Second Reformed Church

Monday, November 26, 2012

December Sermons

D.V., this month I will preach as follows:

12/2/12 Advent 1
  Luke 21:25-36    “Look at the Fig Tree”

12/9/12 Advent 2
  Luke 3:1-6  “The Voice”

12/16/12 Advent 3
 Luke 3:7-18  “What Shall We Do?”
 
12/23/12 Advent 4
 Luke 1:39-55  “Mary’s Song”
 
12/24/12 Christmas Eve 7 PM
  Luke 2:1-20  “The Birth”

12/30/12
  John 1:1-18  “The Word”


Join us for worship at 10:30 AM on Sunday -- except as noted.

"The Son of Man" Sermon: Daniel 7:9-14


“The Son of Man”

[Daniel 7:9-14]

November 25, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            Today is Christ the King Sunday, and, I believe, for the first time, I was asked this week why this is Christ the King Sunday – after all, isn’t Christ the King and Sovereign over all of Creation all the time?  Why is this day – the Sunday before Advent considered – specially – as Christ the King Sunday?

            I thought that was a worthy question and looked it up:  in 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted Christ the King Sunday as the Sunday before Advent because he was concerned that – especially after WWI –  people were not remembering that Jesus is the King and Sovereign over everything that happens in history.  Pope Pius XI instituted the day to remind people of three things:  first, the Church is to be free of interference from the state, second, the nations are to respect the teachings of the Church, and third, the faithful are to remember and seek to see Christ reign in their heart, soul, mind, and body.

            And we might question this celebration, because we are not a Roman Catholic Church – which is true – we are a Protestant Church, but the fact of the matter is that Pope Pius XI was right on this point:  Jesus is the Sovereign Ruler and King of the Creation, and we need to remember that and seek to live under His Reign in all aspects of our lives.

            And so we look at this fact, as we turn to the book of Daniel, and specially, part of one of his visions in the seventh chapter of Daniel.  Daniel was one of the young, intelligent, possibly upper class people brought into Babylon during the Babylonian exile.  And we are told at the beginning of the seventh chapter of Daniel, that this vision took place during the first year of the reign of Belshazzar – which would have been about 553 BC – not long before the Persian conquest of the Babylonian Empire and the return of the remnant to Israel.

            As the vision begins, God tells Daniel to encourage the people, because four kingdoms would arise after the Babylonians, and then ten after the four, and then one which would strike down three of the ten.  We are not going to spend time on which kingdoms these were, except to say that the Reformed understanding is that the final kingdom – and its splinter kingdoms – were the Roman Empire.

            This has been the story and the promise from the beginning:  God told the serpent in the Garden, “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 3:15, ESV).  From the beginning – believers – the Church – would be at war with the forces of evil in all their varieties – human, animal, and supernatural.

            David noted:  “The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright;” (Psalm 37:14, ESV).  All evil and violence that comes against true believers in God and His Savior come because those who do not believe and worship God hate Him and all those who follow Him.

            Paul explained:  “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).  Evil is real and we – as believers – as the Church – are called to fight against it – by following God – by becoming more like Jesus – until He returns to restore the Creation.

            We are not called to create a militia – we are not called to take up the weapons of this world to kill what we perceive to be evil in the flesh, but we are called to follow our King and Savior in all He has called us to do and be, and the Holy Spirit will work through us to the Glory of God.  As Paul wrote – quoting Jesus, “To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’ (Romans 12:20, ESV).

            So, let us note, first, this morning, that the Church is to be militant – we are to fight against all those things which oppose God in the world – and in ourselves, as we seek to kill off the last vestiges of sin in ourselves, but we are called to fight God’s way – acknowledging and clinging to the hope that we have that the work is finished through Jesus and the war is won.

            After seeing the kingdoms that would come forth in history – the kingdoms that would oppress believers in the Gospel of God – God revealed something else to Daniel – a message of hope:

            “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool;          his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.  A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.”

            Daniel saw a vision of God seated on a throne – symbolizing His Authority and Power over all Creation.  He was pure white in clothing and visage – symbolizing His Holiness.  And fire came out from before Him – symbolizing purity in Himself and in the work that He is doing.  God is purifying the world and will bring it to pure holiness and purity on the last day.

            And all the holy angels and the creatures of heaven – all those who have served God in holy obedience from the beginning, stood before Him – as they do now – and worshipped Him.  And then the court sat in judgment on the world, and God opened the books to judge.

            Understand, the book is symbolic of God keeping a record – that God does not miss anything – that God’s Knowledge is complete and perfect about everything and everyone that ever is and will be.  God does not have a bad memory, such that He would need notes, but He has proof of all that He says and does, so that His Judgment is Righteous and True.  God does not make mistakes, and God will not let one stray sin escape His Judgment.

            The prophet, Micaiah echoed Daniel when he said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left;” (1 Kings 22:19, ESV).

            And John, in the book of Revelation – which is a collection of visions, symbolizing both the persecution of the Church – which we will not escape – and the Great Hope we have in our Holy God:  “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” (Revelation 20:11-12, ESV).

            Daniel’s vision continued as those who hate God, symbolized by the final horn, continued to object and blaspheme God:  “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.”

            And so, Daniel emphasized the hope to the captives – the enemies of God will not win out – God is victorious over His enemies.  But the victory will come in stages.  God will bring about His Glory and His Victory over all sin and evil in His Time.  So, yes, believers – the Church – will continue to suffer in many ways until the end, but we are to stand strong in the Hope that we have – that when the end comes – there will be no question of Who the Victor is.  We are called to endure patiently through this life and look to God Alone through Christ Alone for our Hope that God in the Person of Truth has done everything necessary to save everyone who will ever believe in Him and to deliver them into His Glorious Kingdom for all of eternity.

            Paul wrote about this time: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24, ESV).

            And John likewise wrote, “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth” (Revelation 11:18, ESV).

            And so, the second thing we should note this morning is that the Church – all believers through time and space – will be triumphant to the endless ages of eternity.  How?

            Daniel’s vision continued:  “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.  And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages           should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

            Jesus’ favorite way of speaking of Himself was the title, “Son of Man.”  And we might wonder about that:  why didn’t Jesus just come out and say that He is God the Messiah, the King?  Why did Jesus use the title, “Son of Man”?

            One reason He called Himself “Son of Man” was to acknowledge – to make sure everyone understood that He is a real human being.  Jesus had to be a real human being in order to live under God’s Law as a human being – and secure righteousness for us – and He had to be a real human being to take our place under God’s Judgment and Wrath for the sins of everyone who would ever believe.

            Jesus knew that Levitical Sacrificial System and its animals could not rightly and fully take the place of a human – as we have seen in our look at the book of Hebrews.  He also knew that some of the main heresies that would come into the Church would be those which denied that He is a real human being.

            Yet, as we see in Daniel’s vision:  the Son of Man is not merely a human being – He is the One to Whom God gave Glory and the Kingdom – the Everlasting Kingdom which can never end or be defeated, as all the merely earthly kingdoms would be crushed by God.  He is the One to Whom God said all peoples, nations, languages would worship.  He is the One Who would sit on His father, David’s, throne for all of eternity and rule over all of Creation.

            As Paul wrote:  “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).

            And, “for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’  So then each of us will give an account of himself to God”         

(Romans 14:11-12, ESV).

            So, Jesus, the Son of Man, is also the Almighty God.

            Jesus did not come – the first time – blazing His Divinity to the world, but came quietly.  Yet, there were times when He revealed Himself and acknowledged that He is, indeed, the Almighty God.

            When Jesus was on trial and asked if He was the Christ – the Messiah – the Savior – God Incarnate, “Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matthew 26:64, ESV).  And let us understand, the phrase “you have said so” is an expression which means, “You’re right – you hit the nail on the head – that is exactly Who I am.”

            And John confirms that He is not merely the Son of Man, but the judge of humanity:  “And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27, ESV).  Because Jesus is the God-Man, God Incarnate, He has the authority – the right – as the Promised Savior – to judge every human being.

            Jesus, Himself, confessed:  “since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:2-5, ESV).

            And so we see, third, that the Church is triumphant because Jesus is the Triumphant Son of Man, the Almighty God, Who lived and died for all those Who would ever believe.  That is our hope, and He is our comfort as we look forward to His Return.

            John wrote of Jesus’ Return – which will not be a joy for everyone:

            “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand” (Revelation 14:14, ESV).  Jesus will not return as a helpless baby, but as the Warrior King – Christ the King – the Son of Man.

            “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4, ESV).

            For all we who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation, the return of our King will be a day of joy – all evil and sin will be banished from His and our presence.  Our fighting against sin and evil in the world and in our selves will end, and we will enter into His Kingdom, and hear these words:  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34, ESV).

            “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’” (Matthew 19:28, ESV).

            “’Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15, ESV).

            As long as we live on this earth and before Jesus, our King, the Son of Man returns, we have to keep fighting by spreading the Gospel and following Him in faith and obedience.  We must run from temptation and confess our sin and rely on God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us to continue forward until Jesus returns for us.

            And we do so filled with hope, knowing that the Church is triumphant to the endless ages of eternity – in through the gates of His Kingdom fully come.  Because God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, the Son of Man, lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and physically rose from the dead, after which He ascended back to His Throne and reigns King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all of Creation, forever and ever.  

            As we soon enter the Advent season, we remember these words summarizing the Scripture from the “Hallelujah Chorus”:

“For the lord God omnipotent reigneth (Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah) Hallelujah

            “The kingdom of this world; is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ and of His Christ

            “And He shall reign for ever and ever And he shall reign forever and ever

“And he shall reign forever and ever And he shall reign forever and ever

“King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah and lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah.”

Let us pray:

Almighty King and Son of Man, we rejoice and give thanks knowing that You are God and Sovereign over everything that is.  Strengthen us as we continue to fight in Your Name to become more like You and to spread Your Holy Gospel.  Give us the grace we need through the Sacrament we shall receive.  Assure us that You are victorious, so we shall be victorious, and our future with You in the Kingdom is Hallelujah and Amen.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"The Apostle's Creed" Study

Due to people's varying plans for this holiday week, we will not have our Tuesday evening study this evening.  We hope to continue our study next Tuesday, Novemeber 27th.  Join us then at 7 PM.

"Hannah's Thanksgiving" Sermon: I Samuel 2:1-10


“Hannah’s Thanksgiving”

[I Samuel 2:1-10]

November 18, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            This is Thanksgiving Sunday, and we are looking back about three thousand years in history to an event – a thanksgiving – that occurred by a certain women named Hannah. 

Now, there was a man from Ephraim named Elkanah, and he had two wives:  Hannah and Peninnah.  Elkanah had several children by Peninnah, but Hannah was barren, and Peninnah took every opportunity to rub that fact in Hannah’s face.

Elkanah loved Hannah, and though he provided for Peninnah and her children by him, he gave a double portion to Hannah, which made Peninnah all the more bitter and vicious towards Hannah.

Elkanah was a righteous man and went to offer up sacrifices at Shiloh once a year.  And one year, Hannah broke down in the Temple and cried with great abandon and mouthed the words of her prayer to the Lord asking that He grant her a son.  And she promised that if a son were born to her, she would give the son to the Lord and to the work of the Temple under the high priest, Eli.

The Lord honored her prayer and she became pregnant and bore the prophet, Samuel.  When the baby was weaned, she brought him to the Temple at Shiloh and presented him to Eli, and prayed the prayer of thanksgiving that we read this morning.

            And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.”

            Notice first that Hannah gives thanks to God because He has lifted up her heart, He lifted up her strength, and He gave her salvation.

            Hannah recognized that the work which was done in her – in bearing Samuel the prophet – was the work of God – God opened her womb and caused her to bear, through the love of Elkanah, a son.  She recognized that God was her strength – not beating out Peninnah in bearing children, but in being the servant of God in His Time and according to His Will.  And she recognized that salvation is the Gift of God, as He wills to give it.  And because all these things are true, she spoke of her enemies with contempt and joy.

            And we might scrunch up our faces at that and wonder – she joyfully looked on her enemies with contempt because of these things?  Was she sinning?  No.

            Hannah submitted to the Sovereignty of God, acknowledging that everything that happened to her – and especially the answering of her prayer for a son – was in the Providence and Wisdom of God.  She humbly submitted herself to God’s Will and rejoiced in Him, looking on all those who oppose God and His Will with contempt.

            Hannah gives a living example of rejoicing in God’s Will and hating what God hates.  Likewise, as we rejoice in God and His Will – and all things about God – Who He is – His Attributes – we are to despise sin – all those things which are against God’s Will and all those things which neglect to follow God’s Will.

            We are called to rejoice in Who God is and what He has done and those who are obedient and faithful in following Him.  As we pray, “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10b, ESV).  We are to rejoice and give thanks to God as we see His Will done – like the creatures of Heaven – who in perfect obedience – follow God.  We are to rejoice as we see God – in His Grace and Mercy – call the elect and cause them to believe and follow Him in faithful obedience – and we are to rejoice as we see God meet out justice and strike down all those things which oppose Him.

            And again, we may be scrunching up our faces at giving thanks for God’s Justice and crushing sin and evil and death and all those who oppose Him.  Yet, Jesus quoted David, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

(Matthew 22:44, ESV).  And Paul encouraged the Romans as he wrote:  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Romans 16:20, ESV).

            We can understand hating sin, but not hating the sinner.  We say, “Hate the sin and love the sinner.”  And that is true to the extent that we cannot see the heart – we have no idea who the elect of God are and what God has chosen to do with any individual person.  It is possible – for example – if Hitler repented and believed in Jesus Alone for salvation before he died – he will be in the Kingdom.  Only God knows the heart of the individual and a person’s state of belief and faith at death.  We know that only those who believe the Gospel will be saved – justified – made right with God.  We know what God has called sin, but we cannot – with surety – say any specific person is in Hell (except those God names in the Scripture).

            The point here is not that Hannah was rejoicing in the condemnation of any specific person – though we likely jump to Peninnah who had been so cruel to Hannah – but that – in the Kingdom, we will be able to rejoice in God’s Justice as He punishes those who die in a reprobate state.  Somehow, we will be able to know that myriads of people are suffering eternal Hell and rejoice because that suffering proves the Holy Justice of God.

            Second, Hannah gives thanks to God because God Alone is Holy:   “There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.  Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.”

            The Name of the Lord Alone is to be hallowed.  We pray:  “hallowed be your name”

(Matthew 6:9b, ESV).

            The Heidelberg Catechism (cf. Q&A 122) explains that this means that we are to rightly recognize – understand – Who God is.  We are to look to the Scripture and understand the God Who is.  And as we rightly understand Who He is, we are to respond by glorifying God – by showing Who He is to the world – pointing out the Sovereign Beauty of the One Holy God.  We are to present Who He is – and especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that the world would hear and believe – according to the Providence of God – that His Power and Mercy and Goodness and Justice and Truth would be clearly displayed throughout the world – through history – and in individual lives.

            Secondly, it means that we are to change ourselves – that – in everything we do – we do not blaspheme the Name of God – we do not bring shame or dishonor or disrepute to the God Who has granted us salvation, but, instead, that we would do everything with the end that people would look at us and give praise to God for Who He is – because – ultimately – life and death and salvation are primarily about God and Who He is – not about us.  God has chosen us to present the Gospel to the world, because it can be seen clearly through us and in us, because its holiness and purity shines out distinctly from our partly sanctified selves.

            Hannah continues confessing in thanksgiving that her security is in this Holy God because He is strength personified and unchanging.  James reminds us:  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change”  (James 1:17, ESV).  We can trust and hope in Him because He cannot change – there is no other God like Him – He is the strength and security of our salvation forever.

            Therefore, she tells those who do not believe to watch what they say – literally, the text says “don’t let words fly out of your mouth like a swarm of locusts.”  Watch what you say – especially if you don’t believe, because God is coming as judge – the God of Knowledge – Who will judge our works – including everything we have said.  (For the believer – for the Christian – this judgment is not about salvation – our salvation is through Jesus Alone – through what He did – but there is a judgment of all yet to come – and those who do not believe will have not an excuse – no salvation – from what they have said – especially as they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit by not believing in Jesus Alone for salvation.)

            Third, Hannah gives thanks to God because He is the God Who does as He wills with all of Creation:  with kings and kingdoms – the God Who gives strength to those who are – literally – “stumbling to ruin.”

“The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.  Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.  The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.  The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.  The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.  He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.  For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and on them he has set the world.”

We know this text is not merely about Hannah and her situation.  She did not bear seven children, but six.  She did not become wealthy.  And so forth.  This is a picture of how God moves the world and its people to accomplish His Will.

As Nebuchadnezzar – king of  the Babylonian Empire – 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).

And Paul reminded the Romans:  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2, ESV).

Our God is not a god who created and walked away to allow whatever happens to happen.  Our God is the God Who is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives.  He set our leaders in place – no one has ever held a position of authority that God did not put there – for our good or our ill – according to His Providence.  The outcome of every election, every war, and every interpersonal relationship was planned out by God from the beginning.

God choses the life we will have – the life by which He has chosen to bring glory to Himself – and that we might see Him and give thanks to Him and rely on Him through our lives.  You and I are not where we are and what we are by accident – God – the Loving Father of all those who believe has put you were you are for a purpose. 

Last week we looked at the idea of stewardship – how are we using all that God has given to us to glorify Him?  Do you have joy in your life?  Notice I didn’t ask if you are happy – there are many reasons not to be happy every day – but are you joyful?  Does God and the knowledge of Him and the fact that He is intimately involved with every moment and every action in your life give you joy that leads to thanksgiving to God?

This same God is the God of life and death – no one can be born and no one can die and no one can raise from the dead except the Word come from the Mouth of God.  Two weeks ago we looked at the raising of Lazarus, and we saw that Martha believed in the resurrection that will come at the end of days before the restoration of the world.  But she missed the point of Who Jesus is:  and He told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25, ESV).  Life and death and resurrection are not merely events – they are a Person.  God Incarnate, Jesus, is the Resurrection and the Life – by Him Alone does a person enter life, die, and will be raised.  Again, Paul writes, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:50-52, ESV).

This same God lifts up the broken, the repentant, the helpless, and gives them a seat of honor, because everything is God’s.  Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"  If you are His son or daughter – that is a reason to give thanks, is it not?  That our Father and our Savior is Lord and Owner of all?

Fourth, Hannah gave thanks because God Alone is Savior:  “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail.  The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven.  The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

We have a saying, “God is the Father of all humankind” – that’s not true.  God is the God and Creator of all humankind, but He is only Father and Savior to those Who believe in Him Alone for salvation – in the Savior that He sent to save us from the Wrath of God.

God guards the feet of His faithful ones – God will not allow one of those He has elected to be His be lost.  Jesus – praying to His Father and the Father of all those who believe in Him Alone for salvation prayed, “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 17:12, ESV).  If God has saved you through faith in Jesus Alone, nothing you ever do can make Him lose you – He has paid the debt for all of your sins and credited you with His Righteousness, so you can come before the Father boldly – as a child.

Those who never believe – those who have fooled themselves about what they believe – God will cast them into outer darkness.  Jesus – referring to those who put their faith in their biological heritage as Jews – said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12, ESV).  Jesus used the expression “outer darkness” again and again – those who do not believe in Him Alone for salvation will be cast into a place of eternal suffering – there are a number of images used for it – but, in the end, it means a place where they will suffer in body and mind and heart and soul for all of eternity – because they blasphemed the Holy Spirit by not believing in the Savior God sent.

We are to preach the Gospel in thanks for our salvation – and everyone that God intended throughout time and space to believe will believe.  But the others will not – and those, God will take vengeance upon.  Hannah reminds us that God will take their bodies and smash them to pieces and thunder through them in eternal torment.

God will judge and welcome His sons and daughters into His Kingdom forever – not based on anything we did or did not do, but solely on the merits of Jesus.  But those who choose to go their own way, God will not recognize them – and He will cast them out.

Hannah’s thanksgiving for Samuel ends with the promise that God “will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed.”  And certainly we can see God working through the people that God sets up in power to rule on the earth.  But Hannah is seeing even further than mere human leaders to God’s King – to God’s Anointed – to the Messiah – the Christ.

Hannah believed and looked forward in thanks to the day when the promised Savior – the Anointed King of God – would come to earth.  This King would come about a thousand years later and reveal His Glory and Power in a way that caused many to believe – and still causes many to believe.

But, as we acknowledge as we receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – He is coming back with the veil fully pulled back and the rod of the King in His Hand to judge the world. “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:30-31, ESV).

Hannah’s thanksgiving for the gift of her son reminds us of many reasons to be thankful:

Our salvation is from God Alone – we don’t – and can’t – earn salvation – it is the Gift of God.

God is the One Holy God – and we are called to point to His Holiness.

God is the Sovereign Ruler, Owner, and Creator of all – and if we are His, we can trust Him to provide for all of our needs, and we can trust Him enough to steward everything He gives us.

God’s Gift of salvation cannot be lost – because God earns it Himself and gives it to whomever He will.

God’s Justice will come to all of Creation – for the joy of some and the terror of others.

God is Jesus Christ, Who does not condemn us, but saves us by His Mighty Right Arm.

As Paul wrote, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39, ESV).

What are you thankful for?

Let us pray: 

To You, O Lord, we give thanks:  for life, for salvation, for being God, for all the ways in which You have revealed Yourself to us, and especially through You Son.  Make us truly thankful, and may our thanks be first and foremost to You and for You.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Community Lunch

This Saturday, D.V., from 12 to 1 PM is our next community lunch -- join us and give thanks to God for His provision of food!  See you then!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Her Two Cents" Sermon: Mark 12:41-44


“Her Two Cents”

[Mark 12:41-44]

November 11, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            Today is Stewardship Sunday – the day each year in which we particularly think about the fact that God has given us all that we have and called us to be good stewards of it.  While we are specifically considering financial stewardship this morning, we ought to consider all that God has given us – time, skills, and other gifts – are all to be stewarded well and used – first and foremost – for the spreading of the Gospel and the good of the Church.

            Our Scripture begins with Jesus sitting in the doorway to the Temple watching the people enter and place their offering in the offering box – not unlike our offering plate.  There was a box that people could drop their financial gifts in that would be taken out later by the priests – and Jesus was watching and noting what people were giving.  Consider:  Jesus watches what we put in the offering plate…

            “And [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.”

            What was He doing?  What gave Him the right to do it?  Would you have any problem with me – or one of the elders – looking to see what you put in the offering plate?  (Don’t worry; we are not going to start checking what each person puts in the offering plate as you do so, and only those who prepare the deposit have any idea of what you give.)

            Jesus had – and has – the right to know exactly what we give because He is God and calls us to account for our stewardship to Him.  “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13, ESV).  There will come a day when every human being has to account for everything he or she did before our God and Savior – including how we stewarded all that God has given us.  (This has nothing to do with our salvation – which is through Jesus Alone – but there will be a judgment of our works.)

            So Jesus sat down and watched what people were giving – and it was right for Him to do so because He is God in the flesh. 

“Many rich people put in large sums.”

Let us immediately note that there is nothing wrong with being rich.  God blesses people as He wills, and God allows people to have personal property of many sorts.  There is nothing wrong with that. 

As we see in the confrontation between Peter and Ananias and Sapphira – they had come to offer all of the proceeds of the sale of their land to the Temple, but they lied and kept back part of the proceeds.  Peter accused them:  “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:4, ESV).  The Scripture is clear that people can rightfully receive blessings from God and enjoy them – the problem was their lying about their offering.  The issue is not about what wealth God blesses a person with, but with the honest stewardship of it – it is a matter of the heart.

So, Jesus noticed that many rich people put in large sums of money.  There is nothing wrong – in fact it is good – that rich people give large amounts of money for the work of the Church, because they have the ability to give large sums.  But there is still the matter of the heart to be considered:

“And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.”

Notice, we are told that the person Jesus is watching is a widow and poor.  She had no support from others – as we see – and she puts two small coins in the offering – which made a penny (as our text calls it).  Actually, it was less than a penny in today’s money.  What the woman gave was about 1/64 of an average laborer’s daily pay.  In today’s money, we are talking about 1/8 of a cent – her two cents, so to speak, would be about 1/8 of a modern penny.

And we might be tempted to say, “Well, that was nothing.  Move along for more rich people to come.  What good is 1/8 of a cent going to do the for work of the Lord?”

But that is not how Jesus looks at it, is it?  No.

“And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you,’”

Jesus calls the disciples over to point out a distinction; He calls them over and begins by saying, “truly, I say to you,” – which is not language we usually use.  Jesus said, “I solemnly declare something of great significance – take note of what I am going to tell you – it is important.”

Notice:  “this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.”

Had Jesus forgotten what all the rich people had given?  Had He looked away and not seen what a pittance she had given – how insignificant her financial offering was?  Of course not. 

So how could she have given more than all the others?

“For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

            What did Jesus mean?

            The rich people (at least some of them) were giving out of their abundance.  What they were giving was nothing to them.  It was as though a millionaire gave fifty dollars in the offering plate.  Fifty dollars would be nice – we don’t often see an offering like that in our offering plate, but fifty dollars is nothing – comparatively – to a millionaire. 

Understand, there is nothing wrong with a millionaire giving fifty dollars, but would that be good stewardship of his or her money?  Certainly Jesus – through His Divine Omniscience – knew that what they were giving was reallly nothing – it was not sacrificial – it was not given in trust – it was not given in faith – it was not given in thanksgiving for all of the blessings that they had received from God.

Please, let us be clear:  Jesus could be critical of their offering because He is the Omniscient God Who can see the heart of the giver.  You and I do not have the ability to unknowingly criticize someone’s giving.  There are exceptions – for example, when the annual report comes out, you know how much money I have received (in large part), so we could make some assumptions based on what the Scripture teaches about how much I should have given as my offering – at minimum.

The widow gave the most because she gave out of her poverty and gave everything she had.  She gave her last two cents to the Church – to the work of God in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Was that good stewardship?  If she truly had nothing else and no one to rely one – no other income to provide for her and her needs?  Jesus commends her, so – in this case – yes. 

That does not mean that everyone needs to give everything that they make to the Church.  It is also not an indication that God rewards based on the percentage of income that a person gives to the work of God.  It is possible to be rich and greedy, and it is possible to be poor and greedy.

How then do we judge?  Is there a line – a minimum that we can base our giving on?  There is – and Jesus affirms it in His condemnation of the Pharisees:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24, ESV).

The Pharisees understood that the minimum financial offering that God calls His people to give is ten percent of their gross income.  Ten percent of our gross salary.  Ten percent of our interest.  Ten percent of our Social Security.  Ten percent of our pension.  Etc.  Ten percent of every income that we receive.  The Pharisees we so exacting that they gave ten percent of the herbs of their gardens for use in the Temple and for the people of God.  And that Jesus affirms them for:  “These you ought to have done!”  Jesus commands us to give ten percent of our gross income – as the starting point of our giving – to the Church.  That does not include the giving of our time and gifts and financial gifts to others – that is over and above – as we are so pleased and able to do so.  And our giving to the Church above ten percent of our gross income is according to the joy that it gives us to do so.

The problem the Pharisees had – in this passage – is that they were keeping the letter of the Law about tithing – giving ten percent of their gross income – but they were not being just – they were not being merciful – they were not being faithful in other ways.

And we may notice that Jesus calls justice, mercy, and faithfulness the weightier matters of the Law and think, “Well, they are more important – if I am just and merciful and faithful, then it doesn’t matter so much if I actually give the tithe to the Church.”

            But what does Jesus say?  “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”  We do not have the option of being partially obedient.  It’s like being partially pregnant – you either are or you are not.

            The widow gave everything she had – and in this case we know it was the right thing for her to do, because Jesus praised her for it.  We are not all called to give everything we have, but we are called to be obedient – to be trusting – to give sacrificially for the sake of the work of God and in thanksgiving to Him.

            So, if it’s not wrong to be rich, and it’s not wrong to be poor, and it’s not wrong to keep and enjoy some of the blessings that God has given us, how do we determine what we should give?

            Well, it is clear that we are to give ten percent of our gross income.  It is also clear that if God calls everyone to give ten percent of their gross income to the Church that God has provided enough – through the other ninety percent – and helps as God wills to provide them – to provide for all of our needs.  Everyone has enough to give ten percent of their gross income to the Church in thanksgiving to God and for the work being done in the Church.  If we say we do not have enough money to give ten percent of our gross income to the Church, then we have not been good stewards – we have used money inappropriately – perhaps on things we don’t need, but just want and desire – or, God help us, we are calling God a liar.

            Consider what Paul writes:    

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:6-15, ESV).

What is Paul telling us?

First, we steward our money rightly when we give thankfully and not under compulsion.  People have tried to use the “God loves a cheerful giver” as an excuse not to give, but Paul’s point to the Corinthians was to remind them that they had promised to give a certain amount, and he wanted them to be ready for when he came – that they would have their gift ready and not be taken by surprise – but be ready and cheerful about their giving, just as they were when they made their promise to give.  The widow certainly came of her own decision and gave all she had in thankfulness and not under compulsion.  So, we are to be ready to give and to give thankfully and cheerfully, because we desire to give in thanksgiving for what God has done and how God has blessed us.

Second, as we see with the poor widow, we steward our money rightly when we give sacrificially.  We start with God’s mandate of ten percent of our gross and then give as God makes us joyful to give.  However, let us not be confused when Paul says that the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly and the one who sows bountifully will reap bountifully.  That is not a guarantee that if you give much to the Church, you will be rich, and if you don’t, you will be poor.  Just as a farmer does not eat everything that he grows, so the person who gives much (percentage wise) ought not to expect to get a big check back, but to see that “sowing” – that generous stewardship – flourish as God uses it for His Work.  For example, there have been people in this congregation who have given more than ten percent of their gross income to this church, and none of them have become wealthy because of their doing so.  However, I pray, that their giving has been useful in ways that would not have occurred otherwise in proclaiming the Gospel from Second Reformed.

Third, we steward our money rightly when we give trusting in God’s provision.  Where was the poor widow going to get the funds she needed to survive on?  We’re not told, but by her example, we see that she trusted in God for her provision by giving everything she had.  And Paul tells us in the Scripture I just quoted, God will provide for our every need – and as we are generous, God will give us more to be generous with that we might be even more thankful to God!  Again, don’t be confused by the false teaching that if you give to the Church God will give you more for you – that is not to be found in the Bible.  But God will give us more to steward well as we prove ourselves to be good stewards.  Paul even tells thieves:  “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28, ESV).  Part of the reason we work is so we will have enough to give – not just to God – but to others in need.

Fourth, we steward our money rightly when we give regularly and obediently.  We can assume that for the widow to act in the way she did, obedient worship and giving were a regular part of her life.  We have already noted that God calls us to give a minimum of ten percent of our gross income to the Church, but we also need to note that we are called to give regularly.  What does “regularly” mean?  It certainly means that whenever we gather for worship, we should give, because part of what the stewarding of our money means is worship – we are giving because we believe that God is Worthy – that Jesus is God the Savior and we want the Gospel to go out from the Church to the world.  Does that mean if we only worship once a month then we only have to give once a month – can we keep the ten percent of the other three weeks of earnings that we would have given if we had worshipped in the Church?  Of course not – we are to give ten percent of our total income and blessings and giftedness – period.  The primary issue here in the regularity of giving is that of obedience and worship, but there is also the very real fact that just as you have bills every week, so does the church.  Do not misunderstand me:  your offering ought never to be seen as merely paying your part of the bills – it is an act of worship and obedience and faith and trust – yet, part of the money that is given is used to pay the various bills that exist.

Some of us are saying, “I’m still not going to give ten percent of my gross income – and I’m certainly not going to give everything I have.  I can hardly get by on what I have now, and I need to save for my future and my children and grandchildren and pets.”

I urge you to consider the poor widow again who is praised by Jesus for giving thankfully, obediently, sacrificially, and regularly, trusting in God to the point of giving – on that occasion – her last two cents.

Are you concerned about where to cut?  Pray that God will increase your trust in Him.  Pray that God will help you to see where you can give more in thanksgiving for all the blessings you have.  Pray that you will be filled with joy as you see more opportunities to use what God has given through all of us to proclaim His Gospel to the world.

And remember the words of Paul, as he wrote to the Philippians, thanking them for the gift that they gave him:  “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:10-13, ESV).

We are fond of quoting then end of that text, but notice that the context is in what Paul had – especially with regards to his finances.  Our problem – especially in America – is not so much that we do not have enough, but that we are not satisfied – we are not content with what God has given us.  We want more – we don’t even recognize our needs anymore – we just want more.  God calls us to be satisfied.

Can you be satisfied with what God has given you?  Can you be thankful for what God has given you?  Do you believe that God has given you enough – enough to give ten percent of your gross income to the Church – and more, as God gives you joy?  Do you have the faith of a poor widow?

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for supplying all of our needs and for also overflowing us with thanksgiving in recognizing Your Provision.  We thank You for giving us the opportunity to give in joy and in worship.  We ask that You would increase our trust and faith and obedience such that the world will look at Your Church and give glory to You.  For all things are Yours.  Lord, make us faithful stewards like that poor widow, and make us ever thankful for Your Inexpressible Gift of Jesus.  For it is in His Name, we pray, Amen.