Tuesday, February 28, 2012
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Monday, February 27, 2012
“Have You Found the Book of the Law?”
[II Kings 22:1-23:3]
February 26, 2012 Second Reformed Church
For the five Sundays in Lent, if the Lord wills, we will look at five biblical principles – or foci – of Church growth. We need to understand from the beginning that when we talk of biblical Church growth, we are not talking about mere numbers: the pews being filled and the offering plate being filled. That is not a guarantee that the Church has grown. When we talk about the mere numbers, we are talking about the work that God does as He is pleased. We read, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47, ESV).
Numerical growth of believers is from the Lord, not by some crass methodology. As was explained in the Newsletter, it is easy to fill a room – just provide something people want and tell them that they must sit in a room to receive it. That is not what we will be looking at. And it can’t be what we are looking at because no one – naturally – wants to hear the Gospel or worship God, as Paul writes, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes’” (Romans 3:10-18, ESV).
As we look at Church growth, we understand it to mean the major ways in which we as individuals and as the corporate Church become mature through growth in faith and obedience to God and His Word.
It is not surprising then, that the first principle of Church growth is this: God’s Word must be central to our lives and worship for us to grow as individuals and as the Church. God’s Word must be central – of primary importance and honor – to our lives and worship for us to grow as individuals and as the Church.
We have heard the beginning of the history of the good king, Josiah, this morning. The wicked king, Amon, was assassinated by his servants, and the people of Judah put his eight-year-old son, Josiah, on the throne. Of course we understand, the country was run by advisors to begin with, yet, we are told that Josiah “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.”
In the midst of living under a wicked father, Josiah learned what was right and good in the sight of God, and he followed after God, even at a young age. It may be that his mother, Jedidah, instructed him. We’re not told, but someone told him about God and what God requires, and Josiah believed and obeyed.
When Josiah was twenty-six years old, he observed that Solomon’s Temple was in great disrepair. After years of following false gods and neglecting the Temple of the One God, the Temple was falling apart. So Josiah instructed the high priest to gather all the money that had been collected from the offerings of the people in the Temple, and to give all of it to the workmen of the Temple – whom Josiah knew to be honest men – and to instruct them to repair the Temple.
The high priest followed Josiah’s instructions and brought the money to the workmen and instructed them to repair the Temple. And as they began their work – we’re not told how long a period elapsed between the beginning of the work and the discovery – “Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.’”
The Book of the Law was at least Deuteronomy and may have been the first five books of the Old Testament – it was the Bible of the time. And they had lost it. No one knew where the Book of the Law was, and no one was looking for it.
Let us understand, first, then, that it is possible to lose the Book of the Law. It is possible to lose the Word of God. It is possible to lose the Bible. And let us understand that it is possible to lose the Word of God in a number of ways:
First, it is possible to physically lose the Word of God. We may put it aside or in some place or pile things on it and not have any idea where the Word of God is. That is what happened in Judah – in the Temple of Solomon – they had physically lost the Word of God.
I hope each of you has a Bible. Do you know where it is? Do you physically know exactly where it is right now? Or, have you lost the Word of God?
Second, it is possible to lose the Word of God by no longer believing it is the Word of God. Although the Bible was written down by humans, it is the Word of God, which is why we can believe it. These books were inspired by God, so they have been written down without error – God teaching us everything we need to know about life and salvation. As Peter wrote, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, ESV).
If the Bible were anything less than the Word of God, it could have errors in it – and we would not be obliged to believe and obey everything that is written in it. If the Bible was simply the ideas of people like you and me and not the very Word of God, we would have no reason to believe it. But if it is the Very Word of God, then it is without error and timeless, so we must believe and obey all that is written in it.
If you doubt that everything that is written here is the Very Word of God – that God oversaw the writing of these books – that they would be exactly what God wanted them to say and that they would be wholly accurate, you have lost the Bible. Understand, I am not say that God dictated what the authors should write, but that God made sure that what the authors wrote was what God wanted us to know and that it was accurate.
Since it did not apparently concern the people of God in Josiah’s day that the Word of God was lost physically, it would not seem that they were concerned about it actually being the Word of God. If they really believed that God had spoken to them, they would want to know what God said – don’t you?
Do you believe the Bible is the Very Word of God – true and without error because it is the Word of God – the One God Who is Holy and cannot make a mistake or lie? Or have you lost the Word of God?
A third way we can lose the Word of God is by accepting preaching – so-called – that has little or nothing to do with the Word of God. A sermon is supposed to take a text of Scripture, explain it, and apply it. If a sermon does not do that, the Word of God has been lost – and it is not a sermon. If the pastor reads a Scripture and then tells a very interesting and well-told story about his vacation, that is not a sermon – and the Word of God has been lost.
If I do that, you should go to the elders and ask them to talk with me. A sermon explains and applies the Word of God. It is not about the minister or about telling meaningful stories or trying to make us all feel good. If you hear a minster preach, and he doesn’t explain and apply the text, the Word of God has been lost.
And if you are in a church where the Word of God is not explained and applied, you are not actually in a church – you may be with a group of nice people that do good things, but it is not a church.
One wonders what the priests were preaching on in the Temple of Solomon. There was no reading of the Word of God. Perhaps some of them remembered texts, but with the idolatry that was rampant in Judah, one wonders if they heard so-called sermons – more pep-talks – on how to have your best life now or the power of positive thinking and the like. They had lost the Word of God.
They had lost the Word of God physically, they were not concerned to find it, and the priests were preaching from something other than the Bible. And we may wonder how that is possible: How could the Church of Josiah’s day not have Bibles, not care about what God had said – perhaps not even believe that it was the Word of God, and listened to people tell stories about themselves, and call it worship?
Is it really all that different from today when many people don’t know where there Bible is, and if they do, most people don’t read it, and if they do read it, most people don’t believe that it is all God’s Word – Holy, without error, from God for us, for life and salvation – and most people are glad to hear stories and pep talks and ignore the text of Scripture. Are we really that different?
If you have lost your Bible – get one. If you can’t understand the language of the Bible, let me know and we’ll find one you can understand. If you have doubted whether the Word of God is truly all God’s Word, challenge God! Read your Bible and call on God, asking Him to prove to you that it is without error, His Holy Word. God has given us His Word, and He wants us to know it and believe it, so if you have doubts, God will be glad to prove Himself to you! And if you ever hear a minister speak, but ignore the text of Scripture, ask him about it, go to the elders, and if nothing changes, leave that church.
If we want to grow as individuals and as the Church, we cannot accept the Word of God being lost. We must know where our Bibles are, we must believe that what is in them actually comes from God, and we must sit under preaching that explains and applies the text.
As the workers began to repair Solomon’s Temple, they found the Book of the Law. And the high priest gave the Book of the Law to the secretary, and he read it. And he ran back to the king and told him that while they were beginning the work, they found the Book of the Law. “And Shaphan read it before the king.”
And here we have the second thing we ought to understand this morning: Hearing and reading the Word of God ought to cause a response in us. When you hear the Word of God rightly preached or read it under the guidance of God the Holy Spirit, you ought to respond to it – it ought to provoke us to respond in some way.
We see in our text several ways in which we might respond to the Word of God:
One way in which we might respond to the Word of God is to recognize our sin and repent of it. We may hear the Word of God or read it and realize that we have been sinning. God may convict us through the hearing or reading of His Word of a sin that we have been in, and then we ought to respond by repenting – by confessing our sin to God, asking forgiveness, and promising not to sin that sin again.
When Josiah heard the Word of God read – when he heard God’s Law read – what is right and what is wrong in the Eyes of God – he tore his clothes and wept, because he knew that neither he nor the people of Judah had kept the Law of God. And those who break the Law are under the curse of God – there is punishment for sin. So, Josiah tore his clothes and wept in repentance.
Jeremiah rightly said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). We are masters at hiding our sin from ourselves and from excusing our sins. But when we hear the Word of God come clearly and with conviction, our deceit is exposed, even to ourselves, and we must repent and turn away from our sin.
Have you ever been convicted of sin by the Word of God? Did you respond with repentance? Did you weep for the evil you had done against God and promise not to do it again?
Second, when we hear the Word of God or read it we may respond by seeking God through prayer and reading of our Bible to learn about how we are to live and what we are to believe about God and humanity.
Josiah understood that the nation and he were under the curse of God for their sin, and Josiah wanted to know what could be done about it, so he sent Asiah to inquire of the Lord: “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
Paul complimented the Berean Christians saying, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11, ESV). The Bereans did not simply receive what Paul said was true, but they checked what he said – they opened their Bibles to learn if what Paul said about life and salvation was really what God had said.
Do we ever think about what was said during the sermon after we hit the door of the sanctuary? Do we ever open our Bibles to check to see if the pastor has understood the text? Have we ever looked at the text again to see if God would continue to speak to us through it after hearing the sermon?
Third, when we hear God’s Word or read it, we might find ourselves being humbled in thanksgiving or in the just Justice of God for our sin.
As we hear and read God’s Word – as we hear God Himself speak off of the page, we may find ourselves being humbled in thanksgiving for God’s Mercy and salvation given to people such as you and me. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, ESV).
It ought to humble us to know that we deserve eternal death, but God freely chose to save us by taking on the punishment for our sins on Himself. Shall we not bow and wait to hear a word from our Lord when He has taken on Himself the eternal punishment due us?
We may also hear God’s Word and read it and know that we may have to suffer some of the effects of our sin on earth, even if we have received salvation in Jesus Alone. The criminal in jail who professes fail in Jesus Alone still has to serve his term. The recovering alcoholic may still have to suffer from the way he ravaged his body in the past.
Does the Word of God shut your mouth? Are you left speechless by the beauty and the justice of God’s Word? Do you find yourself on your knees, weeping, giving thanks for God’s Mercy? Do you find yourself repenting of your sins, yet having to face their consequences, while humbly acknowledging that God is Just?
Josiah’s court went to Huldah the prophetess to inquire of her what the Lord had to say to Josiah. The answer humbled Josiah in both ways: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.’”
God told Josiah that since he had truly repented, humbling himself before God, God would allow him to die in peace and not suffer the consequences of the decades of sin in Judah. Surely, Josiah was thankful and filled with joy! But, Judah, herself, would suffer God’s Wrath – after Josiah’s death. That must have humbled Josiah in awe and sadness, because He knew that God was Just, but he would mourn for his people and what they would suffer for their sin.
Have you ever found yourself surprised by joy? Humbled with great thanksgiving because of God’s unmerited mercy towards you? Have you ever been overwhelmed in knowing what God has done for you through Jesus?
Have you ever found yourself believing God, but mourning for those who have sinned and especially for those who refuse to believe? Have you ever felt the pull to tell people of their fate for sin and tell them that there is yet hope beyond this life through Jesus Alone?
Finally, we may hear or read God’s Word and find ourselves compelled to believe and obey. If we have understood God’s Word as God’s Word, we ought to find ourselves compelled to believe and obey.
Josiah’s response was to gather all the people of Judah together and read the Book of the Law to them – that they would hear the Word of God and respond to it. Josiah read every word found in the Law, “[a]nd the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.”
After having his sin exposed and repenting of it, after listening to hear what God has said and commanded, after being humbled in thanksgiving and in recognizing God’s just Justice, Josiah pledged to obey everything that was written in the Law, and the people joined with him.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? If we hear or read God’s Word, and we believe that it is God’s Word, and God says that we are to do this and not do that, and to believe this and to not believe something else – how ought we respond to the Almighty God Who created us and gave us life and being, Who chooses us for salvation, Who gives us His Only Son that we might be saved? Shall we not believe Him and obey Him?
God’s Word must be central to our lives and worship for us as individuals and as the Church if we are to grow.
Don’t lose the Word of God. But respond to the Word of God. Know where your Bible is, read it, believe it is God’s Word, and obey God.
Let us pray:Almighty God, in Your Mercy, You have allowed us to live in a country where we can freely own and read Your Word in our own language. Stir up the fire of the Holy Spirit in us. Cause us to long for Your Word as for water and air. Help us to understand and remember Your Word, as You promised the Holy Spirit would for us, and lead us to believe what You have said and to follow after You in humble obedience. Lord, grow your Church. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
An Introduction to Puritan Church Growth
It’s easy to fill seats: give people something they want that they have to come and sit to receive. However, the Church is not about filling seats, the Church is about preaching the Gospel to Jesus Christ: God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, lived a holy life under God’s Law, died for the sins of all those who would believe, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to the Throne of the Son of God, where He reigns over all.
It’s not easy to fill the Church. It is no longer our natural inclination to desire to worship God and be in fellowship with Him.
As Paul explains: as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18, ESV).
No one – and that is no one, not a small number – no one desires God, because our natural inclination since the fall of our first parents in Eden is to hate God and to purse sin against Him.
So, how do we get people into the pews and get them to open their wallets and purses – wide? We don’t.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47, ESV).
The unpopular truth of the matter – which is why when I have told some people about my looking to write on “Puritan Church Growth Methodology,” they have responded, “There is no such thing!” – only God changes the heart – only God saves a person – only God draws a person into worship.
Acts 2:42-47 is a portrait of the early church, and we notice that the church was about the Word of God preached and taught, evangelism, hospitality/fellowship, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. It was – and is – God and God alone – Who adds to their – and our – numbers.
What does that mean?
It means that we are to strive for faithfulness and obedience, to be the Church, to come into the Image of Jesus through the Power of the Holy Spirit. It means that we are to tell ourselves, our friends, our family, and strangers the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It means that we are to invite all people to the worship service that they might heard the Gospel and believe and repent – as God chooses to change their hearts.
However, the Puritans recognized – as seen in the absence of instruction – that there is no biblical method to fill the pews and fill the offering plates. We are to call people to Jesus, and God will bring them in as He is pleased to do so. We are called people to faithful stewardship, and through maturity and the leading of the Holy Spirit, people will give of all of their blessings. And, as God is pleased to use us and has work for us to do, God will provide for us, day-by-day to be His Church in this place.
As we enter the Lenten season, let us be wise and yet not worry. Let us strive for maturity. Let us seek to understand and live with the Word of God central in our lives. Let us open our mouths and bring people into the hearing of the Gospel through myriad means. Let us join together in fellowship and hospitality, showing the love we have for one another – that we are One Body. Let us pray that we would become one in mind with God that we would pray and receive everything we pray for. Let us understand the Lord’s Supper to be a means by which God strengthens and enables us to do the work that He has set before us. Let us grow in faith and obedience, trusting God to “add to our number.”
Friday, February 24, 2012
I am being honored by the Rotary Club of Irvington with their “Service Above Self” Award at a brunch Saturday, February 25, 2012, at 10 AM at the Hanover Manor, 16 Eagle Rock Ave., East Hanover, NJ 07936. The cost is $50 per person. Make checks payable to the Rotary Club of Irvington and pay at the door...if you haven't yet! Hope to see you then.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
“Why Do You Do What You Do?”
[Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21]
February 22, 2012 Second Reformed Church
Today is Ash Wednesday, and we intend that all those who desire shall be anointed with ashes. Ashes were used from the earliest biblical times to symbolize repentance. It was recognized by the beginning of the first millennium A. D. as a practice on the first day of Lent to receive ashes, and it was made church law in 1091 A. D., and it was received as an official practice of the Protestant Church when it came into existence, (though not without discussion).
The ashes are not magic, nor do they cause God to forgive us. They are a sign that we recognize that we are sinful, in need of a Savior, and that we remember and affirm the righteousness of God’s curse for sin as He said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19, ESV).
The ashes are meaningless without a true heart-repentance. Saying the words and receiving the sign are meaningless unless we are truly sorry for our sin and promise to turn away from sin and sin no longer. That is repentance; if we have not truly repented, the sign of ashes is meaningless.
This evening, we consider two practices out of our readings: prayer and fasting. Prayer is required of the Christian; fasting is an optional spiritual discipline. All Christians must pray; there are times when a Christian may fast for spiritual benefit.
Is there ever a time when praying or fasting is sinful? Jesus tells us there is:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.”
We all know we are to pray, but there is a way that we can pray like a hypocrite – a way that we can pray sinfully. Jesus tells us that there are people who like to pray in public – in the church – on the street corner – as long as there is a crowd. That, Jesus tells us, is not real prayer – that is sin.
Why? Because such people are not praying to God, they are praying to be heard by others. They are not addressing the Almighty God, their Father, but they are trying to say the words that will get the people around them to react.
It’s easy to do: there have been times when I have been asked to pray at a function – I plan to open the brunch on Saturday by praying – and there is a pull to be concerned about what the people want me to pray, not what needs to be said to God. If we are asked to pray, and our concern is what the people listening will think, we are praying sinfully – we’re not really praying at all – we are acting for the applause of the people around us. We are despising communication with God in favor of the approval of those around us.
Jesus compares true and false prayer in another way, yet we can see the same point here as Jesus says, "The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector’” (Luke 18:11, ESV). The Pharisee was praying loudly enough to be heard – at least – by the tax collector and Jesus. The prayer he was offering up was not to God, but as a rebuke to the tax collector. It was sin.
Jesus explains about such sinful, so-called prayers, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
If the point of our praying is to get others to applaud or to rebuke those around us, then that is all we should expect to receive. If we are truly praying to God – irrespective of who is around us – God will hear us. But, if I craft the prayer I will pray Saturday simply to please the people at the awards lunch, their being pleased is all I should expect; I should not expect that God will be pleased or answer the prayer. If someone prays just to point out another person’s sin – for example, if someone is in a prayer meeting, and one of the members repents and confesses to the group that he has committed adultery – the wrong response would be to pray, “Lord, we thank You that you have kept all of us but Bob from the sin of adultery, now be with him …,” and so forth.
Our motivations matter – it’s not just what we do, but why we do it. Do we really desire to communicate with God, to please Him, to receive word from Him? Or, do we want to please the pastor, or the group, or some other person?
Jesus continues by saying, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Now, there are times when we should pray in a group and in the sanctuary. There are times when we should pray one-on-one with another person – even confessing our sins to one another. The Psalmist wrote, “Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!” (Psalm 150:1, ESV). James wrote, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16, ESV). There are times when it is appropriate for us to lift our voices together, as we do in morning worship and during our prayer meeting and in private moments with a trusted fellow Christian.
But sometimes, it is better for us to be alone to pray. There are numerous times in the Scripture when we are told that Jesus got up early and went up on the mountain to pray alone. There are times when we ought to go by ourselves, in our rooms, in our closets, with the door shut. And, understand, Jesus is not saying that we must, literally, but shut up in a closet – the point is to be alone where we will not be disturbed.
These are times when we ought to commune with God alone, with no spectators, with no one around to makes us feel inhibited, with no one we might feel the need to say something or phrase something for their approval – it is the time when we come before God Himself, one-on-one, a child to his or her Father.
In these times, we can speak with God with less distraction. We are alone, with no other people. We are in a secluded spot where the computer and the phone and noises, and so forth, will not disturb us. There is a time that we should set aside to be quite and alone with God, where no one can hear or disturb us. It is in these times that we can let our guard down – that we can have greater freedom to speak.
When it is just God and you alone, you can praise Him and specifically lift up ways in which God has blessed you for which you want to thank Him. You can thank Him for delivering you from a temptation – for saving you from the wretch that you are. And so forth.
In private, you can also groan before God – bringing your deepest, darkest secrets and most difficult temptations and cry out for forgiveness and deliverance from those sins you still choose to fall into again and again.
In that solitary place, you may come honestly before God in praise and groaning and repentance – (you won’t come lying, will you?). There, God will meet you and minister to you and give you the forgiveness only He can give for true repentance.
Is this not worth infinitely more than the praises and applause of our fellow humans – our fellow sinners?
Let us spend time in private prayer with our Father – praising Him, thanking Him, confessing our sins before Him, groaning and crying out for help before Him.
Jesus also spoke about the discipline of fasting and how it can be done hypocritically – with the wrong – with a sinful – motivation. Fasting is just one of numerous spiritual disciplines that we may enter into if we find them useful in the pursuit of faithfulness and obedience to God. But it is not mandatory for Christians to fast.
Fasting, in particular, can be a useful spiritual discipline – whether you do it once a year, once a month, one a week, etc. And a fast can be of all food, a particular food, just solid foods, and so forth. The point is in depriving yourself of food, whether it is specific items or everything.
Fasting can be done to center yourself on God’s and His Provision. There is nothing like not eating for an extended period of time to meditate on where and how you receive your food – and to Whom you should give thanks. It can also be a good tool to discipline the body – to take control of your flesh – to make it known that you will no longer submit to the temptations of the sins of the flesh – whether they are wrong use of food or some other physical desire. In other words, over-eating, gluttony, sexual sins, and so forth.
Understand, though we’re talking about fasting from food here, it is possible to “fast” from other things – to not watch TV or check your cell phone or your e-mail for some period of time. That may be the type of fast you may want to use to get control of something else that is leading you into sin.
However, whether you are fasting – from food or something else – that is a private matter between God and you. You ought to go about your normal life as much as possible. It may be helpful to have one person know what you are doing to help you – to have someone to be accountable to, but it is not helpful to let “everyone” know – especially to make it as though you are doing something so – well, Jesus described it like this: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.”
We fast out of the wrong motivation when we are fasting – or taking part in some other spiritual discipline – for the sake of others seeing us. If we don’t shower and we wear dirty clothes, and frown all day until people ask us what’s wrong, and then we say, “I’m fasting to be closer to God…and I haven’t eaten in six hours…oh, oh, oh, I’m so weak!” Or, if we tell every person we know, “Guess, what? I’m fasting. Do a look a little holier to you already? I think I’m a little holier already, and I’ve only been fasting for six hours. I’m going to fast for twelve whole hours. Can you imagine going without food for twelve whole hours? I’m doing it for God, don’tcha know.”
God is not impressed with that. That sort of “fasting” is not pleasing to God. Jesus again says, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” If you fast to impress people – if you engage in any spiritual discipline to impress people that is all you will get out of it. God will not bless the show you put on for others, when there is no real desire to serve Him and become more like Him.
Again, there may be a reason to have one person know what you are doing – especially someone who will help keep you accountable to what you want to achieve in fasting. However, you should not even tell one person what you are doing if it is only to impress him or her.
Instead, Jesus says, “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Jesus says that when we engage in a spiritual discipline, especial one of denial, like fasting, it is something that we do before the Face of God, not before the world. Before the world, we ought to look and act normal, even if we are feeling hungry.
It is a question of our motivation: if we are fasting to center ourselves on God and give thanks to Him and to take control and discipline the sinful desires of our flesh, and we do that before God – asking Him for help and taking part in it only to His Knowledge, then He will bless what we are doing. God will cause us to achieve what we are seeking, because we are seeking it in Him and for our relationship with Him.
Let us discover and use spiritual disciplines, like fasting, to center ourselves on God’s Provision and to discipline ourselves that we would not follow after our sinful desires.
And as we enter the season of Lent, let us strive with new vigor to follow after holiness in all ways, as we give thanks that God came down to live and die for our sin that we might be right with Him for all of eternity.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, as we enter the season of Lent, help us to recognize our sin and to repent of it. Show us new ways that we might be faithful and obedient people. Keep us from being hypocrites and doing things just for the approval of others. Help us to live in thanksgiving to You for Who You are and for the salvation You have given us, through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Monday, February 20, 2012
“Moses, Elijah, and Jesus”
February 19, 2012 Second Reformed Church
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. On this day, we remember what Peter referred to as he wrote: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18, ESV).
This took place about eight days after Peter’s profession that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior, to which Jesus explained to the Twelve that He “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22, ESV). And He explained to the Twelve that they must be ready and willing to suffer and die likewise for His Sake, yet, Jesus said, “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27, ESV).
Our text this morning is at least the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophecy – that some of the Twelve would live to see “the kingdom of God.” By this, Jesus meant that they would see the Heavenly Glory that proves Him to be exactly who Peter confessed Him to be – the Son of God Incarnate, the long-awaited Savior.
“Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” So, Jesus went to pray with His inner circle – Peter, James, and John. They ascended Mount Hermon again, and they went to pray in the place where Peter had confessed Jesus to be to Savior.
Unbeknown to Peter, James, and John, who had fallen asleep as He prayed, “[as Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
As Jesus prayed, we understand, Jesus’ Body began to change – it began to appear as it now appears – glorified. Jesus’ Face changed – His very clothing was affected and shone with a dazzling white light.
John describes his vision of Jesus on the island of Patmos: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:12-16, ESV).
In the Kingdom, in Glory, all darkness and shadow are cast away as the Light of the Glory of God penetrates and permeates and seeks out every corner of Creation.
Moses also was granted a glimpse of this: “ And the LORD said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The LORD.” And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’ And the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:17-23, ESV).
Human eyes cannot look on the Pure Glory of God and live, because our eyes are finite. Even when they are holy and glorified in the Kingdom, our eyes will not be able to look upon the Pure Glory of God, because our eyes will still be finite – they will still be unequipped to handle the greatness of that splendor.
However, as was revealed to Peter, James, and John – and as we have recently seen in Hebrews – we can view the Glory of God mediated through the Person of Jesus Christ. Even in Glory, though it is dazzling to our eyes, we will be able to look upon the Glory of Jesus, because God’s Glory – His Divinity – is mediated through His Human Body.
This moment on the mountain was at least the first piece of the fulfillment of Jesus’ Words that some of them would see the Kingdom – the Glory – the Splendor of God.
“Wait a minute,” some of you are thinking, “Moses and Elijah had been dead for about 1,500 years. How could Jesus have been talking with Moses and Elijah? How could they have been on the mount with Him?”
Was it really Moses and Elijah? Yes, it was really them. Were they enfleshed – were they in their bodies – or were they spirits? We’re not told. What we do know is that there are examples of bringing the spirit of a dead person to visibly appear (cf. I Samuel 28:15), and we know that the dead have been raise in their bodies. So, whether in their bodies or just in their spirit, we can believe that it was really Moses and Elijah who spoke with Jesus on the mountain.
“But how would Peter, James, and John know what Moses and Elijah looked like? How would they have recognized them?”
We’re not told. Perhaps God told them who they were.
“But why did Elijah and Moses meet with Jesus to talk about what must happened in Jerusalem?”
For several reasons:
First, Moses and Elijah came to talk with Jesus as representatives of the Law and the Prophets. Moses is shown to be the great lawgiver of the people of Israel, and Elijah was considered the greatest prophet, so they came representing the Law and the Prophets – God’s Whole Word. They talked with Jesus not merely bout the fact that He would suffer and die in Jerusalem, but that His suffering and dying would fulfill everything that was written in the Law and the Prophets.
We remember Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, ESV). Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets by keeping God’s Law perfectly and by fulfilling all the prophecies that were made about the Savior God promised to send.
Second, it assured them that Jesus willed His Death – no one took Jesus’ Life from Him. As He himself said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:14-18, ESV).
Third, it showed them, visually, that Jesus is the Savior – God in Flesh, as Peter had confessed Him. Jesus’ Glory was hidden – concealed – behind His Flesh. As Paul explained, “but [Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7, ESV). Jesus did not come in His Glory when He incarnated – He kept His Glory hidden; only allowing a glimpse here and there.
And we might wonder: why didn’t Jesus just come in glory to begin with? Why didn’t He show Himself to be fully Divine from the moment He came to earth? Wouldn’t that have been a more effective way to convince people that He is the Savior God promised?
The answer is the one Jesus gave as He recounted the history of Dives and Lazarus, when Dives asked Abraham to raise Lazarus from the dead to warn Dives’ brothers of their impending doom and eternity in Hell, “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:31, ESV).
The point is this: every human being knows enough to know that he or she needs a Savior. Everyone understands that he or she is a sinner and needs to be made right with God. Everyone knows that he or she is incapable of doing enough good to be right with God. So the greatest question ever asked is, “What must one do to be right with God?” And the answer is what Moses and Elijah – and all of God’s Word teaches – believe in the Savior God sends.
God has sent the Law and the Prophets. They contain the proof that no one can be right with God without a Savior. So, if someone refuses to accept the Law and the Prophets, seeing God in the Flesh, much less a person raised from the dead, will not convince them.
“Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said.”
Something woke Peter, James, and John, and they saw that Jesus was transfigured before them: He was revealing a glimpse of His Glory as He talked with Moses and Elijah about the events that were coming – about His betrayal, trial, torture, crucifixion – about what He would accomplish in Jerusalem – where He would take on the punishment for the sins of all those who would believe savingly in Him. And Peter being Peter, cried out, “Let us build tents for You and Moses and Elijah!” “Let’s have a camp out!”
Peter and the others were so captivated by the sight of the Glory of Jesus that they spoke in fear and frenzy – they didn’t want the experience to end. They didn’t want Moses and Elijah to leave. What might happen to them if they were left alone with Jesus Transfigured – radiating Glory?
They were terrified and exhilarated. Have you ever done something that both terrified you and excited you beyond belief? That would be a little bit like what they were feeling during this experience. “Don’t go! Stay! Don’t leave us alone! Don’t leave us alone with Jesus!”
A similar but lesser experience had occurred on the Sea of Galilee: “And when [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (Matthew 8:23-27, ESV).
“As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’”
Peter, James, and John were getting off track – they were missing the point of what they were beholding, so God enveloped them in a cloud so they could no longer see – and they were afraid. And then they heard God, Himself, speak out of the cloud telling them to stop fretting, to stop making plans, to stop trying to hold on to what they were seeing – and to listen to Jesus.
God was telling them that they were not ready to see the fullness of the Glory of God – even mediated through Jesus. For now, they had received Jesus – and it was time to listen to Him. As we will remember, the author of Hebrews wrote. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV).
They needed not to see miracles and signs and wonders, but they needed to listen to the highest authority in existence – the Word of God. Likewise, we do not need to see signs and wonders or have the veil pulled back that we might see the Glory of God, because He has revealed Himself to us in His Word, and in that, He says it is enough. We know Jesus – initially, only through His Word, and then through the ministry of God the Holy Spirit in us.
Do you want to know Jesus? Do you want to see His Glory? Read the Bible. Listen to Jesus.
“And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.”
They had seen enough, and now what needed to be emphasized to them is not that they need Jesus and Moses and Elijah – not that salvation is by Jesus plus the Law plus the prophets – but that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets – and salvation in Only in Jesus Alone. There is no salvation in the Law or the Prophets. We cannot be made right by keeping the Law and the Prophets, because no fallen human being can keep them. Our Hope is in Jesus – and in Him Alone.
In the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw the Kingdom of God.
God confirmed to them that Jesus is the One Glorious Divine God.
They were shown that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
They understood that Jesus went to His Death willingly – as part of His Plan to save all those who would believe in Him.
They understood that the glory that is coming is beyond imagination.
And they understood that salvation in Only in Jesus Alone, so they ought to listen to Him.
The Kingdom of God continues to come among us, and it will come in its fullness when Jesus returns. We can begin to see the Glory of the Kingdom of God – the Glory of Jesus, as we read the Bible and listen to Jesus as the Holy Spirit helps us to understand His Word.
Let us wait patiently for the day of the full indwelling of the Kingdom. And let us not be seeking signs and wonders, but let us, instead, sit at the feet of Jesus and hear His Word.
Let us pray:Almighty God, we thank You for coming to earth and making Yourself known to Your people. We thank You that You have given us Your Word so that we who were not on the mountain can know You in Your Glory and look forward to Your Return. Prepare us, and drive us to listen to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.