Second Reformed Church

Monday, January 27, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

"We fail in our duty to study God's Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work.  Our problem is not lack of intelligence or a lack of passion.  Our problem is that we are lazy." -- R. C. Sproul in David Murray, How Sermons Work, 17.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Discipline & Sin" Sermon: Hebrews 12:3-11


“Discipline & Sin”

[Hebrews 12:3-11]

January 26, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            In our current context – in twenty-first century America – when we hear someone talk about discipline, we are likely to jump to an understanding of abuse.  Someone may say she disciplined her child by chaining him to a radiator without food or water for a week.  That is not discipline, that’s abuse.  Someone may say that he disciplined his child by beating her until she had broken bones.  That’s not discipline, that’s abuse.  We have a tendency to confuse discipline and abuse to the point where discipline is a dirty word, and even if we believe in discipline, we are afraid to admit it for negative repercussions.

            However, discipline is a good thing – we discipline our bodies to make them stronger and more useful.  We discipline our children to help them to become the men and women we would have them be.  The Church is called to discipline – specifically those members who continue in unrepentant sin.

            As a child, I was disciplined by my parents spanking me with their hand on my backside.  It was done to make sure I understood that what I had done was wrong, and as an encouragement that I would not do it again, but, instead, that I would do what is right. 

In Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, there is a case of a man who is having sexual relations with his step-mother.  The Church demands that he stop, and when he refuses to stop sinning, they discipline him by refusing to admit him to the Lord’s Supper.  But when he finally renounces his sin and stops having sexual relations with his step-mother, the church readmits him to the Lord’s Table.

            Abuse is done to hurt someone; discipline is administered to cause someone to grow, to become a better person, and so forth.  Abuse is done out of hatred and anger.  Discipline is administered out of love.

            I hope that makes sense.  I spend the time on it because of the culture we live in.  I spend time on it because some of us have been abused by family, friends, and/or strangers, and it is important, as we look at this passage, to see that discipline is not abuse.  Discipline is administered for a person’s good.

            Last week, we looked at the idea that the life of faith is a race, and since we are running a race, we ought to throw off every weight – anything that would keep us from running the best we can for the sake of Christ – and every sin – the heaviest of weights which fights against our running.  We also saw that we have this great cloud of witnesses – all those believers who have gone on before us – watching us and encouraging us and cheering us on as we run.  And we have Jesus – the One Who is the Foundation of our faith and the Perfector of our faith – so we know that our faith to believe is given to us as a gift by God and Jesus will bring us to the finish line, because we are in His hands, and He will never lose one of those God has given Him to be His people.

            We ended last week, noting that Jesus is the Sovereign King of all of Creation, and, that He was able to endure the Hell of the cross, because of “the joy that was set before Him” – that is, Jesus was able to endure the Hell of the cross because He knew the end of all of His suffering was the Glory of God through His bringing a holy people into His Kingdom – the fulfillment of the Gospel.

            And we remember that the first readers of this letter are Jewish Christians who are suffering for their faith under the Romans and non-believing Jews.  They had suffered so much that they were wondering if they might have been wrong about Jesus – they wondered if they ought to turn back to the Old Testament Sacrificial System.  So, the author of Hebrews explained why the Old Testament Sacrificial System cannot make a person right with God – only Jesus can, and then he gave them examples of men and women of faith from the Creation up until their day – encouraging them to look to Jesus for encouragement and the ability to endure whatever they suffer for the Gospel.

            He then explains to them:

            First, we ought not to become weary of suffering for the faith because Jesus loves us.

            Second, we ought to understand that part of our suffering is due to our sin.

            Third, when we sin, God may discipline us.

            Fourth, God’s disciplining of us is as a loving Father.

            Fifth, we ought to understand that end of discipline is our good.

            So, we turn to our text for this morning:

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

First, we ought not to become weary of suffering for the faith because Jesus loves us.

The author of Hebrews tells his readers to consider Jesus and the suffering that He endured at the hands of sinners.  What did Jesus endure?

He endured being rejected by the people He created.  He endured attempts on His life.  He endured friends being put to death for His sake.  He endured being lied about, sought after, and used.  He endured the Scripture being twisted.  He endured being betrayed.  He endured being man-handled and illegally tried.  He endured being spit upon, punched out, having His beard torn out of His face.  He endured a crown of thorns being pounded into His skull.  He endured being mocked.  He endured being deserted.  He endured being flogged.  He endured being crucified.

These are some of the things Jesus endured at the hands of sinners.  And the author of Hebrews tells us to consider what He endured – what He suffered at the hands of sinners.  And remember that He endured all of this – and more – “for the joy that was set before Him” – He endured all these things – as holy man and Holy God – because the end of enduring all these things was joy for Him – the glorifying of God through the bringing of a people to glory in the Kingdom.

If Jesus endured all these things to glorify God by bringing His people – all those who will ever believe – into glory in the Kingdom, is that not proof that He loves us?  Is that suffering not enough for us to not give up?  If Jesus did all this, and provides us with what we need to endure in His Name all that we suffer on earth for His sake, do we every have any reason to say, “I’ve had enough; I can’t be a witness to the Gospel any more”?

Understand, the author of Hebrews is not saying that there aren’t times when we have had enough – we’re tired and beaten and want a break.  We have those times.  Our bodies, minds, and souls need periods of restoration.

What the author of Hebrews is saying is that, no matter how much we suffer for the sake of Christ, because He has suffered as He did for us, we will not refuse to suffer for Him.  That is, a Christian will not run away from suffering for Christ’s sake.  We don’t seek out suffering, but, if it comes, we stand strong in Jesus, unashamedly standing for the Gospel.

Then, the author of Hebrews reminds his readers that some of our suffering comes on us because of our sin.  Sometimes our suffering is not from those persecuting us for the sake of Christ, but because we have sinned.

“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

Second, we ought to understand that part of our suffering is due to our sin.

We have been called to resist sin – to struggle against it – to fight against temptation and to deny sin, but we are not yet perfect, and we give in to sin.  That is not to be an excuse, but it is a current reality – until Jesus returns for us and sanctifies us and glorifies us, we will still – less and less, by the Grace of God – choose to sin.

And sinning is a choice:  we look at the options before us – to obey God in thanksgiving and obedience or to rebel against God and tell Him that He doesn’t know what’s best for us – and we choose.

Jesus went to the cross for sinners like me and you – all those who would believe savingly in Him – and He shed His blood for every sin we would every commit – He took upon Himself the Wrath of God for our sin and suffered to the point of shedding His blood.

So, to all those who say living for Christ is too much, the author of Hebrews points out to us, none of us “have yet resisted to the point of shedding [our] blood.”

It’s as though the author of Hebrews said, “Don’t complain if you suffer for your sin – Christ has made the way through His suffering and paying the debt for your sin that you don’t ever have to sin – you sin by your own choice.  And I know you try – to some degree – to keep from sinning – but you have continued to choose to sin – you have not resisted sin to the point of shedding your blood, like Christ did.  So, understand, if you suffer for your sin, you are responsible – you should not be surprised.”

However, God is not sitting in Heaven, watching us, looking for any chance He can to catch us in sin and make us suffer.  God is not a sadist.  God does not hope we fall into sin so He can “zap” us.  Yet, it is true that God does discipline us for our sin at times.

Third, when we sin, God may discipline us.

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure.”

And here, let us understand that there is a difference between just punishment and discipline.  There is a difference between what we deserve and discipline.  God is quite clear about what sin deserves:  “For the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23a, ESV).  Our just punishment would be immediate death.  And sometimes God does kill people for their sin – even believers.

We remember Uzzah from the Old Testament.  There is no reason given in the text to assume that Uzzah was anything but a believer.  The Ark of the Covenant – that sacred box with the Ten Commandments and others items – was recovered from the Philistines and King David was bringing it back to Jerusalem, and we read:

“And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God” (II Samuel 6:5-7, ESV).

Uzzah stopped the Ark from falling off the cart into the mud.  And God killed him, because it was against the Law to touch the Ark.  He sinned, and God killed him.

We remember as Paul explains to the Corinthians about how they were sinning in receiving the Lord’s Supper in an inappropriate manner:

“That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (I Corinthians 11:30, ESV).

We have no reason to believe that these members of the Corinthian church were anything but believers, and yet God killed some of them for sinfully receiving the Lord’s Supper.

Thankfully, God does not usually give us just punishment – God’s tendency is to discipline His sons and daughters.  As we see in the word to the Corinthians, some of them were “weak and ill” – they were disciplined for their sin, but change could come.

I mentioned that I was disciplined as a child by my parents – were any of you disciplined as children?  Did you discipline your children? 

The author of Hebrews quotes Solomon, as he tells his readers not to despise the discipline of the Lord – we are not to consider it nothing – something we can ignore.  There is purpose and meaning behind discipline.

If God disciplines us, it proves that we are His sons and daughters.

Have you ever been in a supermarket where a parent or guardian is allowing a child to run around and scream and pull things off the shelf?  Have you ever wondered where the parent or guardian was and why that parent or guardian was not disciplining the child?  Have you ever gone over and disciplined the child yourself?  Why not?  Because you are not the child’s parent or guardian – you do not have authority over that child.  Perhaps you may have addressed the child’s parent or guardian, but I doubt any of us has disciplined a child we didn’t know.

God disciplines us because we are His.

And He disciplines us because He loves us and wants us to be better people – to advance us in our salvation.

Hear what God’s Word says about God’s disciplining of us for our sin:

“Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked” (Psalm 94:12-13, ESV).

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119.67, ESV).

“I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Psalm 119.75, ESV).

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3.19, ESV).

“Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8.5, ESV).

“I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men,” (II Samuel 7.14, ESV).

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13.24, ESV).

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die” (Proverbs 23.13, ESV).

Keep in mind – this is not abuse – this is loving discipline.  This is action caused to make us repent and turn from our sin and not do it any longer.  When we are disciplined by God, God is showing His love for us, that we are His children, and that He is working to advance our salvation – to make us holy.  So, let us not despise the discipline of the Lord, but understand it is for our good and respond to it accordingly, by not sinning again.

The author of Hebrews continues:

“God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”

Fourth, God’s disciplining of us is as a loving Father

If you were abused by your parents, I would ask that you think of what a parent should be, not what you experienced – not to deny what you experienced, but so you will understand and take this well – for God is our loving Father.  God is the loving Father of all those who ever believe in the Savior He sent.

The author of Hebrews asks us to consider our earthly fathers – or what our fathers should have been, if you were abused.  Earthly fathers discipline their children because they want their children to desire to live rightly – and that shows their love of us – that our fathers want us to be good and righteous people – doing what is right, following God, and believing in the Savior He sent.

We respect fathers who discipline us out of love and out of the desire for us to be good people and to become better people, and all of other fathers – even the best – even you – are or were sinners.  If we respected our sinful fathers who loved us and desired that we would become better people, how much more ought we to respect God, our Father, when He disciplines us in His holy love?

God loves us so much that He sent His Only Son to live and die that we might be right with God.  God loves us so much that He has indwelled us with God the Holy Spirit that we would be led to become the men and women He has called us to be in holiness – like His Own Son.  God loves us so much that He allowed His Son to suffer at the hands of sinners unjustly.  And now He shows His love for us in disciplining us so we will stop sinning and turn to follow after holiness.

You see, when our father – our parents – disciplined us, they were examples of God to us.  And what they did and what God does in discipline is not to destroy us, but to make us truly alive – that we would seek to kill sin – to mortify our sin – and to seek to live holy lives.

That does not mean, however, that we should “enjoy” discipline.  Even though discipline is for our good,

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Fifth, we ought to understand that end of discipline is our good.

            Discipline hurts!  When I was spanked as a kid, it hurt.  It was not pleasant; it was painful.  However, the end of discipline, as we have said, is not the pain that we feel, but that we would respond in growth in godliness.

            The end of discipline is that we would yield “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”

            What does that mean?

            The end of discipline is “peaceable” in the sense that we come to recognize it as beneficial.  I do not despise my father for spanking me; I recognize – after the fact – that is was beneficial for me to be disciplined, so I would know what is right and wrong and be encouraged to do what is right and to live rightly.

            The end of discipline is “the fruit of righteousness” in the sense that we would fear God – be in awe of God – humbly respect God, and strive to live a godly and holy life.

Paul’s words are true about all kinds of suffering – even discipline:  “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (II Corinthians 4:17, ESV).  Discipline is preparatory – it trains us to be the people that God has called us to be.

So, let us hold fast to Jesus – remembering all that He suffered on our behalf and seek not to offend Him and rebel against Him through sin, but rather let us seek the Power of the Holy Spirit and follow after all that God has called us to do and be in His Word.

And when we sin, let us not be surprised that we suffer for it, but, instead, recognize the discipline of God and, again, respond by repenting of our sin and seeking to live lives of holiness, knowing that we are disciplined by a loving Father Who has saved us by Himself and for Himself.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You that You are our Father and You love us.  We thank You for sending Your Son to be our Savior.  Help us to always keep before us all that He endured to secure our salvation, and when we need to be disciplined for our sin, help us to repent quickly, receiving Your Fatherly Hand against us for our sin, and run to You, seeking strength to be matured in the faith, becoming holy men and women, like Your Son, our Elder Brother, Jesus.  For it is in His Name, we pray, Amen.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

On Hebrews 12:9-10

"Whereas, therefore, this holiness consists in the mortification of our lusts and affections in the gradual renovation of our natures, and the sanctification of our souls, the carrying on and increase of these things in us is that which God designs in all his chastisements.  And whereas, next unto our participation of Christ, by the imputation of his righteousness unto us, this is the greatest privilege, glory, honour, and benefit, that in this world we can be made partakers of, we have no reason to be weary of God's chastisements, which are designed to no other end." -- John Owen, Hebrews, vol. 7, 270.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Annual Meeting

Our annual meeting is scheduled for this Sunday, the 26th, after morning worship.  Please plan to stay as we look over the budget.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

"Sin is not an essential party of humanity.  It is a grotesque intrusion."  -- Albert N. Martin, You Lift Me Up:  Overcoming Ministry Challenges, 99.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

"[Jesus] has come to save us from our sins, but not our humanity." -- Albert N. Martin, You Lift Me Up:  Overcoming Ministry Challenges, 90.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

"If wearing your clerical collar makes you a fundamentally different human being from what you are without it something is drastically wrong." -- Albert N. Martin, You Lift Me Up:  Overcoming Ministry Challenges, 89.

Monday, January 20, 2014

We've Got a Youth Group!

Welcome Samuel Ernest Hastey to Joshua and Rebekah Hastey, born today at 3:35 PM, 9 lbs, 3 oz, 21 inches.  All are well.

Review: "The Global War on Christians"


The Global War on Christians:  Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution by John L. Allen, Jr. is a rather encyclopedic introduction to Christian persecution around the world especially over the past ten years.

            In the first half of the book, Allen presents the tops nations where persecution is found and gives both national information as well as examples of individuals who have suffered persecution for their Christian faith.

            For much of the second half of the book, he deals with myths about Christian persecution, arguing that persecution does not merely occur where Christians are in the minority, it is not surprising, it is not all being committed by Muslims, it is not only about religion, and it is not merely a political issue.

            In the final chapters, he argues that this persecution will produce “three broad consequences”:  Christian leadership will emerge at an accelerated rate in the developing world, religious freedom with become a greater world-wide concern, and Christianity will become a stronger pro-democratic force around the world (244-255). 

He also believes that Christianity will stop focusing on gaining power and, instead, find its “self-understanding … in suffering and deprivation” (255).

Finally, he talks about “what’s to be done.”  Allen presents the following for the Church’s consideration:  to be in prayer for those being persecuted (280), to raise the consciousness of the Church (especially in the West) that there is persecution (282), to learn to think globally about the Church (284), to engage in micro-charity – giving aid to persons and smaller groups in particular areas, rather than large organizations (285), to participate in institutional humanitarian relief (287), to be involved politically (289), to assist in resettling refugees (291), and to engage in partnerships with the emerging world – church to church (293).

These things to do are certainly large possibilities, and some churches and persons will be able to engage in some things and some others.  For this reason, and the sheer volume of information, this seems to me to be a great book for small groups to work with as they see how they might become aware and involved with persecuted Christians.  This is not light reading – it is large enough that I found it a bit overwhelming to read about this country and this person over and over again.  However, I do believe it could be used very effectively as a text for small groups to learn about and address the very real issue of persecution.

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

Banner of Truth Conference

Only four months till Banner of Truth!  Save up and register if you are a man of God:    http://banneroftruth.org/us/store/events/2014-usa-ministers-conference-registration/

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Surrounded. Run for Joy" Sermon: Hebrews 12:1-2


“Surrounded.  Run for Joy”

[Hebrews 12:1-2]

January 19, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            We are surrounded.  And since we are, the author of the letter to the Hebrews says we ought to run for joy.

            Verses one and two of Hebrews 12 are arguably the second conclusion of the argument that the author has been making throughout the eleventh chapter of his book, so let us keep the whole of the eleventh chapter before us in our minds as we consider this second conclusion.

            We considered last week that the eleventh chapter is a response and encouragement to the first century Christians who were suffering at the hands of Rome and the non-believing Jews.  The author goes to great lengths to call them away from turning back to the Old Testament Sacrificial System and argues that since we have faith, since we have examples of faith from the believers enumerated in the Scripture, since we understand that a true faith can lead to earthly victory or misery, depending on the Will of God, since we have received the historical fulfillment of the Gospel in Jesus, and since God is bringing the whole Church to glory in the Kingdom – “therefore” –

            We can conclude this section with the following doctrines:

            First, we are surrounded by the faithful who have died.

            Second, we are in a spiritual race of endurance.

            Third, we are to patiently strive towards the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness.

            Fourth, we are to find our assurance for this race in Jesus.

            Fifth, we are to run for joy.

            Sixth, we are to submit to and recognize Jesus as our Sovereign King.

First, we are surrounded by the faithful who have died.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,”

As we read through the eleventh chapter of Hebrews and consider all these men and women of the faith and their examples of living a life of faith – looking to them as examples and encouragement to us and our faith, believing in the Savior Who was to come and now has – Jesus, we do well to remember that these witnesses – these martyrs – are not dead – they are alive.  Of course they have not been reunited with their physical bodies, but they are alive, in the presence of Jesus, our God and Savior.  As Jesus promised the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43b, ESV).  All those who have lived and died in the faith are with Jesus now – alive.

And, as our text tells us, they are surrounding us like a cloud.  We had a couple of foggy days recently, and if you drove through it, you were surrounded by a cloud.  That is the image we are to get – we are thickly surrounded by the faithful who have died.

What does that mean?  Is this room filled with those faithful who have died?  Certainly not in the Hollywood sense of a place being haunted.  But, in some way, we are truly surrounded by all of the saints who have come before us, and they see all of we who believe, throughout the world.  I won’t speculate here on how that is possible, but we ought to recognize that those believers who have gone on before us are here – surrounding us – and they see us.

Why?  What are they doing?  Again, get Hollywood out of your mind – we are not being haunted – they are not “after us” in any sense.  What they are doing is watching us live by faith, and they are rejoicing in our faith and belief and obedience, and they are applauding us in joy and thanksgiving to God, as we make our way through this life as followers of Jesus.

            Second, we are in a spiritual race of endurance.

“let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”

The author of Hebrews compares the life of faith with a race of endurance.

He begins by telling us that if you are going to run a race, you want to have as little extra weight on you as possible – we want to remove everything that would impede our being able to run – we don’t want to be slowed down by anything.

The implication of the language is that we want to be able to run the race as best as we can and we want to lay aside everything that could possibly hinder us.  As men and women of faith, we want to disengage ourselves from anything that will delay our spiritual progress.  In love for Christ, we are willing to set aside anything that will keep us from Him and from being obedient to Him.

The “weights” that we are to lay aside are anything in our life – even if it is not sinful in-and-of itself – that slows down our spiritual progress.  And these things may be different from person to person.

As we consider what God has said about being faithful and obedient – in pursuing holiness – we may find that we have to give up a boyfriend or girlfriend, we may have to remain single, or we may have to find a spouse.  We may have to give up a job, or pass up a promotion, or give away a large percentage of our money.  We may have to leave our parents’ home, or go to another country.  Even if something is not a sin in itself – like being married or single, or having any particular job or any particular salary – if, for you, it is a weight that keeps you from following God and running the race as well as possible – you must give it up.

We may remember Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler:

“And behold, a man came up to [Jesus] saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:16-22, ESV).

What weight did the young man need to lay aside?  His possessions.  Why?  We are not explicitly told.  He may have loved money and things – it may have been an issue of sin for him, but the fact of the matter is, his possessions were a weight which he needed to give away if he was to run the race of faith well.  Would we be willing to give up all of our stuff if we knew it would allow us to run the race of faith better?  Would we be willing to give up any thing if we knew it would allow us to run the race of faith better?

Besides whatever weight you or I might be carrying, the author of Hebrews tells us to lay aside our sin.  Even as Christians, our sin nature is not completely gone – we sin – and we have indwelling sins – sins that we particularly enjoy and frequent.  And our sin is the heaviest weight we can carry.

Paul writes, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (II Corinthians 7:1, ESV).

We are to remove sin from us – we are to engage in mortification – in putting our sins to death, by knowing our weakness and watching for when and where we tend to sin – doing everything we can to avoid those things which lead us into sin and holding fast to the Holy Spirit, looking for that way of escape that God has always made for us so we don’t have to ever sin and take that way of escape – by the Power of God, the Holy Spirit, resist temptation – flee from the devil.  We need to look at ourselves and identify our sins and do everything we can to subvert them – to keep ourselves from entering into them again.

And, no, it’s not easy – it will be a fight until the day we die.  But Jesus died for our sins – and if we believe that, we ought to understand that we are spitting in His face – just as the soldiers did – if we choose to sin.  If we love Jesus, we must do everything we can to lay aside sin and not do it – find a friend you can partner with, to pray with, and to receive encouragement from.

And take encouragement from all those men and women of faith that we have record of who are now around us, watching us, cheering us on as we run our race, looking forward to the day when the whole Church of God will be together in the presence of Jesus in the Kingdom.

And let us take time to prepare for the race – even as we run.  It would be foolish and disastrous for me to try to run a marathon this week – I not in shape for it – I have not prepared.  Similarly, we have to prepare if we are to endure the race.

Part of our preparation is identifying those weights and sins which we must deny ourselves that we might run well.  But we also need to train positively; we need to be reading the Word of God, being in worship with our brothers and sisters, being encouraged and being an encouragement in the faith.  We ought to be learning what God has said and how to be stronger and more prepared to race.  We ought to memorize God’s Word, or at least know it well enough to find it in time of need.  We ought to develop relationships with fellow Christians that we can rely on each other and run together and encourage one another and to lift each other up as we fall or experience pain.

I have never run a race – except in gym a long time ago – but, if you race or do any kind of exercise, you know it hurts.  There is pain as we train our bodies and work with them to become stronger and able to sustain more.  And if any one of us endures long enough, we will feel pain.

Pain tells us that something is going on – it could mean something is wrong, or it could be part of the process of becoming better.  When we exercise properly and our muscles hurt, it is because they are going through a process of becoming stronger.

Paul explains that the whole Creation is experiencing pain as we race to the finish-line:   “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23, ESV).

I have never given birth to a child, but I understand it is very painful.  Yet, mothers for thousands of years have endured the pain to get to the finish line of birth.  I would be surprised if, after Rebekah endures delivery, she says that little Zerubbabel was not worth it.  We endure, because the prize is worth the pain.  Especially in the realm of faith, no matter what we suffer for the sake of Christ, it is worthwhile because of the prize of Christ and His salvation.

That’s what the author of Hebrews is trying to impress upon the readers of his letter:  get rid of those things that weight you down, stop sinning, and understand that you will suffer as a Christian, but enduring through it is worth what we receive in the end.  Remember what Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:18-20, ESV).

And yet, Paul 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” (II Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).

The worst that we endure for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom will be nothing compared to the glory that we receive when we finish the race – when we are received into the fullness of the Kingdom.  The race, laying aside weights and sin, and enduring, are worth it all.

            Third, we are to patiently strive towards the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness.

            This leads us to conclude – if whatever we have to endure for the sake of Christ in living and maturing and racing this life of faith – we ought to do so patiently.  That is, we are to run the race – not passively, not lazily – but with the greatest striving after the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness.

After Jesus addresses the fact that we ought not to be anxious about the things that we need, He says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV).  Seek the reality of God’s Sovereign Rule over all of Creation and seek holiness in Him – this is to be our first and chief striving – not for food and clothes and homes.

And Paul explains, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV).

We are engaged in a competition to receive a prize.  Just as someone involved in a race or in a boxing match will fight and run to the best of his ability, pacing himself, getting back up, monitoring himself and using all that he has to the best and most efficient way that he might win, so we are to continue on – never giving up, looking at the saints, remembering they are around us, keeping the goal before us that God has set.

            Fourth, we are to find our assurance for this race in Jesus.

“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,”

In reality, despite the greatness of the prize and the encouragement of the saints around us, we cannot find our assurance of enduring to the end in ourselves or in those around us, because we are all sinners.  We will all fall.  We will all stumble in the race.

However, we can be assured that all we who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation will endure to the end of the race, because Jesus is both the Founder and the Perfecter of our faith.  What does that mean?

It means two things: 

First, our faith is not ours; it is a gift from God.  As Paul explains: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV).  Anyone who has faith – the ability to receive the Word of God and believe it – has it because God gave it to him.  If you have faith, God gave you faith.  We do not naturally have faith – due to Original Sin.

But not only that, it means, second, that God will bring us all the way to the end of the race.  As Paul explains: “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” (I Corinthians 3:11-15, ESV).  All those who have been given the gift of faith will endure until the end because our Foundation and Perfecter is Jesus.

So, we are to continually look at Jesus as we run the race of faith – we are to be in an ongoing act of faith and trust directed at Jesus, knowing that in looking at Him – in relying on Him, we will receive the aid and the assistance we need to make it to the end through the Holy Spirit Who God has sent to indwell all we who believe.

Since that is true:

            Fifth, we are to run for joy.

“who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame,”

Although we ought to expect to endure through suffering for the sake of Christ in this life, He suffered more greatly than we can comprehend as He endured the cross.  Jesus could have refused to go to the cross – God did not have to promise and make the Way for sinners to become right with God.  But God chose to love us and save us – to endure – literally – Hell for our sins on the cross – on top of it being the most horrific way to die that man has created.

And we might wonder why He did it?  Why did Jesus endure the cross?

The author of Hebrews gives us what seems to be a curious and mysterious answer:  “for the joy that was set before Him.”  Jesus endure the worst suffering imaginable, multiplied by the fact that He is the Holy God Who was despised by His Creation and His taking on the penalty for the sins of all we who would believe – for joy –

The joy that was set before Him was the glorious end of bringing the Gospel to its completion.  The joy that was set before Him was the glory of God in the salvation of the Church – the purpose and plan of the Godhead from before the Creation.

If God knows everything, why did He create us, knowing that we would sin and require that God come to earth as a human being as our Substitute that we would be right with Him?  Why would God plan for all this horror and pain – especially to His Holy Self? 

Because the joy He would receive in the end result of bringing a people to glory was greater than not doing it.  God created everything that is and endured suffering for we who believe because the end of it all would be greater joy for God than if He did not.

Then what does it mean to say that He “despised the shame”?

It is strangely worded in English – what we are being told is that Jesus did not collapse under the shame – He was not overwhelmed or undone by the shame of enduring the cross.

Instead, He has become an example for us, as our Elder Brother – that we are to endure whatever God sees fit to bring to us for the sake of Christ – for the joy that we will receive in His Presence in the Kingdom.

Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17, ESV).

We are promised that we will suffer – in one way or another – for Christ.  Yet, we are promised that such suffering confirms that we are sons and daughters with Christ – heirs of the Kingdom of God.

However, as we have said before, that does not mean that we are to seek out suffering, but to understand it and endure it for the sake of Christ when it comes.  As James writes, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11, ESV).

            Sixth, we are to submit to and recognize Jesus as our Sovereign King.

“and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We are given this image of Christ as seated – that He has completed the work of the Gospel – and that He is seated at the Right Hand of God – that He is the Sovereign Authority over all of Creation.  Jesus is reigning – now.

Jesus is not inactive or asleep – He is reigning over the Creation.  He is with that great cloud of witnesses, and He – with them – is watching us run the race of faith.  But Jesus, as our God and Savior, is not merely watching and rejoicing in our trust and obedience as we receive the Word of God, but He is there at the finish line to give us aid and assistance on the way – and to hold before us Himself as the great and glorious reward toward which we are running.  Jesus is the judge of the race, and all we who believe in Him will endure to the end – we will complete the race, because Jesus is Sovereign and will not let one of His fall away. As Jesus prayed, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12, ESV).

The author of Hebrews sought to encourage suffering Christians to hold fast to their faith and not turn back to the Old Testament Sacrificial System.  In the eleventh chapter, and into the twelfth, we have seen him argue what faith is and what it means for we who believe in Jesus.

He explains that we are surrounded by the faithful who have died.

We are in a spiritual race of endurance.

We are to patiently strive towards the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness.

We are to find our assurance for this race in Jesus.

We are to run for joy.

And we are to submit to and recognize Jesus as our Sovereign King.

If we understand faith as he has explained it, and we believe that the saints are alive, cheering us on, with Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, we can run and endure and continue in faith and trust of Jesus Who is the Joy of the faithful’s life.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, Yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever.  We look to You for salvation and ask that we would remember these things about faith that You have taught us in the book of Hebrews.  Help us to keep before us the Joy of being part of the plan that You chose to bring about from before the foundation of the world.  In our life and in our death, in our praise and in our cries, may You be glorified, and may our faith strengthen.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

"Nor is it required only that [a pastor] preach now and then at his leisure; but that he lay aside all other employments, though lawful, all other duties in the church, as unto such a constant attendance on them would divert him from his work, that he may give himself unto it ... Without this, no man will be able to give a comfortable account of the pastoral office at the last day." -- John Owen in Ash, The Priority of Preaching, 109.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

"According to the example of the apostles, [pastors] are to free themselves from all encumbrances, that they may give themselves wholly unto the word and prayer (Acts 6:1-4).  Their work is to 'labour in the word and doctrine' (I Tim. 5:17)." -- John Owen in Ash, The Priority of Preaching, 109.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

"That is to say, only a church where grace is preached repeatedly and forcefully will be preserved from degenerating into a club." -- Christopher Ash, The Priority of Preaching, 97.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Free Community Lunch

D. V., this Saturday, January 18th, from 12 to 1 PM, we will serve our next free Community Lunch.  Join us to eat and visit.  If anyone is able to help with serving and clean-up, it would be appreciated!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

"We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were a mysterious power going with it -- the Holy Ghost changing the will of man." -- Christopher Ash, The Priority of Preaching, 73.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

"Read yourself full, think yourself clear, pray yourself hot, let yourself go." -- J. I. Packer on preaching in Ash, The Priority of Preaching, 67.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Nothing. Better." Sermon: Hebrews 11:39-40


“Nothing.  Better”

[Hebrews 11:39-40]

January 12, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            This week and next week, Lord willing, we will look at the two concluding sections of this section of Hebrews – which includes verses one and two of chapter 12.

            We may remember, in chapter 10 of Hebrews, the author was arguing that the readers of his letter ought not to give up faith under persecution.  After arguing this, he turns to a definition of faith:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV). 

And we have said that faith, as the author of Hebrews has explained it, is a conduit – the way we are able to receive something – it is like the gutters and leaders on our homes and apartments which catch the rain and move it from one place to another.  Faith receives what God has said and brings it to us – faith moves what we have on the pages of the Bible and what we hear preached into us and by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in every Christian, we are assured that everything that God has promised and prophesied in the Bible will come to pass exactly as it has been written, and we are convicted – we are absolutely sure – of the reality of those things that God says are reality that we have not seen because we were not there – such as the Creation or the Flood – and those beings which are invisible to us – such as the angels.

Faith is a gift of God which allows us to receive His Word, read it and hear it preached, and know everything that God has said is true and real and certain.

The author of Hebrews then turns to examples of a number of specific people, and then, as we have seen most recently, he looks more generally – since he doesn’t have time to list every possible example – at the fact that faith can lead to victory and to misery, depending on the Will of God.  And that fact that we are victorious or suffering says nothing about the reality of our faith or belief.  Either are possible outcomes, and we need to be aware of that as we live and die for Christ and hold on to Him for whatever God has seen fit to bring to pass for us and the world – including all of His promises.

The author of Hebrews then turns to his first of two concluding remarks for this section and draws a distinction between those he has talked about in this chapter and “us” – the first century Christians that he was writing to – and, we may argue, all believers from that time forward.  And the distinction is this:  the Old Testaments saints received nothing.  We received something far better.

He makes this argument in four doctrines:

First, the Old Testament saints were commended for their faith.

Second, the Old Testament saints did not receive the promise.

Third, the New Testament saints received something far better.

And fourth, without the New Testament saints, God would not perfect the Old Testament saints.

The first of these is rather obvious, if we have heard any of the sermons over the past several months as we have looked at chapter 11 of Hebrews:  the Old Testament saints were commended for their faith.  As the author of Hebrews writes:

“And all these, though commended through their faith,”

“These” were commended for their faith – “these” were praised, they were held up as examples, they were shown to be worthy, and so forth.

“These,” of course, are all those people he has talked about in the chapter – and we remember that the chapter is open-ended – in the sense that he tells us there are many more he could have listed – so, in fact, “these” includes all believers from Adam up to, but prior to, the coming of Christ.

He began with Abel in the offering that he offered by faith, which was commended by God.  Then we saw Enoch who was taken by God and never experience physical death.  To Noah – the one righteous man – with his family – who God saved through the Flood – and repopulated the world.  To Abraham whose faith was accounted to him as righteousness – who left everything for God to become a people for God – and with his wife Sarah, bore Isaac, through whom Abraham’s faith was tested.

Then to the faithful twin – who was also a scoundrel – Jacob, who became Israel, and fathered Joseph, and they followed God into Egypt.  Joseph died in faith of the Exodus, for whom God raised up Moses, who led the people out of Egypt, instituted the Passover, and brought the people to the Promised Land.

Joshua took up the mantel of faith and led the people up the eastern side of the Jordan, conquering by the Hand of God, and then conquered Jericho, with the help of the faithful prostitute, Rahab, beginning the conquest of Canaan proper.

And we looked at Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and those that would have been known by the first century Church to have lived by faith, both to victory in God and to misery for God.

Although we did look at some New Testament persons who were victorious and who suffered misery, the author of Hebrews did not.  There are two reasons for that – first, he lived sometime in the first century when these histories would have been new and not know by everyone and, more importantly, he is going to draw a distinction in this morning’s passage between those believers prior to Christ’s coming and to those after Christ’s coming.

The first half of the distinction is our second point:  the Old Testament saints did not receive the promise.

“did not receive what was promised,”

And in one sense, this does not surprise us that the author of Hebrews says that they did not receive the promise, because he already told us, after writing of Abraham, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13, ESV).

When we looked at verse 13 of chapter 11 and the verses following it, we said that the promise they were looking for could not merely be Canaan – the Promised Land.  The author of Hebrews goes on to explain that the land they were looking for was a “heavenly country” – a “heavenly city.”  They were looking for a homeland which was not yet fully available on earth.  Although they could come into the Presence of God, they were not in the restored Creation with God in their midst.

So, was the promise that they did not receive the Kingdom of God?  No.

Was the Kingdom of God with them in any sense?  It would seem so, would it not?

Had the first century Christians received the Kingdom of God?  Yes.

We read, “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, [Jesus] answered them, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There!” for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you’”  Luke 17:20-21, ESV).

But, had the first century Christians received the Kingdom of God in its fullness?  No.

The Kingdom of God will not come in all its fullness until Jesus returns. 

We read of the Kingdom in all its fullness in Romans:For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19-23, ESV).

     And in Revelation:  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV).

When Jesus returns, and all evil is banished, the Creation will be restored, and the Kingdom will be on earth in all its fullness, and all we who believe will live in the Presence of our God and Savior, Jesus, forever.

And here we have the Promise that was not received by the Old Testament saints:  As God first spoke it in His condemnation of the serpent – the devil – “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV).

The Promise which they did not receive was the fulfillment of the Gospel:  God come to earth in the Person of Jesus, Who lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne.  They did not receive the Promise of the Savior and His finished work for the salvation of all those who would believe.  From Adam to the Resurrection, they waited in faith – sure of the Promise they hoped for; convicted that it would come to pass in the future, just as God had promised in the beginning.

Third, the New Testament saints received something far better.

“since God had provided something better for us,”

The author of Hebrews confirmed that Jesus is the Promise in the opening to his letter:  “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV).

A major part of the book of Hebrews is arguing that the Old Testament Sacrificial System was incomplete and finite.  It was never designed to grant forgiveness for all sins or for all time.  The best the System could do was forgive all the sins a person confessed for a moment.  The Old Testament Sacrificial System was never intended to – and could not – make a person right with God.

The only way for a person to be right with God is for God become a real human being, so He could keep the Law perfectly and credit our account with His Righteousness, and so He could suffer the full Wrath of God for all of the sins of everyone who would ever believe – and survive.  The only way for a person to become right with God is for a real human being to live a perfect life and suffer as a substitute for each believer’s sin – eternal Hell.  The only way a human could do that is if He is also – at the same time – God Himself.

The Jewish Christians the author of Hebrews was writing to – we may remember – were suffering and wondering if they might have been wrong about Jesus being God, the Savior.  They were looking at the possibility of turning back to the Old Testament Sacrificial System to become right with God, so the author of Hebrews labors the point that Jesus is greater than the Law and the Prophets and He, by virtue of His being the Incarnate God, is the only possible way to become right with God.

The Old Testament saints looked forward in faith, clinging to the promises and prophecies of the Savior Who was to come – they did not receive the Promise – they all died before God sent His Son in the Person of Jesus – they were made right with God through believing by faith alone in the Savior Who was to come.

The original audience of the letter to the Hebrews – and all we who believe after Jesus’ first coming – have received something better than the promises of a Savior Who is to come – we have received the Savior.  We have seen Him accomplish His work and say, “It is finished!”  We know that everything that could ever be done to make a person right with God has been done through the Savior, Jesus Christ.  We now look back on the promises and prophecies and recognize that Jesus fulfilled every word of them then and as He returns.

So the author of Hebrews makes sense, does he not?  The Old Testament saints were commended for their faith in the Whole Counsel of God – they believed everything God had said and promised and prophesied – especially about the Savior Who would come and make the only way to be right with God.  However, the Old Testament saints all died looking forward to the fulfillment of the Promised Savior in history, but it didn’t happen – not then.  But Jesus did come – God did come to earth in the flesh and fulfill the Gospel that all we who believe will be saved – so we have received something better in that we know and have a record of Who the Savior is and what He did to complete the work of salvation for us.

One more point:  

“that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

               Fourth, without the New Testament saints, God would not perfect the Old Testament saints.

               Does that sound weird to you?  “Without me, God would not perfect Abraham.”  “Without Sunita, God would not perfect Able.”  “Without Sandra, God would not perfect Moses.” 

               We get at an understanding of what he means by his use of the phrase “made perfect.”  The author of Hebrews uses this phrase and variations of it more than four times as often in his book than in any other book of the Bible – so he means something – he means something that is important for him.

               We have seen him use this several times already:

               “For it was fitting that [Jesus], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10, ESV).

               Christ brings many to glory by suffering to perfect salvation.

               Again he writes:

 

               “And being made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” (Hebrews 5:9, ESV).

               We may remember that when the author of Hebrews says Jesus “became perfect,” he was not saying that there was a time when Jesus was not perfect morally, but there was a time when His work was not complete.

               “For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever”  (Hebrews 7:28, ESV).

               Hopefully, we can see that the phrase “made perfect” has something to do with completing Christ’s work.  Does that make sense?  So, we could read the phrase, “that apart from us they should not have their salvation completed.”  OK?  Bear with me.

               When Jesus saves us, we are justified – we are legally declared sinless by God – Jesus takes the punishment for our sins, we are credited with His Righteousness, and God declares us right with Him.

               But we are all still sinners, right?  We are now, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, engaged in becoming sanctified – we are becoming holy – inch by inch, step by step, being made into the Image of Jesus.

               But when Jesus returns, He will make us holy and we will be glorified – the fullness of the Kingdom will come and we will no longer be able to sin.  We will be “made perfect.”  Christ’s work of salvation will be complete in us.

               OK?  I know we did that very quickly, but I hope you get what I am saying.

               We looked at what Paul said about the Restoration of the Creation – that it is being “made perfect.”  He also writes about it this way:  “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (I Corinthians 15:51-52, ESV).  When Christ comes again, all the believers who have ever lived will be raised and glorified – “made perfect.”

               And here we get the answer to the part of the text that sounds kind of weird – why will God not make perfect all those men and women of faith without us?  Because we will all be made perfect together at the return of Jesus as one people – the Church – Christ’s Body.  Although there is a sense in which we can talk about individual salvation, God sent His Son to save a people – the elect – all those who will ever believe.

               Peter explains that the writings of the prophets were not merely for them but for all those who would believe:  “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (I Peter 1:10-12, ESV).

               And Paul explains that when Jesus returns, all the dead in Christ will be raised and join the living in Christ that we, together, would be with Him in the Kingdom forever:  “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:15-18, ESV).

               So, after explaining that the Old Testament saints were commended for their faith – as we have seen at length – but did not receive the historical fulfillment of the Promised Savior in their day, the author of Hebrews turns to state that we – from Christ’s day until now, have received the historical fulfillment of the Promised Savior, Who we know is Jesus Christ.

               And to show us that the Church is united from the Old Testament through the New Testament and to today – that the Church has always been from the beginning – all those who believe in the Savior God would and did send – that we are not alone – we are neither Lone Rangers who need nobody else, nor are we left alone, but we are members of the Church – members of the Body of Christ – who will be gathered together as one people at the end of the age, when Jesus returns to bring the fullness of His Kingdom to earth, to restore the Creation, and to glorify all of His people, that we may live with Him forever and ever in glory.

               God has worked in many different ways and through many different men and women throughout history, but salvation comes only through His Son, Jesus, Alone, and through Him, we are united together as one, waiting to be glorified.

               Indeed, let us encourage each other with these things.

               Let us pray:

               Almighty and Sovereign God, we thank You for the witness of faith of the men and women of the Bible.  We thank You that You chose them to believe in the coming of Your Son, and we rejoice that Your Son did come and make one way for us to be right with You.  We thank You that You have made us Your people – that we are not alone, but have brothers and sisters in Christ in this sanctuary, around the world, and throughout history.  We ask that you would encourage us by each other.  And we ask that You would keep that hope ever before us that You are returning to make us perfect and to establish the fullness of Your Kingdom on earth.  To You we give all the praise, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.