Second Reformed Church

Monday, September 30, 2013

"Abraham's Test" Sermon: Hebrews 11:17-19


“Abraham’s Test”

[Hebrews 11:17-19]

September 29, 2013 Second Reformed Church

We return to our look at Hebrews chapter eleven, and we need to remind ourselves that faith is a means by which we receive by God – it is not a thing we do.  It is by faith that we receive God’s promises as true, and it is by faith that we believe those things and beings which are invisible to us.  Faith is like a gutter that moves rain from one place to another.

And so we look at another aspect of the faith of Abraham.  We remember that twelve years after God promised to give Abraham and Sarah a son, they sinned and Abraham had a son by their servant, Hagar, named Ishmael.  God rebuked them and told them that Ishmael was not the son of promise – he was not the one God would bless all the nations through – he was not the one who would receive the promises God made to Abraham.

In Genesis 22, thirteen years later, twenty-five years after God made His promise, Isaac was born.  The son that God promised to Abraham and Sarah was born and they named him “laughter,” because it seemed laughable to them that people of their age should bare a son, especially since Sarah was barren.

At this time, Sarah got jealous and sent Hagar and Ishmael off into the wilderness and told them to never come back.  But God met Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness and promised to protect them and make him the father of the people who would surround the land of Canaan – the Arabs.

Chapter 22 ends with Abraham making a treaty with Abimelech when Isaac was somewhere in his late teens.  It is at this time that God gave Abraham a test.

Through it we see:

First, God’s Word may seem irrational, but if it is God’s Word, we must obey it.

Second, God’s Word received by faith compels us to obedience.

Third, God’s Word received by faith enjoins trust in God.

Fourth, if we live by faith, God will provide for our needs.

Fifth, despite the greatest of odds, God is faithful and victorious for the children of Abraham.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’”

First, God’s Word may seem irrational, but if it is God’s Word, we must obey it.

To understand, we turn back to Genesis 23:

            “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’”

The first thing we notice is that Moses records that God tested Abraham.  The word “tempted” and “tested” are virtually interchangeable, so, we remember what James wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:13-15, ESV).

            Besides this, God had told Abraham that Isaac was the son of promise – the one He would fulfill His promise to Abraham through – to bless the nations – and take the land.  And God had sworn by Himself, waking through the split carcasses of animals – effectively swearing that if God did not keep His promise, God would tear Himself in half – He would self-destruct.

            And God said, “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31, ESV).

            What is going on?  Has God lost His mind – has God broken His promise?  Or has Abraham misheard God?  Or, perhaps, heard the voice of the evil one?  How could God tell Abraham to take the son of promise and offer him up as a burnt offering to God?

            And notice how Isaac is described, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”  There is more repetition in the Hebrew than is present in the English – God repeated tells Abraham to take his son, his only son, the son he loved – and we understand that he is the “only son” in the sense that he is the only son of Abraham and Sarah – the son of promise – his son – his only son – the son he loved.  Abraham loved his son with an abounding love.

            And what does God tell Abraham – God doesn’t tell Abraham that his son will die – this is not the tragedy that Job suffered when God caused their house to fall on Job’s children and kill them – which would have been heart-wrenching enough for Abraham.  No – God tells Abraham to murder his son – his only son – the son he loved – and burn him on the pyre.

            And to add insult to injury – God doesn’t tell Abraham to kill Isaac in the camp – he tells him to go more than a three days’ ride, climb a mountain, and there put him to death.

            What a horrible thing for God to command.  It would be devastating enough for his son to die, but to be commanded to kill him, and to drag it out over days of travel…how could God command something so irrational, so against God’s character?

            I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child.  I know some of you have had your children die – it must be an extraordinary pain.  It may, perhaps, be the greatest pain a parent can suffer.  My mother lost three children through miscarriage.  My grandmother suffered the death of one of her daughters as an adult.  Barbara Araromi, one of our members who has moved away, suffered the death of her only son as an adult.  And this week Suzette Rodriguez suffered the death of her youngest son – Javier’s brother, Christian.

            If God spoke to one of us and said that we had to kill – murder – one of our children – I suspect was would shake our fist at God and shout, “Never!”

            And, perhaps, that is the answer to what God commanded Abraham to do.

            Remember, we are told, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

            And, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, ESV).

            God does not change – the twenty-five cent word is “immutable” – God does not mutate – God does not change in any way – God is always the same and cannot contradict Himself in any way.

            So, what do we do?  (Try not to remember what happens yet!)

            Peter wrote, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7, ESV).

            The way to make sense of this test – of this terrible command of God – is to understand it as God trying Abraham’s faith – as God melting out the dross – the impurities from Abraham’s faith.  One of the things that makes this command so heart-breaking is the sin that God was working to purge from Abraham – Isaac was his only son – the son he loved – the son he idolized.  Abraham was committing idolatry – looking to his son as the promise and not to God.  God has taken a back-seat to the glory of Isaac.  Abraham had Isaac up on a pedestal where he thought not even God could hurt him, because he was the promised son.

            Abraham did not know what God was up to – as we shall see – but he believed that, as irrational as this Word seemed, it was God’s Word, so he had to obey.

Second, God’s Word received by faith compels us to obedience.

            “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.”

            I would love to know what Abraham was thinking.  He had told God’s command to no-one.  He got up early – had he slept at all that night?  He had prayed to be delivered from the test?  He put a saddle on his donkey.  He cut the wood for the burnt offering – were his servants wondering why he didn’t ask them to cut it?  Two young men carried the wood and the fire.  Abraham had his knife.  And they began the trek towards Mount Moriah, over three days travel.  Did knowledge of what he had to do fester and boil in his heart?  Did Satan attach his mind on the way and try to get him to abandon the trip – to deny God and sin?  What did they talk about on the trip?  Finally, Abraham saw the Mount in the distance.  Did Abraham choke to see it?  Did he cry?

            As we read through God’s Word, there may be passages that we wish weren’t there – commands that make Christianity exclusive of other religions, commands that tell us that we must deny the desires of our flesh, commands that tell us we must obey human law, so long as it doesn’t cause us to sin – there may be places where we ask, “why?” and receive no answer, except, because God said so.  Do we receive God’s Word by faith and obey?  Are we compelled for the love of Christ?

            Abraham received the Word of God by faith and obeyed.

“He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

Third, God’s Word received by faith enjoins trust in God.

“Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.’ And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together.

            “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.”

            Abraham believed that God had told him to sacrifice Isaac.  Yet, in receiving God’s Word, he also trusted God for three things:  He trusted God that both of them would return from the sacrifice.  He trusted God that there would be a sacrifice.  And he trusted that God would not break His promise to Abraham to bless the world through him and through the lineage of this son.

            It was only in recent years that God hit me in the face with the first verse of this section:  “Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.’”

            Abraham trusted God that no matter what happened there, somehow, both of them would return.  Abraham and Isaac would return after they worshipped.

            Once Abraham and Isaac ascended the mountain, it occurred to Isaac that they had the wood, they had the fire, and they had the knife for making a sacrifice to God, but they didn’t have a lamb.  And here again, we might wonder with what tone of voice Abraham answered, “God will provide the lamb.” 

            And so they prepared an altar of rocks, and put the wood on top of it, and Abraham bound Isaac and placed him on the altar.

            Consider for a moment:  Abraham was about 117 years old, and Isaac was about seventeen years old.  How did Abraham bind Isaac and place him on the altar?  It’s unlikely that Abraham had Samson-like strength.  What is more likely is that Abraham told Isaac that he was to be the lamb sacrificed to God and Isaac humbly obeyed his father.

            It’s probably hard enough for you to get your children to take the garbage out or to clean their rooms – if you took them aside and told them that God had spoken to you and that God wanted you to kill them and burn them on an altar, would your son or daughter submit and let you tie him or her up?

            The only explanation is that Isaac was a man of faith – a believer – as well as his father, and he, also, recognized the Word of God when his father told him what God said, so he received it by faith and trusted in God for whatever God was up to – and he allowed his father to tie him up and place him on the altar.

            Abraham believed God when God said there would be a sacrifice, and he trusted God and readied to sacrifice his son as God had commanded. 

And, in trust, he raised the knife, ready to plunge it into Isaac’s heart.  Because he believed that God would not break His promise – he trusted God that He would raise up a people through the line of Isaac through whom the whole world would be blessed.  He believed that God would not – and could not – ever break His promise.  So he was ready to kill Isaac, because he trusted God and believed that even if God required him to murder and burn his son, God could raise him from the dead to fulfill God’s promise.

(As a side note – if anyone tells you that there is no evidence of belief in the resurrection of the body in the Old Testament – here’s one place you can point to.  The Old Testament believers believed what we believe:  when Jesus – God the Savior – returns, the dead will be raised to life everlasting or to suffering everlasting.  And, as we see in the Gospels, especially, God can raise the dead, now, if He wants to.)

            Fourth, if we live by faith, God will provide for our needs.

“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’”

Abraham had the knife in his hand, ready to plunge it into his son, and God said, “stop.”  The text tells us that God said to stop because “now I know that you fear God.”  Are we being told that God doesn’t know everything?  Did God have to test Abraham because He wasn’t sure of Abraham’s fidelity?  Wasn’t God sure that Abraham was the man to carry out His plan?

Of course not! 

As David wrote:  “O LORD, you have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.  Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.  For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:1-16, ESV).

In saying,” now I know that you fear God,” God was showing Abraham that he had renounced his idolatry of Isaac – recognizing God as the only One worthy of worship.  God Knows everything – God knew the outcome of the test – Abraham’s repentance and worship of the One True God.  He still loved his son, but he put him in his rightful place, recognizing that God’s promise will be fulfilled because God is God, not because of any particular son.  Isaac was not the key to the promise – God is.

Having said that, we see that God did choose to work through Isaac, and God provided for their needs, not by raising Isaac from the dead, which he could have done, but by providing a ram for them to sacrifice. 

We see, through faith, God provided for their needs.  God strengthened their faith in the promise God had made.  God broke Abraham of his idolatry of Isaac.  Faith in God’s Word was witnessed to Isaac in a powerful way.  God allowed Abraham to see Isaac’s faith in the Word of God in a powerful way.  These were things they needed, and God provided them for them.

That is not to say that God’s provision of our needs will always to our liking.  We remember as Job’s children were killed and his wealth taken away and he became ill and suffered, Job recognized – even without fully understanding – that God is Sovereign, so this must be what he needed, as he confessed, “And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD’” (Job 1:21, ESV).

Understand, Job suffered, and he didn’t want to suffer – he questioned God about what the point of his plight was, yet he submitted to the Hand and the Wisdom of God.

God has asked us to ask Him to supply our needs – as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” (Matthew 6:11, ESV) – with surety that we shall receive whatever it is.

Still, we may rebuff this – How could the death of my child be what I need?  How could my divorce be what I need?  How could being abused be what I need?  How could being terminally ill be what I need?  How could losing all my money be what I need?

We dare not give each other simple answers – we often don’t know why God has ordained things to happen in our lives.  But, we serve a Sovereign God Who holds all things in His Hands and has predestined everything that comes to pass.  That’s why I can be sure that my illness has a purpose – and I have seen some good come of it – not that I wouldn’t take a cure if one is found…

We will not understand all that is the Mind of God, but God has promised to provide for all our needs, and Abraham needed his idolatry to be crushed.

Fifth, despite the greatest of odds, God is faithful and victorious for the children of Abraham.

            “And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.’ So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.”

            If God were to leave the completing of His Plan to us, all would be lost.  We continue to sin, despite God’s confirmation of His promise, despite God’s faithfulness, despite God’s intercession, as we see in the life of Abraham.

            God did bless Abraham and Isaac, and over the generations, God is raising up a people for Himself – a people who believe in the ancient promise God made to our first parents – that God would send a Savior that all of God’s chosen would be saved from the Wrath of God and received into His Kingdom.

            But, to do so would come with a price.  Someone had to pay for the sins of God’s people and make them righteous, so God could receive them into His Kingdom.  And here we see that Abraham’s test was also a foreshadowing of what God would do to save His people.  God also has One Son, His Beloved Son, and it was only by God reaching out His Hand to sacrifice His Son that the descendants of Abraham could be received into the Kingdom – forgiven and righteous.

            Jesus explained it this way, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:16-21, ESV).

            And John put it this way, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10, ESV).

            I don’t know why some have you have suffered the death of your children.  I don’t know why some of you have suffered in other horrible ways.  But I know God is Sovereign.  He and His Word are trustworthy – for He was willing to offer up His Own Beloved Son as a sacrifice to make everyone right with God who would believe.

            It is a horrible thing to suffer the death of a child.  God has suffered the death of His Son, that You might be right with God.  What greater sacrifice could God have made for us?

            Remember:

God’s Word may seem irrational, but if it is God’s Word, we must obey it.

God’s Word received by faith compels us to obedience.

God’s Word received by faith enjoins trust in God.

If we live by faith, God will provide for our needs.

Despite the greatest of odds, God is faithful and victorious for the children of Abraham.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we look at what You commanded Abraham, and we are, initially, horrified that You would command him to murder his son in the worship of You.  Some of us know the pain of suffering the death of a child and may find this even more repulsive at first glance.  Lord, help us to receive Your Word by faith, follow after You in trust and obedience, believe that You are providing for us, and marvel at the gift of Your Son, Who You put to death for the sake of all who will believe.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"What is Reformed Theology?"

Join us this evening, D.V., as we continue our video series on "What is Reformed Theology?"  All are welcome!  7PM

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: "Clear Winter Nights"


            I don’t normally care for fiction from which one is supposed to learn theology, thought there are exceptions.  Trevin Wax’s book, Clear Winter Nights is a well-done pairing of fiction and theology. 

            The story revolves around conversations Chris has with his grandfather, Gilbert.  Chris had put off marrying his girlfriend, postponed finishing school, walked away from serving in his church, and moved in with Gilbert, for a time, to care for him after his stroke.  Gilbert is a retired pastor.   Gilbert is passionate about his beliefs.  Chris is all doubts.

            The best part of this novel is that it does not hit the reader over the head with theology – it calmly presents and argues the issues that Gilbert and Chris discuss without giving easy answers or a quick resolution.

            They discuss what it means to be a follower of Christ, what it means to know God, being part of the Church and how sanctification plays a role in it, what evangelism means, the misuse of Scripture, how to approach moral issues, such as homosexuality, relationships, the doctrine of hell, eternal life, and heaven – all presented gently, yet hitting the essential question for the reader to meditated on.

            The book concludes with a useful discussion guide.

            Perhaps a book like this will not only get the reader to consider these issues, but to look at how one is discussing these issues with others.

            For both of these reasons, I recommend this book.  We need to consider wisely how we talk with each other – we may not get another chance.

 [This review appears on Amazon.com and on my blog.  I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.] 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"You Baptize Infants?" Sermon: Colossians 2:11-15


You Baptize Infants?

[Colossians 2:11-15]

September 22, 2013 Hope Reformed Church

            During our last evening study – which was on the doctrine of Hell – one of the people in attendance suddenly questioned, “You baptize infants?”  And I told him, “Yes, this is a reformed church.”  (Don’t worry – for now – about how we got from Hell to infant baptism!)

            This church is also a church in a reformed denomination, so you celebrate and administer the sacrament of baptism for infants – as well as adults.

            And we might wonder exactly where in the Bible it says that we are to baptize infants.  So, if you’ll turn with me in your Bibles to…oh, wait, there isn’t anywhere in the Bible that says we are to baptize infants.  That sounds like a problem, doesn’t it?

            Well, let’s talk about circumcision then:

            If we turn to Genesis 17 we read, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.’ Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, ‘Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.’
 
  “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant’” (Genesis 17:1-14, ESV).

            After God finished talking with Abraham, we read what Abraham did:  “When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him”

(Genesis 17:22-27, ESV).

            God made a covenant with Abraham.  Now, generally speaking, a covenant is an agreement with blessings, curses, and signs.  It’s an agreement that says, “I will do this and you will do this and if we do, this will happen, and it will be a blessing to both of us, and if we do not, this punishment will occur to the one who breaks the covenant, and these signs will represent what we have done.”

            What do we see here?  God promises to be the God of Abraham, to make Abraham the father of a great people – who shall be in all nations, and to give him the land of Canaan.  God requires of Abraham that he keep all of God’s commands.  And he also tells him that all the males in his family must be circumcised and from then on, all the newborn males are to be circumcised on the eighth day.

            Why?

            Or, let me put it this way, was it possible for Abraham or any of his descendants to keep all of God’s commands?  Did Abraham – or any of his descendants – keep all of God’s commands?

            If someone did not keep the commands of God, how could he be forgiven for his sin?  The author of Hebrews tells us, “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).

            Who was the covenant made with?  Abraham and all his descendants.  And notice that those who entered into the covenant were of all ages – from old men to infants – Abraham at 99 and infants at eight days old entered into the covenant.

            Now follow me:  what did circumcision do?  God tells us in Genesis 17 it functioned as a sign of the covenant – it pointed to the reality of the covenant in some way. 

How did circumcision point to the covenant?  Through the shedding of blood. 

How did the shedding of blood point to the covenant?  In two ways:  first, it showed that blood was necessary – in other words, God knew that no one would be able to keep the covenant – God’s commands – and God wanted every person who entered into the covenant through belief in the God of Abraham to understand that they were sinners who needed to be made right with God.  Second, it foreshadowed the coming of a Baby Whose shed blood would be effective in the forgiveness of sins for all those who would believe in Him – the Savior God promised in the Garden – Jesus Christ.

And so we see, first this morning, that circumcision didn’t save anyone – it did not reconcile anyone.  It was symbolic of the fact that there is only deliverance from slavery to sin and the wages of sin through blood, and it was symbolic of the fact that the Gospel – that God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, that He lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died – shedding His blood – for the sins of everyone who would ever believe in Him Alone for Salvation – and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne – receiving that Gospel – receiving Jesus’ shed blood – by faith alone – is the only means of salvation.

Maybe we can talk about baptism this morning – let’s turn back to Colossians:

Now, let’s remember that Paul is writing to Christians – believers in the Gospel – and he is confronting those heretics who have come into the church and said that if you haven’t been circumcised, you can’t be saved – they didn’t get the point that circumcision was a sign of the need of salvation and a sign of salvation through Jesus and His work for His people, not salvation itself.

            “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,”

            Paul explains that – in salvation – there is another kind of circumcision – a spiritual circumcision – which, by the work of the Holy Spirit, cuts off our sin – and the Holy Spirit works in us to mortify – to kill – the sin that has been paid for by Jesus, which we still commit.  So, Paul is telling the Gentiles – those who had not been circumcised – not to worry about circumcision of the flesh – that physical act never saved anyone – it was a sign – rather, salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit Who applies the Work of Jesus – His shed blood – and cuts away our sin, so we are innocent, perfect, and holy in the eyes of the Father.  We are saved through the work of God, not a physical procedure.

            So, second, circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit frees us from our slavery to sin and our debt for sin.

            “having been buried with him in baptism,”

            Here, Paul brings in the parallel to circumcision which is baptism.  And we remember that Paul reminded the Ephesians:  “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).

            All mere human beings since the sin of our first parents are born with original sin – we are born sinners – inclined towards sin – and Paul tells us that since we are born sinners and inclined towards sin, we are born spiritually dead – following after the devil, seeking to sin with our heart and soul and mind and strength – “children of wrath” – people who are deservedly under the Wrath of God – just like the rest of mankind – before the coming of Jesus and after the coming of Jesus.

            Those who were circumcised in the flesh, but unbelieving, were dead and buried – spiritually, even though they bore the sign of circumcision, which pointed to salvation through the Gospel and deliverance only through blood.  Similarly, those who are baptized in the flesh, but unbelieving, are dead and buried – spiritually, even though they bare the sign of baptism, which is symbolic of the Gospel, the wages of sin, and the cleansing of dirt, which is symbolic of sin.

            What does this mean?  It means, third, that baptism doesn’t save anyone, though it is symbolic of the Gospel, the wages of sin, and the cleansing of dirt, which is symbolic of sin.  As The Heidelberg Catechism notes:  “Q. 72.  Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?  A. Not at all; for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Spirit, cleanse us from all sin.”

            So, baptism doesn’t save anyone.  It is a sacrament which points to the Gospel – to salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.  It is a sign or a symbol of the only way to salvation.

            “in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

            Fourth, baptism received by faith by the Holy Spirit indwelling all those who believe in the Savior frees us from our slavery to sin and from our debt to sin and transfers Christ’s Righteousness to us.

            What does “received by faith” mean? 

            We have already said that baptism does not save.  However, what baptism signifies – what it points to – faith in the Savior – does save.  So, if we receive what baptism signifies – if we believe in Jesus Alone for salvation, we will be saved.

            If the Old Testament believers were circumcised in their flesh or we are baptized in our flesh, but unbelieving, we are still dead and buried in our sin.  But, if the Holy Spirit gives us faith and we believe by faith in what the sacrament symbolizes – the Gospel – then God raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life – we are not left buried in our sin, but raised from our sin, by the “powerful working of God.”

            It’s important that we remember that we bring nothing to our salvation – we can do nothing to save ourselves.  Salvation is the gift of God – the work of God – all of God and by God and for God. 

            Paul writes, “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 2:4-10, ESV).

            So, if we believe by faith in what baptism signifies – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – we will be saved – we will be raised from spiritual death.

“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.”

Fifth, through faith, we are raised to life as Christ was – we are raised to new life through faith in Christ and receive – not just the sign of baptism in the flesh – but the seal of baptism in the spirit and the flesh, just as those who received circumcision in the flesh through faith received the seal of circumcision in the spirit and the flesh.

            What does this mean?

            All those who believe in the Gospel and receive salvation by faith are united with Christ in His death and Resurrection.  Through faith in what is symbolized in baptism – the Gospel – we receive the benefits of Jesus living a perfect life under the Law -- His Righteousness is credited to us – and we receive freedom from our slavery to sin and from the Wrath of God against us for our actual sins, because Christ took our sin upon Him and suffered God’s Wrath on the cross to free every one who will ever believe.

            We are now alive in Christ, because we are living the life that He merited for us through His life, suffering, death, and resurrection, and now, with the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to sin – Christ has disarmed our enemies – He has put them to shame – He has trampled them under foot – we can take the way of escape the God has promised us and be faithful and walk in righteousness before God.

            Paul explains, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, ESV).

            But we were going to talk about infant baptism, weren’t we?

            We ought to baptize infants, because –

            Sixth, in the same way that circumcision of the flesh in the Old Testament was a sign of the necessity of salvation, so in the New Testament, baptism of the flesh is a sign of the necessity of salvation.

            As we baptize an infant, we proclaim that this child is a sinner – dead in sin – who can only be made clean through being washed with the blood of the Savior.  Just as circumcision of the flesh – for infants – proclaimed that the child was a sinner – dead in sin – who could only be made clean through the shedding of the blood of the Savior, so we now baptize infants with water.

            Also, both with circumcision of the flesh and baptism of the flesh, it is a sign that we are bringing the child into the community – we are taken on ourselves the responsibility of making sure the child knows that he is a sinner and that he must be saved if he is to escape the wrath of God and the eternal death of Hell.

            We are also reminding ourselves and all those witnessing the sacrament that salvation is only through faith in Jesus Alone – through believing the Gospel.  There is nothing anyone can do to become right with God – Jesus has done it all – and He is the only way.

            So, in the baptizing of the flesh an infant, we proclaim the Gospel to all those in attendance, we proclaim the Gospel to ourselves, and we begin to proclaim the Gospel to the child – covenanting to continue to proclaim the Gospel to that child until he receives the seal of baptism and believes by faith in the Gospel.

            Does that make sense?

            Circumcision of the flesh was a sign – it saved no one.  Baptism of the flesh is a sign – it saves no one.

            Finally, seventh, Christ accomplished the work of salvation symbolized in circumcision and baptism.  Christ shed His blood for all those who would ever believe, as symbolized in circumcision.  Christ died and was buried – yet physically rose – as symbolized in baptism.

            That’s why we baptize infants – because baptism is one of two sacraments approved by Jesus to visibly present the Gospel.

            So, let us remember:

First, circumcision didn’t save anyone – it did not reconcile anyone.  It was symbolic of the fact that there is only deliverance from slavery to sin and the wages of sin through blood, and it was symbolic of the fact that the Gospel is the only means of salvation.

Second, circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit frees us from our slavery to sin and our debt for sin.

Third, baptism doesn’t save anyone, though it is symbolic of the Gospel, the wages of sin, and the cleansing of dirt, which is symbolic of sin.

Fourth, baptism received by faith by the Holy Spirit indwelling all those who believe in the Savior frees us from our slavery to sin and from our debt to sin and transfers Christ’s Righteousness to us.

Fifth, through faith, we are raised to life as Christ was – we are raised to new life through faith in Christ and receive – not just the sign of baptism in the flesh – but the seal of baptism in the spirit and the flesh, just as those who received circumcision in the flesh received the seal of circumcision in the spirit and the flesh.

Sixth, in the same way that circumcision of the flesh in the Old Testament was a sign of the necessity of salvation, so in the New Testament, baptism of the flesh is a sign of the necessity of salvation

Finally, seventh, Christ accomplished the work of salvation symbolized in circumcision and baptism.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism – and we especially thank You today as we consider the sacrament of baptism – what it does – and why we ought to baptize infants.  Help us to remember that the Sacraments are visible representations of the Gospel, not salvation in and of themselves.  Help us to see that baptizing an infant reminds all of us that we need a Savior and You Alone can be that Savior.  Help us to recommit ourselves to the raising of any child that is baptized in our churches, recognizing that though it is especially the work of the parents to raise a child, it is the responsibility of the whole church to make sure that every child that comes into our church hears and understands the Gospel, as You have mercy to grant understanding.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
        

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pulpit Exchange

Join us tomorrow as we have a pulpit exchange:

I will be preaching at Hope Reformed Church in Clifton on Colossians 2:11-15 "You Baptize Infants?"

And Eric Farrar will be preaching at Second Reformed Church in Irvington on Philippians 1:3-11 "Partners in the Gospel"

Free Community Lunch

All are invited to our free Community Lunch today from 12 to 1 PM.  Join us for good food and conversation.  No strings attached!  We would love to see you and serve you lunch.  All thanks goes to Jesus.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

No Study Tonight

Dueto a rare evening Chamber meeting, we will not have our evening study tonight.  We will continue, D.V., next Wednesday, the 25th.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"A Better Country" Sermon: Hebrews 11:13-16


“A Better Country”

[Hebrews 11:13-16]

September 15, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            As we continue, let us remember that when we talk about faith, we are not talking about something we do, but a gift God gives us to receive from Him.   It is through faith – like gutters and leaders catching the rain and moving it to the place we would have it go – that we have complete assurance that the things God has promised will come to pass, and we are convicted beyond doubt that beings that are invisible exist, and events we have not seen – because they happened before we existed or will happen sometime in the future – are absolutely real and true.

This morning we see:

            God calls us to patiently look forward to the fulfillment of His promises.

God sends His people as strangers and exiles.

We ought to hold loosely to the things of this fallen world and “hug” tightly the eternal Kingdom.

Our desire is to be received into that better country – that heavenly Kingdom.

God is not ashamed to be called our God.

God has prepared a new city for His people.

            We remember that God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees and told him to go to a place where God would show him that he would receive as an inheritance.  And he obeyed and went.  He went with his wife Sarah, who was barren.

            After they arrived in Canaan, God promised that Abraham, who was seventy-five, and Sarah, who was sixty-five, they would bear a child, and that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore.  And twenty-five years later, Sarah bore Isaac.

            Sometime later, Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, bore Jacob.

            “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar,”

            Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, and all their families, died without receiving the promises.  God gave the ancestors a taste of the promises, but they died without receiving it.   In fact, as we noted before, no significant part of Canaan was held by Abraham’s descendants until Israel’s return under the leadership of Joshua after their captivity in Egypt.

But – through faith, they received the promises and could see what God had promised and they “greeted” them from their position in history.  The translation of the word as “greeted” may be a little weak – the word can also be translated, “hugged.”  We can see someone in the distance we know and say, “hi” – we can greet them – and we can also see someone in the distance and reach out and greet them by “hugging” them.  The image of hugging is a stronger one, is it not?  Abraham and his descendants could see through faith the promises of God, and they “hugged” them – greeting them – relishing them – longing for them – desiring them – looking forward to them with great joy, knowing that since they are the promises of God, they will come to pass in God’s time.

And so we understand, first, this morning, God calls us to patiently look forward to the fulfillment of His promises.

Still – we want to be clear – what are the promises – notice it is plural – what promises did God make to Abraham and his descendants?  What were they looking forward to in faith?

Yes, they were looking forward to the Promised Land – even though that was a conditional promise – God said He would take the land away if the people sinned and did not obey God.  Was there anything else?

Jesus said to His disciples, “For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17, ESV).

What were the disciples seeing and hearing that the prophets and righteous people longed for?  Jesus was revealing to the disciples that the Savior – the Messiah – had come – that He was the fulfillment of the prophecies and the promises of God to send a Savior to make all those who believe in Him right with God.

Yes, they looked forward to the land in this fallen and sinful world, but they also looked forward to the promise of the Savior who would make God’s people right with Him.

Jesus outraged the Pharisees by pointing this out:  “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56, ESV).

Abraham and his descendants had the promise of the Savior to come, and through faith, they saw Him, and “hugged” Him from afar!  Did they see the physical face of Jesus the Incarnate God?  Probably not.  But they saw the promise and they took hold of it with great joy, believing that He would come – even if He didn’t come in their day.  They lived and died believing the promise, and, thus, were brought into the kingdom, and rejoiced when Jesus was born.

We live in an unparalleled time in history – these ancestors – Abraham and his descendants – only had the promises of God, yet by faith, they believed and held fast to the promises with great assurance.  Beginning with Moses, the people of God had the promises of God and the types – those things which pointed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ – they had the Temple and the priestly system and the holidays and the Law – all of which in their own way uphold the promises and point to Jesus as the Messiah as their assurance.  But we – we, brothers and sisters – we have the promises of God, we have the record of the types which point to the Savior, and we have Jesus revealed and made known to us in the Scripture!  We have the whole Gospel revealed to us!  What great assurance is that to us?  God had made salvation for all those who believe in Jesus the Savior – and that salvation is all of God and all by God – we do nothing – we contribute nothing – to our salvation.  Wonderful news, is it not?

With all of this, surely, we can patiently look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises – looking forward in faith, knowing and seeing what is coming, and hugging the promise until that day that it all fully arrives.

“and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

            Second, God sends His people as strangers and exiles.

            Abraham and his descendants came from another land – they were not born in Canaan – they were strangers and exiles in the land.  They were also strangers and exiles to the belief systems of the Canaanites – they were believers in the One Sovereign God, the Creator.  They were also strangers and exiles because they did not want to be or live like the people of the land.

            Two accounts:

“And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning’” (Genesis 47:9, ESV).

            “For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding” (1 Chronicles 29:15, ESV).

            Although the land had been promised to them, they were not attached to it.  Even though God has made many wonderful and beautiful things in this world – they were not attached to them.  Why?

“For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.”

            The ancestors could live and die as strangers and exiles because they were looking for an eternal home. They knew that everything here is temporary – they couldn’t take it with them.  And, everything in this world, as it is – a sinful, fallen world – is broken, corrupt.  They understood that what they were looking for – what they were waiting for – what they were “hugging” – was an eternal homeland – the Kingdom of God.

            In the same way, Peter refers to all believers – all Christians – as exiles:  “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11, ESV).

            And Paul writes, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” (Ephesians 2:19, ESV).

            So, thirdly, we ought to hold loosely to the things of this fallen world and “hug” tightly the eternal Kingdom.

            What does that mean?  Well, two things:

            First, we are not to be obsessed with our stuff.  We are not to be obsessed with acquiring stuff.  We are to use our stuff and our gifts rightly.

            God has given us this world to care for and to enjoy, but this world will be changed and restored, and we can’t take our stuff with us.

            Jesus was called upon to decide a dispute:

            “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ And he told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:13-21, ESV).

            Understand, Jesus is not saying it is wrong to be rich or to have lots of things.  What He is saying is it is wrong to be greedy and covetous – to want what other people have, thinking yourself more worthy.

            If God has blessed us with wealth and things, He has done so for us to use those things to glorify Him and to spread His Gospel.  If you have money or talents or things that the Church could use, you should use them for the good of the Church – and don’t be fooled – you do have things – God has given us all that we have primarily for the good of the Church.

            God has told all of us that we are to bring ten percent of our gross income and give it to the Church.  And, as we have joy in doing so, we are to give more.  If God has given you abilities in music, hospitality, cleaning, administration, baking – whatever God has gifted you in, you are to use for the good of the Church, and, ultimately, to the glory of God and the spreading of the Gospel.

            One way we become “rich in God” is by using what He has given us for the Church.

            We become “rich in God” not by being careless, but by not being undone by being generous for God’s sake, and by not being undone when our stuff is taken away from us.

            Another way we become “rich in God” is by being satisfied with what God has given us – we each have what we need from God, and it is sin to covet what God has given someone else.

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

            Paul explains that he has learned how to be content – how to be satisfied – it is not natural for us to say, as Job did, “And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD’” (Job 1:21, ESV).  But God will help us – in fact, Paul says, as believers we can be content – satisfied with our condition – “through Christ Who strengthens me.”  We often quote that verse out of context – Paul is saying that through the strength that Christ gives us as believers, we can be content “in any and every circumstance.”

            So, second, we are to seek Christ and His strength that we would be content in any and every circumstance.  That does not mean that we don’t care what circumstance we are in, it means that we can be content because we rely not on our circumstance to be content, but on Jesus Christ.

            We “hug” tightly to the eternal Kingdom by leaving behind anything that stands in the way of God’s work, by having hope through faith, as through faith we most assuredly see the promises of our God and Savior as real.

            We might need to leave a girlfriend or boyfriend behind, or a job, or a promotion, or a fancy new car, or money, or health, or family, or an education, or – whatever, to “hug” tightly the eternal Kingdom.  And we must leave our sin behind and seek to obey Christ in all things.  As we do, we will wean ourselves from this fallen world and look forward to the eternal Kingdom with Jesus.

            The author of Hebrews now turns to an objection:  “Wait a minute, their being exiles and strangers doesn’t prove that they were looking for a homeland – an eternal Kingdom – they were only exiles and strangers because they left their homeland.”

The author of Hebrews responds:  “If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.”

No – they were truly exiles and strangers.  They could have returned to the land from which they came, but they didn’t.  Instead, they chose to follow God to a new place and seek after God’s promises there.  Their being exiles and strangers was self-imposed, because they believe by faith in the promises of God.

            “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

            The ancestors didn’t return because they desired a better country – a heavenly home – an eternal Kingdom.  By faith, the ancestors saw the promise of salvation through Jesus being fulfilled and their being received into the heavenly Kingdom.  That’s why they left – that’s why they continued as strangers and exiles, because they had the Glorious Kingdom of Jesus Christ before them – and that’s where they wanted to be – that was their hope.

            Fourth, our desire is to be received into that better country – that heavenly Kingdom.

            The word “desire” in our text indicates “stretching yourself out for or towards.”

            Have you ever spent time with a very young child?  (We can practice this with Zerubbabel Hastey when he is born.)  When a child wants to be picked up, he doesn’t say, “Excuse me, if it would be alright, I would prefer to be carried right now.”  No, the child stretches out towards the parent – or other persons that he knows well – indicating, “I want you – pick me up!”

            That is why the ancestors were able to live as strangers and exiles – they weren’t looking to live forever in Canaan or anywhere else on this fallen earth – they desired a better country than Canaan – a better country than the United States – the country of the Lamb of God.  And though they were content through faith to live their lives and die here – they longed for that better country and stretched out the arms of their minds and hearts, seeking to know God and obey Him, having received the promised Savior by faith.  “Father!  Savior!  Pick me up!  Take me home to that better country which You promised and are preparing for us!”

            That is how believers – how Christians – how we ought to be – desiring God in our hearts and minds – stretching up, reaching out – longing with everything that we are to be with our God and Savior in His Kingdom – while we contentedly live here as exiles and strangers proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Only Savior, to the glory of the Father.

            Do you long for the better country like that?

            Paul put it this way as he wrote to the Philippians from prison, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:18b-26, ESV).

            “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”  That’s another verse that is quoted out of context – Paul is saying that if he had the choice, he would be put to death now, because he so longed to be with Jesus, but, if he was spared and lived, he desired to proclaim that Gospel with all of his heart and soul, and mind, and strength.  Paul said it was hard for him to choose between the two – certainly it would be preferable to be in the better country – and that would come – and it will come for all of us who believe – sooner or later – but it is also a glorious work to show Christ and His Gospel to the world.

“Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God,”

“Therefore.”  OK?  What does the “therefore” point to?  Why is God not ashamed to be their God?  Is it because the ancestors desired a better country or is it because God gave them – in the promise of salvation – a better country?  We can read it either way.

We can quickly dispense of the opinion that God is not ashamed to be called their God because of who they are.  A quick look at the like of Abraham and of Israel shows that they were a sinful embarrassment – just like us.  No, God is not ashamed to be their God – and our God –  because God has given us a gift beyond all conceivable greatness in salvation through Jesus – which guarantees our home in the better country – the eternal Kingdom.  God is not ashamed because God is God and God has done great things for us.

Fifth, God is not ashamed to be called my God and your God and the God of all those who believe in the Savior, because God’s gift of the Savior is unparalleled.  God could not do anything greater to save all those who will believe, and, thus, God is not ashamed to be called our God, because He is great.

            God is not ashamed of His people because of the greatness of His gift.

            Thus, fifth, God is not ashamed to be called our God.

“for he has prepared for them a city.”

Sixth, God has prepared a new city for His people.

            God is preparing an eternal city for those who truly desire Him and His Promise – for all those who believe in salvation through Jesus Alone.

            Jesus comforted His disciples with this very promise:          

            “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34, ESV).

            “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2, ESV).

            Hear a description of the city:

            “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

            “And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

            “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:9-27, ESV).

            Today, all we who believe are strangers and exiles, learning how to hold loosely to the things of the world, while “hugging” tightly to the eternal Kingdom, finding our satisfaction in Christ, witnessing through our lives and desires that we are His and the Gospel is true, as we patiently wait to be received into the eternal Kingdom, that glorious city, the better country.

            Thus:

God calls us to patiently look forward to the fulfillment of His promises.

God sends His people as strangers and exiles.

We ought to hold loosely to the things of this fallen world and “hug” tightly the eternal Kingdom.

Our desire is to be received into that better country – that heavenly Kingdom.

God is not ashamed to be called our God.

God has prepared a new city for His people.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we rejoice and give thanks that You Alone have made salvation for us and give us the hope and the promises which we embrace by faith.  Help us to follow after You and to be obedient in all ways, not sinning, but weaning ourselves from the world, and desiring You all the more vigorously.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.