt. God is the One Who brought them through the Red Sea. God is the One Who brought them through the wilderness. God is the One Who will bring them across the Jordan and lead them to conquest in Jericho and throughout all of the lands that God promised to Abram.
So the nation of Israel – all two million of them – marched up to the Jordan River – with the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant before them. And they stopped at the edge of the water.
And what were they facing? I had to Google this, because I didn’t know. The Jordan River is over one hundred miles long. It averages eight miles wide. And it averages seventeen feet deep – though there are some sharp plunges to over one hundred and fifty feet deep. But, as we’re told in verse fifteen, it was the time of the summer harvest when the banks of the Jordan overflow – so it would have been averaging deeper than seventeen feet deep and wider than eight miles wide.
Perhaps there are some hearty people in the congregation who are thinking, “So what? I could swim eight miles.” But remember, they had two million people to get across the Jordan – some who couldn’t swim, some who were infants, animals, and cargo – all the riches they had plundered from Egypt.
“Well, they could build boats and shuttle people back and forth.” Remember, Joshua gave them three days to go through the purification rites, and then he announced they were crossing. There wasn’t time to build boats. Besides, someone surely would have seen boats shuttling all these people across the Jordan, which would have spoiled the surprise attack.
They were in a situation similar to when they reached the coast of the Red Sea after fleeing from Egypt. “How do you get two million people across?” And fairly quickly.
“And Joshua said to the people of Israel, ‘Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.’ And Joshua said, ‘Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.’”
The people had heard to promise of God to Abram for generations; they knew the promise God had made to give them the land of all these various nations. And Joshua told them that they would be assured of the promise God made to them when they see what is going to happen. When they see how they are going to get across the Jordan, they will have no doubt that God is the One God, the God Who keeps His Promises and will bring His people to the home that He had promised them. God is the Sovereign God over nations and all of Creation, and He will save His people.
And when the feet of the priests stepped down into the Jordan, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, signifying the Presence and the Sovereignty of God, the water parted, and the priests walked down on dry land.
“So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.”
Notice, there were people in their tents. Joshua had told everyone to get to the river, but some people doubted and stayed in their tents. Until they saw the water part, that is. Then they packed up their tents and got to the river’s edge. Then they knew that God was with Joshua.
And we’re told that the waters rose up in a heap from Shittim on one side to Adam, which is near Zarathen on the other. What does that tell us? It tells us the width of the dry land that God made for Israel to pass over: the distance from Shittim, near the northern edge of the Dead Sea, to Adam, which was near Succoth, was thirty miles.
“Well, maybe there was a drought.”
No, we’re told that it was the rainy season and the river was flooded. Also, we’re told that the water did not merely stop, but God heaped it up! Thirty miles of the Jordan River were suddenly flowing up into the air, rather than along the river bed. What an amazing site that must have been!
The inhabitants of Jericho and the surrounding lands were right to be afraid of Israel and her God: Who would want to fight the God Who can clear the Jordan River so His entire nation can pass through on dry land, and Who cannot merely stop the river, but make it course up into the air for miles on end?
When Israel passed over to the other side, the twelve men – back in verse twelve – took twelve stones – one for each of the tribes of Israel, and built a memorial pillar, so when their children saw it and asked what it meant, they would recount the history of how God parted the Jordan River so they could cross over on dry land. And they would tell them why they crossed the Jordan: Because God, the Sovereign God of Creation, promised to give them all the lands around them, and with God as their Sovereign, they knew every promise would come to pass.
The Psalmist remembered these events when he wrote, “When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water” (Psalm 114, ESV).
What ought we to understand from this?
When I am asked what it means to be Reformed, I answer, “We believe that God is Sovereign.” In a nut-shell, being reformed, being a Calvinist, being a Bible-believing Christian means that we believe that God is Sovereign.
The Belgic Confession, one of the standards of the Reformed Church in America – one of those documents which we believe is an accurate, human summary of what the Bible teaches – says this: “We believe that the same God, after He had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that He rules and governs them according to His holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without His appointment; nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed ….
“This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father, who watches over us with paternal care, keeping all creatures so under His power that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow, can fall to the ground without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded that He so restrains the devil and all our enemies that, without His will and permission, they cannot hurt us….” (Article 13).
So, let us understand, first, our Sovereign and Triune God created, sustains, and maintains all of Creation, by Himself, for Himself, and for His Own Reasons. Our Sovereign God is intimately involved with all of Creation.
Paul, speaking of Jesus, wrote, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17, ESV).
God created everything Himself and the Creation continues to exist as God causes it to exist. God is Sovereign over the Creation.
Second, our Sovereign God causes human history to occur as it occurs. God keeps His Promises, and He allows evil to accomplish good in the end for all those who believe savingly in Jesus Alone.
As Daniel confessed, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:20b-22, ESV).
And King Nebuchadnezzar confessed, “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from 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 4:34-35, ESV).
Everything that occurs, everything that happens, does so according to the definite and unchangeable plan of our Sovereign God.
Third, our God is Sovereign over our salvation.
Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:3-14, ESV).
If you believing savingly in Jesus, it is because God chose you – for His Own Reasons – not because of anything you did or did not do – but God chose to save you and make you His own simply because it pleased Him to do so. God is Sovereign in salvation.
Fourth, knowing that God is Sovereign is a comfort to His people – to all those who believe savingly in Jesus.
As Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:4-7, ESV).
Our Sovereign God has told us to call Him, “Father.” And He loves us as a Father and will not allow even one of us to be lost.
Paul exclaimed, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39, ESV).
If God has chosen you and saved you to be His own, there is nothing you can do to separate yourself from God’s Love – there is nothing you can do to “lose” your salvation.
The nation of Israel weren’t sure whether or not Joshua was the leader God had chosen to succeed Moses. But God in His Mercy displayed His Sovereignty to them by opening a thirty mile stretch of the Jordan River – sending the River flowing up into the sky – so the nation could walk on dry land. Then they knew God was with Joshua, and they were reminded that God not only promised Jericho and all the nations around them as their inheritance, but God is the Sovereign God Who can and will keep His Promises.
God is Sovereign over all of Creation. Why is it raining this morning? Because it pleased God to cause it to rain this morning.
God is Sovereign over the nations. Why does the United States exist? Because it pleased God to cause it to exist at this time and for a time.
God is Sovereign over our salvation. Why can I tell you a sinner like me – who deserves nothing but God’s Wrath – is right with God? Because salvation is entirely God’s Work, and He chose me for His Own Reasons and has made me His Own – eternally.
The fact that God is Sovereign – our Loving Father, Who sent His Son to die for our sins and then physically rise, victorious, from the grave to secure our salvation – is a comfort. I hope we are all comforted in the knowledge that God, our Father, is Sovereign. The God Who came to earth in the Person of Jesus is the One God – the God Who created and controls everything that ever was and ever will be – the God Who parted and thrust the Jordan River into the sky -- He love us and promises that we are His -- forever.
Let us pray:Almighty God, we thank you for the history of Israel’s crossing of the Jordan. We thank You for showing them that You are Absolutely Sovereign – and for the witness of this history to us. Help us to receive comfort in knowing that You are All-Powerful, and all things occur only according to Your Plan. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
We plan, D.V., to begin our next Thursday evening study, this Thursday,October 27th, at 7 PM at the church. We will be looking at the Creation -- first looking at Scriptures relating to it, and then examining Christian views of interpretation of what the Scripture says. Join us!
Sunday, October 23, 2011
“Blessing, Blight, and Mildew”
October 23, 2011 Second Reformed Church
The remnant who returned from Babylon was instructed by God through Cyrus, the King of Persia, to rebuild the Temple. After they began to rebuild, they fell away from the work, and God sent the prophet, Haggai, to call them to repentance and to encourage them to return to God’s work for them and not give up hope, but to trust in God’s Promise of the Kingdom which is yet to come.
The final two prophecies of Haggai came about two months after the people returned to the work:
“On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: “If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?”’ The priests answered and said, ‘“No.”’ Then Haggai said, ‘“If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?”’ The priests answered and said, ‘“It does become unclean.”’ Then Haggai answered and said, ‘“So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the LORD, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean.’”
God sent Haggai to ask the priests two questions about God’s Law: If something holy touches something common, will the common thing become holy? If something unclean touches something common, will the common thing become unclean?
And the priests said, “No, if something holy comes in contact with something common, the common thing will not become holy. Holiness is not a communicable attribute. You can’t ‘catch’ holiness by touching something that is holy.”
What does that mean? God was telling Israel that they were wrong in thinking that they were holy simply because they were God’s people and they had returned to the land. No one becomes a hamburger by going to McDonald’s. Holiness is not merely about being part of a community or assenting to statements about God. Holiness is complete obedience – it is coming into complete conformity with God.
When God saves us, we are not instantly holy. Becoming holy is the process called “sanctification.” God works in us and through us to bring us to holiness when Jesus returns, but until then, it is a struggle – a fight – hard work to progress towards holiness. Holiness cannot be bought on the Internet; holiness is a lifelong struggle towards obedience and being conformed to the Image of Jesus.
God the Holy Spirit indwells every person who believes in Jesus the Savior. The Holy Spirit reminds us of what we have read and heard from the Scripture, and He helps us to understand it. And when we are tempted to sin and walk away from the road to holiness, God makes a way for us to keep from sinning. Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV).
We are called to holiness in our whole life: “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:16, ESV). Holiness is neither automatic, nor easy. It takes work, but, eventually, God will cause all those who believe savingly in Jesus Alone to be holy Becoming unclean – sinning – is easy:
The priests also said, “Yes, if something unclean comes in contact with something common, the common thing will become unclean. Uncleanness is a communicable attribute. One sin makes you a sinner.”
God said, “or if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean wild animal or a carcass of unclean livestock or a carcass of unclean swarming things, …; or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, …;” (Leviticus 5:2-3, ESV).
There are laws concerning what is clean and unclean throughout the Bible. Although it is not necessary for us to keep the Ceremonial Law, since it has been fulfilled in Jesus, the principle remains the same: if we sin, we are a sinner, and as we continue in sin, the easier it becomes and the more frequently we will sin, and the more difficult it will be to stop sinning.
Israel gave in to the pressure to stop building the Temple – to put paneling up in their homes instead – and they neglected the Temple for fourteen years until God sent Haggai. Sin snowballs. They gave in to pressure and took some time to make their homes magazine ready, and fourteen years slipped by.
Understand, holiness is not a prerequisite for salvation. We do not have to become holy to be saved. Salvation is the Gift of God through Jesus Christ to whomever He wills. But, once we have been saved – once we have been delivered from God’s Wrath for our sin – we are called – commanded – to become holy. We cannot enter the fullness of the Kingdom unless we become holy.
When Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12, ESV), he is not saying that we can earn our salvation. What he is saying is that those who have been saved by Jesus – because He is God the Only Savior – we ought to work with everything we are to become holy, as He has commanded – and it is work.
Also, understand this: everybody sins. However, the Christian who realizes he is sinning will repent of it and pray that God will forgive Him and help him to not sin again. The non-Christian will say, “Well, I’m good enough – I’m better than most people, so God will excuse this.” The non-Christian will say, “It doesn’t matter if I continue to commit adultery, because I am a member of a church, so God has to accept me.” The non-Christian will say, “I’m not under the Law, I don’t have to obey God, so long as I believe in Him.”
Israel was saying, “Yes, we abandoned rebuilding the Temple, which God commanded us to do, but we kept other parts of God’s Law, so in the end, it will count as obedience – as holiness.” But they were wrong: just as you can’t be “kind of pregnant,” you can’t be “kind of faithful,” you can’t be “kind of holy,” and you can’t be “kind of obedient.” Before the Holy and Faithful God, we are either holy, or we are not, we are either obedient, or we are not, we are either faithful, or we are not.
“Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the LORD, how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the LORD. Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the LORD's temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing.”
God said, “Israel, did you notice that your efforts weren’t paying off? When you were neglecting My Temple, did you notice that you were losing money and your crops were failing – nothing was going right? Did it occur to you that I was punishing you – disciplining you – in an effort to get your attention and get you to realize that you were living very comfortably in sin?”
God could have blotted them off the face of the earth, but God is faithful. He disciplined them to show them they were doing wrong – to correct them and get them to repent and pursue the holiness that all of God’s people are called to. God disciplines all of His children – everyone who believes savingly in Jesus – that we might reform – that we might turn from our sin. As the author of Hebrews wrote:
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:5-14, ESV).
Sometimes, when everything is going wrong, God is calling us to repent of our sin and turn back to Him, following after holiness. We can’t attribute every bad day to God’s discipline, but we ought not to neglect the fact that God may be disciplining us for sin when things are going wrong. So, let us examine ourselves regularly, repenting of our sins, and praying that our Loving Father will lead us and keep us in the way of holiness.
“But from this day on I will bless you.”
“Well, they repented of their sin, so God rewarded them.”
“Well, they had resumed work and worked hard for two months, so they earned it.”
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,” (Deuteronomy 7:9, ESV).
God blessed them because He is Faithful. God bless us – all those who believe – because He is Faithful. Not because of anything we did or did not do.
“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13, ESV).
God is faithful because it pleases Him to be faithful. God is glorified – His Character is revealed – as He is faithful to His unfaithful people – you and me. As God is faithful to us, we glorify Him.
And here Israel – and we – finds hope – if we are God’s people, if we have truly believed in God and His Savior, God will be faithful to us and treat us as His children.
The final prophecy of Haggai is specifically directed towards Zerubbabel, the governor:
“The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, ‘Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts.’”
Last week, we looked at the prophecy at the God would make “the latter glory of this house greater than the former.” And we understood that, in the Kingdom, there will be no human-made temple. On earth, three temples were built to God – the third being destroyed in 70 A.D., and it will never be rebuilt, because God, Himself, is the Fourth Temple – the Temple of the Kingdom after Jesus’ Return (cf. Revelation 21:22).
We saw that this prophecy included the overthrow of everything and everyone that is opposed to God: God will turn the entire Creation upside-down and shake out all sin and evil and corruption and cast what falls out into the lake of fire. All that is left will be perfected and brought into “the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21b, ESV). And this shaking had already begun and would be seen by Zerubbabel, as he saw the collapse of the Persian Empire.
What we didn’t consider was God calling Zerubbabel his “signet ring.” A signet ring was a stone that was worn on a ring or on a necklace which bore the mark of the sovereign – the one who was the final authority. The vice-regent – the under-shepherd – the representative of the sovereign – would take the stone and press it into wax on official documents signifying that the documents have the authority and approval – not merely of the person sending them – but of the sovereign.
For example, we read in Esther: “So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, ‘The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you.’
“Then the king's scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king's satraps and to the governors over all the provinces and to the officials of all the peoples, to every province in its own script and every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king's signet ring” (Esther 3:10-12, ESV).
The king gave Haman his signet ring so Haman could have letters written in the king’s name which would hold the authority and the power of the king, despite the fact that the king, himself, did not write the letters.
God chose Zerubbabel, His servant, to be a living signet ring as governor. God chose to use Zerubbabel to display God’s Power and Authority through him. The prophet Zechariah records how God used Zerubbabel: “Then [the angel] said to [Zechariah], ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’
“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel’” (Zechariah 4:6-10a, ESV).
Despite the displeasure of the surrounding nations, Zerubbabel stood before them and oversaw the completion of the building of the second temple. Zerubbabel had the power and the authority of God, and as His chosen servant, Zerubbabel was able to complete the work God set before him.
And God also glorified Himself and made Zerubbabel a signet by making Zerubbabel a direct ancestor of Jesus: “And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:12-16, ESV).
We believers in Jesus have also been chosen for the work and to the Glory of God. Peter wrote: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV).
Let us believe that God is our Loving, Heavenly Father Who disciplines us for our sin so we would repent and return to Him.
Let us follow after God, working hard to become holy, knowing that it is God’s Work and Intention to make us holy and a glory to Himself.
And let us be the Church, having this hope before us that we are the chosen people of God – a people that God is using to draw all nations to Himself and the salvation that can only be found through His Son. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, ESV).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, You are Holy and Just, so You cannot allow sin to go unpunished. We thank You for the Gift of Your Son Who has taken on Your Wrath for our sin and justified us before You. We thank You for the Gift of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit who is ever leading us towards You in holiness, and we pray that You would make us holy. Help us to be Your chosen people – a people You were pleased to call to Yourself and for Your Glory. Help us to trust and to do and be all that You have called us to do and be – not matter how things may look around us – being confident that You are the Sovereign God Who brings all things to pass according to Your Will. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A memoir … of sorts. How much of the story of our lives is truth? Ian Morgan Cron writes his page-turner of a memoir of sorts with the caveat that he has smoothed out the history and the characters of his story for the sake of reading. It is a compelling story of a child brought up with an abusive, alcoholic father who secretly worked for the CIA. (Frighteningly, he relates an agent telling him that most CIA agents are alcoholics.)
Cron rebels and ends up being very much like his father, abusing his body and friends, especially in the realm of alcohol. But God – and then specifically Jesus – kept at him. Through images, friends, strangers, and audio, God kept breaking through. Then in college, Cron came to faith. The memoir then jumps forward to near present day talking about his service as priest.
His memoir is readable and engaging – hopeful for all those who grew up in less than holy families. If you or someone you know is struggling without faith, or has a child who has strayed from the faith, or if you are a parent of such a child, you may find comfort and strength in this book. (The only “issue” I had with it is the rather sudden jump from college to the present day.)
[This review appears on Amazon.com and on my blog. I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson for this review.]
Monday, October 17, 2011
“The Latter Glory of This House”
October 16, 2011 Second Reformed Church
In 538 B.C., God freed Israel from exile through the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia, and about 50,000 of the several million who went into exile returned to Israel – to Jerusalem – with instructions and supplies that God had sent through Cyrus: they were to rebuild the Temple. And with great zeal in their hearts and great generosity of gifts of gold, they worked on the Temple for about two years – first building the altar, that they might offer sacrifices to God.
But then, the neighboring nations got nervous and pressured Israel to stop rebuilding the Temple and to concentrate on giving themselves pleasure and competing with each other. For fourteen years, the Temple lay uncared for.
Then God sent the prophet Haggai, who challenged them not to give up hope, but to repent of their sin and to continue to rebuild, because the first call on their lives – and on the lives of everyone who believes in God and His Savior – is to glorify God through obedience. So God told them to continue to build the Temple to His Glory. And they did.
This morning’s text begins about a month after the people repented and went back to work. They had worked hard; they had laid the new, small, less ornate foundation of the Temple. It was a day of celebration – for some.
“In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, ‘Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?”’”
Ezra brought the people together to celebrate the completion of the foundation. Then the historical writer records this: “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy,” (Ezra 3:12, ESV).
The first Temple – the Temple of Solomon – was one of the wonders of the ancient world: it was enormous, covered in gold, with gold works throughout. It was a time of unsurpassed prosperity in Israel, and Solomon built a temple the likes of which would never be built again. And some of the remnant that returned to Jerusalem remembered Solomon’s Temple in all its glory, and when they looked at the Temple they were building – using the best and the brightest, being sacrificially generous with their gold – it was nothing compared with Solomon’s Temple, and they cried.
“What’s the point of trying? They best we can do is still so far short of what was destroyed. Why should we even attempt to do something so small?”
“Remember when Rev. Freeman was here and the pews were full and we had plenty of money and we could do whatever we wanted?”
“Remember when Irvington was a peaceful town – once a farming town – and there wasn’t the kind of crime there is now? Remember when we could leave our doors unlocked? Remember when everyone knew their neighbor, and they all went to church?”
“Remember when we were young and we were able to do things and contribute to the life of the church?”
“Remember the good old days?”
Did you know that in the “good old days,” the older folk were saying to each other, “remember the good old days?”
There is value in looking back on our history – in remembering our accomplishments and God’s blessings to us. There is value in looking back on our history – in remembering those things that we did wrong – even our sins – and learning from them and not doing them again.
But we need to be careful. As Daniel Amos sings, “if you go back once too often, then you’re likely to remain.” God has not given to us to live and die “back then.” God has given to us to live and – eventually – die – (if Jesus does not return first) – now.
God has given us Peter Butler, Jr., as pastor now. Well, he’s no Jeremiah Burroughs. He’s no – whomever your favorite preacher is. You’re right. But God has not called me to be anyone but me. I am to be me to God’s Glory. And you are called to be you with all your faults and all your blessings to God’s Glory.
God didn’t tell the remnant to rebuild Solomon’s Temple; He told them to rebuild God’s Temple – the Temple that they were able to build with all that God gave them in that day.
We are not called to be any particular “golden age” as we might remember or imagine it; we are called to be faithful with what God has given us today.
Are you ready for what God is calling you – and us – to do today? You have already read in the Newsletter how we are planning to begin a feeding program in January – beginning with hosting a lunch once a month for people who are hungry. As this comes together over the next couple of months, we will need people to help with setting up, cooking, serving, cleaning up, being with the people who come – sitting with them and greeting them and telling them that we are doing this to glorify Jesus. And for those here who have difficulty providing meals, we need you to come and eat.
And some of you are saying to yourselves, “We can’t do it. It’s a good idea, but we can’t do it.” The remnant was saying, “We can’t do it. We’re not skilled enough. We don’t have the money.” And in a sense, they were right – and so are you – you can’t do it – I can’t do it – they couldn’t do it. Listen:
“’Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.’”
God told them – and He tells us – three things:
“Be strong, for I am with you.” If we are doing the work of the Lord, He is with us, and it will be accomplished according to His Will. God is not too weak. God is not too poor. God is not too dumb. God will accomplish His Purposes. God is ready to work with us and in us and through us – are we ready to follow Him in service? Are you ready to work hard at what God has called us to do and not worry, but trust Him for the outcome?
We are in year one of a five-year plan that I am working up – bringing us up to our one hundredth anniversary. “How do you think we’re going to be here five years from now?” By the Grace of God. I can’t tell you what God has in store for us. But I believe that God will keep us here doing His Work as long as He has work for us to do here. This is now the beginning of my thirteenth year telling us that.
“This is no Temple of Solomon.” We’re not called to build to Temple of Solomon. We’re called to do what God has called us to do here and now – and God promises that He is with us as we do His Will. And He was with the remnant as they built the second temple.
“Work, for I am with you, according to the covenant.” God has made promises – promises to individuals – promises to nations – promises to everyone who will believe in His Savior. And God says to all, “Get to work on what I have called you to do, being confident in this: I never break My Promise.”
Have you noticed that in the Scripture? God never breaks His Promise and sins and has to ask our forgiveness. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? God’s Promises are sure. Everything God has promised will come to pass. We don’t ever have to worry about God not keeping His “end of the deal,” as it were. God is always faithful. God can always be relied on. God will never fail us. And He promises that He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and to His Glory (cf. Romans 8:28).
If we follow the Will and the Direction of God, we will be victorious in God. Are you ready to walk out in faith? God wanted the second temple built, and, in time, it was finished.
“Don’t be afraid, God the Holy Spirit is with you.” The Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit causes regeneration – He makes us Christians – He brings us back from spiritual death. He reminds us of what the Scripture says – what we have read and heard from the Scripture. And He helps us to understand it.
After Jesus – we have this even one better – God the Holy Spirit is not just with us, but He lives in us. God is in us, working in us and on us and through us.
God the Father is with us. God the Son is with us. God the Holy Spirit is with us. And God is accomplishing His Plan. Let us be strong in our Triune God now. Let us be who God has called each one of us to be now. Let us do what God calls us to do as the Church now. Let us work to the Glory of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in Irvington, NJ, now.
And let us keep before us the future and the hope that God has promised. God told it to the remnant twenty-five hundred years ago:
“’For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.'"
What is God promising?
Well, from the end of chapter two, which we will look at next week, D.V., we know that this prophecy would be fulfilled – at least in some way – during Zerubbabel’s lifetime. God promised that these things would occur, and God would keep Zerubbabel safe and in power. The text also tells us that the overthrow that God will cause – at least – has to do with nations and rulers.
Commentators look at this prophecy – as I have described before – as looking at a mountain range, when all the mountains look like they are right on top of one another, but they are actually far apart. To Haggai, it looked like these thing all happened within a short period of time, but, actually, they occur over thousands of years.
Haggai was prophesying in chapter two in about 522 B.C. In 515 B.C., the second temple was completed. The first major overthrow was in 490 B.C., when the Greek army defeated Dairus the Mede at Marathon. The Greeks continued to attack the Persian Empire, and in 480 B.C., they defeated Xerxes. The final blow came when Alexander the Great destroyed the Persian Empire and took it for Greece in 334 B.C. (Then the Romans ascended and defeated the Greeks – and so forth.)
Zerubbabel would have lived to at least see the crumbling of the Persian Empire. In this, we can see part of the prophecy being fulfilled in his day. But the temple wasn’t more glorious than Solomon’s, and the nations had not given all their precious metals to Jerusalem, and there was no peace in Israel.
The author of Hebrews speaks of it – so the day had not finally come even by the latter part of the first century: “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of things that are shaken--that is, things that have been made--in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25-29, ESV).
The author of Hebrews states that this prophecy will be fulfilled in the Kingdom, when Jesus returns. Jesus, Himself, will shake everything that can be shaken – everything that is broken, everything that is corrupted, everything that is less than God created it to be. Picture one of those movies when someone is held upside-down and shaken until all the money falls out – God will take the Creation and hold it upside-down – shaking it – until all sin and evil and fallenness and corruption fall away into the pit, and all of God’s chosen will be received into His Glory.
The temple of Haggi was eventually destroyed, and a third temple was built – Herod’s temple – it was still being built in Jesus’ day (cf. John 2:20). But the glory of that house did not exceed Solomon’s Temple – and it was destroyed in 70 A. D. So, there must be another temple – a fourth temple.
But there will never be a fourth temple built by human hands. We will never be able to build a house whose glory exceeds that of Solomon’s Temple, because God tells us, He is the Fourth Temple, Himself – God is the House Whose Glory exceeds Solomon’s Temple:
John described the Kingdom: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day--and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:22-27, ESV).
God began to fulfill this prophecy in the days of Zerubbabel, overthrowing the nations one by one to show the world His Power – His Sovereignty – to assure His people that He would bring all things to their glorious end in Him. But the fullness of this prophecy comes with the Return of Jesus.
When Jesus returns, the Creation will be shaken and all evil and its corruption will be thrown into the pit with the devil and his angels, and God will restore the Creation and His people to holiness and give them utter peace. All those who believe that Jesus died for their sins, was buried, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to the Throne of the Son, will be received into the Glorious Kingdom where God Himself will be our Light and our Temple – the Temple more glorious than even the Temple of Solomon.
With that promise from the Almighty God, how can we dare say that the Will of God cannot be accomplished on the earth? How can we hear the Word of God and tell God He’s wrong? How can we hear God say that He is with us, He will never break His Promises to us, and He lives in us – strengthening us to do His Will – and still doubt?
Let us remember God’s Blessings to us – especially the Gift of His Son. Let us remember what we have done wrong and our sins – repent of them and not continue in them. Let us believe God – that He is our Strength – that we are able to do all that He calls us to do in Him. And let us look forward; working with eyes of faith, knowing that the latter glory of this house will be greater than the former.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, You have blessed us beyond our comprehension. You have saved us and given us the promise of life in Your Kingdom. Still, we are jars of clay. We are afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. Almighty Savior, strengthen us by Your Power, guide us by Your Hand, encourage us by Your Providence, keep Your Glory before us that we would not lose heart but run faithfully until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.