Second Reformed Church

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Reformation Day -- check this out!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eglz9Yhqflo&feature=youtu.be

Happy Reformation Day!

Happy Reformation Day!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wednesday Night Study

Join us tonight at 7 PM, D.V., as we continue our look at the basics of Reformed Theology and what "faith alone" means, in particular.  See you then!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Moses, Part 1" Sermon: Hebrews 11:23


“Moses, Part 1”

[Hebrews 11:23]

October 27, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            Again, as we consider the example of faith that the author of Hebrews gives us in the eleventh chapter of his book, let us remember that faith is not something we have or believe, but faith is the way we received God’s Word as true.  This ability is given to us by God as a gift so we can read and hear God’s Word and know that everything that is recorded happened and will happen, and all the people and beings described in the Scripture are real.

            After Joseph died, a new Pharaoh came to power who didn’t know Joseph, and this Pharaoh was afraid of the power the Hebrews had in Egypt because there were so many of them.  So, he enslaved them to keep them under control, but when that seemed to not be enough to keep them under control, the Pharaoh ordered that all male children of the Hebrews be put to death as they were born.

            However, the midwives who attended the Hebrew women were afraid of the Hebrew God and wouldn’t kill the children, and so we read the rather comic exchange, “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and let the male children live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live’” (Exodus 1:15-22, ESV).

            Since the midwifes found it impossible to kill the male children of the Hebrews – because they were born so quickly – the Pharaoh ordered that all male Hebrews children be rounded up and thrown into the Nile River to drown.  In a generation, then, with no males left, the Hebrew race would be gone.  But, at least one couple did not obey Pharaoh, and hid their son – and we’re told they did so for two reasons:  their baby, Moses, was beautiful, and, they did not fear Pharaoh.  As we read:

            “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict” (Hebrews 11:23, ESV).

“Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews' children.’ Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, ‘Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’ And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the girl went and called the child's mother. And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, ‘Because,’ she said, ‘I drew him out of the water’” (Exodus 2:1-10, ESV).

After hiding Moses for three months, his parents thought it wasn’t safe anymore, so they made a basket, waterproofed it, and sent it down the Nile.  Moses’ mother told her daughter, Miriam, to follow Moses down the Nile to see what became of him.

In the Providence of God, Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the Nile just as Moses was sailing by, and she caught the basket, and looked inside.  She recognized it was a Hebrew boy, and Miriam jumped up and asked, “Shall I find a wet nurse for him?”  Pharaoh’s daughter said, “yes,” and Moses’ mother was brought to wean him, and then he was given to Pharaoh’s daughter to be raised, and she prophetically named him, “Moses,” which means ”one who was drawn out” or “one who draws out” – as in, the one who draws the people of Israel out of Egypt.

            The promise of deliverance would have been on every Hebrew parent’s mind as they gave birth – “is he the one?” – as they remembered the promise of God:  In the book of Genesis, Abraham was given a look into the future and a promise from God:  “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions’” (Genesis 15:12-14, ESV).

            And, similarly, as we read last week, “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites…” (Hebrews 11:22a, ESV).

            And so we have the birth and salvation of Moses from Pharaoh.

            In our text this morning, we are given two reasons why Moses’ parents saved him:  because he was beautiful, and because they were not afraid of Pharaoh’s command.

            Here we find two doctrines for us:

            First, spiritual growth – becoming like Jesus – is lasting beauty.

            Second, if we are doing what is right in God’s eyes, we don’t ever have to fear the government.

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict.”

As we consider this first reason that they saved him – because he was beautiful – in a way we might not be surprised.  I know that my experience has been that every parent is struck by the fact that their child is beautiful.   I’m sure that when the Hastey’s child is born, they will be impressed with how beautiful he is.

But – is that all we are to understand – that the child, Moses, was physically beautiful?  He may well have been, actually, an extraordinarily beautiful baby – but does something in the back of your mind say that physical beauty can’t be the whole story?

If we remember, Israel did not originally have a king except for God, but the day came when the people came to the prophet, Samuel, and demanded that they have a king – just like all of the nations, and after Samuel consulted with God and warned the people of what a disaster it would be to have a human king, he acquiesced.  And the people chose a king:

            “There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:1-2, ESV).

            And when the people saw Saul, they said, “Look how tall he is!  Look how handsome he is!  He would obviously make a good king.”

            The people of Israel wanted a king that would look good on People magazine.  And we do that today, do we not?  Did we not even in the last presidential election talk about the appearance of the candidates at least as much as the reasons not to elect one or the other?   Surely, one of the main reasons we elect our candidates is on physical appurtenance.

            God was not impressed with what Israel had done and told Samuel, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7, ESV).

            The Lord God is not impressed with physical appearance; He is impressed with the holiness of a person.  We will not be judged based on how good we look on the last day, but whether we – or Someone in our place for us – has kept the commandments.

Paul explains what will last – what will be beautiful in the sight of the Lord – on that day:  “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, ESV).

Was Moses a physically beautiful baby?  He may have been – we have no authorized photographs.  However, based on God’s rejection of the handsome Saul – saying that He looks at the heart and not the physical appearance, and looking at what will last on the last day, combined with the faith expressed in seeking the promise of the one who would deliver the people of Israel out of Egypt – he was a type or foreshadowing of the Savior, Jesus, Who would come – something else is in mind when we are told that the baby, Moses, was saved because he was beautiful.

             What we see in being told that Moses was beautiful – whether he was physically beautiful or not – was that he was one who would seek to obey God’s Will.  He was one who would grow spiritually into the Image of Jesus.  He was spiritually beautiful.

            Consider the Lord Jesus:

            We have little in the way of physical description of Jesus, but Isaiah says this:

            “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2, ESV).

            Isaiah tells us that Jesus, at best, was absolutely common.  He did not stand out in the crowd.  He was Joe average.  No one would every look at Him and desire to look like Him because nothing stood out about Him physically that the world would call beautiful.

            And yet, Paul tells us this about Jesus, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV).  The word that is translated “glory” – doxa – can also be translated as “radiance,” “splendor,” “beauty” – the Gospel of the radiance of Christ, the Gospel of the splendor of Christ, the Gospel of the beauty of Christ.  Because, insofar as we are considering obedience to God – insofar as we are considering reflecting the Image of God – Jesus does so perfectly – He is beautiful.

            Likewise, as we grow spiritually – as we reflect the Image of God – as we become more like Jesus – we are beautiful – and that is a beauty that will last.  No matter what we look like now, our body will only get less beautiful – according to the standards of the world – but as we continue to strive after holiness – after becoming more like Jesus, we will increase in lasting – true – beauty.

            Was Moses physically beautiful?  We don’t know.  What we do know is that his parents were allowed to glimpse in Moses a man who would be spiritually beautiful – a man who would seek after God’s Will – a man who would reflect the Image of God.

            And so we conclude, first, this morning, spiritual growth – becoming like Jesus – is lasting beauty.

            Second, if we are doing what is right in God’s eyes, we don’t ever have to fear the government.

            Scripturally, God has given us the government to protect her citizens and to punish those who do evil.  So, if we do not do evil, we have no reason to fear the government.  Also, we are told that every person that holds a position of authority – in whatever form of leadership – was put there by God – as we read:

            “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:1-7, ESV).

            And so we need to ask the question – after Paul tells us that we are to be subject to the authorities, because God put them in power for our good – is there ever a time when it is right for us to disobey the authorities?

            And the answer is, “yes.”  If the government – if any authority requires us to sin, we must disobey the government.  Because, as Paul explains, the government is God’s servant – God’s Law is above the rule of the government – if the person whom God has put in authority commands us to do something that is clearly against what God has taught, then we must – also being servants of God – we must disobey the authority. 

How this plays out takes wisdom in some cases – when we consider war – God has told us not to murder, does that mean we cannot participate in the military? Quickly, I would say we can participate in the military, but this is a discussion which takes time to think through – and we are not going to deal with it here – but it is an example of how this idea of disobeying the government if it commands we sin is not always obvious.

For Moses’ parents, the answer was obvious – genocide is a sin.  More generally, killing babies is a sin.  They could not obey the Pharaoh because he was commanding them to sin by handing over their baby to be put to death.

And, we learn from them that when the government – any leader – commands us to sin, they are no longer acting as God’s servants, but God’s enemies and must be opposed.  We must show our allegiance to God and not obey any leader who commands us to sin.

For example:

If the government commands us to kill babies – as they were doing in Moses’ day – we must refuse, because it is sin.

If the government commands us to stop worshiping Jesus Christ, we must refuse because it is sin.

If the government commands us not to pray in the Name of Jesus, we must refuse, because it is sin.

If the government commands us to stop proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must refuse, because it is sin.

And so forth.

Now, refusing to obey the government may mean that we will have to suffer consequences.  Yet, no matter what the consequences, we ought not to be afraid because we have obeyed God rather than men.

                John wrote to the Christians suffering at the hands of Rome, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10, ESV).

            And, yes, disobeying the government may get us killed.  In the United States, we are not put to death for faith in Jesus Christ, but people in other countries around the world – today – are put to death for confessing Jesus Christ as Savior.  There are people who would rather die that sin against God by denying that salvation is only through Jesus Christ Alone.

            Are you willing to die for your faith, if the government commands you to sin?

            How beautiful are you?

            We need to understand, the worst any human can do is kill us, but God can throw us in Hell – and God can raise us from the dead.  The government can reward or punish us, but no one can reward or punish us like God.

            Jesus said, “So have no fear of them [those who persecute us for our belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ], for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:26-33, ESV).

            Moses’ parents hid him because he was beautiful and because they did not fear Pharaoh and what he would do to them for following God’s Will and disobeying his.

            Let us seek to grow spiritually by obeying God, learning His Word, believing and proclaiming the Gospel, that we would become more like Jesus, and we would have lasting beauty.

            And let us not be afraid of the government, but do what is right in the eyes of God and trust Him for our life and death.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for the example of the faith of Moses’ parents who saw in him the spiritual growth that You would bring to pass in him, making him beautiful in Your sight, a foreshadowing of our Savior, Jesus.  Cause the Holy Spirit to urge us on and help us to strive after You in all obedience that we would be beautiful in Your sight, even if that should mean that we should disobey leaders who command us to sin.  Cause our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to stand strong with us against all those who would call on us to sin against You, and grow us into the Image of Your Son, that we would not sin.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Joseph" Sermon: Hebrews 11:22


“Joseph”

[Hebrews 11:22]

Hebrews 20, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            Faith is a gift of God by which we receive what God has said.  We receive what God has said about His promises with assurance that they will come to pass, because they are God’s promises – the God Who cannot lie or change.  And we receive what God has said about things which had happened which we did not see – such as the Creation – and about beings which are invisible – such as the angels – which have rarely been seen, being convicted – again because God Himself has told us that these things happened and these beings exist.

            Last week, as we looked at the death bed blessings of Jacob, we mentioned something of the life of Joseph, as well.  We saw that he was favored above his brothers by his father, Jacob, and that this made his brothers so jealous that they sold him into slavery, and Joseph ended up a slave in Egypt.  But, in the Providence of God, Joseph not only was freed from prison, but was made the right hand man of Pharaoh – second only to Pharaoh in power over all of Egypt. And we noted that due to a famine and Joseph’s preparations for the famine, his family came to Egypt, they reconciled, and they all stayed in Egypt, where they could not only have food, but prosper due to Joseph’s status.

            When Joseph was 110 years old, he knew it was his time to die, and so we read in our text this morning:  “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”

            In this short account, we see two things:

            First, we ought to seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.

            Second, we ought to let our life and death be a witness to our faith.

            Let us hear the first part of the account of Joseph’s death from Genesis 50:

            “So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father's house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph's own. And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’

            First, we ought to seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.

            We may recognize this as something Jesus said in what we call, “The Sermon on the Mount”:       

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25-33, ESV).

Notice, Jesus does not say that we ought not to care about food and dress and shelter, but He says that we ought not to be anxious about them – we ought not to be obsessed with worry about them – they ought not to be foremost in our mind.  These things – at best –are secondary – penultimate – items of concern.

We are to seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.  We are to seek first after what God has called us to – that salvation that is in Christ Jesus – and the becoming like Him through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  We are to have as our first concern our being like Christ in holiness and righteousness – in loving God and doing what He has told us to do  and not sinning.  Our chief concerns are to be found here in the Bible as we as individuals and as this community – part of the Body of Christ – part of the Bride of Christ – live them out and become the men and women that God has called us to be as Christians.

Then, God promises to provide all that we need – what we need will be provided.  We won’t get everything we want, but we don’t need everything we want.  And not everything we want is good for us.

What does this have to do with Joseph’s reaffirming that the nation of Israel would leave Egypt one day and return to the Promised Land of God – Canaan?  What does this have to do with Joseph prophesying the Exodus?

We see this first point played out in four ways:

First, we see that we ought to be willing to leave everything behind for the sake of the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness.

At the time of Joseph’s death, he was a wealthy and powerful man.  The nation of Israel lived peacefully and prosperously in the land of Egypt.  Everything was coming up peaches and roses for Isreal, but Joseph was given to prophecy the future for them and told them that the time would come when they would leave.  God would take them away from everything that seemed wonderful to them now and take them to the place that God promised them.    The Exodus was coming.  Egypt was not what they needed.  What they needed was to seek the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness.

Peter began to say to [Jesus], ‘See, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first’” (Mark 10:28-31, ESV).

Peter reminds Jesus that they have left everything behind to follow Him, and Jesus tells Peter and the others that it was right for them to leave anything and anyone behind that needed to be left behind to follow Jesus, but He told them to understand that no matter what they left behind for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the Gospel – they would receive back in this life multiplied – and they would be persecuted.  And there would be reward in the age to come.

Nothing is lost when we leave things behind for the sake of Christ and His Gospel, because we will be blessed in this lifetime.  Now, understand, Jesus is not saying that if you give up something for Him you will get a hundred fold back – if you give up a job paying $10,000 a year to follow Christ and proclaim His Gospel, you will not likely get a $1,000,000 job.  No, what Jesus is saying is that anything that has to be left behind in order to receive salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will be replaced by all that is found in Jesus and His Gospel.  The difference between a dishwasher who doesn’t believe and a dishwasher who does believe, is that the dishwasher who does believe is far richer spiritually that the one who does not believe.

And, persecution is promised – suffering is promised.  And the reward of salvation in the life to come.

Second, we ought to be prepared for suffering for the sake of the Kingdom and His Righteousness, but look forward to glory.

At the time of Joseph’s death, all was well in Egypt for Israel.  But Joseph received by faith the Word of God given to him with firm conviction that the day was coming that Israel would suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, but, then, the Exodus would occur.  Were it not for God giving Joseph the prophetical knowledge – to what degree we don’t know – that the Egyptians would turn on Israel and enslave them for four hundred years until they were delivered by God through Moses to head back to the Promised Land, Joseph would never had a reason to tell them that the Exodus was coming – that they were going to go back to the Promised Land – Canaan.

God’s plan for the salvation of His people included the suffering and death of His Son, and Jesus said that anyone who followed Him would suffer.  And so we are called to suffer – not to look for suffering – not to desire suffering – but not to be surprised when suffering comes for us as followers of Jesus.

            “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’” (Mark 8:34-38, ESV).

            The United States does not currently practice crucifixion, but would you be willing to suffer crucifixion for the sake of your faith?  Would you be willing to stand on what you believe and receive whatever comes your way, knowing that the Exodus into the Kingdom of God is coming for all those who believe?  Is the Kingdom and His Righteousness so glorious to you that you are willing to suffer whatever comes for the sake of your profession?  Or do you hide what you believe from others?  Do you want to keep your family safe from being called “narrow-minded right-winged bigots” – (which has nothing to do with the Gospel or being a Christian)?

Peter explains, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17, ESV).

If we are centered on Christ and His Gospel, seeking the Kingdom and His Righteousness, we will be able to stand whatever comes our way for doing so.  We will be able to look forward in hope to what is coming with great assurance and in the conviction of those things which are not seen.  Knowing that God has made these promises and will bring them to pass.  We can count them as nothing compared to the riches we have received now and the greater riches we shall receive at Christ’s return.

As Paul writes, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, ESV).

Third, if we seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, no difficulties will weaken our faith.

Joseph received the word from God that Israel would suffer in some way and then go through the Exodus from Egypt and return to the Promised Land – promised to Abraham and his believing descendants.  And Joseph did not despair, but remained strong in his faith.

As we have just considered, our faith will stay strong – we will continue to receive what God has promised and hold fast to it in hope.

As Paul wrote:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, ESV).

Even if our persecution for the sake of Christ leads to our death – as it did for many of the apostles and disciples and continues to be so for many Christians today around the world – because we believe in the Gospel and know that death for the believer is a blessed thing – and we will be raised to glory in the Kingdom – our faith need not waver.

Which leads to the fourth point:

Fourth, we ought to be ready to die – and have words to speak, even in the moment, which show we are seeking first the Kingdom and His Righteousness.

Joseph was about to die and gathered his brothers and family to him, but he did not fret about his death.  Instead, he pointed them to faith in the promises of God – holding fast with assurance and conviction to those things which God had promised – especially to their return to the Promised Land.

Some of us will not have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Kingdom and His Righteousness in the moment of our death, but you may.  Have you considered what you might say on your death bed – with your family and friends around?  What message would you like to have be your final words?

Stephen – the first martyr – as he was being stoned to death for preaching the Gospel and turning people to the Kingdom and His Righteousness – as he died, witnessed to his faith, saying,  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59b, ESV).

We do well to consider what we might say in those final moments.  What word would you want to leave with others?  What message would you like them to remember?  What hope would you like them to have?

Joseph spoke in faith, warning his brothers of suffering to come, and urging them to keep before them to promises of God that God would keep.

The second part of the history of Joseph’s death reads:

            “Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.’ So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:22-26, ESV).

            Second, we ought to let our life and death as a witness to our faith.

            On his deathbed, Joseph made his descendants swear that they would return his bones to the Promised Land.  He did this as a witness to what he believed by faith – that Israel would return to the Promised Land, just as God promised.

            Joseph died as he had lived – witnessing to the faith of Gospel, believing in the promises of God for those things which would assuredly come in the future.

            We see this in three ways:

            First, Joseph believed in the promises of God, not the Egyptians. 

As we saw earlier, everything looked great for Israel in Egypt, but God told Joseph that Israel would have the Exodus and return to the Promised Land.  That’s what he believed in life and he witnessed to it in death by making them swear to bring his bones to the Promised Land.  He did not want to remain in Egypt, because God told them they were to go to the Promised Land.  Even though Joseph was going after death, he wanted his bones to be in the land that God had promised.

Unless the Lord returns first, we will all die.  What do our plans say about our belief in God’s Promise to us?  Do you remember the promise?

Jesus told the disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 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? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3, ESV).

Jesus promised that He is preparing a place for all we who believe savingly in Him.  Do your arrangements or lack of arrangements for your death reflect that belief?  Have you received that promise by faith?  Are you sure – convinced – that there is a place for you if you believe – and Jesus is there?  Do your final arrangements reflect that faith – what you believe is true about death and the life after?

Second, we notice that Joseph’s witness to his faith was public in life and in death.

Joseph was known for his belief – and he made Israel swear to him that in death his bones would be taken to the Promised Land.  Joseph declares before the whole people of Israel the promise he had received by faith and his requiring of them that he be brought to the Promised Land after his death.

When we die, it is the last time we have the opportunity to share our faith – to make a public profession and call people to faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Most of the funerals I have done – when I asked the families what they wanted me to speak on or say – they said they didn’t care.  Do you care what impression is left at your funeral?  Do you care what message is given?  Do you want it to be more than putting you up on a pedestal?  If you have received Jesus Christ by faith, don’t you want one last chance to call all those in attendance to faith?

My brother’s mother-in-law knew she was terminal and didn’t have long to live, and she ordered two booklets which explained the Gospel and instructed that they be handed out to each person at her funeral.

Let us make sure our faith is declared publically in our death, as, Lord willing, we do in our life.

Third, in making Israel promise to bring his bones to the Promised Land, Joseph sought to participate and witness to the communion of saints.

Joseph made Israel swear to bring his bones back to the Promised Land.  It would – minimally – involve a group of people – and they would be burying him with his ancestors – linking them together in the promise that was made to Abraham.  In bringing his bones back to the Promised Land, Joseph was witnessing that he is part of the Kingdom and a partaker of the riches of salvation that all those who believe receive and inherit.  Joseph was witnessing to the fact that his physical death did not make him any less a member of the Kingdom.  All those – living and dead – who believe in the promised Savior – are members together with each other in the promises, the salvation, and the witness of the Gospel.

That’s a statement of hope for us, is it not?  In life and in death, we are members one with another in Christ, we are still members of the Body of Christ, we are still members of the Kingdom, we are still members of the Church, we are still all the Bride of Christ.  The Gospel and its promises are for all those who receive it by faith and that continues after death.

In conclusion, let’s notice something interesting:  when were Joseph’s bones returned to the Promised Land?

            Joseph’s bones were not immediately taken back to the Promised Land.  Although the Egyptians allowed Israel to take Jacob’s bones back to Canaan – the Promised Land – right away – they did not allow them to take Joseph’s bones back right away.  Instead, he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt – for four hundred years!

            In the history of the Exodus, we read:

            “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here’” (Exodus 13:19, ESV).

            The bones of Joseph were taken in the Exodus by Moses to be returned to the Promised Land – it was actually Joshua who brought them into the land.  Do you think anyone wondered why this one coffin was being dragged along with them as they escaped from the Egyptians?  Do you think anyone told the history of Joseph’s making them swear to take it – and then discuss among Israel – all six million of them – why Joseph made them swear to bring him back?

            Let us seek first the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness.  And let us seek to live and die as a witness to what we have received by faith and believed.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we live in a day when many deny existence after death.  Help us to live lives the seek Your Kingdom first and Your Righteousness first.  Help us to understand that in death we have one last chance to point people to salvation through Jesus Christ and to witness to our faith.  May we take seriously our lives and our deaths, being willing to prize You and the salvation we receive from You as more than everything else we have, and may we seek to show You to be faithful and Your promises to be true every day that You have given us.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 18, 2013

For those of you who read my sermons...

I have received some criticism about my sermons and invite constructive criticism that I might better proclaim God's Word.  I would greatly appreciate constructive criticism as you have it.  It has been suggested that what I am doing currently is not worthwhile -- to the extent that it might be better for me to step aside...

Free Community Lunch

D.V., our next lunch is this Saturday the 19th from 12 to 1 PM.  Join us for a free meal and conversation.  If you are able to help serve and clean-up -- the help would be welcome!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tonight's Study

Join us this evening at 7 PM as we continue to look at "What is Reformed Theology?"  We will continue to look at what we have in common with other Christians before we move into our distinctives.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

VOTE

If you live in an area that's voting tomorrow, please get yourself up and out and vote.  It is a privilege we should not take lightly.

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Jacob" Sermon: Hebrews 11:21


“Jacob”

[Hebrews 11:21]

October 13, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            Let us remember that faith is something that God gives us which enables us to receive what God said which allows us to be assured of the things God tells us to hope for – the promises He has made, and it allows us to be convicted of the things that we do not see which God speaks of.

            Last week, when we left Jacob, he was in his late teens, now, he is 147 and on his death bed.  Quite a lot is written about these intervening years after Jacob ran to stay with his Uncle Laban:

            On the way to Laban’s house, God visits Jacob and gives him a vision of angels going up and down a staircase.  Once Jacob gets to Laban’s, he begins working for him and falls in love with his cousin, Rachel.  After seven years, Laban allows him to marry Rachel, but tricks him into marrying her older sister, Leah.  After seven more years, Jacob does marry Rachel as well, and tricks Laban into giving him most of his flocks.

            Rachel turns out to be barren, and Leah takes joy in making fun of Rachel, which leads to Rachel giving Jacob her servant to have children with, and then Leah gives him her servant to have children with, and then God opens Rachel’s womb and she bears Joseph, Jacob’s pride and joy.

            Jacob become very wealthy, and heads out away from Laban’s home.  On the way, he wrestles with the Angel of the Lord, and the Angel puts his hip out of joint.  After which, Jacob is renamed, “Israel,” meaning “the one who prevails with God.”

            Jacob then runs into Esau and they make peace with one another.

            Jacob shows Joseph favor over his eleven brothers and one sister, and the brothers sell Joseph into captivity, and Joseph ends up in Egypt, where, from a slave, he rises to the right hand man of Pharaoh.

            Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin, and Isaac dies shortly thereafter at 180 years old.

            Jacob and his family moves to Egypt to survive the famine and is well taken care of by Joseph and Pharaoh.

            While Joseph is in Egypt, he marries, and has two sons:  Manasseh, the older, and Ephraim, the younger.

            And now, Jacob is 147 years old and about to die, and our text tells us:

            “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.”

            With all that happened in Jacob’s life, the author of Hebrews turns to his death bed and tells us that by faith, Jacob blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and by faith, Jacob bowed in worship over the head of his staff.

            In doing so, we see four things:

            First, it is good to look back over our lives, for it will strengthen us and others in the faith.

            Second, in life and in death, we ought to focus on God, giving thanks and praise to Him.

            Third, if we are to have hope, we ought to keep the Covenant before us.

            And fourth, in life and in death, we ought to be about worshipping God.

            As an overview, we may ask, why is this – of all the things that happened in the life of Jacob – that the author of Hebrews focuses on as the place to see his faith?

            First, it is good to look back over our lives, for it will strengthen us and others in the faith.

            The author of Hebrews directs us to the death bed blessing by Jacob and his worship of God for a number of reasons:

            First, it shows us that spiritual strength does not need to dissipate in old age.  Even if the body is infirmed – falling apart and failing – that is not a hindrance to faith.  The gift of faith that God has given all those who believe is empowered by God the Holy Spirit – the same One God Who never changes and never fails – Whose power is Almighty.  We can be powerhouses of faith, even if our bodies are all but useless.

            Paul talks about this as he writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).

            We see this in Jacob – Jacob’s body is failing, he is blind, but he takes hold of the unseen things he has received by faith and applies them to his son and grandsons uncompromisingly.

            And this touches on a second reason:  both for himself, and for his descendants, Jacob was laying hold of the Covenant – the promises that God has made to Abraham and all his believing descendants.  Jacob was witnessing to the fact that God’s promises to Abraham were for all the people that God would raise up through Abraham and he believing descendants.

            Jacob wanted to make sure that they knew that the Covenant was true and in force, and that they should also lay hold of it, believing by faith that God would multiply their people and bring them into the land that God promised.  And also, as God promised our first parents, that there would be a day when the Savior God promised would come to restore the earth and rid it and all God’s people of sin and evil and all of their results – such as blindness and death.

            Third, as we will see, another reason to focus here in Jacob’s life is that he looked back over all of his life and gave God thanks – even for the times that he suffered – because there is purpose in suffering.  And we see that he especially gives thanks for the Angel that he wrestled with Who put his hip permanently out of joint.  This Angel, he tells us, redeemed him from all evil.  Here we have a Christophany – a pre-Incarnate appearance of the Son of God.  No mere angle could forgive a person’s sins – this could only be the Son of God Himself.

            So we see that it is good to look back over our lives in faith – if we do so in faith – rather than in self-pity – we will find our faith strengthened and not only ours, but others to who we witnesses that work of God in our lives and how we have come to receive God’s Word through faith – and ultimately, as we witness to the reception of salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.

            And so now we turn to Genesis 48 to see what happened:

            Second, in life and in death, we ought to focus on God, giving thanks and praise to Him.

            “After this, Joseph was told, ‘Behold, your father is ill.’ So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And it was told to Jacob, ‘Your son Joseph has come to you.’ Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. And Jacob said to Joseph, ‘God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, “Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.”

            Joseph is told that his father, Jacob, doesn’t have long to live, so he and his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, went to see his father – to seek what he had to say as he died.  And they went into Jacob’s tent, and since Jacob was blind, they were announced to him.  Israel – that is, Jacob – sat up in bed before them, and he thanked and praised God.

            He gave thanks to the God – the Almighty God – Who appeared to him in the land of Luz – where Jacob slept and saw the angels ascending and descending on a staircase, for God had appeared to the snake – the overthrower – the supplanter – the cheat – all of these are appropriate descriptions as we look at the life of Jacob – and God, in faithfulness to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob, reaffirmed that Jacob would be fruitful and multiply and that God would keep the Covenant and give his believing descendants the land that God had promised.

            As Jacob’s death came near and his family was with him, the first thing that was on his mind was to thank God and praise Him for His faithfulness to him – despite his sin and unfaithfulness.

            Along similar lines, with death possibly at his door, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “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).

            Paul tells the Philippians that, if he had his choice, he would go on to receive the death penalty – which he eventually would – because dying and being with Christ is better than living.  However, if God chose to spare Him, then he desired to glorify Christ in his life, just as he would seek to glorify Christ in his death.

            The Christian ought to seek to glorify Christ while he or she is alive – we ought to do everything we can to make Jesus and His Gospel know and to live out our love for Christ by obeying Him and not sinning.

            Yet, when the time of our death is upon us, we ought to seek to glorify Christ – we ought to do everything we can to make Jesus and His Gospel known and to die showing our love for Christ in this obedience, thanking and praising Him for our life and for this last opportunity to show others Who He is.

            Life and death take work.  We need to rely on the Holy Spirit and strive to be faithful sons and daughters of God.  That’s why Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV).

            We are not striving to be saved – our salvation is a gift of God – we are striving to live out our salvation in thanksgiving and praise and proclaiming the Gospel in all that we do and say in humble obedience to God.

            Are you ready to live?  Are you ready to take all that you are and use it that God and our Savior would be known and glorified that you could thank God and praise Him every day of your life?

            Are you ready to die?  Are you ready, in your last moments – if you do not die suddenly – to sit up straight and use all that you are in those last moments to make God and the Savior known and glorified – that you, yourself, would take those last breaths to look back on your life and thank God and praise Him and relish being brought into Paradise with Jesus?

            How do we prepare to live to the glory of God and in the proclamation of the Gospel?  And how do we prepare to die to the glory of God and in the proclamation of the Gospel?  Love God.  Obey God.  Let others know what the Gospel is that you believe – that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of all those who would believe, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne.  Look back on your life – even now – and see how God has worked in your life – how God has always been involved – in the good times and the bad – and give private and public thanks and praise to God.

Third, if we are to have hope, we ought to keep the Covenant before us.

“And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).’

            “When Israel saw Joseph's sons, he said, ‘Who are these?’ Joseph said to his father, ‘They are my sons, whom God has given me here.’ And he said, ‘Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.’ Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.’ Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). And he blessed Joseph and said,

            ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,

                        the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,

            the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;

                        and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;

                        and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.’

            “When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.’ But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.’ So he blessed them that day, saying,

            ‘By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying,

            “God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’”

            “Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow’” (Genesis 48, ESV).

            Jacob begins by telling Joseph that Manasseh and Ephraim shall be his sons, as Joseph’s brothers are his sons.  Why?  He tells him – for the sake of the inheritance – for the sake of the Covenant.  Joseph’s sons had been born in Egypt – never having seen the Promised Land, and now Jacob was bringing them in under the banner of the Covenant – the promises made to Abraham and all his descendants who believed – saying that they are now Covenant children – members of those who may lay their hopes on the Covenant.

            He goes on to thank God that he was able to see Joseph and his sons in this life – something he had not expected to do.  And with the boys before him, he crossed his arms so his right hand lay on Ephraim’s head and his left hand lay on Manasseh’s head.  And then he blessed Joseph.

            Then he changed course and blessed the boys in the name of the Covenant and the Covenant God:  he asked that the God before Whom he walked would bless them, the God Who had shepherded his life would bless them, the Angel Who had saved him from his sin – that is the then coming Savior – Jesus Christ – would bless them, and that the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the Covenant – would continue with and through these boys – that they would grow into the promised multitude of followers of the One and Almighty God.

            And Joseph noticed that his father’s hands were reversed – the primary blessing normally went to the first-born son, who was Manasseh, so the right hand should have been on him, and Joseph tried to correct his father, but Jacob told him “no” – both sons would be blessed by God and be a blessing to the world, but Ephraim’s blessing would be more greatly multiplied.  Jacob, by faith, had a “conviction of things not seen” as given to him by God.  And Jacob prophesied that it would become a blessing which was said, “God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.”

Notice the younger son precedes the older.

            As we noted last week – there are numerous times when God uses a barren women to achieve His purposes – as He did in the life of Rachel – and God throws tradition on its head and switches the birth order blessing – as He did in the placing Ephraim before Manasseh.  Here, both boys are blessed and members of the Covenant, but Ephraim has the greater blessing.

            Also note that Jacob says he is giving the inheritance of Canaan, not to Joseph, but to his two sons.  To understand why, we need to look at the rest of the book of Genesis, but the quick answer is that Joseph ends up dying in Egypt, so Ephraim and Manasseh become two of the twelve tribes of Israel, not Joseph.  Again, God had given Jacob insight and “conviction of things not seen.”

            The Covenant is about being part of the people of God – just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were, and the eleven sons of Jacob and the two sons of Joseph.  It was they who inherited the land (except for Levi, which is another sermon).

            We do not inherit Canaan – Israel – as Christians, we inherit the entire earth!  As Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5, ESV).  We Christians are part of the Kingdom of God which shall inhabit the whole restored earth.  For now we exist in small communities which make up a larger community called, “the Church.”  We who believe are members of the Church – let us consider one thing about that:

            When people ask what you are a member of, what do you answer?  Do you answer you are a Democrat or a Republican, or a member of the Rotary or the Chamber or the Masons or the Elks, or the PTA, or PETA or Mercy for Animals, or the Presbyterians, or the Baptists, or the Roman Catholics – all of these may be true, but they are only secondary – our first membership – our greatest honor – our greatest pride – is to be a member of the Church!  A member of the people of God!  The Bride of Jesus Christ the Only Savior!

            If we told people we were members of the Covenant, their eyes would probably glaze over – and we may have difficulty explaining it – though we should learn what it means as we read and study our Bibles.  It would be clearer to say we are members of the Church – we are believers in the Savior God sent.

            But we don’t tend to say that, do we?  We don’t tend to say that the most important membership we hold is being members of the Church, do we?  Why not?

            Some may not like to say it because the Church is an institution which has not always done what is right.  And that’s true – different people in different denominations have sinned in the Name of God.  But the Church, here, is not those sinful institutions, but all those people that God has called to be His for eternity – the people that God is changing and making into the Image of His Son – the people who will be a holy and untainted Bride on that final day.  We dare not be ashamed to be part of that Church, for Jesus said, “but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33, ESV).

            The most wonderful membership in existence – those for whom Jesus died – is the Church.  Let us not be ashamed – first and foremost to say, I am a member of the Church – those whom Jesus is saving and bringing into glory with Him.  Because that is what we desire the most as Christians, is it not?

            Fourth, in life and in death, we ought to be about worshipping God.

“By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.”

After Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, he bowed in worship of God, his Savior, over the head of his staff.  Why?

Commentators are all over the map as to why Jacob bowed over the head of his staff.  Some say it could be because he was old and couldn’t get down on the floor to prostrate himself in worship.  Some say that the staff was a symbol of his authority and he was submitting his authority before God.  Some say that staff was symbolic of his pilgrimage, which was now coming to an end.

Whichever of these or combination of these or even something else, the point is that Jacob lived and died worshipping God.  Jacob found God worthy to be worshipped in his past, for his present, and for his future.  He put himself in the most reverent posture he was able and humbled himself in thanks before God.

A woman I once knew who claimed to be a Christian was going on and on about how this was wrong and that was wrong and everyone and everything was against her, and I dared to ask her if she had anything to be thankful for, and she screamed at me, “I have nothing to be thankful for, no one has ever done anything to help me!”  I was shocked at her ungratefulness and didn’t know what to say.

Granted she – and all of us – have had bad things happen – either because of our sin, or because this is a sinful world, or some combination of the two – but is there nothing – nothing – to be thankful for?  Has God done nothing for you?  If you’re a Christian, might you remember that Jesus lived and died and rose for you – is that nothing?

Well, you might ask, what has He done for me lately?

Paul tells us that the unrighteous – “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21, ESV).

And on the other side of the coin:  “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17, ESV).

We are not a people who are used to giving thanks.  Do you thank your mail carrier?  Do you thank the person who waits on you in the supermarket?  Do you thank your boss – or your employees?  Do you thank God?

Some of my doctors talk theology with me as well as my medical conditions.  One of my doctors is an Orthodox Jew, and the last time I saw him, he pulled out his prayer book to show me that there is a payer for thanksgiving in there to be lifted up every time he relieved himself – giving thanks to God that all of his bodily functions were working well to eliminate waste.  Have you ever thanked God that your waste does not just get stuck in your body with no way to be eliminated?

I suspect that we all have enough to thank God for every day that we could be giving thanks all day.  Why don’t we give thanks?

In Jacob’s last moments, he is worshipping God, as he had in life, thanking Him for being a faithful, Covenant and promise-keeping God, for saving him from his sins, for all he has received, for being able to bless his grandchildren, and so forth.

Is God worthy of worship?  Is God worthy of being shown to be worthy?

Beloved, there is nothing more worthwhile than to spend time – privately and publically – worshipping God.  Let us learn to worship and to be thankful.

Spend time looking back over your life – for it will strengthen you and others in the faith.  In life and in death, focus on God, giving thanks and praise to Him.  If you would have hope, keep the Covenant – the promises of God – before you.  And in life and in death, be about worshipping God.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for the example of Jacob.  We praise You that You would use such a scoundrel to be Your man of God for the continuing of the line of the Church.  Help us to open our Bibles and read – cause the Hole Spirit to impress upon us the joy of knowing You and Your promises, and help us to be a thankful, praiseful, worshipful people, that we might be filled with joy – to the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.