Second Reformed Church

Friday, June 29, 2012

Prayer Meeting

There will not be a prayer meeting at the church tomorrow (Saturday).  We will plan to resume next Saturday.  Please pray with each other elsewhere tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: "My Big Bottom Blessing: How Hating My Body Led to Love in My Life"

I was offered a free review copy of My Big Bottom Blessing:  How Hating My Body Led to Love in My Life by Teasi Cannon published by Worthy Publishing. I thank them for the opportunity to read and review this book.  [I am posting this review on my blog, Amazon.com, and at Worthy Publishing.]

I must confess from the beginning that I am not a woman and this book is specifically directed toward women and women with a weight problem. I can, however, empathize by the fact that I am overweight.

The author writes in a very accessible, enjoyable, honest, and funny style.

She begins by describing how she grew up overweight – being very self-critical of herself for being overweight. She talks about how she entered a period of substance abuse and promiscuity. She ended up marrying, having a child, and then getting a divorce – which added to her self-loathing.

After a time, she fell in love with and married a minister – her current husband. However, that did not end her frustration or her self-criticism; she was still overweight and her family and those at her church often criticized her for not being able to be a normal weight.

She came to find that the answer was not in all the different diets that she tried, but then, asking for healing from God. She found that she did not need to be skinny, necessarily, but she did need to receive healing from the Great Physician.

She came to understand that acceptance from God was not based on her weight, and she moved from the stands of being an orphan in the family of God to being a daughter in the family of God. She began to find out what the old emotional wounds were in her life and she sought healing for them. She came to understand that the heart is more important than the physical. And that our value is found in God, not in our perception – or anyone else's perception – of ourselves.

This is a book of great encouragement for anyone who is having difficulty with their weight. The author rightly encourages the reader to face old wounds, to seek healing from God, and to understand that our value is found in God in not in ourselves in any way.

The only weakness I found in the book is that there is no reflection on what the scripture does say about the care of our body. Scripture is clear that we are to take care of our physical bodies to the best of our ability – for some for various medical reasons or for having it as their favorite sin – food and weight will be a lifetime struggle. I believe the author is on the right track in seeking healing from God, but I wish she had looked at some Scripture and reflected on what God has to say about care of the physical body.

This book is excellent for individual reading as well as study groups. Each chapter ends with a series of questions for reflection, a pep talk, based on the chapter, and a series of Scriptures focusing on a one-word theme of the chapter.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is having difficulty believing that God could love them due to their weight. I would follow up the reading of this book with a study of what the Scriptures say about caring for the body. I would also encourage the readers not to be satisfied with being unhealthy, but to continue to struggle to seek the best health he or she can be in.

Puritan Wisdom

"Afflictions are far from being signs of Christ's hatred. Many times they are evidence of his love (Heb. 12:6-11). The people of God only lack what is bad for them. God has promised to withhold no good thing. A father who loves his child only keeps things from him for his good, because he loves him. You can conclude that if you lack something of enjoyment, it is withheld. Since it is not best for you. It is no defect in the love of Christ, the defect in what you are asking for. Gods love is infinite and eternal, without beginning and without end. It has no limits to its endurance. How shall we enter into Christ's love? Seek to be like him in holiness and obey all his commands. Avoid all the Christ hates and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. When Christ speaks, do not act as if you did not hear. Where there is disobedience, there is a covenant with Hell and the league with Satan. Oh what madness it is to prefer a lust before the love of Christ. Use all means to know his will, and obey it immediately and cheerfully. God loves a cheerful doer" – David Clarkson, in Voices From the Past, 77.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: "Living Well with Epilepsy and Other Seizure Disorders"

On June 3rd, I experienced a complex partial seizure, and as is common with me, I sought out books to understand what had happened. One of the books I purchased was, Living Well with Epilepsy and Other Seizure Disorders, by Carl W. Bazil.

I found the book helpful and encouraging as I would recommend it to anyone going through any sort of seizure problem. The book is popular, so one should not expect this to be a detailed medical handbook. However, it does contain enough information that the reader understands how the band brain is supposed to function, what has gone wrong, and the options open to him or her.

The author opens by talking about how the brain works and why seizures occur. He writes about the many types of seizures. There are and how it is difficult to determine exactly what causes any given seizure.

Then he goes on to write about the differences between seizures in children and seizures ended older adults. He also writes about other conditions that did look like epilepsy, but are not.

In chapter 7, he writes about how the diagnosis is made to determine if the seizure is epilepsy or some other seizure disorder or something else.

In the second section of his book, he talks about the different medications that are used to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders. He explains many of the basic pros and cons of these medications which is helpful as one talks to one's doctor in pursuing medical treatment. I know I found these descriptions helpful as we determined what medication to begin with with me.

Then he writes about times when surgery is actually the better procedure or may be used in conjunction with medication.

He returns again to the cause of seizures and writes about how there are cases where there are certain triggers – that they may not merely be random. He suggests that there is some sort of initial trigger mechanism, whether the external or internal, though it is very difficult to determine what that is in most cases. He also writes about things that seem to have no effect and the misperceptions that people have about seizures and epilepsy.

He even considers various herbal treatments and supplements and what the future might hold for seizure treatment.

In the final section, he looks at issues of safety and particularly the issue of driving and whether or not someone who's had a seizure or multiple seizures can and should return driving.

Continues by writing about how depression, migraines, and sleep disorders are in some way related to or connected to seizure disorder. As someone who has suffered all of these, this was another especially interesting insight.

He concludes by writing about issues specifically related to women, and issues relating to prejudice and the need for education. There is also an appendix for sources of further information, which is organized by state.

This book is an excellent introduction to seizures and I found it very useful in being able to understand what is happening and to be able to discuss the issues and treatment of my doctors intelligently. I recommend it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Entering Rest: Today is the Day" Sermon: Hebrews 4:1-7


“Entering Rest:  Today is the Day”

[Hebrews 4:1-7]

June 24, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            “Therefore,” and so we look back from where we have just come: the author of Hebrews was writing to Jews who had professed faith in Jesus and were now turning away and wondering if they ought to forsake the Gospel and take up again the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament Law.  They had heard the Gospel – and even known Jesus – they had heard it preached that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, that He lived a perfect – sinless – life under the Law of God, that He died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and that He physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His Throne – and now they were wondering – “What if we were wrong?  What if Jesus and His Salvation is not enough? Aren’t we safer turner back to the ceremonies and sacrifices that God gave to Israel?”

            And, so the author of Hebrews showed that Jesus is greater than the angels and the Law and the Prophets and the Sacrifices.  And he presented to them the death of the nation of Israel in the wilderness because they apostatized.  After having seen God’s Mighty Right Hand at work – after being saved from slavery, delivered through the Red Sea, and meeting with them in the wilderness – the people questioned whether God was with them.  They complained that their life in Egypt was better than what Moses had led them into.  They accused Moses of desiring to watch them die in the wilderness.  They did not believe God.

            The author of Hebrews then explained that we share in Christ through our confession of the Gospel about Him – the historical facts about Him – and through His having flesh and blood just like us – so He could live sinlessly under God’s Law and take our place under the Wrath of God – paying the debt for our sins and crediting us with His Holy Life.

            But, just as it was possible for Israel to hear God and see God work in their midst and still not believe, it is possible to come to the church, know all the right things to say in the church, believe the historicity of what the Bible teaches, and still deny Christ and His Gospel.

            The author of Hebrews explained that to say you are a believer and then turn away from that belief – to deny that you believe – is apostasy.  (We also saw that it is not possible for a true believer to turn away from belief in the Gospel, however.) 

            My sister was raised in the church, she confessed Christ, and now she repudiates Him.  She calls herself an atheist.  Two of my friends in college – who God used to lead me to the Reformed understanding of the Scripture – in the midst of their divorce, denounced Christ and His Gospel – he now practices Buddhism and she Cabbalist Judaism.

            It is possible to think you really believe and then to realize you don’t – it’s possible to fool yourself – to one day say, “Wait a minute – is that really what this means?  Is that really what the Gospel is?”  I read a book recently that said the Gospel is to love everyone and take care of the planet.  That is not the Gospel!  The Gospel is a set of historical facts that Christians believe about Jesus and what He did.

It’s possible that you take part in the church and think you should say you believe when you really don’t – or to just want to fit in because you like the people or the coffee or the free cake – and you’re willing to abide here for what it gets you, but you don’t believe.

My grandmother taught Sunday School for years – as an atheist – because she wanted her children to be raised to be good people.  My grandmother was a lovely person, but she was not a Christian.  She knew the words, but she turned away and said she did not believe.

The author of Hebrews – and Jesus – says that there is only one damning sin – only one unforgiveable sin, and that’s not believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s why Israel didn’t enter into the rest God had prepared for her – that is why anyone does not enter into the rest of God.  The author of Hebrews wrote, “So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19, ESV).

Now, after explaining to the Hebrews why Israel didn’t enter God’s rest – they did not believe – he turned his sights on the Hebrews themselves, as we heard, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”

Therefore – since you now understand why Israel did not enter into God’s rest – now that you understand that apostasy is turning away from your stand on the Gospel – that it is unbelief in the Gospel – now understand that the promise of entering God’s rest stands and is available only to those who believe in this life.  You only have this life to believe – if you do not, you are cut off from God’s rest.  So, he told the Hebrews, be in fear lest you not reach it.

Understand, he was not telling them to be fearful irrationally.  He was not denying that there is assurance of salvation.  What he was telling them was to seriously assess whether they truly believe in the tents of the Gospel or not.  Did they really believe that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived sinlessly under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His Throne?  (I hope the Gospel in the short form as I have been presenting it is getting stuck in your heads, brothers and sisters.  There are too many people who teach that the Gospel is “just love everybody.”  It’s not.  And the gaining of the rest of God is found in the belief in the right – the true – Gospel.)

Paul wrote, “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).  Make sure you believe the Gospel – seriously assess what you actually believe, as before the Awesome and Almighty God Who will receive us into His rest or turn us away based on our belief or unbelief.

And, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24, ESV).  Belief is not simply saying certain facts are true but coming under the obedience to the One about Whom they are true.  Saying that the facts of the Gospel are true facts is not belief.  Belief is saying that the facts of the Gospel are true facts and then living them out.  Going to a race and knowing the route and how one wins the race does not mean that you ran the race – and we are called to run – to work hard – to prove ourselves to be His followers – His disciples. 

The author of Hebrews continues:  “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”

The author of Hebrews explained to his readers that Israel in the wilderness received the same Gospel that they received in the first century – the same Gospel that we receive now. The only difference is that we know the name of the Man Jesus, Who is God Incarnate. Ancient Israel cannot be excused for their lack of belief – they had enough information to know to believe the Gospel and to unite it by faith. What does that mean?

What the author of Hebrews is saying is that belief must be united with faith – holding a set of facts to be true, must be united with the conduit of faith to action. As we already said believing in a set of facts is not enough. We can believe in a set of facts and not be saved. We can say a set of facts are true, and they can have no effect on us.

Is the author of Hebrews saying that our works save us?

No!  What the author of Hebrews is telling us is the same thing that James tells us: faith without works is dead. The wording is different but the point is the same. Unless we act in obedience on the things we say we believe, we don't really believe them.

For example: we can say we believe that if a bus hits us it will seriously hurt or kill us. However, if we stand in the road and do not move when the bus is bearing down on us, either we don't really believe it – or we’re suicidal. In either case, the outcome is the same: we're dead.

Jesus unites belief and faith in his explanation of the parable of the sower: “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23, ESV).

Notice what happens in the last case: the sower sows the seed on good soil – this is the person who hears the word and understands it and believes it. But then he unites it with faith and he bears and yields fruit – he lives out the Gospel in obedience.

The same Gospel came to the people in the wilderness that the Hebrews received and that we receive. Some of them denied it was true. Some of them believed the words were true, but did not trust God. And some believe the Gospel and lived out that belief in faith, and they entered God's rest.

At this point we may well ask:  what is God's rest? And the answer, we see, is not as simple as we might think.

“For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, ‘As I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest,”’”

The first thing we notice is that the author of Hebrews tells us that those who do believe – and unite their belief with faith – enter into God's rest now.  He wrote, “For we who have believed enter that rest.” So, God's rest must be something that the living can enter into – because he said that those who have believed have entered that rest. It's already done. They – being alive – have already entered God's rest.

So what is the author of Hebrews talking about?

Well, what has he been talking about? He has been talking about the difference between unbelief and belief united with faith. He has been talking about apostasy from and belief in the Gospel. God's rest is believing and uniting with faith in the Gospel. It is living the Gospel.

Where does it say that?

Listen to the words of Jesus: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV).  God's rest is wearing the yoke of Jesus; it is carrying the burden of Jesus. God's rest is believing and uniting with faith in the Gospel.

The Hebrews were considering committing apostasy – turning from their stand on the Gospel – committing unbelief toward the Gospel. They were considering turning back to the Old Testament Sacrificial and Ceremonial Law. They were going to go back and try to earn their salvation.

Do we understand how stupid that was? Do we understand the insanity of trying to earn salvation? What is the Law?  Jesus put it this way: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, ESV).  In other words, “be perfect like God, and you will earn salvation.”  So, it's difficult to earn salvation.  Right?

Or is it?

How are we born? David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5, ESV).  We are all born sinners.

Do we understand, then, that the point of the Law is not that it is a way to salvation? The Law says be perfect, and it is not possible for us to be perfect. The Law says all you have to do is fill seven holes with six pegs. And we in our insanity say – then there must be some arrangement that we can put six pegs in that fill the seven holes! We cannot put six pegs in seven holes, and we cannot keep the Law of God. If we try, we will never enter God's rest.

Jesus was saying, “Are you tired of carrying a heavy load? Do you understand that it is not possible for you to save yourself? Do you understand that you are a sinner worthy only of God's Wrath? Do you understand that salvation can only come through God becoming flesh and blood Man, living under God’s Law sinlessly, dying for everyone who would ever believe, and physically rising from the dead and ascending back to His Throne? That is the Gospel; that is what I have done. I have taken the heavy yoke; I have taken the heavy burden. Believe in Me, and take on My yoke – take on My burden – it is light.”

And yes, there is still a yoke, there is still a burden – we are called not merely to believe, but to unite that belief with faith in obedience. We no longer seek to follow the Law for salvation, but we follow the Moral Law in thanksgiving for what God has done for us.

            The author of Hebrews continues:  “although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’”

            The author of Hebrews now directs his readers to the opening chapters of the book of Genesis, and he shows them a type of God's rest. In the book of Genesis we read how God created the world in six days, and then rested on the seventh day. God acted with creative imagination for six days, and then He rested by merely sustaining what He had created.

God has given humanity that pattern of seven days in which to live: six days are for us to work to use our creative imagination to provide for ourselves and for our families – the seventh day is to be given in trust to the worship of God.

God created in this way and gave us this example – this pattern of living our lives and worshiping Him as a type – as a foreshadowing – of the fullness of God's rest in Gospel Life in Jesus. In God's rest, we give up all of our striving for ourselves and give ourselves over in trust to the worship of God – in living lives now in the worship of God.

“And again in this passage he said, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” There was a very large number of people in the wilderness who died not entering God's rest, yet there were some who did enter God's rest – through the Gospel – through belief in the Gospel and uniting with it through faith in obedience. 

And we know that because the author of Hebrews is using this argument for people in the first century that God's rest was not cut off from them at that time, and we understand that God's rest is not cut off for us – in our day.

“Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,”

Again, there are people who hear the Good News – the Gospel – and reject it – they do not believe it. Then there are people who think they believe it, who want to believe it – for whatever reason, but they fall away – they apostatize – they turn away from where they stood.  These will not enter God's rest.

However, “it remains for some to enter it.”  There are some yet still to enter God's rest. There are some who have not heard the Gospel – who need to hear the Gospel – who will believe the Gospel. And there are those who have heard the Gospel, and have not yet believed the Gospel – but will.

How do we know that?   Because Jesus said there are a certain number of people who will believe.  Jesus prayed,”All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:10-12, ESV).

And John records, “But nothing unclean will ever enter [the New Jerusalem], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:27, ESV).

Not merely are there a certain number of people who will be in the Kingdom, but from all of eternity, God has planned that particular people will be in the Kingdom – and every one that God has chosen to be His will believe in the Gospel and unite it with faith in obedience – and “not one [will be] lost except the son of destruction, that the scripture might be fulfilled.”

Everyone God intends to save will be saved. Everyone God intends to bring into God's rest will come into God's rest. And until that day, there is still time to believe.

“Again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’”

            As David puts it in Psalm 95, as he writes about the events of the rebellion in the wilderness, he stresses the word “today”– you have today – you have now – you have this moment – you have until God takes your life.

            The warning is given in this text – not to harden our hearts – not to apostatize – but to believe the Gospel – to unite the Gospel with faith in obedience – to enter into God's rest – to take on the yoke and the burden of Jesus – which is light, because He has paid the debt for the sin of everyone who ever believe, and He has credited His Righteous Life to everyone who will ever believe.

            But we can't put it off – we don't have any idea how long we have. Today could be the last day of your life, and if you do not believe you will not enter God's rest – you will have committed the one damnable sin.

            Yesterday was the funeral for my brother’s mother-in-law. One thing I greatly appreciated about the service was her desire to make sure that everyone who attended heard the Gospel and received a call to believe it. She purchased two booklets to be handed out to everyone who came to the service, and shortly before her death, she recorded a video about her life and in it she also explained that the only way to be received into the Kingdom of God – God's rest – is through believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She had the privilege of knowing that she was dying for about a year, so she could prepare how she wanted to say this message to make sure that everyone heard it. But most of us don't know – we may not live through this worship service – we may not live through coffee hour – we may not live through this afternoon.

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Today is the day to believe – you may not get another.

Let us pray:
            Almighty God, we thank You that we live in a place where the Gospel can be preached in relative ease. We ask that You would convict us – that we would assess what we believe seriously – lest we fail to come into Your rest.  Help us to understand that Your rest is living the Gospel Life – not merely believing the facts of the Gospel but living them out by uniting them with faith in obedience.  And let none of us take the call to believe the Gospel lightly, but understand that today is the day – there might not be another.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Prayer Meeting

Due to a funeral, there will not be a prayer meeting at the church tomorrow (Saturday).  Please gather together and pray with each other.

General Synod

Please continue to pray for General Synod as the discussion continue about the conscience clause. homosexuality, and other issues.  May God be glorified in the work and conclusions of the Synod.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Puritan Wisdom

"The best servants do not set their minds upon their blessings more than their responsibilities, and the best Christians do not set their comforts and incomes as more important than the honour and duty they owe to their God. But note, the best way to joy, peace, and assurance is to set your minds on your responsibilities. Ah! Had many mourning, complaining Christians done this, their mourning would have turned into rejoicing, and they're complaining into singing. The high way to seek comfort is to seek comfort less, and duty more. Set your mind on what you should do more than on what you would like to have. While faith is trusting in Christ, the Lord comes, and by his Spirit seals up life, love, and glory to us." – Thomas Brooks, Works, 3:59 – 60.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Reformed Wisdom

"Nothing is so effective in keeping true Christianity alive as the yeast of zealous Christians scattered throughout the Church. Like salt, they prevent the whole body from falling into a state of decay. No one but people of this kind can revive Churches that are about to die. It is impossible to overestimate the debt that all Christians owe to zeal. The greatest mistake the leaders of a Church can make is to drive zealous people out of its congregation. By doing so they drain out the life-blood of the system, and advance the church's decline and death. God delights in honoring zeal. Look through the list of Christians who have been used most mightily by God. Who are the people that have left the deepest and most indelible marks on the Church of their day? Who are the people that God has generally honored to build up the walls of His Zion, and also to fight the enemy at the gate? He does not use people of learning and literary talent as readily as people of zeal." -- J. C. Ryle.  (Gently lifted from:  http://jcrylequotes.com/2012/06/18/god-delights-in-honoring-zeal/)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Greater Than Moses: Do Not Rebel!" Sermon: Hebrews 3:15-19


“Greater Than Moses:  Do Not Rebel!”

[Hebrews 3:15-19]

June 17, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            We ended last week as we considered that we share in Christ – that is, we share with Christ in doctrine – in teaching, and we share in Christ in the fact that He has flesh and blood just as we do.  We saw that we are united in Christ in the fact that we believe the Gospel – that Jesus is the Only Savior, and we believe that God took on a real human Person – flesh and blood in becoming Jesus – so He would be able to take our place under the Wrath of God for our sin and give us the Gift of His Righteousness – so God now sees us as forgiven and holy.

            And we saw last week that we will continue to share in Christ – we will continue to believe what historically happened to Him – and He will be our Substitute before the Father so we can be saved, if we hold our original confidence till the end – if we do not apostatize – if we do not deny Christ and His Gospel.

            We noted that a person who has truly believed cannot deny Christ – if Christ has saved us, nothing and no one can take us out of His Hands.  However, it is possible for people to fool others and to even fool themselves into believing that they are Christians.  They may say all the right things and do all the right things, but, in the end, they walk away – and that is really the only way to know.

            John wrote, “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 again quotes from the Psalm:  “As it is said, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’”

Do we remember how we got to the rebellion?

Joseph was one of the sons of Jacob.  Joseph’s brothers became tired of his father’s attention to him and his bragging about the visions that God gave him, so they sold him to travelers, who sold him into slavery in Egypt.

While Joseph was in slavery in Egypt, he was falsely accused and imprisoned, and while he was in prison, he interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants.  After the one had been set free, according to the vision that Joseph had, the man remembered Joseph when Pharaoh was having bad dreams that he couldn’t understand.  So Pharaoh called him out of prison and asked him to explain the dreams.  God gave Joseph the interpretation which was that there would be a world-wide famine for which Pharaoh ought to prepare.  In thanks, Pharaoh appointed Joseph as second in power over all of Egypt.

When the famine came, Joseph’s brothers came down to Egypt to buy grain.  Eventually, they brought their father, Jacob, down to Egypt as well, with Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin – they and their wives and children and all their possessions came into Egypt where they were taken care of by Pharaoh and God.

            After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers feared that Joseph would now take vengeance on them for selling him into slavery, “[b]ut Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21, ESV).

            And Joseph kept his promise to care for all of Israel – all of his family.  “So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26, ESV). 

            Pharaoh also kept his promise and cared for the people of Israel:  “But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.  Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:7-8, ESV).

            After some years and by the blessing of God upon them, the people of Israel had grown to be a very large part of the inhabitants of Egypt, and though they were slaves, the new Pharaoh was afraid of them and what might happen if they chose to revolt and overthrow the government.  So, he decided the best thing to do would be to kill all the male babies born to Israel and slowly bring their population down to a more controllable size.

            However, God kept some of the male children from being killed.  One of these was a baby whose mother put him in a basket in the Nile River, and as he floated down the river, the daughter of Pharaoh saw him and took him to be her son.  But she asked if there was anyone who could wean him, and his mother stepped forward and brought him of age.  “When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, ‘Because,’ she said, ‘I drew him out of the water’ (Exodus 2:10, ESV).

            Moses was raised as the son of Pharaoh until he was forty years old – at which point he stopped an Egyptian from beating an Israelite by killing him.  So, to avoid the wrath of Pharaoh, he ran into the wilderness and tended sheep until he was eighty.

            When Moses was eighty years old, God came to him in the burning bush and said, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10, ESV).

            Moses went with his brother, Aaron, and they performed miracles by the Hand of God and brought ten plagues down on the people of Egypt before Pharaoh was willing to let them go.  But after the first born male of every person and creature died, “[t]he Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’ So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:33-36, ESV).  Some two million men, women, and children got up and left Egypt during the night.

            God warned Moses that Pharaoh would come after them, so they ran until they hit the coast of the Red Sea.  And God told Moses what to do: 

            “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left” (Exodus 14:21-22, ESV).

            After Israel made it to the other side, God closed the waters and drown all the Egyptians who had pursued them into the Red Sea.

            But the people complained:  they grew hungry, and God provided them with the perfect food, “manna” (Exodus 16).  And then they cried out for water, and God gave them water (Exodus 17).  This was known as the time of the rebellion, because they questioned whether God was with them or not.

            The author of Hebrews wrote that we share in Christ – through confession of what we understand the Gospel to be – a historical set of facts – that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, that He lived under His Own Law, that He died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, that He physically rose from the dead and ascended back to the Father.  And we share in flesh and blood, because the only way He could save us was to be a human for humans – by really being a real flesh and blood human.  And if we hold on to this – if we believe it until the end – we will share with Him forever.

“As it is said, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’”

The author of Hebrews was warning his readers – and us – that it is possible to hear the Word of God, even understand the Word of God explained – and to reject it – to rebel against God and the Only Savior He has sent.  It is possible to apostatize.  Apostasy is the act of revolting.  Apostasy (apostasia) literally means “to go away from where you stand.”    We have the English expression that “we stand for something” or “we stand for this or that.”  Apostasy is going away from where you stood – from the stand you took – and going against it – in another direction.

The readers of the book of Hebrews were wondering if they should return to Judaism – if they should again embrace the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament – and the author of Hebrews it telling them – “Don’t do it!”  Don’t go back.  Don’t turn away from where you stand.  If you do, you will be denying the Only Savior God will ever send.

The author of Hebrews wanted his readers to remember the history of Israel and how they came to the point of rebellion.  He wanted them to remember the pronouncement of God:  “And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, “As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” I, the LORD, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die’” (Numbers 14:26-35, ESV).

We might consider for a moment who died in the wilderness:  about two million people came out into the wilderness.  These people included the thirteen tribes; twelve tribes including Levi and the two half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.  God said that everyone who was over the age of twenty when the census was taken would fall dead in the wilderness and that only Caleb and Joshua would be spared.

So, how many people died?  It’s difficult to say.  How many people were there under the age of twenty?  The tribe of Levi was not numbered in the census – does that mean none of them died?  Perhaps the best we can say is that most of the people God brought out of Egypt died in the wilderness.

And then, in this context of their remembering their history, he asked them these questions:

            “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?”

            The author of Hebrews reminds them that the people that God punished and allowed to die in the wilderness were people who had heard the Word of God preached to them for at least forty years.  These were the people that God freed from slavery by His Might Right Arm – the God Who had showed Himself time and again to be their Provider and Protector.

            How could they see God at work in their midst and hear the Word of God preached for forty years and still apostatize?  How could they go away from their stand?

            They did – and it was a warning to the Hebrew Christians that all the knowledge and experience of God through the Law and the Sacrifices was not enough to save them from apostasy.  Knowing all the facts is not enough to save you from apostasy.  It is possible for a person to rightly state the Gospel and know that the Bible is historically true and still walk away.  

“And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?”

Lest the Hebrews Christians try to justify themselves and say that the witness of God to Jesus was not enough – just as the witness to Israel in the wilderness was not enough – and this is one reason why we did a quick recap of the history – for forty years, God was with them in the wilderness, sending preachers of the Word and showing Himself to be the One True God through His Works among them.

How did Israel respond?  By provoking God – by making Him angry.  By again and again accusing Moses and others of leading them to their death, and accusing God of never being there for them – of abandoning them – of not providing.

Israel was the one who sinned – for forty years she shook her fist at God and said, “Not enough!  Not enough!  Not enough!”  So God left them in their sin to die in the wilderness.  God did not merely kill them for their sin, but allowed them do die of natural causes and fall to the ground to rot.

And we wonder, “What exactly is God’s breaking point?  How long will God be patient with sin?  Is there a point where God will write us off as an apostate and no longer receive our confession and repentance?”  

No, it can’t be – otherwise, he could not write, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV).

Here, the author of Hebrews assures his readers that Jesus – God the Savior – understands what it is to be human – to be tempted – because God, indeed, took on human flesh and became one of us.  He was tempted in every way – just like us – and if you are thinking, “He couldn’t have been tempted like I am tempted” – your wrong – the Holy Word of God says that Jesus was tempted in every way – with sex and money and power – anything that you are tempted by, He was tempted with, but because He was not merely human, but also, Holy God, He did not sin.

But now, He sympathizes with us, and bids us to come with confidence to the Throne of Grace.  If you are a Christian, Jesus says, “Come before the Throne, receive the grace you need to flee temptation, and if you have fallen into sin, come to confess your sin to Me and repent of it, because I have already paid the debt” – Jesus has paid the debt for every sin of the Christian.  As we saw last week, we are still to strive and fight and mature towards holiness.  God is indwelling us now leading us to lives of holiness, but when we sin – and we will sin until Jesus returns – He invites – calls – all of us who are Christians to come and be forgiven through His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.

So, what happened to so many of the people in Israel in the wilderness?

The answer is found is the concluding sentences of this section: 

“And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”

Rebellion – apostasy – is not any sin – it is one particular sin – the sin of unbelief.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— (Mark 3:28-29, ESV).

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

“Blasphemy” is “speaking evil about,” “slandering,” “reviling” (Bible Windows).

So what is it to speak evil about or slander or revile the Holy Spirit?

What is the job of the Holy Spirit? 

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26, ESV).

The primary job of the Holy Spirit is to point to Jesus – to make Jesus and His Gospel clear.  So, blaspheming the Holy Spirit is speaking evil about or slandering or reviling the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Apostasy – going away from where you stand – is not believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The author of Hebrews was warning his readers that if they turned away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and went back to the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament – trying to find salvation through them, then they were denying the Gospel, and they would go to Hell.

The author of Hebrews is telling us that unbelief is the only damning sin.  Anything can and will be forgiven a Christian through Jesus Christ if we believe.  If we believe the Gospel, we share in Jesus’ Teaching and in His flesh and blood and in His Salvation.

If you believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you cannot apostatize.  If you truly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you cannot go away from where you stand.  If you truly believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you cannot stop believing.  And that is because salvation is God’s Work, and if we believe, we have been saved by God, not by ourselves or in cooperation with God – but God has done a good work in us, and He will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

But if you don’t believe, you will not be able to enter God’s rest because of that unbelief.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we come to You confessing and repenting of our sins, which are many.  We despise our sin against You, and we ask that You would forgive us for the Sake and by the Work of Jesus Alone.  Comfort us and assure us that we are forgiven if we have believed the Gospel.  And if any here are believing in anything other than the Gospel, we ask that You would trouble them and not let them rest.  Help us to be witnesses to Your Gospel, and may You be glorified in the salvation of Your people.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: "Body Piercing Saved My Life: inside the phenomenon of christian rock"

Much of contemporary Christian music is terrible. That is especially true for what is called “worship music.”

Andrew Beuajon’s book, Body Piercing Saved My Life: inside the phenomenon of christian rock, however, is an excellent introduction to contemporary Christian music.

The author, who is admittedly not a Christian, who even talks of having difficulty believing in God, explores the history, major figures, and quality of contemporary Christian music. He alternates between chapters on the history of the development of contemporary Christian music and interviews with major figures, both artists and promoters. In so doing, he presents an honest and interesting overview.

As the author interviews artists and attends concerts and festivals, he begins to understand the reason for contemporary Christian music – the reason which Martin Luther noted hundreds of years earlier:  “How is it that in matters concerning the flesh we have so many fine poems and hymns but that in those concerning the spirit we have such sluggish, cold affairs? Why should the Devil have all the good music?” (vi)  The best intention of contemporary Christian music is to present sound theology in quality contemporary music.

Unfortunately, more often than not, this does not happen. The music is often juvenile, and even when the music is of quality, the lyrics are largely bad theology and self-centered. Much of contemporary Christian music – and especially “worship music”– is rendered something like this:  “I just wanna be here, I just wanna be clear, I just wanna love me, just the way you do.”

Thankfully, there are some musicians who produce quality music with good lyrics – even some who produce sound theology and their lyrics. Many of the artists who do produce quality music have given up on trying to fit into the contemporary Christian music category because they are unwilling to force themselves to use “approved language”– that is, use the name, “Jesus,” a certain number of times in a song.

Beaujon’s book is an encouragement to those who think there is no good Christian music – that the devil does have all the good music – that there really are some quality artists producing quality music and they should be sought out and encouraged.

Sadly, in the afterword to the book the author writes, “when I started this book, she was concerned that I was going to become a Christian. That didn't happen. But I have become a fan, not just of the music, but if Christians, and of Jesus himself. To me, the message of the gospel is love one another, look out for the less fortunate, and try to walk gently on the air. And I love that” (271).

This is where the author fails: that is not surprising because he is admittedly not a Christian. However, it would've been wonderful that through meeting all of these Christians and hearing their songs, that he would've at least gotten the Gospel right, even if he didn't believe it. I hope you did hear the Gospel, and I hope someday he does understand, and believe it, but for anyone reading this book, one needs to understand that the Gospel is not “love each other and be nice.”

Paul explains the gospel. This way:  “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (I Corinthians 15:3b-5).

So, so pick up this book as an introduction to contemporary Christian music, as an introduction to thinking about what it means to sing theology, and as an encouragement to pray for those in contemporary Christian music and for those looking in from the outside wondering what's going on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"The Holy Spirit"

D.V., this evening at 7 PM we will resume our study of the Holy Spirit.  Feel free to join us, whether or not you have come thus far -- all are welcome!

Change to "June Sermons"

Due to health problems, I am no longer going to General Synod and, thus, I plan to preach on June 24th.  D.V., I will preach:

June 24
Hebrews 4:1-7  “Entering Rest:  Today is the Day”

"Be" Sermon: Hebrews 3:12-14


“Be”

[Hebrews 3:12-14]

June 10, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            How are you?

            When we last left the book of Hebrews we were considering the author’s use of a text about the rebellion of Israel under Moses. Moses had led the people out of Egypt by the Mighty Right Arm of God.  They had seen the Egyptian army defeated in the Red Sea.  And God had provided for them with manna.  But now they were thirsty and they had come to another point in the wilderness where they could've trusted God, prayed to God, asked God for help. But rather than do any of those things, they turned on Moses and accused him of leading them out into the wilderness so he could watch them die of thirst.

            Israel had seen the Miracles of God. They had been provided for. They had been delivered from 400 years of slavery. But they didn't trust God.

            And now the author of Hebrews was writing to first century Christians who didn't trust God either. They were considering turning back to Judaism – back to the Law of Moses – back to the ceremonies – back to the priests. They were even considering joining in on the worship of angels. And so, the author of Hebrews quoted a text given by God the Holy Spirit. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, on the day of the testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest’" (Hebrews 3:7b-11, ESV).

            The author of Hebrews was effectively saying: "Are you insane? Are you turning away from the One and Only Savior that God will ever send – for ceremonies and sacrifices that can never save – and to the worship of idols?"

            He continues in this morning’s Scripture, "Take care, brothers,"- Take heed! Beware! Watch out! The author of Hebrews was alerting them to a situation that they were soon to fall into if they didn’t take care and watch out and beware and look out and escape. 

And notice the implication: the author of Hebrews is not just saying that we ought to look out for ourselves. The author of Hebrews is saying that we ought to look out for ourselves and for each other. The author of Hebrews is telling us if we don't look out – take care – beware – and take heed of ourselves and each other – if we don't care about ourselves and each other as members of the Body of Christ, then we are not members of the Body of Christ.

Brothers and sisters, this is not a social club. We are intimately knit together as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, as sons and daughters of God, as building blocks of His Holy Temple, as the members of His Body.  If we are Christians, we will love ourselves and we will love our fellow Christians – we will do everything and anything we can to make each other's lives better. We will do everything we can to help each other progress in holiness. We will do everything we can to keep each other from falling out of trust.

            He continues: "lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leaving you to fall away from the living God."

            And here we see at least three ways in which the author of Hebrews tells his readers to take care:

            First, he tells them not to engage in evil. This is more than just not doing evil. This is being on the watch for evil, knowing those things that tempt us, avoiding them, turning away from them.  This is not even taking the slightest touch of the hand of evil.

We all have those sins which we find most difficult not to pursue. We all have those sins which we most enjoy – the ones that we try to make excuses for time after time. We know what they are – we ought to be on the watch for them – we ought to be looking out for them. We usually know the times when they're likely to pop up.

If you're someone who tends not to know when to stop drinking – someone who tends to become drunk, stay out of bars. Don't buy alcohol to have in your home. When you go to a barbecue, ask if you can bring a nonalcoholic drink to share. Tell people you trust that you have a problem and you need their help. Ask those people to watch out with you, to turn you away from those instances where it might be too easy for you to drink too much.

If you're someone who, for whatever reason, believes that you are entitled to everything – you might need some friends around you to help keep you from stealing. Let us not be confused: if you take something that was not offered to you, it is stealing. If you take more than what was offered to you without asking, it is stealing.   And it makes no difference if you're stealing pencils from work, or flowers from the church lawn, or thousands of dollars from the bank.

We all have areas of weakness. We need to watch out for ourselves and for each other – and we need to ask each other for help. It is not possible to be a Christian alone – that's why we have the Church. God has given us His Church that we might be His people together that we might glorify Him – that we might mature and become holy, together.

Don't do evil. Don't sin. Know where your weaknesses are; know the sins you like to sin.  Watch out for temptation, turn away from temptation, avoid temptation, and seek out a fellow Christian who can help you.

Second, he tells them not to disbelieve. He tells the Hebrews to consider everything they had seen and heard about Jesus. Even if they had not met Him in person, there were many people alive who had known Jesus in the flesh. They had heard Him teach. They had seen Him heal and they had seen Him physically rise from the dead. So the author of Hebrews tells them not to doubt – not to be like Israel after they had seen all the Miraculous Works of God in the wilderness. Do not doubt what you know to be true about Jesus and the Salvation that He Alone brings.

He also wants them not to disbelieve what the Scripture says. We are told many things in the Bible:  things to do, things to believe. And there were people then and there are people now who want to suggest that we can pick and choose what we believe in.  But the truth of the matter is that we cannot: If this is the Word of God, then it is either all the Word of God or we have no idea if any of it is the Word of God. While it is true that we do not have to keep the Ceremonial or Judicial Laws of Israel, we do have to keep the Moral Law, and we have to believe everything God has told us.

Third, he tells them not to fall away from the living God. Now, salvation is about how to be right with God. And the answer to the question of how to be right with God is found in the answers to how we may be forgiven and how may we be righteous.  And the answer is Only through Jesus Alone. We can never do enough good to pay for all of the sins we have committed. And since we have committed sin, we can never make ourselves righteous.

The question we need to ask ourselves here is how can a believer fall away from the living God? Haven't we said before that it is impossible for someone who has truly believed in Jesus Alone for Salvation to lose that salvation – to ever turn away from God and the Gift of Salvation received through Jesus Christ Alone?

Jesus said, "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the world, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world in the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case, a hundredfold, and another 60, and another 30" (Matthew 13:19-23, ESV).

The author of Hebrews is not contradicting anything that we've said before. He is saying the same thing that Jesus said: there are people who come into the church, grow up in the church, rejoice in the church, take part in the church, and then something happens, and they renounce the church – they renounce Jesus-because they never really believed.  There are people who are fans of Jesus in some way, but not believers.  These will all fall away – because they never truly believed.

Take care of yourself and others: do everything you can to keep yourself and others from sinning, do everything you can to make sure you understand and believe the Gospel and the Whole Word of God, and do everything you can to make sure that you and others have really believed. Make sure you understand what the Gospel really is: God came to earth in the person of Jesus, lived under God's law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of God. If you don't believe that, you are not a Christian.  You may be a nice person – a great person – you may love being with Christians, but you are not a Christian.

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that we are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."

Well, what does he mean to “exhort”? 

The word "exhort" means “to beseech, to comfort, to refresh, to revive, to console” – it’s having real care for another person. It's the willingness to expose sin for what it is – to show the horrible, evil reality of sin for the good of another person. It's to put the truth in front of a person that they would see it and know it.  It includes praying for wisdom to know how to care for another person.

And so we can see that exhorting is not merely being a cheerleader, and it's not merely saying “you did something wrong,” but it's about really caring for a person by taking part in their life – being involved in who and what they are in every aspect of who and what they are – acknowledging what is good and right and beautiful and helping to make clear where they are going astray.

We see one form of exhorting in Samuel’s confrontation of Saul:  God had told Saul to attack the Amalekites and to kill every human being and every animal and to devote all of their goods to destruction – but he did not, yet he thought he had done well. He needed Samuel to exhort him to show him where he had gone astray.

“And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, ‘Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.’ And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, ‘Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.’ And Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?’ Saul said, ‘They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.’ Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night.’ And he said to him, ‘Speak.’

“And Samuel said, ‘Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, “Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.” Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?’ And Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.’ And Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king’” (1 Samuel 15:12-23, ESV).

The author of Hebrews tells his listeners that we need to exhort each other every day. Every day we need to know that we are cared for. We need to have sin exposed for what it is. Every day we need truth to be put in front of us. Every day we need to pray for ourselves and for each other and for the wisdom to know how to exhort each other.

And again, he tells us that we ought to exhort each other every day as long as it is called today. Because the fact of the matter is this sinful, fallen world will come to an end – and when it ends, there will no longer be a chance to repent and believe in Jesus.  This life will end. If we love God and love each other, we will want to live this life well – obediently and in love and care for each other and to the Glory of God.

And he says the reason that we need to exhort each other every day as long as it is called today is so that we do not become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The devil rarely comes out and tells bald-faced lie. Sin is usually just a little bit off from what God has said to do or from what God has said to believe. What the devil does is he tries to deceive us by just changing the wording-just changing the command-just changing the teaching-a little bit. That's what Eve got in trouble over: what did the Serpent ask Eve? He didn't ask Eve, "Did God say not to eat of the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil?" If he had asked her that, she probably would've said, “yes.” What the serpent asked Eve was "did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1b, ESV). Just a little twist. Just a little implication that God was denying something that she deserved. Just a little restating in such a way that her heart would harden by the deceitfulness of sin.

Did God say that we should really never pray for one another? It's okay to talk about what people said, about what they wore, about how much they ate, and so forth-as long as it's done so we can pray about them, right?

God wants us to receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper doesn't He? It doesn't really matter what the elements are so long as you celebrate the Sacrament, right? If you're out camping and you feel the Spirit move you, there's nothing wrong with celebrating the Lord's Supper with hot dogs and beer, is there?

Finally, this morning, the author of Hebrews writes "for we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end."

What does that mean?

First, we need to understand that we share in Christ in two ways-we commune with Christ in two ways:

First, we believe the Gospel that He Alone brings. When we believe the Truth of the history of the Incarnation of God for the sake of His people – His Life, His Death, His Resurrection – we share with Christ, we commune with Christ, we are united with Christ – in that declaration – in that confession – in that Truth of the Gospel.

And second, we share with Christ, we commune with Christ, we are united with Christ-as the author of Hebrews has already explained-in the very fact that we have flesh and blood like Him. Or rather, that He has flesh and blood like us-Jesus is a real human being.

Why does that matter?

It matters for three reasons:

First, the only way for God to take our place in keeping His Law and in suffering the penalty for our sin was for Him to be a real, flesh and blood human. Only a real, flesh and blood human could take the place of a real, flesh and blood human. God would not be good or just if He just wiped away our sins without someone paying for them. And since the penalty for sin involves flesh and blood suffering, a spirit could not take our place – an angel could not take our place – no one but a real, flesh and blood human could take our place.

Second, in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, we have visible signs that we are spiritually meeting with Jesus. As we receive the bread and the cup we remember that God incarnate as the real flesh and blood person, Jesus, had His Body broken – like the bread – and His Blood shed – like the drink in the cup. As we receive the bread and the cup, we also remember and have the sure hope – as we read in the first chapter of Acts – that just as Jesus in His real flesh and blood risen from the dead Body ascended into heaven through the clouds, so this same flesh and blood real human Body will come down out of the clouds when Jesus returns. And as we receive the bread and the cup, we understand that even though Jesus in His flesh and blood Body is seated at the Right Hand of God – right now – sovereignly ruling over all of Creation, this same Jesus is spiritually meeting with us in the bread and the cup that we might receive grace to do what He has called us to do and to be who He has called us to be.

And it is in this sacrament of the Lord's Supper that we have proof that we have been adopted as the sons and daughters of God: our sinful broken flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, but risen, perfected, holy-yet-real flesh and blood – like Jesus – can and will inherit the Kingdom of God. Because Jesus has risen with a real flesh and blood human body, and we have the promise that He will raise all of His people like Him – in real human flesh and blood bodies – and we will inherit all of the Creation – the Kingdom that we were given to have dominion over.

And finally, we might ask how it is that our salvation seems to be conditional. In this text, we read that we will share in Christ if we hold our original confidence firm to the end. If we don't turn our backs on Christ permanently – if we believe His Gospel until the end. Then we are sure that He has stood in our place – that He meets with us now – and that we will be raised with Him – like Him.

We need to understand that our salvation is wholly the Work of Jesus, but He chooses to use means – our preaching and our working hard to accomplish His Work on earth. Our Salvation is complete and secure, but Jesus is still working it out through us until the day that He returns to restore the Creation.  What the author of Hebrews is saying is that we can't just say we believe the Gospel – and not live it.

Paul wrote, "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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV). And Jesus said, "and I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18, ESV).

We see then that the Work is wholly God's, but we are still called to work hard – not for our salvation, but in the living out of our salvation. God has already won; the devil has already lost. Yet we are called to work hard – and to fight hard – until the end.

So let us look out for ourselves and each other, turning from temptation and helping others to turn, for the Sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let us exhort each other – let us encourage each other – building up areas where we are weak – and rejoicing and celebrating in the areas where we are strong, so that we will know that we are Christians – that we are sure of our faith in His Gospel, and we will not be deceived into hardening.

And let us understand that we share in Christ because He became flesh and blood.  We share in salvation – with Jesus our Savior and we the people He saved.  And we share in Him as we really commune with Him and are strengthened by Him through the Sacrament.  And we share in Him in fighting in His Name until the whole world confesses the Truth of the Glory, the Majesty, and the Victory of the Only Savior, our God, Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:
            We rejoice and give thanks to You for saving us.  Help us to live lives of holiness that others would come to You.  Help us to come to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper expectantly and joyfully – to commune with You and receive power.  And by Your Grace and in Your Name, may we always stand strong on Your Gospel Alone.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.