Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tonight's Study

I'm sorry to say, I have to cancel this evening's study.  We'll plan to resume next Tuesday evening.  Thank you.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Artie Beck Funeral


Artie Beck Funeral

April 29, 2013, Ltywyn & Lytwyn/Hollywood Cemetery

 

 

Psalm 23 (KJV)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

 

Hebrews 10:19-25 (ESV)

            Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

 

 

 

            I met Artie in 1995 when I began attending Second Reformed Church as a parishioner.  Artie was serving as a deacon and the property chairman – positions he held until his death.  I quickly learned that Artie was also a member of the Chamber of Commerce, the Gasoline Retailers, the Planning Board, and so forth, and Artie knew everyone and had contacts for anything we ever needed done at the church.

            I quickly became a deacon and served alongside of him in the church. 

I think it was that first Christmas that I started to really know Artie – as we were setting up the Christmas tree – Artie was supervising – he asked, “Where’s the broad?”  I had no idea how to respond – there were women helping us set up, but I had no idea who he could be referring to, until someone found the angel.  To me – from then on – she has been “the broad.”

After our pastor left in 1998, I began preaching once a month and became much more involved in the church as a whole.  In 1999, I was called to be the pastor of Second Reformed Church, and Artie and I got even closer.

            Artie told me stories about his store and station, and I began meeting more of his contacts.  Everyone I talked to was willing to come or lend a hand if I mentioned the name, “Artie Beck.” 

Artie told me about First Reformed Church and how, when the merger came, they should have kept the building, rather than Second’s.  Even so, he was proud to tell the story of how – against all precedent – he got to keep half the money from the sale of First Reformed Church to use at Second.  Artie was a great negotiator.

I saw that played out among people as well.  One of our late women, Dorothy, would often express her opinion about what should be done or what needed improvement – a fence put up in the alleyway, for example, and often Artie would challenge her and say that he would put up half the money if she would put up the other half – and she often would.

Artie gave certain people nicknames – some of us know ours or others – I found out that my nickname was “pain in the ass” – though it was given in love.  Artie treated me to bottles of Grey Goose for my birthday and Christmas – we didn’t always see eye to eye – but we respected each other.

Artie was very generous, especially when it came to eating out – Artie loved going out to eat with others – and paying the bill.  And he got mad if we said we weren’t able to go out – if we had other plans we had to attend to – or if we tried to pay the bill.  Artie would take several of us to the Chamber dinners on his dime.  And, again, even once he was homebound, he would send money up so we would be able to go out to eat with him in spirit.

Through Artie’s generosity with food, I learned that the diabetic diet called for eating Dunkin’ Donuts, Philly Cheesesteaks, with extra onions and peppers, and drinking soda.

I am very thankful that I got to visit with him in his home about two weeks ago and have lunch with him and some of the others from our church.

Artie tried to help me be a better preacher and pastor:  on numerous occasions he told me my sermons were too long – he would time me and tap at his watch – when he was awake – and groan after service, and he told me that the best minister he ever heard preached for ten minutes – “get ‘em in and get ‘em out.” 

Also, since I prefer to dress casually – I only wear my clerics when I need to – Artie informed me that his previous minister always wore his clerics, except when he bowled.  He told me, “You look like a bum.  No one would know you’re the preacher; they would think you were a bum.”

Artie also told me that I had the easiest job in the world – “You only work one hour a week,” he would say.  Though, eventually, he had to admit, “OK, I was wrong, you work two hours a week.”

We shared a sense of humor – and I got joy out of telling bits from the TV show, “All in the Family,” and having Artie laugh at the and say, “they would never get away with putting a show like that on today.”

And Artie seemed pleased when I joined the Chamber – and I enjoyed being with him at the meetings – with him as the Treasurer, giving his monthly report – eating lunch with him and the other members.

Artie told me – us – stories about his family – Arty Jr., Heidi, Bob, Tim, Katelyn, Scott, and others.  Arties told me that he was not really a church guy to begin with – it was his kids who brought him and Doris to church, because they wanted to go to Sunday school – then Artie and Doris got involved in the church – and remained solidly involved until their deaths.

Artie really became a church guy – a guy committed to the institution and to seeing it run well.  It was not just his contacts in the business world that made him be involved with keeping the property in shape; it was his desire to keep it up for all of us.  Although the way he expressed it became something of a joke among us.

Artie enjoyed being one of the people who counted the money after worship.  Even after he was homebound, he wanted to be involved, and he often called before the service was over to ask, “What was the take?”  Very often, the comment after that would be, “Tell Peter we can’t afford to pay him this week.”

The Scripture I chose for this service is not one that is usually used for funerals, but it is the one that jumped to my mind when thinking about a text for Artie.

The author of the book of Hebrews was a first century Jew who came to understand that the Ceremonial Law of the Mosaic Covenant – the offering up of animal sacrifices – would never be enough to make him right with God.  In order to be right with God, the Only Hope was in the Savior – the Messiah – that God had promised to send.

The author of Hebrews explains in his book that Jesus is that Savior – the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and the sacrifices as the last High Priest and Sacrifice.  It is through Him and His Work – the New Covenant – the Gospel, that we can be made eternally right with God.  It is through believing in Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, that we find salvation.

That is the message of the Church.  That is the message I seek to preach.  That is the message of our faith.  And the author of Hebrews encourages us to hold fast to our confession – to what we believe – because God is faithful, even when we are not.

The text I read ends:  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Let us be people who stir each other up to love each other and to encourage love in each other.  Let us be people who stir each other up to do good works – things which will benefit all people and be pleasing to God.

Let us gather together in the Church – let us support the institution – because it is not a building, but a group of people.  Let us gather together as the people of God to encourage each other – by hearing the Word of God read and preached, by sharing our lives with one another, by laughing together, by working together despite differences, by eating together, by being there for one another – trying to make each other better people – people who are pleasing to God.

All the more so because the Day is drawing near – Jesus is coming back for His own.  The time is short – and either He will return first or you will die first – those are the options.

Artie lived a life of joy and love and encouragement – and one of the places he found to encourage was in the Church.  Let us see the value of his example.  For those who seek God and find Him, as David confesses in the 23rd Psalm, will find that “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for the life of Artie Beck and for all the ways he encouraged us to be Your people and to support Your Church.  May we be inspired to look to the Church, to hear Your Word, and to know Your Savior, the only Hope for all people.  For it is in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"A Better Tent" Sermon: Hebrews 9:11-14


“A Better Tent”

[Hebrews 9:11-14]

April 28, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            Last week we looked at the earthly Tent – the earthly Tabernacle – the place of worship of the first Covenant, and we saw that as a means for salvation, the first Covenant was a failure.  Although the first Covenant was never intended to be a way of salvation, it was intended to show us that we cannot become holy or righteous on our own – by our works – our only hope is through faith alone in the Savior Whom God was sending and now has sent.

            We saw that the first Covenant failed in the following ways:

The debt that was paid through the offering up of animals was never adequate to pay for the sins of humans.  Only a human could properly pay the debt of a human.

The debt that was paid through the offering up of animals was never enough to satisfy the Wrath of God for sin – the offering was too small – it didn’t take into account the seriousness and the greatness of the affront of sin to God.

The debt that was paid through the offering up of animals never removed the dominion – the slavery – to sin which humans are born under.  Although God really forgave in the moment for the sins confessed, there was no forgiveness or deliverance from the sin nature through the first Covenant’s offerings.

The debt that was paid through the offering up of animals did not lead towards sanctification – it never got beyond forgiveness of the sin of the moment.

The debt that was paid through the offering up of animals was never meant to go on forever.  Not only could it not go on forever if the Tabernacle – and the Temple – were destroyed – as they were – eternal sacrifices of animals would prove fruitless – vain – for salvation for the reasons we have already stated.  After 70 A.D. – after the letter to the Hebrews was sent – the Temple was destroyed and the sacrificial system of the first Covenant came to its practical end – it was no longer possible to offer sacrifices in the Temple, because it did not exist.

Now, the author of Hebrews turns to look at the better Tent – the better Tabernacle:

            “But when Christ appeared as a high priest”

            We remember from the beginning of the book of Hebrews, the author writes, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:1-4, ESV).

            He begins by referring us back to his explanation that Christ (the Son of God) came to earth in the Person of Jesus (the God-Man) , fulfilling the word of the prophets and being the final Word from God, because He is God, the Savior, the Creator, the One Who made purification for the sins by living a perfect life under the Law of the first Covenant and then dying, taking on Himself all of the sins of all those who would ever believe in Him, and raising from the dead, victorious over sin and death.

            In fulfilling the Law and the Prophets, Jesus, the Incarnate God, appeared, not only as the Perfect and Final Sacrifice for sin, but as the Perfect and Final High Priest of the Sacrificial System – not of the line of Aaron or Levi – but of the greater priesthood of Melchizedek:

            “So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’; as he says also in another place,

‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek’” (Hebrews 5:5-6, ESV).

            We will remember that the priesthood of Melchizedek was one in which God chose individuals and finally, Jesus, to serve.  Melchizedek, the King of Salem, was the first priest of the line:

            “After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)”

(Genesis 14:17-18, ESV).

            So, God incarnated in the Person of Jesus, the Savior, at the right time, as the Final and Perfect High Priest

“of the good things that have come,”

And here we have a translation issue – the text could also read, “of the good things that will come.”  This may be ambiguous on the part of the author, because what Christ has done for us is “already” and “not yet.”  We are saved and we are being saved.  We are righteous and we are being made righteous.  We are holy and we are being made holy.  The Kingdom of God is here and the Kingdom of God is coming.  We have eternal life and we are will be given eternal life.

In the context, it would seem to make sense – since we are dealing with the change from the first to the second Covenant, to understand “the good things” as believers being led into Christ’s Kingdom and believers being made partakers of spiritual righteousness and eternal life.

On one hand, Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is right here – as if to be grasped – by all those who would believe:  “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15, ESV).  So, those who repent and believe the Gospel receive the Kingdom of God.

On the other hand, Jesus tells us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV).  Jesus tells believers to continue to seek the Kingdom of God.

Paul tells us that believers are righteous: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:17, ESV).

Yet John, in his first letter, in which he says that all people sin – saved and unsaved – he writes, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7, ESV).

Jesus famously says that all those who believe in Him Alone for salvation have eternal life, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).

And Jude tells us that eternal life will be received later:  “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:21, ESV).

What can we say about this?  “Christ appeared as the high priest of the good things that have come” entrance into the Kingdom of God and being made partakers of spiritual righteousness and eternal life – and we receive these now – but we receive them in their fullness on the day of Jesus’ return.

Do you understand?  All those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation are members and in the Kingdom of God now, all those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation are righteousness now, all those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation have enteral life now, and we shall receive the fulfillment of what we have now when Jesus returns.

Similarly, we are saved from sin now.  But we all know we sin.  What has changed in our salvation is that all of the sins we ever commit are forgiven in Jesus, and we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, do not ever have to sin – God always makes a way of escape.  But when Jesus returns, we will receive the fullness of our being saved form sin, and we will be unable to sin evermore.  It is the same for being part of the Kingdom, righteousness, and having eternal life.

Through faith alone in Jesus Alone, we have blessings in this life which will be fulfilled when Jesus returns.  Jesus secured present and future blessings for us through being our High Priest.

“then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)”

Last week we talked about the Tabernacle – the tent in the wilderness where the people of Israel worshipped before they came into the Promised Land.  Now, the author of Hebrews tells us that Christ, as High Priest of those good things we just talked about – and we’ll see why it had to be as High Priest in a moment – did something through a better tent, a more perfect tent, a tent not made with human hands, a tent “not of this creation” – do you remember we talked about this a few weeks ago?

There is something else that is referred to as the “tent” other than the place of worship:  Paul writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV).  Our bodies are also referred to as “tents” – the place in which we live.

So, what is different about Jesus’ “tent” – His body?  We remember one of the Advent texts:       The angel said, “’And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God’” (Luke 1:31-35, ESV).

Christ’s body was “not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” in the sense that Christ’s body was not made through the union of a man and a woman.  God miraculously caused Mary to become pregnant without the involvement of a man.  Christ’s “tent” was more perfect in the sense that it was created by God outside of the normal way of gestation.  It was a better “tent,” because Jesus, Who was born without man, is the Incarnate Son of God.  Christ, the Son of God, took on a real human body through the workings of God, the Holy Spirit, and remained God, as a real human being.

Now we need to ask ourselves, who entered the Holy of Holies and why?  We saw last week, that the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies once a year on the day of Yom Kippur to make atonement for the people of God.  The high priest would enter the curtain, burn incense, sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant, and pray for the sins of the people to be forgiven.

We saw that this was a temporary solution – it was never meant to be the way to salvation.  It was a shadow – a type – of what Jesus would do.  And so, the author of Hebrews tells us:

“he entered once for all into the holy places,”

So, we only need ask ourselves, when did Jesus enter the Holy of Holies?  And the answer is, “never.”  Unless we remember that Jesus was fulfilling the shadows – the Old Testament Sacrificial System that looked forward to Jesus and was fulfilled in Jesus.  So, how did Jesus fulfill entrance into the Holy of Holies?  When did He enter a place to plead on behalf of all those who would ever believe that we would be forgiven of our sins and be made right with God – that atonement would be made between God and us?

Paul tells us:  “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” (Romans 8:34, ESV). 

Christ completed to work of making atonement by entered the Holy of Holies – which is Heaven – from whence He had come – the dwelling place of God.  And He resumed His place at the Right Hand of God – being Sovereign King over all – the place from which He has been from all of eternity, excepting the Incarnation.

But there was one more difference, was there not?  Christ was in one way different in ascending back to His throne – something had changed in the Incarnation:  Christ took on a tent – a real human body – and that real human body was received back into Heaven and is sitting on the throne with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  Christ sanctified the flesh through His Ascension back to His throne, so now we know that our bodies will also be sanctified and received into the Kingdom of God which is here and coming among us.  Our flesh is also redeemed – it is part of who we are – and Christ has saved us in our whole person.

 “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11, ESV).  This is Christ’s entrance into the Holy of Holies.

And just as Christ did not enter into the Holy of Holies on earth to provide us with eternal reconciliation with God, neither did He cleanse with the blood of animals, which, as we saw last week, would never be enough to save us from our sin.

“not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

Christ did not satisfy the Wrath of God with animal blood, but with His Own Blood – the only Blood that would satisfy God and pay the debt that was owed.  Because the Blood of the Savior, Who is the God-Man, was shed for us, our sins are forgiven, and God has received us as His Own.

Paul, in giving instruction to the new ministers of the Gospel, said, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, ESV).

Christ obtained a people for God through the shedding of His Blood.

“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,”

Remember, the sacrifices of the Tabernacle and the Temple were only temporary – you were forgiven for the moment, but then, once you sinned again, you would have to offer more animals, and Yom Kippur only came once a year.  The ceremonies of the Law were meant to cause people to look forward to the coming of the Savior – to the Promises of the Savior – they were never meant to be an end in themselves.

Sinful men offered up inadequate sacrifices to appease the Holy God:  “And [the high priest] shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses” (Leviticus 16:14-16, ESV).

“how much more will the blood of Christ,”

The point of these rites was to cause the people to realize that the whole system was hopeless for making them right with God – it could never be enough.  They needed the Savior – they needed the Blood of the Savior to wash them clean – animals would never do – only the God-Man – promised from the Garden – could save them – and us – and provide eternal salvation.

Yes, the Ceremonial Law was a type – a shadow – they ought to have seen that they were sinners, that God required blood to be appeased, that animal sacrifices were not enough to save a human, and that their only Hope – our only Hope – is in the Savior Who would come and live and bleed and die and ascend back to His throne to intercede on our behalf.

The Sacrificial System could not do what Christ did, as John explains, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7, ESV).

The blood of the sacrifices cleansed for a moment – for a day.  The Blood of Christ, Who is the Eternal God and Holy Man, eternally cleanses us from all of our sin.

 “who through the eternal Spirit”

The sacrifices of the Ceremonial Law were participated in by being present – by offering an animal.  How do we participate in the Blood of Christ?  We are told – through the Spirit.  Christ’s death becomes saving for us through the Spirit’s Work in us. 

As Paul explains, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14, ESV).

“offered himself without blemish to God,”

Christ was, as we have said, our High Priest and Sacrifice.  Unlike the sacrifices of the first Covenant, which were animals and even the best were not totally perfect, Jesus, the God-Man was the Lamb without spot or blemish – the Perfect and Final Sacrifice which pays our debt with God.

As we see in the vision of the worship of the Slain Lamb, Jesus Christ:  “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,         and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’           Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped” (Revelation 5:9-14, ESV).

 “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

The fact of the matter is that the best works we do, even as Christians, are tainted with sin.  Yet, through Christ and by the Power of the Holy Spirit, we can and ought to strive to do the good works He has set before us, continually working towards the holiness we are called to. 

As Peter writes, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2, ESV).

The end of all these things is that we should strive to sin no more and to sin no more by the Power of the Holy Spirit Who lives in us, and, instead, to do those good works that we have been called to do and live lives of holiness which reflect the salvation that we have received through Christ, Who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, and the seal we have received with the Holy Spirit, as people who are now forever marked as God’s.

So, what have we seen?

Christ, the Son of God, incarnated in the Person of Jesus as the Final and Perfect Sacrifice and High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, meriting for us entrance into God’s Kingdom and being made partakers of spiritual righteousness and eternal life, both now, and fully when Jesus returns.

Christ was incarnated by the workings of God the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary, being both at the same time fully God and fully man – a better tent than any high priest before Him.

Christ entered the true Holy of Holies – the dwelling place of God – Heaven – after having lived and bled and died and risen and ascended back to His throne where He reigns in His glorified human body – so we know our bodies will be raised and glorified with Him – and He intercedes for us before the Father that we would be forgiven for all of our sins and received by the Father as His adopted sons and daughters.

Christ’s Blood secures for all those who believe an eternal redemption – forgiveness for all of our sins.  The blood of animals was symbolic and forgives by the mercy of God in the moment, but was given that those who offered it would look forward to the coming of the Savior Who would offer up the Final and Perfect Sacrifice for sin.

Christ’s Work is sealed in believers by the Holy Spirit.

Christ is the Lamb without blemish Who is offered up for the real, final, and full forgiveness of our sins.

Christ has made us able to turn from our dead works of sin, and even those only infected with sin, and instead, do those good works we have been called to in all holiness by the Power of the Holy Spirit Who lives in us.

So, let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for showing us how Christ Jesus, in His better tent, fulfilled the first Covenant on behalf of all those who will ever believe in Him.  Help us to believe, and help us to live out our belief in faith, clinging to the Truth of the Covent of Jesus – the Gospel – living lives that are pleasing and glorifying to You.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Even More Sad News

I just got word that Lou de Filippis, another long time member, who relocated to Massachusettes, died on April 21st.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

More Sad News


I am sad to report that I have just gotten word that long-time member, Sarah Withers, died on Tuesday, April 23rd.  Her obituary reads:  Sarah Withers of Westfield, N.J., entered into rest on April 23, 2013, at the age of 78. Viewing will be on Monday, April 29, from 10 to 11 a.m., followed by the funeral at 11 a.m. at Smith Funeral Home, 455 No. Broad St., Elizabeth, N.J. Sarah is survived by her devoted family, son, Ricky Matthews; daughter, Cherlan Dearing; daughter-in-law, Roxanne Matthews; eight grandchildren; and a host of other loving relatives and dear friends.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sad News


Artie Beck died suddenly on Thursday, April 25, 2013.  Services will all be held at Union Funeral Home Lytwyn & Lytwyn, 1600 Stuyvesant Ave (on the corner of Stanley and Stuyvesant), in Union.  Saturday, April 27th, there will be a viewing from 7 to 9 PM.  Sunday, April 28th, there will be a viewing from 1 to 6 PM.  Monday, April 29th, there will be a funeral service at 11 AM, followed by interment at Hollywood Cemetery.  In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Second Reformed Church Property Fund, 132 Elmwood Ave., Irvington, NJ 07111.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Help Needed!

Urgent needs:  one of our women lost her apartment to fire -- if any one has or knows of an inexpensive apartment in the Irvington, NJ area, please let me know.  Also, we have a homebound women in Westfield, NJ, who is looking for someone to live with her in exchange for room and board.  Again, if anyone can help, please get in touch with me -- thank you!

Monday, April 22, 2013

"The First Covenant's Failure" Sermon: Hebrews 9:1-10


“The First Covenant’s Failure”

[Hebrews 9:1-10]

April 21, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            The author of Hebrews continues his look at the Covenant by taking us back to the Tabernacle – so let's go:  we are standing in the Sinai desert looking at a structure surrounded by tents – are you there with me? Close your eyes if you need to – without falling asleep – and picture being in the midst of a desert – the Sinai desert – looking at a structure surrounded by thousands upon thousands of tents:

            “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared,”

            Israel had escaped from Egypt and received the initial words of the Mosaic Covenant. And God told Israel to make a tabernacle – to make a place of dwelling for God – a place where God would descend and be among His people – the place of worship.

            God told Israel to make a courtyard around the Tabernacle. The courtyard was to be one hundred and fifty feet by seventy-five feet long. There were walls with no entrance on the North, South, and West sides – there was no entrance to the courtyard. On the East there was a single gate thirty feet wide. Are you picturing this?  That way, whenever anyone came to worship, they would have to enter the same gate – there was only one way – and that way was to go West, not East – because many of the pagan religions required that you worship – pray – facing the East.  In designing the structure of the Tabernacle, God did not allow any option but that the people would face west as they entered His Presence to worship.

            “So Jesus again said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture’” (John 10:7-9, ESV).

            “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6, ESV).

As we walk around the wall, we see that there are twenty bronze pillars on each of the long sides and ten bronze pillars on each of the short sides equally spaced from one another. Between each of the pillars – hung from silver hooks – there are square hangings of fine twined linen – reach out with your mind’s hand and feel the quality of the linen – look at the beauty of the weaving – that the people had given and made their best for these sections of the wall surrounding the Tabernacle.

As we make our way around to the east wall where the gate is, we find the hanging gate – the screen – thirty feet long of blue and purple and scarlet yarns. Finally twined linen embroidered with needlework. This gate is hung on silver hooks as well.

            Now as we walk through the gate, we see the bronze altar – a structure made out of acacia wood covered with bronze measuring seven and a half feet square and being four feet tall. Inside the altar is a grate in which to place an animal sacrifice. Do you see the golden metal?  Do you see the screen set inside the altar?  The altar has for horns, one on each corner, signifying the strength and sovereignty of God over all of Creation. Around the altar are pots and shovels and basins and forks and fire pans – all made of bronze to be used in the offering up of the sacrifice, the eating of it, and the transporting away of its ashes.

Then we would do as worshipers do upon entering the courtyard of the Tabernacle and we would offer up a sacrifice for our sins. Can we picture the priest taking the animals from us, draining them of blood, separating their parts, and throwing them on the grill? Can we smell the smell of beef or lamb cooking on the grill wafting up through the air and throughout the courtyard of the Tabernacle? The altar is in look and use and smell like a giant barbecue.

            “Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father’” (John 10:14-18, ESV).

            Just past the altar of sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, we see the enormous bronze basin filled with water.  The basin sits on the backs of four bulls.  And underneath this enormous basin there are spigots so that after the priests have offered up the sacrifice on behalf of the people the priests could go and wash themselves – because they would now be drenched with blood. And so as part of the rite of the worshipers being forgiven for their sins, there was also a washing with water.

            “In [Jesus] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:11-15, ESV).

            After we passed the enormous basin – the laver – we find ourselves face-to-face with the main part of the Tabernacle – the enclosed part. This part of the Tabernacle is only entered into by the priests – so unless we were priests, we would never see the inside of this section. It was walled with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns with cherubim woven into them. Can you see the images of these angels decorating the curtains?  These curtains were clasped together with gold rings.

            As a roof for the tabernacle, there are also curtains, but these curtains are made of goat’s hair and they are clasped together with bronze clasps, and then over them are curtains of ram’s skin, and then finally curtains of goatskin over the top of them to keep the rain from coming in.  Can you picture this three-layer covering over the structure of the Tabernacle, forming a waterproof roof? 

The frame of the Tabernacle is made of acacia wood. And the Tabernacle is divided into two sections – or rooms – under the water-proof roof.  And between the two sections of this part of the Tabernacle, there is a heavy curtain made of blue and purple and scarlet yarn and fine twined linen. It also has cherubim skillfully woven into it, and it hangs on four pillars of acacia covered with gold – with hooks of gold holding it up. This separates the two sections of this part of the Tabernacle: the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.  (This curtain will play a part on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.)

            “the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place.”

            If we had been allowed to go into the Holy Place, we would've seen on our left the golden lampstand: the lamp is made out of a single hammered piece of gold and has seven lamps with one coming up the middle and three going off to the left and three going off to the right. It is the light inside the Tabernacle.

            “Again Jesus spoke to [the Pharisees], saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12, ESV).

            On the right, we would've seen the table – made of acacia wood and covered with gold – and on it we would see the twelve loaves of bread – the bread of the Presence. Each week twelve loaves of bread were baked and put on the table, signifying the provision of God and the twelve tribes of Israel. At the end of the week, the priests were allowed to eat the bread, and the bread was replaced with twelve new loaves of bread.

            “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35, ESV).

“Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.”

Once a year, on the day of Yom Kippur, the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies to plead forgiveness for himself and the nation according to the rite which God had commanded. If we had been able to go in, we would've seen that before him was the golden altar of incense in which he would offer up incense to God – symbolizing the prayers of the people.

“And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8, ESV).

Central in the Holy of Holies is the Ark of the Covenant – inside the Ark are three items: a gold urn holding some of the manna with which God fed the people of Israel for forty years in the wilderness – symbolizing God's Providence and the call of God on the people to trust. Aaron’s staff, which, though being dead, came to life and bore buds when Aaron’s authority was challenged:  all of the staffs of those challenging Aaron were gathered together at God's command, and God told them that whichever staff budded in the morning would be the staff of God's choice for high priest, and Aaron’s staff was the one which budded – symbolizing God’s Sovereignty in the affairs of men. And, most famously, the tablets on which the Covenant was written – that Covenant which pointed forward to the Savior that God would send – that Covenant which showed anyone who has an ear to hear that it is not possible to earn salvation – that Covenant, which can only fail us and condemn us if we use it for a purpose for which it was not intended.

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Hebrews 8:10, ESV).

The cover on the top of the Ark, which was covered with gold, signified the presence of God among the people, and the cherubim standing on top of the cover indicated the joyful observance of the heavenly creatures of the Glory of God.

“And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, ‘Amen. Hallelujah!’” (Revelation 19:4, ESV).

After having looked through the Tabernacle, itself, the author of Hebrews now calls our attention to what the priest did in the tabernacle:

            “These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties,”

            Again, if we had been allowed into the first section of the Tabernacle – the Holy Place – we would have seen the priests going in day after day fulfilling their calls on behalf of God and the people that God called them to represent.  They would have seen that the candlestick remained lit and the bread was replaced every Sabbath.  They would have offered up prayers and read the Scripture.  Can we imagine them filling the candles with oil and replacing the bread, eating the old bread, and praying before God?

“but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.”

If we had eyes into the Holy of Holies, we would see only the high priest entering once a year to plead for the forgiveness of his sins and the sins of the people.  We would see him offer up incense – can you imagine the room becoming thick with incense?  And then he would spread blood on the Ark – can you imagine blood being spread over the gold?

“Then [the high priest] shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses” (Leviticus 16:15-16, ESV).

“In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:7-10, ESV).

 “By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.”

We are now ready to conclude the first Covenant’s failure – if you are seeking salvation through it:  what we have seen is sinful people coming to sinful men to offer up animals for the forgiveness of sin – and we have seen some parallel verses to the structure and work that occurred in the Tabernacle, which shows us that the sacrifices of the Tabernacle were not the end, but pointed to the Final, Perfect Sacrifice in Jesus.

Despite the beauty of the Tabernacle – with its acacia wood and colorful, fine linen walls, bronze and gold implements – designed by God, and the sacrificial rites and rituals instituted by God – in considering the first Covenant, we understand that it could not bring about salvation for a number of reasons:

The debt that was paid through the offering up of animals was never adequate to pay for the sins of humans.  Only a human could properly pay the debt of a human.

The debt that was paid through the offering up of animals was never enough to satisfy the Wrath of God for sin – the offering was too small – it didn’t take into account the seriousness and the greatness of the affront of sin to God.

The debt that was paid through the offering up of animals never removed the dominion – the slavery – to sin which humans are born under.  Although God really forgave in the moment for the sins confessed, there was no forgiveness or deliverance from the sin nature through the first Covenant’s offerings.

The debt that was paid through the offering up of animals did not lead towards sanctification – it never got beyond forgiveness of the sin of the moment.

The debt that was paid through the offering up of animals was never meant to go on forever.  Not only could it not go on forever if the Tabernacle – and the Temple – were destroyed – as they were – eternal sacrifices of animals would prove fruitless – vain – for salvation for the reasons we have already stated.

Our text this morning ends:  “By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.”

If animal sacrifices were still being offered in the Temple – which they were, according to the author of Hebrews – at the time he wrote his letter – “which is symbolic for this present age” – then the book of Hebrews had to have been written before 70 A.D., when the Temple was destroyed.

We are now in the age of reformation that he wrote about – there is no Temple, we cannot offer animal sacrifice’s according to the first Covenant – so there is all the more reason to say that the first Covenant – in all the things regarding the ceremonies of worship in it – is “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13, ESV).

Let us let the shadows recede, except to see that they pointed forward to Jesus Christ and His Covenant – the Gospel.  And let us hear these familiar words of Paul:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV).

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for giving the first Covenant and for the signs and shadows that it contains which point ever towards the coming of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.  Help us to believe the Gospel and put aside our works as ways to merit salvation.  Help us to understand that the Old Testament Ceremonial System of sacrifices is done away with through Jesus Christ.  Let us rejoice that we have seen even more than the author of Hebrews through the destruction of the Temple, pointing all the more to the end of the first Covenant’s sacrificial system.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Community Lunch

Join us for our FREE Community Lunch tomorrow, Saturday, April 20, at 12 PM (to 1 PM).  Come, eat, and join us in giving thanks to Jesus for His provision.  If you would like to help with preparation, serving, and clean-up, you would be welcome starting around 9 AM.  We would like to thank the Supreme branch of Investor's Bank in Irvington for donating a large portion of this Saturday's food -- thank you!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday Night Study

Join us tonight at 7 PM as we continue to consider the doctrine of Hell and look to see whether or not it can be found in the Old Testament.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"A New Covenant" Sermon: Hebrews 8:8-13


“A New Covenant”

[Hebrews 8:8-13]

April 14, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            What is the difference between a “contract” and a “covenant”?  One book notes at least four differences:  a contract list a series of benefits for each party, whereas a covenant focuses on increasing the intimacy between the parties.  A contract is by mutual agreement, whereas a covenant is offered as a gift by a stronger party to a weaker party.  A contract obliges each party to fulfill its terms, whereas a covenant obliges each other to mutual loyalty.  A contract is broken when the terms are not fulfilled, whereas a covenant is broken when the quality of the relationship suffers.  [cf. Kingdom Through Covenant]

            We are looking at two covenants – or two different administrations of the same covenant – the Covenant through Moses – the Mosaic Covenant – and the Covenant through Jesus – the Gospel.

            Last week we saw that the Mosaic Covenant is a shadow of the Gospel – the Mosaic Covenant pointed to and is fulfilled in the Work that Jesus did on earth.  We also considered the conclusion of the author of Hebrews:  Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, Who is in Heaven, in His glorified physical human body, Who is a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek and the Perfect and Final Sacrifice for His people, is Sovereignly reigning, and mediating between His people and God the Father.

            Today we are considering the New Covenant – the Gospel – as is was prophesied by Jeremiah during the Babylonian captivity – about six hundred years before Jesus was born.

            The author of Hebrews begins with the preparatory note:  “For he finds fault with them when he says:”  We are being reminded that God was angry with Israel and Judah for breaking the Mosaic Covenant, yet, in surprising mercy, God promised them that He would make a new covenant to replace the Mosaic Covenant.

            It’s worth understanding that the Mosaic Covenant was not just the Ten Commandments.  That is the best known part of the Covenant for many of us, but the laws of the Covenant continue for most of the rest of the books of Moses – all of the laws and instructions of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, are part of the Covenant.

            The author of Hebrews continues, having told us that God was angry with the people that He made the Mosaic Covenant with – which is why they were now in the Babylonian Captivity – and quotes the promise found in the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah:

            “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers     on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.  For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.”

            The first thing we ought to understand this morning is that God makes – literally, “cuts” – the Covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  No human being makes a covenant with God.  As often as we may try to make deals with God – “If you let me do well on this exam, I’ll never tell another lie” and so forth – God alone makes covenants with humans, because He is the stronger party.

            After God had freed Israel by His Mighty Right Hand from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt, Moses and the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry land, and when Israel was safe on the other side, God closed up the waters and drown the Egyptian army, and Moses cried out in praise:

            “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.  The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.  The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name.  Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.  The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone.  Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.  In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.  At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up; the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.  The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.  I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’  You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.  Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?  Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?  You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them. You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.  The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.      Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased.  You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. The LORD will reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:1b-18, ESV).

            Notice, Moses’ song is not mere rejoicing over the death of the Egyptians, nor is it a lifting of the Israelites, but it is all praise to God, their salvation.  It was with that understanding of God being their salvation that Israel received the Mosaic Covenant in the wilderness at Mount Sinai.  The Covenant commanded Israel to live holy lives and to worship God in holiness.  But Israel sinned against God and did not keep the Covenant.  They did not live lives of holiness and they did not worship God in holiness.

            And we may be thinking, “But they couldn’t live lives of holiness and worship God in holiness, because they were sinners.  You have told us that they could not keep the Covenant.”

            That is exactly the point they missed:  the Mosaic Covenant was designed to show them – among other things – that they could not keep the Covenant and needed the Savior that God had promised back in Genesis three.  The point of the Covenant was to cause them to run to God as their only salvation.  But they didn’t – they didn’t understand that the Mosaic Covenant was a shadow of the Covenant that would come with the Savior – the Messiah.  They didn’t understand that the response to breaking the Covenant was not to make excuses or to “try, try again,” but to fall on their faces calling out for the Mercy of God – “Forgive me, a sinner!”

            Since they did not keep the Covenant, God cast them – many of them – aside.  God used the Covenant to expose the fact that God never had any intention of saving everyone.

            That is the second thing we ought to understand this morning:  it was never God’s intention to save everyone.  God’s plan of salvation has not been frustrated.  God has not lost people He really, really wanted to save.  No, as we see again and again through the Scripture, God chose to save a remnant – the elect.  Paul explained:

            “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.’ And as Isaiah predicted, ‘If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.’  What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:27-33, ESV).

            After this introduction, the author of Hebrews moves on to explain what the New Covenant is all about:

            “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord:”

            And again we see in the idea of “covenant” that it is God – the greater party – Who is the One to make and enforce the Covenant.  But notice the Mercy of God – Israel and Judah had already broken the Mosaic Covenant.  God had no obligation to make a covenant with them in the first place, how much more surely was it then that God had no obligation to make a New Covenant with them – with the remnant – the elect who would believe.  The remnant had nothing to offer to induce God to make a covenant with them in the first place – how much less did they have to offer to induce God to make a covenant now that they had broken the Mosaic Covenant.  No, the Covenant is all of God; the remnant adds nothing to it.  Marvel at the Mercy of our God!

            “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

            In the Mosaic Covenant, the laws were written on stone, but now, God promised to write His Law on the minds and the hearts of people.  Instead of the laws being on exterior slabs of rock, God cut them into the minds and hearts of people.

            Now, the Mosaic Covenant was written on stones that everyone could see.  Who had the New Covenant cut into their hearts and minds?  It cannot be everyone.  Why not?  Hear what Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian:

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:17-24, ESV).

Paul explains that those who have believed the New Covenant – the Gospel – have been changed in their hearts and minds.  God has taken our futile minds and renewed them, and He has taken our hard hearts and renewed them.  If we had not been renewed in heart and mind first, we could not receive the New Covenant in our hearts and minds.

So, that is the third thing we ought to understand this morning:  God regenerates our hearts and minds – He brings to life the hearts and minds – of those into whom He cuts the New Covenant.  God brings those to spiritual life that He chooses, prior to them receiving the Gospel. No one can believe the New Covenant – the Gospel – until God raises him from spiritual death to spiritual life.  We cannot believe that salvation is through Jesus Alone until God saves us.

We have talked about this before:  God has chosen a remnant – God has elected some out of all of humanity – to believe and receive the Gospel.  Those – and only those – will believe in Jesus Alone for salvation.  These are the ones God has chosen for His Own Reasons to save those who will receive the law on their hearts and minds.

For God is the God of those who believe in Him and the Savior He sent.  And the people of God are those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation.  God is the Creator of all people, but He is the Father of those who believe.  And only those people who believe in God and His Savior savingly are God’s people.

Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10, ESV).

And now that we have been renewed in mind and heart, with God as our God and we as His people, we are able to follow after God and keep His commandments – we are able to repent of our sins and be obedient to God’s commands.  And we are able to strive with confidence towards the holiness God calls us to.  As Paul writes, “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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV).

            “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”

            Fourth, teaching will not cause us to know the Lord savingly.  God causes whomever He will to believe in Him, and the Holy Spirit, Who indwells every Christian, helps us to remember and understand what we have learned and what we are learning from God’s Word.  As Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-15, ESV).

            That does not mean that we don’t need to be taught and to work together as a body to understand what God has said.  But as far as believing the New Covenant – the Gospel – is concerned, we do not need to be taught it for conversion, because the non-elect will not believe it or understand it, and God causes the elect to believe it.  There are scholars who can explain all the ins and outs of the Scripture correctly, but don’t believe, because God has not been pleased to cause them to believe.

            That does not mean that we are not to evangelize, because Jesus commands us to evangelize – we are to tell others what the Gospel is.  What we need to understand is that we cannot cause someone to believe the Gospel.  Our job is to tell others the Gospel, and then God causes people to believe as He wills.

            The point is, if you believe the Gospel, it is because God made you believe the Gospel, not because of how and how well you were taught it.  We are to teach the Gospel and to tell others, but that does not cause people to believe.

            And then we are to read and discuss the Scripture together.  The author of Hebrews wrote, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV).  Every Christian is called to study the Word of God and to study it with other Christians that we all might grow and be encouraged by what God has said and promised.

            “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

            Fifth, if you believe the New Covenant – the Gospel -- with your heart and mind, you have also been forgiven of all of your sins by the free and sovereign pardon of God.

            Paul wrote, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14, ESV).

            We who believe in the Gospel do not need to live under the fear and condemnation of the Mosaic Law which said, “the wages of sin is death,” because we have been forgiven for all of our sins throughout time, by the work Jesus accomplished on earth – which is the Gospel, the New Covenant.

            God has come to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, lived a perfect life under the Mosaic Law – which He now credits as righteousness to all those who will ever believe, took upon Himself the sin of all we who would ever believe and endured the Wrath of God for that sin, died, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne.

            Finally, the author of Hebrews tells us that since there is a new covenant, the old one is obsolete – it is old and ready to vanish away:  “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

            And we may find this confusing, since we have said that God now helps us to follow the Law – not for salvation, but in thanksgiving, and in becoming more like Jesus.  If this is true, for example, may we now lie, murder, and commit adultery?  Are these no longer laws we have to obey?

            The answer is found in understanding that there are different types of laws – there are moral laws – like not to murder – which are eternal – and then there are ceremonial and judicial laws – laws about how to worship and how to conduct law within the ancient nation state of Israel.  Ancient Israel no longer exists, so we don’t have to obey those laws.  So, the laws that are in question are the ceremonial laws – the laws about worship, and that is what the author of Hebrews is referring to.

            The Mosaic Covenant had laws about how to worship – and specifically, how to offer up a sacrifice.  Those laws are now obsolete, because they have been fulfilled in the Gospel through Jesus.  There is no need to offer up sacrifices – and especially blood sacrifices – because Jesus has offered up once and finally a sacrifice that covers all of the sins of all of the people who will ever believe in Jesus Alone for salvation.

            And so we see that Covenants are cut by God, not us.

            God has always intended to save a remnant, not everyone.

            God saves His remnant by regenerating our hearts and minds and writing His Gospel on them.

            Although being taught the Gospel does not save a person, someone who believes the Gospel will be led to repentance and obedience.

            Anyone who believes the Gospel has been forgiven of all of his or her sins and made righteous.   

            And the ceremonial law is now obsolete because Jesus has fulfilled and offered up the final sacrifice to eternally save all those God has chosen to be His people.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we are quick to put aside the Old Testament and think it of little value.  Help us to see that although the Mosaic Covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus, it is through the moral law that we understand what sin is and how to live the holy lives we are called to and to worship God in all holiness.  May the Holy Spirit lead us.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.