Second Reformed Church

Monday, April 30, 2012

Banner of Truth

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

"The Brotherhood of Suffering" Sermon: Hebrews 2:10-18


“The Brotherhood of Suffering”

[Hebrews 2:10-18]

April 29, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            Last week, we considered the Incarnation, and we said that God coming to earth in the Person of Jesus – God taking on human flesh – becoming a real human being, did not make God any less God.  God is still wholly God in the Incarnation, even though – for a time – God condescended to humanity – God hid His Glory behind the finite Person of Jesus.

            The Christians that the author of Hebrews was writing to were experiencing many false teachers coming into the Church and teaching them – for a variety of reasons – that Jesus is less than God – He is not wholly God.  The author of Hebrews wrote his letter to show – among other things – that Jesus is the One God – One Person of the Trinity.

            The author continues to address the charge that Jesus is less than the angels in this morning’s text.  Last week, we looked at him address the idea that Jesus must be less than God because He has a real human, physical, body.  He argued that humans are only temporarily less than the angels because of our sin, and Jesus was without sin, so the only sense in which He could be understood as less than the angels is that He hid the fullness of His Glory while He ministered prior to His Death and Resurrection.

            Humans are a greater creation than the angels, because we were created in the Image of God.  And Jesus is the greatest of humans because He is God.  All things are coming into subsection under Jesus’ Sovereign Rule, and when He returns in Glory; all things will be put under His Feet.  Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One Sovereign God, forever and ever, reigning now from His Eternal Throne.

            We ended last week looking at Psalm 8 and seeing how it applied both to David – and human experience generally – and how it is fulfilled in Jesus.  We saw that Jesus was crowned with glory and honor through suffering and death that He, by God’s Grace, would be the Savior of everyone who would ever believe – from every people who ever live.

            Now, the author turns to the accusation that the angels must be greater than Jesus because Jesus did suffer and die.  How could He be Truly God and suffer and die?

            “For it was fitting that he [God], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation [Jesus] perfect through suffering.”

            The author of Hebrews begins without hesitation:  “It makes absolute sense that God would come to earth in the Person of a real human being, Jesus.  God is the One Who brings all things into existence and all things happen according to God’s Will.  And, if we think about it, it makes perfect sense that – in order for God to bring a people into His Glory – that God would have to become a real human being and die on their behalf.

            First, let us remember that God is God – the Sovereign God Who knows all things and holds all power in His Hands – everything He does and wills comes to pass exactly as He plans.  And all of His Plans are pure wisdom and goodness and truth.  As Nebuchadnezzar prayed, “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).

            So, it is not possible that God made a mistake in the Incarnation.  God did not miscalculate and find Himself stuck suffering and dying for the salvation of His people.  No, God’s plan was always from before Creation that God would come to earth in the Person of Jesus and suffer and die in His Flesh.

            Second, we’re told that a reason for God’s Plan to be that He would come to earth in the Person of Jesus and suffer and die in the flesh – and that reason is that God chose to bring “many sons to glory.”  God chose, out of all of humanity – who had – as one – rejected God and hated God – and sinned against Him – God chose to save some people throughout time and space – for God’s reasons.

            We are not told why God chose to save any people, only that it pleased Him to do so.  And in saving us from the Wrath of God that we deserved for our sins, God did not merely forgive our sins, He did not merely make us innocent, He did not even just make us holy – and in the process of sanctification – in the process of becoming holy, but God chose to bring some people into His Very Glory.

            God – for reasons which have nothing to do with what you do or what I do – for God’s Reasons and according to God’s Good Pleasure, God chose to take some people – all those who ever believe in Jesus Alone for salvation – and make us – finally – at Jesus’ Return – like Jesus in perfectly portraying the Glory of God before Him.  We will be sinless – unable to sin – perfectly reflecting the Glory of God to Him in eternal worship.

            Third, we are brought into Glory through following Jesus – our Leader, our Captain, the Pioneer of our Faith.  We are brought into Glory as we fully conform to the Image of Jesus by the Grace of the Holy Spirit Who works in us and through us to make us sons and daughters of God. 

            Fourth, Jesus was made perfect – as our Leader – through suffering, which we now take part in through a brotherhood – and sisterhood – of suffering.  Jesus became our Perfect Leader through His suffering and death in the flesh; Jesus did not become less than God through His suffering and death in the flesh.  On the contrary, He became able to save us because He did suffer and die in the flesh.  And now, for the sake of the Gospel, we are called to suffer – and even die – in the flesh, for the sake of Christ.

            The author of Hebrews is saying that it would not be possible for Jesus to save His people if He did not suffer and die in the flesh.  Why not?

            Paul tells us:  “For the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23, ESV).  God’s Law says, if you sin – any sin at all – you must die – and the death you die will fit the crime:  if we sin against the Almighty and Infinite God – and all sin is against God – we will suffer infinitely – eternally.  The punishment fits the crime.  The debt for sin must be paid.  The problem humans have is that we are unable to pay God back infinity.  On our best day, we still sin and add to our debt to God.

            The only other option is that Someone else would be willing to pay our debt.  The only Person Who could pay an infinite debt is God.  However, God cannot pay our debt; a human must pay the debt for a human.  So, the only option would be if God could and would come to earth as a real human being and pay our debt. 

In order to survive payment for our debt – which would be a payment of infinite Hell, He would have to be truly, wholly God.  In order to take the place of a human being, He would have to be truly, wholly human.

            This is what God has done in coming to earth in the Person of Jesus.  We’ve noted before that the author of Hebrews writes, “[we ought to be] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV).

            Jesus is the Founder and Perfecter and Captain of our faith.  He despised what He endured in His Life and Death at the hands of sinful humans, but now He is returned to His Throne where He reigns over all of Creation.  What did we miss?  It was for the joy that was set before Him that He endured the cross.  Jesus was willing to endure crucifixion because the joy of the results of going through with God’s Plan was greater than the suffering.

“For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.”

Then, we see that God sanctifies His people.  Because Jesus suffered and died in the flesh, God makes His people holy.

And, we see that God and God’s people “have one source.”  What does this mean?

First, it means that there is a parallel relationship between Jesus and His people.  Jesus and His people are brought into Glory together.  Jesus will not stand for His Holy Head to be attached to a rotting corpse.  Jesus is Holy, and He makes us holy, and then He brings us into His Glory with Him.

Second, it means that there is a physical relationship between Jesus and His people.  God came to earth in a real human body with a real human nature.  God perfectly understands what it is to be a human – though not to sin – and He can now understand our weaknesses.  This is why Jesus is not the Savior of the angels – angels do not have a human body and nature.

The author of Hebrews goes on to say, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, ESV).

Third, it means that just as Jesus suffered and died and physically rose from the dead, so shall His people suffer and die and physically rise from the dead.

As Paul wrote, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:5-11, ESV).

And we might ask how that is fair?  Why do we have to suffer if Jesus has already taken our place and suffered and died for us?  Why is it necessary?

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:18-20, ESV).

If we are truly brothers and sisters of Jesus, we will be hated by the world because the world hates Him.  And we need to ask ourselves whether it is worth it?  Are you and I willing to endure – whatever – for the sake of the salvation that we have in Jesus?  Are we willing to be denied anything and everything and suffer anything and everything – for the joy of the call that we have to be brothers and sisters of Jesus?

            John thought so, as he wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, ESV).

            As did Peter, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:19-25, ESV).

            And Paul wrote “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11, ESV).

            We’re never told that we are to enjoy suffering.  But since we are one with and in Jesus – since He has the same physical body and nature that we do and can understand everything we go through and everything we are tempted, “That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,”

            Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters because He is making us holy and bringing us into Glory with Him.  Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters – being in the flesh is not a lesser state or something to desire to be forever rid of – the body is good and Jesus saves our bodies as well as our souls – Jesus save whole, real, human beings, like Him.

            Then, the author of Hebrews gives the witness of three Old Testament quotes:  “I will tell of your name to my brothers;    in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”  And again,           “I will put my trust in him.”  And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

            These three quotations are put into the mouth of Jesus to be fulfilled, so He confesses that He is one physically and morally with His people – He physically joins with them in worship, in trust of God, and in being the Father of His people – His Children.

            He sums up, writing, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

            The only way we could be saved from God’s Wrath for our sin was for God to take our place as a human being, because only a human being can take the place of a human being.  So, God came to earth in the Person of Jesus – sharing in our flesh and blood – sharing in every joy and struggle and temptation that we have – excepting sin.

            In doing this – in coming to earth as a real human being, God did not become less than God, and since His death was not for His sin – since Jesus did not sin – Jesus freed His people from the power of death and the devil and from the fear of death.

            As brothers and sisters of Jesus – we are delivered from death.  Death cannot hold us – we will physically rise from the dead, just as Jesus physically rose from the dead.  Jesus defeated the devil, and so we ought not to fear the devil – he is a fallen enemy.  We have no need to listen to him or submit to him.  And death – for the Christian – is passage into fuller life.

            God promised, as He cursed the serpent in the Garden of Eden, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:14b-15, ESV).  Jesus fulfilled this promise.

God did not come to earth in the Peron of Jesus to save angels:  “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

            Jesus does not seek to save the angels, but the humans He came to save.  That’s why He had to be made like us in every respect – excepting sin – so He could stand as one of us under God’s Law, both keeping the Law and being punished on our behalf for our breaking the Law

            Since He did that, He is able to choose to be merciful and gracious to us , “showing kindness and compassion towards we who do not deserve it, having mercy on us, pardoning us, forgiving us, bringing about our reconciliation with God” (Bible Windows, alt.).

.           So, we see:

            Since God is the Almighty and All-Knowing God, the Plan that He set forth for the Incarnation and the salvation of a people for Himself could not fail.

            Jesus became the Founder of our faith – our Leader – the One Whom we ought to imitate and strive to become like – by being the First and Only One Who could stand in our place in the judgment and survive.  In His Godhood, Holy Jesus endured the Wrath of God and survived; in His Humanity, Jesus suffered and died from the horrific and torturous way in which He was killed.  But since, He is both wholly and completely God and Human, He physically rose from the death and ascended back to His Throne.

            There is a parallel relationship between Jesus and His people:  we are glorified together, and as we live for Him and become more like Him through sanctification – through God making us holy, we will also suffer for Him, and after we have died, we will physically rise from the dead like Him.  

            Jesus is not ashamed of you or me – to call us brothers and sisters, because He has a real, human body and nature, and He lived perfectly that He might be our Substitute before God and pay our debt and make us like Him, and He now, tenderly and compassionately seeks to lead us and aid us in our sanctification.

            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, as we seek to understand Your Incarnation and what You have done for us in salvation, we ask that the Holy Spirit would instruct us and help us to understand and believe.  We thank You for choosing to become one of us, while remaining God, that You would be able not merely to be our God and King, but our Savior and brother.  Help us to take comfort in Your Victory through suffering and death and bear whatever befalls us here in the joy our our salvation.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Reformed Wisdom

"You need not be cast down by sickness. The eternal part of you is safe and provided for, whatever happens to your body. You may well look calmly on death. It opens a door between you and your inheritance. You may well not sorrow exclusively over the things of the world - over partings and bereavements - over losses and crosses. The day of gathering is before you. Your treasure is beyond reach of harm. Heaven is becoming every year more full of those you love, and earth more empty. Glory in your inheritance. It is all yours if you are a children of God. "If we are children, then we are heirs." "  -- J. C.Ryle.  (Gently lifted from http://jcrylequotes.com/2012/04/25/possessing-an-eternal-perspective-on-sickness/)

Prayer Meeting

Due to a prior commitment, Saturday's prayer meeting at the church is cancelled.  Please meet together and pray for each other, and, D.V., we will resume next Saturday.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Reformed Wisdom

"All the children of God have a cross to carry. They have trials, troubles, and afflictions to go through for the Gospel's sake. They have trials from the world, trials from the flesh, and trials from the devil. They have trials of feeling from relations and friends - hard words, hard conduct, and hard judgment. They have trials in the matter of character - slander, misrepresentation, mockery, suggestion of false motives - all these often rain thick upon them. They have trials in the matter of worldly interest. They often have to choose whether they will please people, and lose glory; or gain glory and offend people. They have trials from their own hearts. They have each generally their own thorn in the flesh, which is their worst foe. This is the experience of the children of God. Some of them suffer more, and some less. Some of them suffer in one way, and some in another. God measures out their portions like a wise physician, and cannot err. But never, I believe, was there one child of God who reached paradise without a cross."  J. C. Ryle.  (Gently lifted from:  http://jcrylequotes.com/2012/04/23/you-cannot-reach-paradise-without-a-cross/)

"You Are Subjected" Sermon: Hebrews 2:5-9


“You Are Subjected”

[Hebrews 2:5-9]

April 22, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            Last week, we remembered that the author of Hebrews showed through numerous examples that the Son of God is greater than the angels.

            He continued by telling his readers that we ought to pay very close attention to the Gospel.  Why?  Well, we all understand that we are sinners because God has given us His Law – and everyone knows it – and the angels also declare the Law as they carry it out among us.  And the angels are sinless, so we understand that their testimony is reliable.

            But, in these last days, God sent His Son with the Gospel – that the Son took on human flesh, lived under His Law, died for the sins of everyone who will ever believe in Him Alone for Salvation, and physically rose from the dead.  The Gospel is a Greater Word from God than the Law, because the Law can only damn us, whereas the Gospel, which was brought by Jesus, the Son of God, Who is greater than the angels because He is God, brings to us the Only Way to be right with God – the Only Way to Salvation – His Gospel.

            Then, in this morning’s text, there is an unwritten objection that the author responds to:  “OK, the Son of God is greater than the angels.  But in the Incarnation, in taking on human flesh, in becoming a real human being, didn’t the Son become less that the angels?”

            The answer is, ultimately, “no.”  He takes a few steps to get us there, but he explains that even in the Incarnation – now that the Son has a human body and nature – He is still superior to the angels.

            The author continues:  “For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.”

            What does he mean by “the world to come”?  A clue is found in the fact that he says we were already speaking about it.    And if we look back to chapter one, verse fourteen, we see that world that we have been talking about it the world now – the Age of the Church – which is all of human history – from our creation until Jesus’ Return.  “The world to come” is “the world to come” in the sense that the angels were created before us.  This world came after them – after their creation.  It does not refer to the Kingdom after Jesus returns, because not everything has been subjected to Jesus yet, as the author explains in verse eight of this morning’s reading.

            So, we could read verse five as saying, “God did not subject the created world – the material world – the human world – to the angels.  As already pointed out, the angels were created to serve, not to rule.  Nowhere in the Scripture are angels ever given the power and authority to rule over anything.  They are servants of God and servants for the sake of those God elects to salvation.”

            So, his first premise is:  God never gave the angels rule over the material world.  Nothing is subjected to the angels’ authority in the created world.   Humans are not subjected to angels.

            He continues, “It has been testified somewhere,” And here the author quotes from Psalm 8:4-6.  He did not need to give the name or reference, because, in those days, people would have known and possibly even had the Psalms memorized.  They heard the text and knew exactly where it was from.  They would also understand that Psalms are both about human experience and about the Savior Who was to come, and so we read:

            “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?  You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,      putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

            As we look at this text and understand it in reference to David and humanity, we see four things:

            First, in comparison with the Majesty of God, it is absolutely incredible that God thinks about us and cares for us and, in fact, gave His Only Begotten Son for us that we might be right with Him.  God is so far superior to any of His creation, the fact that He would stoop to help us, much less save us, is beyond our comprehension.  Compared to God, we are bugs or dust.  What are humans compared to God?

            Second, human beings were created a little lower than angels – temporarily.  Humans will not always be lower than the angels.  What will change?   Our ability to sin.  Once we are brought into Glory, we will not be able to sin, and we will be higher than the angels. 

Third, God said of humans, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26b-27, ESV).  Humans were crowned with glory and honor by being created in the Very Image of God.  Humans are the height of God’s creation – not the angels.

            Fourth, since we were created in the Image of God, we were created to have dominion over everything in Creation – including angels – and excepting God.  We were created in the Image of God; we were given the responsibility and the authority to govern and care for and subject everything that God created.  But our sin caused us to mar the Image of God in us, so we are now – for a little while – a little lower than the angels.

            This Scripture also applies to the Savior, Jesus, the Son of God:

            First, we begin with the picture, again, of this God – the Almighty God, Who so loved us that He came to earth to save us from the punishment that we so justly deserve.  What kind of God is this and what kind of love is this that would choose to come to earth for the sake of His creatures?

            God is the Almighty.  He could flick us away like a piece of dust on a scale.  There is nothing we can give Him or do for Him, and still He has chosen to condescend Himself and come to earth in our form that He might take our place and suffer for us that judgment that is due upon our sins.  As 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).

How can we begin to approach Him and His Wisdom and Ways?  As Paul cried out, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33, ESV).

            Second, in the Incarnation, the Son of God did, indeed, become a little lower than the angels in His Majesty – but not with regards to His Power or His Being – and only temporarily.  God hid His Majesty behind the Body of Jesus temporarily.  We will remember that Jesus allowed His Glory to come through to a degree on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John, saw a mediated glimpse of the Glory of God, and fell before Him.  Paul explained, “[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7, ESV).

            God did not become less that God in coming to earth in the Person of Jesus, but God “emptied Himself” – He “[took] away the prerogatives of status or position – empty, divest –  literally, he emptied himself, i.e. he took an unimportant position” [Greek Analytical Dictionary, Bible Windows].  God did not become less than God, but denied Himself His Status for our sake – He took on the position – as our Substitute – as a real human being – so He could be our Substitute and, we could be saved through His Sacrifice!

            Third, Jesus got up out of the tomb on the first Easter morn.  He rose from the dead and assumed His Rightful Reign – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV).  We remember from the first chapter of Hebrews, “But of the Son [God] says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8, ESV).  And in the twelfth chapter, he writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).

            Jesus has been crowned with glory and honor.  He has resumed His Rightful Throne and rules sovereignly over all of Creation.  He is not waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom to come to earth; He reigns now. 

            And fourth, everything will be put in subjection to Jesus.  We, as His followers, are in subjection to Him.  He is our King and we are His subjects.  But those who continue in their sin unrepentantly – death and the devil and his angels – they are not yet fully subjected.  God has given them time to work and rope to work with.  We remember the promise of God reiterated in the first chapter of Hebrews:  “And to which of the angels has [God] ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (Hebrews 1:13, ESV).  And the author of Hebrews continues to explain this in the thirteenth chapter, as he writes, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Hebrews 10:12-13, ESV).

            We will also remember the promise that was made – that since God was willing to come to earth and humble Himself, even to the point of death on a tree – since He was willing to take on a real human Person and hide His Majesty and allow Himself to be tormented and killed by sinners, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, ESV).

            The author continues, “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control.”  We know how the story ends:  “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV).

            “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.”  But it will be!  Jesus was victorious over death and the grave; He deceived the devil and made full satisfaction for everyone who will ever believe.  God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him (cf. Romans 8:28) including putting all things under Jesus’ feet, beneath His footstool, in subjection to Him, because He is God the King and Savior.

            And so we understand the second premise:  Although God put aside His Majesty – His rightful Glory – in the Incarnation, He was not any less God – not any less Powerful.  He is completely able to save His people.  The Incarnation did not make God lower than the angels in substance, but only in the visibility of His Glory.

“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

But why?  What are humans?  Why did God come to understand what death was like through the suffering and death of Jesus?  Why did God humiliate Himself for the people He chose?

Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”  When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them” (John 12:27-36, ESV).

And so, thirdly, we understand that God became human to save a people for Himself, that He and His Father would be glorified for what they had done.  In order for God to be glorified in the saving of His people, He had to become one of us that He could truly, fully, take our place and suffer and die for us.  Only a Man can take the place of a human, so God has to become Jesus to take our place and suffer for our sins, and then, because He is God and did not become any less God through the Incarnation, He burst the bonds of death and Hell and walked out of the grave in glory.

The Hebrews that our author address were right in remembering that the Psalmist says that humans are a little lower than the angels – temporarily.  But humans were created as the pinnacle – the height of Creation.  Our sin mars that Image and makes us a little lower than the angels for a time.  But when we are received into Glory, we will again be honored through Jesus as the stewards of Creation.

The mistake the Hebrews made was in assuming that our being lower than the angels was not temporary, but permanent – and that if God were to become a real human being, God would also become less than God.  But this is not so.  Although God put aside the visibility of His Glory before humans in the Person of Jesus, God remained God in all of His Fullness.  He was never a wit less than God in the Incarnation, and He is not less than God now in His Glorified, and still human, Body.

How shall we live in response to this?

First, let us understand that we bear the Image of God – even though it is marred by sin – and we are called to love and care for and steward all of Creation to the Glory of God.  We are to care for the Creation with the same care that God cares for us – that care that He showed in giving His Only Son for our salvation.

Second, let us understand that God and Only God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – One God in Three Distinct Persons, is Alone Only to be worshipped.  We are not to worship angels or anything or anyone other than God.  Any time we put anything in God’s place – any time we sin – we are telling God that something else is more worthy than He, and we commit idolatry.

When reading our school books takes precedence over reading the Bible, we commit idolatry.  When watching our soap opera takes precedence over reading our Bible, we commit idolatry.  When eating and spending time with friends takes precedence over reading our Bible, we commit idolatry.  When worshiping our heroes and idols and anything or anyone we hold in greater esteem than God for even a moment, we commit idolatry.  This is not to say that we can’t admire the good in people or enjoy the Creation –we should – but it should never become more important than knowing and worshiping God.

And third, let us take comfort in the sure knowledge that Jesus, our Savior the God who always was and is and is to come, is the Sovereign King and is ruling all of Creation, bringing everything to pass, just as He planned in the Holy Trinity before the Creation.  Everything is truly working together for the Glory of God and the good of all we who love Him.  So let us take comfort, as Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).

Let us pray:
Almighty God, it is easy to get confused when we understand the depths of our sin and then think, well, Jesus was human, too.  Help us to understand that the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus, our Savior, is forever wholly God.  Keep us from sinning by thinking less of Jesus because He bears a human body and is a true human being.  Help us to understand that the Son had to take on the Person of Jesus that we could be saved through His taking our place under Your Wrath for our sin.  And comfort us, knowing that we are subjects of a Great and Loving King Who is forever bringing all things together for His Glory and for our good.  We ask these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"The Holy Spirit" Study

Tuesday evening at 7 PM we began our new study of "The Holy Spirit."  This week we discussed what we believed to be true about the Holy Spirit and passed out Kevin De Young's book of the same name, which we will be discussing.  We will not be meeting on April 24th, due to the intended Classis meeting, but please get a copy of the book, read it, and plan to join in the discussion beginning again (D.V.) on Tuesday May 1st at 7 PM.  (Note the time change!)  Hope to see you then.

"Pay Attention" Sermon: Hebrews 2:1-4


“Pay Attention”

[Hebrews 2:1-4]

April 15, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            “Therefore.”

            The text to which we return to in our look at the book of Hebrews begins with the word “therefore,” and whenever we see the word “therefore,” remember, we need to ask ourselves what the “therefore” is there for.  When we see the word “therefore” in a text, we are being alerted that a conclusion in being made.  We do well to recall the premises that made up chapter one of the book of Hebrews:

            Since God has spoken to us through the prophets, since in these last days God has spoken to us through His Son – the Incarnate God, Jesus, since the Son is God, since the Son is the Son of God, since the Son is the Heir of all things, since the Son created everything that exists, since the Son upholds and reigns over all Creation, and since the Son is far superior to the angels – “therefore.”

            “Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard,”

            Why?  Because what we have heard – the Gospel – what is the Gospel?  Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead.  Right?  The Good News of Salvation through Jesus Christ Alone is the greatest news a human being who understands that he is a sinner – and God is angry with him – can hear.  We have heard the greatest news that there will ever be in all of Creation – might we not want to spend time understanding it and rejoicing in it?

            How do we pay close attention?

            First, come to worship and come regularly.  We can’t pay attention if we’re not here.

            Second, pray that God will help you to understand the Scripture that will be read and preached.  Although I need to do everything I can to make sure we can all understand what I say, only God the Holy Spirit makes us able to understand what God has said.  I can preach an excellent, comprehensible sermon or a clutter mess, but only God the Holy Spirit enables us to hear and understand God’s Word.

            Third, use whatever means works best for you to be able to remember what was said.  Take notes.  Record me.  Draw pictures, diagrams, etc.  Write in your Bible – not in the pew Bibles – in your Bible.  And if you don’t have a Bible or don’t understand the Bible you have, let me know and I will get you one.

            Fourth, sometime after worship, look at the text and your notes and make sure what I said is what the text says and that you understand it.  Paul commended the Bereans:  “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 had the apostle Paul preach to them, and Paul was glad that they checked his sermon against the text.  I am not offended – I am glad – if you check the text to make sure I am preaching what the text says.  And if you are unsure about what I said or if it is there, feel free to ask me about it.  (But make sure you do check the Bible – I won’t be happy with everyone suddenly telling me I’m wrong, but not be able to back it up with the Scripture!)

            Fifth, ask God to help you to understand and to put the Scripture into practice.  The sermon does not exist just so there is some reason to pay the pastor.  The sermon is supposed to explain the Scripture and lead us to do something with it.  We are called to live out the Scripture.

            “Who cares?  They’ll be a sermon next Sunday – probably.  Why does it matter if we pay close attention to this one?”

            We ought all to always pay attention to the Scripture and the sermon, for several reasons:

            First, persevering in the faith takes diligence.  Being a Christian is work.  That does not mean that we are saved by our works or that we can “lose” our salvation,   What it means is that the Christian life is one of hard work – by the Power of the Holy Spirit Who lives in us – to become holy – to be sanctified.  That’s why 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).  Paul was not saying that they had to earn salvation, but rather, that a person who truly receives the Gift of Salvation – the person who believes is Jesus Christ Alone for Salvation – that person understands that he is not yet holy, and he wants to show love to God by working hard to become holy.  And we do that by knowing and living out all of the Scripture.

            Second, God promises that we will be blessed for our deep study, our meditating, our mining the depths of the Scripture, as the Holy Spirit leads us to understand more and more and as He guides us in further obedience and joy in our salvation.  David wrote:  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,        nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2, ESV).

            We ought to use every means possible to hear and understand what God has said in His Word – read it, listen to sermons in worship, on the radio, on the computer, buy sermons series, get the Bible on tape, CD, MP3, DVD.  We listen to background music to relax, might we not also listen to an audio Bible.  The more contact we have with it, the more it will stick, and by God’s Grace, the more we will understand it, and the more blessed we will be – the greater our joy will be.

            And, thirdly, as the author of Hebrews writes, “lest we drift away from it.”

            Understand, the author of Hebrews is addressing this to Christians.  There are non-Christians who attend worship services, and there are people who think they are Christians, but are not.  John explains that when push comes to shove, people who are not Christians will walk away:  “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19, ESV).

The author of Hebrews is not talking about salvation, so much, (since we don’t save ourselves, we cannot lose ourselves), but he is warning Christians that we can fall away, we can “back-slide,” we can follow after sin – for a while, and do so happily.  Paul warns the Corinthians:  “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12, ESV).

The devil searches for ways to lead us into sin.  His favorite times to tempt us include:  when things are going well and we don’t believe anything could cause us to fall, when we are being persecuted for the faith and think we ought to be excused for our sin because it was done in the line of proclaiming the Gospel, when we fall in love with the things of the world and think we can serve two masters, when we love a sin and make excuses that it is not a sin, when we embrace false teaching, heresies, and lies and don’t care to pay close attention to what God has said in His Word, and so forth.

If we do not pay close attention, study diligently, and pray that God would help us to understand and follow His Word; we will start to slip away.  No, not eternally, be we will back track in our sanctification – we will become less like Jesus, we will lose our joy in Christ, we may find ourselves under the rod of the loving discipline of God.

Do you want to maximize you joy?  Or would you prefer to suffer?  If that is such a silly question, as some of you are no doubt saying to yourselves, why don’t we pay close attention to God’s Word and God’s Word preached?  Why do we leave our Bibles to collect dust all week?  Have you been reading it?  I don’t ask to shame you, but to let you know, you could have more joy, you could be making progress in becoming holy, you could be seeing the greatness of God’s Love for you in all of the Scripture.

When I am in my right mind, and I spend time in God’s Word, studying – always trying to make more time to be in His Word and live it out – and as I truly look at myself and know how far I am from what God has called me to be, as I look at my sin and disobedience and lack of knowledge of what God has said, I find myself compelled to go to God – because God is my Abba, Father and the Abba, Father of every Christian – He invites us to come to Him as children to their Loving Father.  I can come into the Throne Room and repent of my sin and pledge to follow all the commandments of God and pray that God would give me more of His Joy.  And God delights in my coming to Him, because I am His adopted son, the brother of Jesus.  And He gives me what I ask, because it is what He wants me to have.  Don’t you want more joy?  Don’t you want more joy?

“Well, you’re the pastor.  You don’t have anything else to do but read the Bible.  You’ve been to school, so you understand it.  But I don’t have time to read it – besides, I don’t understand it.”

You’re wrong.

First, you have at least twenty-four hours a week that you could be reading and studying and pursuing the understanding of God’s Word.  God said one day in seven in His.  You do what is worthwhile to you – what you believe is worthwhile.

John Wesley said, “I have so much to do that I spend several hours in prayer before I am able to do it.”  When John Wesley had an especially busy day, he spent more time in prayer – using what he had read and preached from the Scripture to guide his prayer because he understood that the Christian life is hopeless if we are not coming before our God again and again and again.

Second, “I don’t understand” is a cop-out.  There are so many books and people and tools to help us understand the Scripture.  Plus, God the Holy Spirit Who will help you to understand – living right inside of you!  If you wanted to make a batch of brownies, would you just throw up your hands and say, “I can’t do it!”  Or would you look up a recipe?  If you really want to do or understand anything, you will take the time to find out as much and as well as you can.  Is it worthwhile to spend that kind of time learning about the Person and Will of the God Who saves you?

We have Sunday morning Bible study almost every Sunday morning at 9 AM.  We have topical and biblical studies right now on Tuesday evenings at 7 PM.  We have prayer meeting most Saturdays at 3 PM.  And you can talk with me or call me or e-mail me.

The author of Hebrews continues:  “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable,”

Although not much is said about it in the Scripture, we do have Scriptures that tell us that the angels took the Word of God that He spoke and gave in His Name and confirmed it by their ministry.  As Stephen was martyred, he said, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53, ESV).  The idea is not that the Word of God is actually the word of angels, but that God spoke and commanded His Law, and the angels confirmed it through their actions.  Everything the angels do confirms what God has spoken.

And, then angels of God are reliable – they do not sin.  What they do in the confirming and witnessing to God’s Word through their actions is always true and holy and reliable.  We have every reason to believe their witness to God’s Word as they fulfill their purpose – (as opposed to human beings, who sin and act against the purpose for which we were created).

The angels are reliable confirms of God’s Law.

“and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,”

We know the Law:  “For the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23b, ESV).  Anyone who breaks any of God’s Law must pay for that transgression – that disobedience.  God rewards sin with retribution – with punishment – with suffering.  We see throughout the history of God’s Word that God punishes sin.  And we have the promise that God is a Good and Just Judge and all sin must be punished – eternally – because God is Holy – the punishment must fit the crime.  The only question for anyone throughout history is whether Jesus will pay the debt for you or you will pay it yourself.  And we know that no mere human being can pay the debt and survive, so it is the height of arrogance – pure stupidity – not to have Jesus pay the debt.

 “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”

Do you get the argument?

The author of Hebrews says that we must be diligent in hearing and reading and understanding the Word of God. 

Why?  Because the angels sinlessly confirm God’s Law that anyone who sins receives eternal punishment.  And we have seen sin punished throughout history to one degree or another.

But Jesus – through the Glorious Gospel – tells us that He has paid the debt – through His Death and Resurrection – of all those who will ever believe.  If we believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation, we are forgiven through Jesus and will live eternally with Him in His Kingdom – we will received the restored earth as our inheritance, we will be raised from the dead in these bodies – then glorified – as the adopted sons and daughters of God, we will eternally be free from the fear of death, and we will experience the fullness of the privilege of coming into the Very Presence of God for worship, because He will be there with us, and we will be able to see Him and touch Him and talk with Him – in the Persons of Jesus.

The author of Hebrews is telling us that through Jesus, there is forgiveness for every sin under the Law.  But – without Jesus – there is no forgiveness for neglecting – denying – not believing – the Gospel.  Jesus said, “but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— (Mark 3:29, ESV).  He is the Holy Spirit Who witnesses the Truth of the Gospel to us, and if we tell Him, “no,” there is no way to be forgiven.

The author of Hebrews pleads with his readers and tells them to hear and read and study and mine the depths of the Scripture to stay as close to God as possible and to continue in as straight a line as possible in progressing in sanctification – in becoming holy like Jesus, as a witness to the fact that every sin against God’s Law may be forgiven, but sin against the Gospel – unbelief in Jesus Alone as Savior – will never be forgiven.

Peter puts it this way:  “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10, ESV). 

Don’t be satisfied with thinking you understand or thinking you believe or thinking you believe or understand enough.  Don’t be misled:  the question of whether or not Jesus is the Only Savior is the most important question in all of history and in your lives, and if you are the least bit unsure – understand the enormity of the consequences!  Don’t take any chances.  Make absolutely sure you really believe, or on that last day, Jesus will say, “It was nice that you came to worship, and gave in the offering, and volunteered around the church, and were basically a good person, but I never knew you.”  “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41b, ESV). 

“It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

God Himself declared that the Only Hope is Salvation through Jesus Alone.  

First, God declared the Gospel through Jesus’ Life and Works:  As Peter explained, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—“ (Acts 2:22, ESV).  And Nicodemus testified, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2, ESV).

Second, God declared the Gospel though the apostles:  Peter explained that the reason he wrote his letters and recorded what he did so was that after he was put to death, there would be an eye-witness record, “And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:15, ESV).

Third, God declared the Gospel through signs, wonders, and miracles:  “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20, ESV).

Fourth, God declared the Gospel through Gifts given by the Holy Spirit, Who distributes them as He wills:  “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, ESV).

The author of Hebrews tells us, if we do not hold on to God’s Word with everything we have – if we do not diligently pay attention to everything that God has said, we will surely fall into sin, and suffer for it – and if we have never really believed the Gospel, we may fall away all together and be lost to everlasting Hell.

Understand, in Jesus, every sin against the Law of God may be forgiven, but the sin against the Holy Spirit, the sin against belief in the Gospel, can never be forgiven.

Do you believe – truly believe – that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone?  Do you want more joy, more life? – and that does not mean that your life will be perfect, but that in comparison with the glory that we shall be received into when Jesus returns – we can endure it through Him and for Him.  Then pay close attention to what you have heard read and preached.  Seek to understand God’s Word and live it out.

If you do not, how will you escape the Just Judgment of our God?

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we ask that the Holy Spirit would make us desire to hear and read and understand Your Word and You with every fiber of our being.  Cause us to desire You and Your Word above everything else.  Drive us to Your Word that we would know and confirm our calling and election – that we would have all assurance from You that You have saved us through Jesus.  Help us to love You as You so loved us that You gave Your Only Begotten Son that we would be saved.  Increase our joy in You.  Let us be never satisfied, but always want more of You.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.