Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Hell on Trial" Study

Join us this evening at 7 PM as we conclude our study of Hell -- feel free to come even if you haven't before!

Evening sutdies will be on hiatus for the month of August.

D.V., we will resume with a new study in September.

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Faith & Belief" Sermon: Hebrews 11:6


“Faith & Belief”

[Hebrews 11:6]

July 28, 2013 Second Reformed Church

Let us again remember the two prongs of faith mentioned in the first verse of the chapter:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).  We will note this over and over in the hopes that it begins to be a natural understanding for us:

            We saw this verse talks about faith being “the assurance of things hoped for” and “the conviction of things not seen,” and we understood that to mean:

First, faith receives the Word of God, the history and promises and witnesses statements therein, and believes with absolute certainty that everything that God has promised and said will come about, will come to pass, exactly as it has been given to us and received by us in faith.

Second, faith receives the Word of God, the history and promises and witnesses statements therein, and believes with absolute conviction based on the evidence we have received that things that are spoken of which are not seen by us, either by difference of time, or because such are invisible to our eyes have happened, will happen, and do exist, exactly as they have been given to us and received by us in faith.

Last week we saw that God said, “Now before [Enoch] was taken he was commended as having pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5b, ESV).  We began to consider what that means last week, and we consider it more fully this week, as the author of Hebrews wrote:  “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Here we find three doctrines about pleasing God:

First, without faith it is impossible to please God.

Second, to please God whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists.

And third, to please God whoever would draw near to God must believe that he rewards those who seek him.

First, without faith it is impossible to please God.

God has commanded all of humanity to obey His Moral Law.  Believers and unbelievers are called to worship the One God and not idols.  Believers and unbelievers are called not to murder, to steal, to lie, to commit adultery, and to covet.  Believers and unbelievers are called to honor their parents and to set aside a day for the worship of the One True God.  All of humanity is called to obey such laws because they are good.

And, in fact, both believers and non-believers do keep the Moral Law – at least to some degree.  Both believers and non-believers see the value of a pursuit after these moral standards.  (Of course, none of us keep any of them perfectly, but that discussion must be saved for another time.)

But the author of Hebrews explains that if a believer keeps the Law, God is pleased, but if a non-believer keeps the Law, God is not pleased.  Is that fair?

Cain certainly didn’t think it was fair, as we read:  “In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:3-7, ESV).

And the unbelieving Jews complained to God about it:  “Why have we fasted, and you see it not?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” (Isaiah 58:3a, ESV).

Cain objected that he offered up a sacrifice according to the book, and God did not accept it.  The Jews fasted and humbled themselves, and God did not tell them how good they were.

The problem is that knowing what is right – and even doing what is right—going through the motions – is not enough.  Without faith, these things are not pleasing to God.  There is no repenting of sin, no desire to see Christ exalted, no desire to be in communion with God.  As James writes, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19, ESV).

It’s right to believe that God is one, but that is not enough to please God – the demons believe God is one and God hates the demons.  There must be more than knowledge – more than naked actions – for God to be pleased.

Jesus said, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me’” (Matthew 25:41-45, ESV).

On the other hand, God is not pleased when we don’t believe what is true – or don’t do those things that are right – or know what is true and have no change of heart.  If we memorize the Bible and do good things, or if we memorize the Bible and don’t do anything it says, the result is the same – God is not pleased.

And that may confuse us:  it makes sense if we know everything that is right and don’t do it that God would not be pleased, but if we know everything that is right and do do it, God still may not be pleased – how can that be so?

Thomas Manton gives this example:  “When a man is ready to perish and drown, it is not enough to see land, but he must reach to it, and stand upon it, if he would be safe; so we must get an interest in God.  The apostle requires ‘coming and seeking,’ a diligent use of the means that we may enjoy him” (By Faith, 243).

So, you go swimming in the ocean and you find yourself out too far, but just then, you see land.  If you do nothing, what will happen?  You will drown!  In order to be saved, you must get to the land and stand on it.

Similarly, if you know what is right or do things that are good, they are not enough to please God.  In order to please God, you must be in communion with God, you must be one with God, you must be right with God, and you must have faith.

Faith, which is a gift from God – as we have seen – shows us the sinful state we are in and how we are separated from God.  Then, by God’s Grace, we are humbled, and confess our sin, and receive Jesus and His Gospel, and the Holy Spirit with Him.  We are reconciled to God through Jesus the Son and we are able, in faith, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, to understand what God has said and believe it, and do the good works that God has put before us.

The best person that we know – without faith – is not pleasing to God.  As Paul explains, “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” (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV).

A person who has not received Jesus and His Salvation by faith is spiritually dead and unable to do anything that is pleasing to God.  Don’t misunderstand – there are many wonderful, generous, loving, non-believers, who do wonderful things, but since they are spiritually dead – sine they have not received Jesus and His Salvation by faith, they do not please God.

And so, we can understand, that though those believers before Jesus only had the promises of a Savior to come, faith ultimately refers to receiving the Savior.  Though Abel only had the slightest glimpse of the Savior given in the promise to his parents, “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), it was through believing that promise that Abel was able to receive salvation by faith and please God with his offering.

In order to please God, you must receive Jesus by faith, believing the Gospel – that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under the Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne.

Second, to please God whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists.

God ridicules Israel in the book of Isaiah for committing idolatry:  “The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, ‘Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’” (Isaiah 44:12-17, ESV).

God says that a person who takes a piece of wood and uses part of it to cook his dinner and part of it to make into an idol to worship is deluded.  That’s nuts!  And while there is a rise in people worshipping statues of many kinds in the United States, I would guess that most of us would not pray to a rock or a piece of wood, or something along those lines.

Paul tells us, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20, ESV).  In other words, everybody knows that God is – that God exists – simply by looking at the creation.

So, we may wonder, “What is the big deal about believing that God exists, or believing that God is?”  Here we see, as we have seen before, it is important to know what the meaning of “is” is.  And we may quickly understand that if the author of Hebrews simply meant that to please God, whoever would draw near to God must believe that such a Being as God exists – that God is – there would be no question, because everyone believes that God is – that God exists.

And someone may ask, “What about atheists?”  R. C. Sproul has said that atheists believe two things quite passionately:  one, God does not exist, and two, they hate God.  The point being that everyone believes that God is – that God exists – it is just that some people don’t like the God Who exists.

So the author of Hebrews must mean something other than the fact that God exists – that God is.  We can find the answer by looking at a different word which comes from the same root as “exist” – “being.”  What the author of Hebrews is saying is that in order to please God – in order to draw near to God – we must understand the Being of God – we must understand the character and attributes of God.  And, it is only when and if a person understands – to some extent – the character – the Being – the attributes of God – that faith propels us to God – we are drawn near to Him.

The primary characteristic of the Being of God is holiness.  “And one [seraphim] called to another and said:  ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isaiah 6:3, ESV).  And we understand, in Hebrew, one does not say “very, very, very holy” to show emphasis, one says, “holy, holy, holy.”

Beginning here, we understand that God cannot tolerate sin in His Presence.  So, we understand, just from considering this primary attribute of God that the only way we can approach God – draw near to God – as we seek to know Him in His Being – by His Characteristics and Attributes, is to be reconciled to God.  The debt of our sin to God must be paid.

And we know the answer, don’t we?  “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” (Ephesians 2:4-9, ESV).

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, ESV).

God the Father, in love for those He chose to save, sent God the Son, in the Person of Jesus Christ, to take on our sins and the penalty for our sins, while He gave to us His Righteousness.  So, once again, the key is faith – and the reception of Salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.

We can only draw near to God – come before Him as true worshippers of Him, if we have come to know Him in His Being – in His Character and Attributes – such that we are made right with God – forgiven and made righteous – and that can only be through Jesus Christ.

And third, to please God whoever would draw near to God must believe that he rewards those who seek him.

            We must immediately dispel the notion that any non-believer is seeking Jesus and His Salvation:  “as it is written:  ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11, ESV).  We are all born “children of wrath,” as we have already seen.  We are by nature, due to the fall, and our joyful continuing in sin, haters of God – not seekers of Him.  So, who seeks after God – and what does that mean?

            David said, “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9, ESV).

            And God spoke to the believing remnant, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:12-14, ESV).

            Only believers seek God, and we seek God through obeying God.  We seek after God and know God better as we obey Him more.  Thus, seeking after God is a progressive act – it is something we do more and more as we grow in sanctification – as we grow in holiness.  Seeking after God is something which the Holy Spirit leads us in.

            What, then, are the rewards promised to believers who seek to know God and seek to obey God?  They cannot be things we merit, as our salvation, faith, grace, the Holy Spirit, and all that we have in Christ are gifts.  So, what does the author of Hebrews mean when he says that we must believe in the rewards that God gives to those who seek Him?

            The rewards he is talking about are all those things which could come under the doctrine of Providence:  we see that God loves us, that He cares for us, that our prayers are heard by Him and answered according to His Will, that He is our Deliverer, our Salvation, and nothing can ever separate us from Him.

            The rewards he is talk about are primarily in looking forward to the next life – to our life in the Kingdom.  We often hear this promise at funerals – but it is something we ought to have before us while we live in great hope and joy:  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV).

            The rewards we receive as believers who seek Him are found in a new life in the Kingdom in the presence of God.  And the true end of looking towards these promises is promoting the Glory of God – making Who God is and what the Gospel is known  -- in faith and belief and with confidence – that is, through faith in Jesus Christ and all that attends to that faith.

            And so we see that without faith it is impossible to please God, because only believers have been reconciled to God through Jesus and His Salvation – only believers can love God and do those things which God calls us to do as believers. 

To please God whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists.  Believers must come to know God’s Attributes and then we see that we are sinners and the only way we can draw near to God is through the payment of our debt from sin to God – and that can only occur by Jesus, the God-Man taking our place, taking on our sin and the punishment for it, and giving us His Righteousness.

And to please God whoever would draw near to God must believe that He rewards those who seek him.  We understand that only believers truly seek God – that is, we strive to be obedient to God more and more through the Holy Spirit Who empowers us and gives us understanding.  And as we strive towards holiness, we look forward to the fulfillment of all those promises God has made for those who seek Him, and especially, the reception into the Kingdom, after the Judgment.

With all this in mind, let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for the gift of faith.  We thank You for sending the Son that we would be made right with You that we would draw near to You.  We thank You that we can now please You and we beg You that the Holy Spirit would stir us up to seek You and to pursue holiness to Your Glory.  Help us to have the glorious rewards of the Kingdom before us that, no matter what occurs in this life, we could look forward in great joy for that day when the Creation is restored and we will be in Your Presence for ever more.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Hell on Trial"

Join us tonight at 7 PM for our second to last night of dicussing this book.  You are welcome, even if you have not come before!

"Enoch" Sermon: Hebrews 11:5


“Enoch”

[Hebrews 11:5]

July 21, 2013 Second Reformed Church

As we look at each figure mentioned in Hebrews 11, we need to remember that faith is not a work, but a gift from God by which we receive what God has to give us.  If we remember, I said faith is like the gutters and leaders on our houses and apartments – it receives what is given and moves it to where it belongs.

We also do well to remember the two prongs of faith mentioned in the first verse of the chapter:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).  We will note this over and over in the hopes that it begins to be a natural understanding for us:

            We saw this verse talks about faith being “the assurance of things hoped for” and “the conviction of things not seen,” and we understood that to mean:

First, faith receives the Word of God, the history and promises and witnesses statements therein, and believes with absolute certainty that everything that God has promised and said will come about, will come to pass, exactly as it has been given to us and received by us in faith.

Second, faith receives the Word of God, the history and promises and witnesses statements therein, and believes with absolute conviction based on the evidence we have received that things that are spoken of which are not seen by us, either by difference of time, or because such are invisible to our eyes have happened, will happen, and do exist, exactly as they have been given to us and received by us in faith.

            We are looking at one verse, concerning Enoch, this morning, which raises three questions:  Who was Enoch?  Why didn’t Enoch die?  And, so what?

“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.”

Who was Enoch?

There are three references to this Enoch in Scripture.

We read this in the book of Genesis:  “When Jared had lived 162 years he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died.

            “When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:18-24, ESV).

            So, first we see that Enoch was the son of Jared; he was the seventh generation after Adam. 

            We have noted before that one of the points of the genealogies of the Scripture is to show us that we are dealing with history and not mythology.  God created our first parents, Adam and Eve, and we can follow the genealogy and see that there was a real person by the name of Enoch in the seventh generation after Adam – about a thousand years before the world-wide flood.

            We note that Enoch was the father of Methuselah – the oldest person on record, who lived to 969 years old.

            We note in this morning’s Scripture that Enoch did not die – “he was taken up.”  And in the Genesis text, we are told that Enoch did not die, “for he was not, for God took him.”  When Enoch was 365 years old, God took Enoch, and Enoch did not experience physical death.

            Enoch is in a special group of two people who never experienced physical death – the other being Elijah.  We remember that Elijah was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind:  “And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11, ESV).

            In the third and final text we have about this Enoch, we read, “It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him’” (Jude 1:14-15, ESV).

            From this, we learn that Enoch was a prophet – and this text in Jude is the only extant prophecy left of his ministry.

            And what is Enoch’s prophesy about?  The Second Coming of the Christ!  He tells us that when the Lord comes with myriad angels with Him, He will execute judgment on all people – the entire world will be judged – and the ungodly – those who have spoken against the Christ – will be convicted – the gavel will come down in judgment.

            If Enoch’s prophecy sounds familiar, it may be because Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. … And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-32, 46, ESV).

            And so we see that Enoch had faith – even if our text did not tell us that had faith, we can see that Enoch had faith, based on what the author of Hebrews says in verse one of this chapter: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV). 

            Enoch receive the Word of God through faith -- its history and promises and witnesses statements therein, and believed with absolute certainty that everything that God had promised and said about the Christ would come about, would come to pass, exactly as it has been given in the Scripture.

Enoch had an absolute conviction based on the evidence he received in the Scripture that the coming of the Christ and His judgment of all people – things that were spoken of which he had not seen, because they would happen after his life – would happen, exactly as it they had been promised and prophesied.

Enoch’s prophecy and Enoch’s faith were directed at Christ.  And we have seen several times now that true faith ultimately points to Christ.  Faith is designed to receive Christ.  And any so-called faith that does not have Christ foundationally – first and foremost – is not a faith that God is pleased with.  And, Lord, willing, we’ll talk more about that next week.

Enoch was a man of faith.

And we also see in these texts that Enoch was a man who followed God, who obeyed God, who walked with God.  Enoch strived to obey God in every aspect of his life and in every way he knew as revealed in the Scripture, and God was pleased with Enoch.

Enoch pleased God. 

God tells us that Enoch was a good and faithful servant – a prophet of God.

Think about that for a moment:  do you long that God would say that to you – as He did of Enoch – that you were a good and faithful servant?

Well, let’s continue on to our second question:  Why didn’t Enoch die?

Well, the answer is obvious, is it not?  The Scripture we have looked at tells us that Enoch was faithful, commended by God as having pleased God, a man who walked with God in obedience.  So, Enoch earned his not dying and being taken to be with God alive, right?  No!

Paul writes, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.  Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:10-18, 23, ESV).

Since the sin of our first parents, every merely human born child is born a sinner, inclined towards sin, so Enoch was a sinner, and nothing he could merit could earn him deliverance from a physical death.  As the author of Hebrews tells us: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27, ESV).

And Paul writes, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—“ (Romans 5:12, ESV).

So, before Adam sinned, there was no death.  But after Adam sinned – being our representative before God – all mere humans were born sinners and sin – and die.

So, we have a problem:  if all mere human beings after Adam are born sinners – spiritually dead – and sin, and die in the flesh, Enoch could not have merited entering into the presence of God – Enoch was a sinner.

The easiest way to deal with the problem is to say that it just didn’t happen.  Enoch was not received alive and bodily into the presence of God.  But that leaves us with the problem that if this history is not true, we have reason to doubt all of the history of the Bible.  So that is not a satisfactory answer.  So, we are back to the fact that Enoch, a sinner, was received alive and bodily in to the presence of God.  What other options do we have to explain this?

The older commentators say, God made a “special dispensation.”  What does that mean?  God made an exception!  And we immediately cry out, “That’s not fair!”

And Enoch would tell you, “Who in the world ever told you God was fair?”

God’s not fair:  God chose some people out of all of humanity who had turned their backs on God in sin – committing cosmic rebellion – damning themselves to eternal Hell – and God sent His Son to save those He had chosen to be His people.  That’s not fair.  Fair would have been to let us all perish for our sin.  God has to be holy, but He doesn’t have to be fair.

So God, for His Own Reasons, chose to take Enoch out of the world – alive in his body – and bring him into the presence of God.  Enoch was a sinner who had faith in the Savior – the Christ – that God would send – Who we now know as Jesus.

Yet, we can learn something from the life and translation of Enoch, can’t we?

And that is the answer to our, “so what?”

In our Scriptures, we see that we must have faith to please God. 

Lord willing, we will talk about this more next week, but for now, let us see that God commended Enoch as having pleased Him because Enoch had faith.  Because Enoch had faith and through it received all that God had said and believed it and followed it, he pleased God.  It especially pleased God that Enoch believed all that God said about the Savior He was sending.

Along with this, we do well to remember that faith is a gift.

Paul explains:  “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” (Ephesians 2:1-9, ESV).

All mere humans since Adam are born dead in sin, opposed to God, and unable to have faith.  It is only if and when God chooses, in love, to make a person alive in Christ by grace that the gift of faith is given and a person can receive what God has said and promised in the Scripture, believing in the Savior and the Gospel and repenting of sin.

And it pleases God to save some:  God is pleased with us when we receive His Word, through the faith that He gives us, by the grace in which we have been saved.  God is pleased when we read His Word and believe in Jesus.  It gives God pleasure to hear us sing with believing hearts about His Son.  It gives God joy when we tell others what He has said, having believed it ourselves.  As we see in the life of Enoch, God is pleased when the people He has chosen to believe receive the Gospel through faith and belief.

In addition, it pleases God when we walk with Him and in His Word – when we do what He has said.  When we receive His Word as our law and life as Christians, God is pleased.   When we seek to be obedient to our Lord and Savior – God is pleased.  When we seek to love God with our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves – God is pleased.

Do we seek to wholly set ourselves aside to God?  Do we strive with everything that we are to make Who God is and what His Gospel is clear in our lives?  Do we use our bodies to show the Glory of God?  Our minds?  Our hearts?  Our souls?  Are we fighting in love to be obedient to God and obvious about His Gospel? 

Do we seek to keep our neighbors from harm?  Do we seek their benefit?  Do we seek to help them grow and profit and mature – especially in the things of Christ and His Gospel?

Surely Enoch did – he walked with God – obeying His commands – and he spoke out as a prophet, warning his neighbors that the Savior is coming – the Christ is coming – the Messiah is coming – and those who reject Him will be judged for their sins.

Don’t be afraid to ask others for help in understanding how you can best follow God – how you can best walk with Him.   Sometimes we see things in each other that we have not seen – or sometimes, there is just a need that you can address, even if is not your “be all and end all” for the meaning of your life.

Enoch believe through faith and he worked diligently at obeying all that God said as he walked with Him.  May he be an example to us of the true Christian life:  faith plus works.

Enoch also shows us that God saves our physical bodies and our souls – not just our souls. 

If we die as Christians, God will reunite us with our resurrected bodies and receive our whole selves into the Kingdom – incorruptible.  Paul wrote, “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 49, ESV).

Our bodies, like Enoch’s, will be received into the presence of God.  After the resurrection, our bodies will be made like Jesus’ glorified body – still a real human body – able to eat and be touched – as we see in the Scripture.

Our bodies are good and will be received into the Kingdom – into the presence of God.

Knowing this – and seeing that Enoch lived after having been taken and brought into the presence of God – we find comfort in the death of Christians – knowing that this is not the end.  Our bodies shall be raised and we shall live for ever and ever in the presence of God in the Kingdom.

Paul wrote:  “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. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:  ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:50-57, ESV).

We, Christians, have nothing to fear from death, and great hope to cling to by faith that we will be received into the Kingdom.  As Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, ESV).

One more thing:  as we look at what happened to Enoch, we recognize that he was a type – a foreshadowing – of Christ in His Ascension.

Just as Abel was a foreshadowing of the high priesthood and sacrifice and death of Christ, so we see that Enoch is a foreshadowing of the Ascension of Christ.

So, the author of Hebrews gave the example of Enoch as a man of faith that we would look to him and see a believer who received the Word of God and followed it in obedience, who looked forward to the coming of the Christ and warned of the judgment that was coming.

We see in him the promise of the resurrection of the physical body and its reception into the Kingdom, and we understand that believers do not need to fear death.

And we see a foreshadowing of the Ascension of Christ through which we have the promise of our resurrected physical body being received into the Kingdom by Christ Himself.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for the witness of the man of faith, Enoch.  We ask that You would continue to make us into the Image of Your Son – that we would hear Your Word and follow You in all obedience – that we would not fear death, and that we would believe with all surety, in the resurrection of the body.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Free Community Lunch

Tomorrow, July 20, at noon, we plan, D.V., to offer a free lunch.  Join us for lunch and conversation.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reformed Wisdom

John Calvin on Hebrews 11:5 --

"Let us leave this airy philosophy to those light and vain minds, which cannot be satisfied with what is solid."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vacation...right...

The pastor is on vacation from July 8th through July 15th.  Please call a member of the Consistory or the church office if you are in need.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Abel" Sermon: Hebrews 11:4


“Abel”

[Hebrews 11:4]

July 7, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            We began chapter eleven of Hebrews last week – “the faith chapter” – and we took special note of understanding the first verse:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).

            We saw this verse talks about faith being “the assurance of things hoped for” and “the conviction of things not seen,” and we understood that to mean:

First, faith receives the Word of God, the history and promises and witnesses statements therein, and believes with absolute certainty that everything that God has promised and said will come about, will come to pass, exactly as it has been given to us and received by us in faith.

Second, faith receives the Word of God, the history and promises and witnesses statements therein, and believes with absolute conviction based on the evidence we have received that things that are spoken of which are not seen by us, either by difference of time, or because such are invisible to our eyes have happened, will happen, and do exist, exactly as they have been given to us and received by us in faith.

We noted in the second verse that it was by faith the believers prior to the Incarnation were found to be pleasing to God.  And, so, this morning, we see that the author of Hebrews first turns to Abel, the second son of Adam and Eve.

We will remember that after God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, Eve gave birth to their first son, Cain, and then to their second son, Abel.  And we read:

“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’

“Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (Genesis 4:3-8, ESV).

Our reading this morning notes:  “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”

All that having been said, we may still be scratching our heads, “Why did God accept Abel’s offering and not Cain’s?”

Well, what can we understand from the Genesis text?

First, we see that God told Adam and Eve how to worship Him, and Adam and Eve told Cain and Abel how to worship God.  We would be hard pressed to believe that Abel simply stumbled on to worshipping God in a way that pleased Him.  No, we have to believe that the unspoken history here is that God told Adam and Eve, and they instructed their children, how to worship God rightly.

Now, when Cain and Abel came to offer their sacrifices, Cain, being a farmer, brought the best food of his crop, and Abel, being a shepherd, brought the best of his flock.  If they had been offering up the tithe, it would seem that what they did would be right, because God says we are to give back to the work of God ten percent of our gross income.  For Cain, that would have been ten percent of the crops he grew, and for Abel, that would be ten percent of the flocks he shepherded.

Based on our text, we can reasonably draw the conclusion that Cain and Abel were offering up a sin offering.  And we remember:  “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV).  Cain’s sacrifice did not involve blood, Abel’s did – that seems to be a key to why Abel’s sacrifice was received and Cain’s was not.  Cain was trying to get away with offering a sacrifice which was not according the way God said that He was to be worshipped.

Thus, we can conclude that the way we worship matters to God.  We see at least three things that are necessary in Scripture that mark a faithful worship service:  the reading and preaching of the Word of God, the use of the Sacraments, and the practice of discipline.  By example, we could also add singing, prayer, the collection, and fellowship as biblical items which may occur in worship.

The way we worship God matters to Him.

Second, we see that Abel offered his sacrifice in faith – God accepted his gifts and commended him for them.

If Abel offered his sacrifice in faith, we must be able to identify a hope which he was assured of and/or a conviction of something that was not seen – as we gather from the first verse of the chapter.

The answer in this case is both:  Abel offered his sacrifice in hopes of something that he was assured of and with the conviction of something that was not seen.  Who or what was his faith in?  The Savior Who was to come – Jesus.

Surely, Adam and Eve would have told their sons about their sin and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the curses that God brought down upon them.  They would have also told them the Gospel message that God promised in the Garden:  “I will put enmity between [the serpent] 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).  This is the first promise of the Savior God would send, and it was a promise that Cain and Abel would have grown up with hearing.

So, Abel offered up his blood sacrifice, for the forgiveness of sins, according to the will of God for worship, and in faith that God would send the Savior that He promised.

Thus, we can see that the state of our heart in worship matters to God.  Even if Cain had offered up a blood sacrifice, if he had done so without faith – without having received the promise of God to send the Savior and believing in it as a motivation for what he was doing, it still would have been rejected.  Likewise, if we go through the motions in worship, but have not received God’s Word and believed in His promises, our worship will be rejected – it will be sin. 

The state of our heart in worship matters to God.

Third, as we look at this morning’s text, we see that Abel was commended as righteous.  The word, “commended” in our text means “borne witness to, confirmed” – God bore witness to/confirmed the fact that Abel was righteous.  And God bore witness to/confirmed him righteous – publically – through the accepting of his sacrifice.

Now, consider, we are born spiritually dead, so, in order for us to be spiritually alive, God has to enliven our hearts – God has to change our hearts and make us spiritually alive.  In raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life, God declares us righteous, because those who are spiritually alive receive salvation from Jesus Who imputes/credits our sin to Him and His Righteousness to us.  Then, we are able to act in faith – having assurance in the things that we hope for and being convicted of the things we have not seen, which God has revealed to us and promised to us as believers.

Thus, we can see that Abel was justified by faith.  He received the imputation/the crediting of Christ’s Righteousness to him because he had faith.  He received Christ’s Righteousness because he had faith – he believed with assurance in the hope of Christ’s coming as Savior, and he was convinced by God’s promises of Christ’s coming – though he had not seen it.

John comments:  “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous” (1 John 3:12, ESV).

And Solomon wrote, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him” (Proverbs 15:8, ESV).

And so we have confirmation of what we read in Paul’s writings, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28, ESV).  Abel was justified – he received Christ’s Righteousness – through faith, not through anything he did – not even his obedience in worshipping as God instructed that He should be worshipped.

Likewise, we are justified by faith.  We receive Christ’s Righteousness through faith alone – not by anything we do.  Remember the image of gutters and leaders I gave us for picturing faith – faith is the means of reception of Christ’s Righteousness which God declares is ours.

Our text continues, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”

Because Abel was a man of faith, his witness continues on.  As we have already seen:

Abel shows us that the way we worship God matters to Him.

Abel shows us that the state of our heart in worship matters to God.

Abel shows us that we are justified by faith.

We also see through Abel’s death that persecution is normal for Christians.

As Jesus prayed, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14, ESV).

And Peter warned his readers no to be surprised, but to expect tribulation:  “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12, ESV).

Abel’s death also reminds us that we ought not to seek vengeance when we suffer for Christ’s sake.  Just as God punished Cain, God will bring vengeance upon all those who persecute His people.

As Paul wrote, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” (Romans 12:19, ESV).

And:  “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-8, ESV).

So let us be prepared to suffer for the sake of Christ.

Let us not be afraid, but seek to do all things – and especially worship God – in accordance with the Will of God and with a heart that truly believes all that it has received through faith.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for the examples of Your people in history that You have preserve for us that we might learn from them and be inspired by them.  Help us to be people who worship You rightly, faithfully, and with a clean heart.  Help us to stand for You and not be afraid, not matter what threats or violence come our way for Your sake.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Review: "The Point: The Redemption of Oban Ironbout"

Hollie had just discovered that she had kidney disease, so she and her husband, Goodwin, decided to take a trip they had always wanted to take – a month long vacation to the Isle of Estillyen where they would participate in twelve centering readings.  The monks of the Isle would gather the visitors together for a reading of Scripture, with commentary, including the participation of the visitors.  Then, the visitors were given time to reflect and discuss.

Goodwin’s grandfather had often gone to Estillyen many years earlier and had befriended a young couple who lived on the point of the Isle.  Goodwin had drawn a picture from a snapshot his grandfather had taken and wanted to show it to the hermit of the point and see the place for himself.
Do words have power?  Do words associated with the divine have a special power?  Can meditating on the words of the Scripture and thinking them out affect oneself and others?

William E. Jefferson has written quite a powerful tale in The Point:  The Redemption of Oban Ironbout (originally titled, Messages from Estillyen).  Jefferson writes in a Bunyanesque style – characters like Mr. Kind and Brother Plot.  One could read this book as a story about a man who needed to be redeemed.  One could read it as a couple who needed assurance.  One could read it as a way to consider and profit by the Holy Word.  Or all of the above.  It is also a book which challenges the reader to consider how he has read – if he has taken the time to value the words being read, rather than just riding roughshod over them.

The style of writing might take a little bit to get into, but take the time.  This is a worthwhile and thought-provoking novel.
[This review appears on my blog and at Amazon.com.  I received a copy of this book free from Handlebar Publishing for review.]