Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: "Captivated"

Captivated:  Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection by Thabiti M. Anyabwile was originally delivered as a series of five sermons at First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman, in the Cayman Islands.

Anyabwile delivered these sermons in the hopes that his congregation – and now his readers – would take time to be look at the death and resurrection of Jesus and be captivated by what one sees.  Although we are taught not to stare, Anyabwile argues that there is a right time to stare – and on historical matters of eternal significance, we do well to stare, consider, and be captivated (1-3).

The first sermon considers if God could have accomplished the salvation of His people by some other means than Jesus drinking that horrific cup.  He concludes: “The only way for us to please and glorify God is by picking up our cross daily and following Jesus.  In Gethsemane, Jesus shows us not only what God has done for man but also what man owes God” (18).

The second sermon considers the forsakenness of Jesus, whether it was real, and why it matters.  He concludes that Jesus must have really been forsaken by God in order for we who believe not to be forsaken by God.

The third sermon considers Jesus real death and how His death means that we who believe will not eternally die, for death has died in Christ, so we have life,

The fourth sermon looks at the Resurrection and how its historical reality moves our eyes from current event to the Providence of God (69).  It is only through the Resurrection that we can have hope and joy.

The final sermon looks at the Emmaus road encounter.  Anyabwile looks at “three insufficient ways of knowing the truth about Jesus and the resurrection” (79), the “one infallible way of knowing the truth of Jesus and the resurrection” (85), and “three important insights we must embrace” (87).

Each sermon has a series of study and reflection questions after it.

At a time when “everybody” knows “all there is to know” about the death and Resurrection of Jesus, 

Anyabwile is right in challenging us to look at the events with fresh eyes that we might truly believe, understand, and be filled with joy.

This book is well used for devotional reading and for small group study.  

I encourage believers to read and revisit and to use this book as a tool to introduce non-believers to what they think they already know.

Dear John

D.V., tonight we will honor and bid farewell to our organist and choir director, John Gulick, as he prepares to retire and move to California on March 20th.  Join us at the Appian Way, 619 Langdon St., Orange, NJ, at 6:30 PM to thank John for almost ten years of generous service.  (Please note:  the dinner is Dutch -- i.e., pay-your-own-way.)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Loves" Sermon: Hebrews 13:1-6


[Hebrews 13:1-6]

February 23, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            In the light of God being a consuming fire – demanding holiness of us – that we keep God’s Moral Law – and we can keep the Moral Law, because Jesus has kept the Moral Law on our behalf, and He and the Father have given us the Holy Spirit, that He would lead us in all those things which are pleasing and glorifying to God – and Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV) – do you love Jesus? – the author of Hebrews gives instruction on three types of love:

            He tells us:

            First, we are to love others.

            Second, we are to love our spouse.

            And third, we are to be content in God.

            Do you love Jesus?  Then keep His commandments.

            First, we are to love others.

            Who do you have trouble loving?  Because we are to love everyone for the sake of Christ.  We don’t have to like everyone, but we have to love everyone – as Jesus explained in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  All people bear the Image of God and are worthy – for that – to be loved by us – all people are our neighbor, and we are to seek to keep them from evil and to seek out their benefit, especially by giving them the Gospel.

            “Let brotherly love continue.”

            We are to love our fellow Christians.  Do you have trouble loving some of your fellow Christians?  I do – there are people who are Christians that I really don’t care for as people, but that is not an excuse not to love them.  We are brother and sisters in Christ – we have been adopted by God as His children – we are – together – the One Body of Christ.

            Paul wrote, “The commandments ... are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:9a,c-10, ESV).

            The author of Hebrews would not have told his readers to continue to love their fellow Christians if there wasn’t a problem – or at least the possibility of there becoming a problem.  Love easily slips away – it has to be worked at.  We need to look at those who profess Christ as part of us – even if we don’t agree with them on everything – even if we don’t particularly like each other as people.  One of the scandals of Christianity – that the world cannot understand – is that people who would normally not have anything to do with each other – gather together in worship and for the good of each other and the world.              

            We are also to love strangers: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.”

            There were Christians in the first century who were fleeing from one location to another, and they were looking for a safe place to stay.  There was no such thing as a hotel in those days, and the inns were notoriously unsafe, so strangers would seek out the hospitality of someone in the town.  Hospitality was a virtue in the ancient world that we have largely lost in having hotels – and we have become so protective of our stuff that we don’t want strangers in our homes. 

            Of course, the author of Hebrews is not telling us to be unwise – he is not saying to let someone in who appears dangerous.  He is not saying to let someone in if we have circumstance in our home where it would be easy to hurt someone – such as a baby or an invalid.  We must use wisdom.  But if someone is in need, and we are able to show him hospitality, because Christ has shown us hospitality and even died for us, we ought to find ways to welcome people in and let them know that we do so for the sake of Christ and in His Name.  That was one of the motivations behind our Community Lunch and for allowing the Bedrock church to worship in our building.

            And the author of Hebrews is not just talking about Christians – he is saying that we ought to show hospitality to any person who is in need.  Again – that doesn’t mean we need to let just anyone stay in our homes.  But we might help someone by showing him compassion, praying for him, assisting him in some way, or visiting someone who is unable to come out from where they are.

            And the author of Hebrews gives a reason for showing hospitality to strangers that we may not think of – we might entertain angels unawares.  There are angels all around us – and they usually are not visible to us.  God sends the angels to minister to His people, and sometimes, God sends angels in human form.

            We remember Abraham’s encounter: “And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.  He lifted up his eyes, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.  When he saw them, he ran from the door of his tent to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, ‘O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water been brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring you a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after you may pass on – since you have come to your servant.’  So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’  And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Quick!  Three seahs of fine flour!  Knead it, and make cakes.’  And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf he had prepared and set it before them.  And he stood by them under the tree while they ate” (Genesis 18:1-8, ESV).

            It is revealed as the history continues that one of the men is a pre-incarnate visitation of the Son of God and the other two are angels.  The two angels went on from Abraham to Sodom and Gomorrah and saved Lot and his family from the destruction of those wicked towns.

            We read in Judges that the Angel of the Lord came to Gideon to lead him against the enemies of Israel and the Lord.  And the Angel of the Lord came to Samson’s mother to tell her of Samson’s birth.

            And we remember the Angel came to Zechariah and Elizabeth, to tell them of the birth of John the Baptist, and Mary and Joseph, to tell them of the birth of Jesus.

            And we are tempted to say, “that was then; this is now.”  But the author of Hebrews, writing around 70 A. D., was telling his readers that angels still do visit us in human form.  It may not happen frequently, but wouldn’t it be interesting to come into the New Jerusalem and meet an angel who came to you as a hungry man you never saw before, but bought a lunch?

            Showing the love of hospitality to a stranger may also be the way that someone is willing to hear us on the subject of the Gospel.  If someone in need comes to us for help and all we do is shoo him away, what chance have we of telling that person that God came to earth to save those who will believe?

            My friend, Danny, his wife, Kimberly, and their five children – so far!, routinely invite strangers in to eat, and they have let people stay with them from time to time.  They have been taken advantage of and robbed, but they are gifted in giving hospitality and find it worth losing some stuff to be able to have people in to talk with them about Jesus as they minister to them.

            Do you ever show love to a stranger?

            We are also to love those who cannot leave where they are: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.”

            We are to love those who are in prison – visiting them, writing to them, praying for them.  Again, with wisdom – some people who are in prison will try to take advantage of us.  But, today, we can widen the idea of those in prison – without neglecting those in prison – to those who are homebound, in foster care, in the military, or any other broken or restrictive situation.

            We have some people in this congregation who are gifted in visiting our homebound – and I am very thankful for that.  If someone who is usually here is not here on a Sunday and you notice, have you ever sent a card or made a phone call to check up on them?  That is a way to show love, too.

            Jesus explained that when we show love to others – to those in need, strangers, those in prison, and so forth, we are showing love to Him.  Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36, ESV).

            Will you show love to others?  Do you love Jesus?  If someone is a Christian, he or she is part of our body.  If someone is in need, you may be ministering to an angel or showing Christ to someone, proving yourself to be a son or daughter of God.

            Second, we are to love our spouse.

            “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

            God ordained marriage in the Garden of Eden when He presided at the wedding of Adam and Eve: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, ESV).

            God’s intention from the beginning was that one man would be married to one woman, and they would be one flesh and never be separated one from another.  We know that, due to sin, there is divorce and remarriage.  Yet, even when that happens, God calls us through the ordination of marriage to be one with our husband or wife – to be one body – to be faithful to each other, as faithful to the one body that they become together.

            Marriage and its ensuing intimacy, besides being for pro-creation and for pleasure, are also to be an act of worship.  When a person rightly has sexual relations with his one spouse, God is worshiped in the wonder of His creation   Marriage and its ensuing intimacy are to be a holy union between one man and one woman.  This union is compared with Jesus and His Church, “This mystery [marriage] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, ESV).

            Just as bringing any form of idolatry into the Church ruptures the union between Christ and His people, so bringing any form of sexual immorality into the marriage union – and into the marriage bed – ruptures the union between the man and his wife.

            Just as we are designed to worship the One True God, we are designed to be united to one man or one woman in marriage.  That union is not to be shared with another human or another fantasy.

            Just as it was wrong to think that a person can worship God and something or someone else and not be damaged by it, it is wrong to think that a person can bring others into the marriage bed and think that they won’t be damaged by it.

            I have a friend whose husband – now ex-husband – brought pornography into the marriage “to make their relations better.”  Eventually it evolved into bringing other people into the marriage bed.  They are now divorced – and scarred mentally from their sin.

            Some people wonder, if a man and a woman are in love and committed to each other, “what difference does a piece of paper make?”  They are right in the sense that there is no law in the Bible saying that we must have a marriage licence, but we are commanded to obey the laws of man where we live, and we require the marriage license to be legally married.

            If a man truly loves a woman and respects her, he will marry her.  And if a woman truly loves a man and respects him, she will marry him.  It is through that commitment to each other, witness by man and God, that a promise of love and unity with each other is made. 

            And let us remember what we looked at a few weeks ago – where the author of Hebrews is commanding us not to commit adultery, he is speaking about lust as well.  We are not to lust after someone who is not our legal husband or wife.

            If you are legally married, do you only have loving thoughts and actions towards your husband or your wife – and no other?

            If you are not legally married, are you engaging in sexual immorality?  Adultery?  Lust?  God is very angry with us for our sexual sins.

            And in twenty-first century America – and even in the Church – the cry goes out, “It’s my body!”  No, it’s not.  Especially if you are a Christian – it is not: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:19b-20, ESV).  If we are Christians, we have been bought – body, mind, heart, and soul – by the Blood of Jesus Christ, we have no authority over our bodies, except as God has given us permission.

            One of the greatest sins of the early Church was sexual immorality and adultery – you see it throughout the New Testament – the sacred writers and Jesus saying, “True love is only shown sexually in the bounds of one man and one woman in legal marriage.”

            If we are to truly love our spouses, we need to cleave to them only.  We need to be intimate with them only.  We need to do everything we can – relying on the help of God the Holy Spirit – to rid our minds of others who would cause us to profane the marriage bed.

            Do you love your spouse?  Do you want to love your future spouse?  Train yourself and do everything possible that you and your spouse are the only people – in heart, mind, soul, and body – in your bed with each other.

            Third, we are to be content in God.

            “Keep you life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’  So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

            Augur wrote, “The leech has two daughters; ‘Give’ and ‘Give,’ they cry.  Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’: Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, ‘Enough’” (Proverbs 30:15-16, ESV).

            “And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24, ESV).

            And Paul wrote, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, and into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires than plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (I Timothy 6:6-10, ESV).

            Now listen: it is not sinful to be rich.   It is not sinful to be poor.  It is not sinful to have a middle income.  If God has blessed you with much, or some, or very little – God has blessed you – it is not sin to be blessed by God.

            However, to lust after money, to love money, to desire it for the sake of just having it and filling up your bank account – it is not wrong to be wise with the money you have or to save for the future – but, if we hunger after more and more just because others have more, if we realize we are unable to give in response to the Gospel, if we are not content with what God has provided us with, you love money – and you are sinning.

            The issue is not how much money you have – if you have gotten it honestly – it is a blessing from God – no matter how much it is.  The issue is if, at the end of the day, you look at others and feel short-changed, or if you feel like you’ll die without a TV in every room, or if you shake your fist at God and tell Him He has been unfair to you, you love money – and you are sinning.

            The culture we live in now is one of “I want it bigger and better and now.”  You might know people like that.  Many of them may look back at you in the bathroom mirror every morning. 

            Are you satisfied?  Not, can you imagine having more and how much you would enjoy it, and, oh, all the things you would do – but are you content?  Do you have enough to exist – as Paul said – do you have food and clothes – and are you thankful for that?  Is that enough for you?

            I don’t think it is for many of us.  I don’t think many of us are satisfied. 

            Do you trust God?

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

            And some of us may be thinking, “Well, why wouldn’t he be content – he was a missionary pastor, he was traveling from place to place, living in other peoples’ homes, eating their food, he didn’t have a family to support...”

            He was imprisoned, beaten countless times, “... often near death.  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (II Corinthians 11:23b-28, ESV).

            “In any and all circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12b-13, ESV).                           

            Do you want to learn the secret of satisfaction – of contentment?  Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” We can be content with what we have and our circumstances – whatever they may be – because we have Jesus Christ – His Gospel – His salvation.  Jesus guides us, He gives us spiritual strength through His Grace, we – as His adopted brothers and sisters – are victorious over Hell and death and the world, we have hope of actual deliverance from our trials – and hope of eternal deliverance in the Kingdom, and we have the hope that Jesus will keep His promise and crush His and all our enemies under His feet – making them His footstool.

 Don’t be confused – being content – satisfied – does not always mean we will be happy.  Jesus has promised His people suffering – and we are not called to enjoy suffering – but we are called for the sake of Christ to endure it and know that it is worth it – it glorifies our God and Savior when we suffer for His Sake – it glorifies our God and Savior when we are truly content – in every circumstance – knowing that our Heavenly Father will not allow a sparrow to fall without His Hand, and He loves us more than many sparrows.

            The author of Hebrews quotes the Psalmist, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

            Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 10:28, ESV).

            The first century Christians were being tortured and killed for their faith – Jesus told them not to be afraid – God was with them – God was their helper – all that humans can do is torture and kill you – they cannot kill your soul – and God will raise the body – stand strong, endure, be content with your lot if God has chosen you to suffer death for His Sake.

            There are Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, India, China, and other places around the world that are suffering like that now – and God is comforting them, giving them His Grace, assuring them that the worst that man can do to them cannot separate them from Jesus and His salvation – and they are content in their faith – not happy to be suffering – but content in Jesus Christ.

            What about you?  What horrible injustice has been done to us that we cannot be content in Jesus and His Salvation?

            Consider Who Christ is and what He has done, and let us be content with whatever God’s Hand providentially brings us – No!  Let us rejoice, because out of all the people in the world who hated God and deserved nothing but His Wrath, He chose to save us by Himself and for Himself and to His Glory – we are rich!

            Let us learn to love others and to show our love to them.

            Let us deny our sinful flesh and show love in our homes by keeping the marriage bed honored and undefiled.

            Let us not love money, but be content because we have Christ, so humans can do nothing to us.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, You have made us in Your Image and called us to love.  We ask that You would help us to love with holy love – that we would turn away from sinful love and love as You love.  Help us to seek out ways to love others, to love our spouses, and to love You by being satisfied with the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of You, our Savior.  For from You and through You and to You are all things.  To You be glory forever.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

"To deny the real flesh of Christ -- in His incarnation or resurrection -- is to deny the possibility of salvation through Christ.  If there is no crucifixion, then there is no atonement for sin.  If there is no resurrection from the dead, then there is no victory over death, no eternal life, and no justification with God.  If Christ has not come in the flesh, then there is no gospel at all!" -- Thabiti M. Anyabwile, Captivated:  Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection, 88-89.

Prayer Request

My beloved Cali likely does not have much time left.  Her kidneys are not working much, and something is wrong in her brain (perhaps a tumor)...  I am giving her IV fluids and medication for pain.  Your prayers for her and my ability to care for her are appreciated.

Prayer Request

Rev. Dr. Solomon Tivade from our church is scheduled for heart surgery on March 4th.  Your prayers for his and his wife's peace about this, his doctors' wisdom and skill, and Solomon's recovery are greatly appreciated.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: "How Sermons Work"

How Sermons Work by David Murray is a primer on how to write and preach sermons.  Murray explains that he wrote this book to aid seminary students, elders who preach, preachers who are looking for a refresher course, for all those who teach the Bible, and, perhaps mostly, for the average congregant to help him understand what the pastor goes through in using his heart and head to prepare the sermon that he hears (9-10).

I find it hard to believe – in my context – that I could get anyone to read this book.  The impression I have is that they don’t care so my as want it to be shorter and shorter still.

Murray begins by talking about what men are called to preach (ch 1).  Then he explains how to choose a text and the importance of varying texts in a preaching schedule (ch 2).  From there he explains how a text is exegeted – amidst prayer (ch 3).

Murray rightly emphasizes that sermon preparation is not merely skill, but reliance upon the Holy Spirit for understanding, preparation, delivery, and effect of the sermon.  I question his stating that with all the a pastor has to do, sermon preparation has to be limited to 8 to 10 hours (38).  It seems to me that the Scripture supports preaching being the primary work of the pastor, and it should take primary amounts of time.

In the fourth chapter, he explains the value of varying sermons among the Old Testament, Gospels, and Epistles – and I would add, as someone who preaches through books – between shorter and longer books.  He also looks at different types of sermons – apologetic, controversial, practical, etc.

In the fifth chapter, the pastor is ready to begin writing the introduction.  He explains what an introduction is not and should not include and how different types of introductions may be constructed.

In the sixth, he organizes the sermon and stresses simplicity relative to the congregation one is preaching to – as a sermon is not a seminary paper and the preacher wants to have God’s Word exegeted remembered and practiced.

Murray continues the organization of the sermon in the seventh chapter, looking at the use of types of words as well as styles of presentation – historical, apologetic, questions, etc.

Then he moves to application in the eighth chapter showing that the application is necessary to the sermon, or the people will walk away with nothing and change nothing in their lives.  He explains that we ought address the practical part of the sermon to “you” – the congregation – something I agree with and was taught never to do in seminary!  He ends this chapter arguing that the sermon must be Christ-centered – always connecting to Christ and His Gospel in order for it to be a true sermon.  The pastor will do this in different ways and to different degrees, depending on the text, but preaching on David and Goliath, for example, with no reference to Christ, will likely become moralism which one could get from a preaching of the text by any religion.

The ninth chapter continues the application by looking at twenty different ways one might apply the text.  He presents each of the methods, then gives a short scriptural example and a corresponding sermon example.  This is very helpful in understanding what he is suggesting.

The final chapter looks at preaching the sermon itself.  He begins by arguing that the pastor ought to be right with God before he ascends the pulpit – he ought to be in prayer before, during, and after the sermon – first praying the sermon to oneself for correction and repentance.  He argues that the pastor ought to preach like himself (not mimicking another), standing aright, speaking clearly, passionately – believing what he is preaching, plainly that he might be understood.  He argues that one should be minimally tied to paper that he might me focused on God and the congregation, though as one who uses a full manuscript, I would argue that some have need for a full manuscript for a variety of reasons, and one can learn and practice to become interactive with a manuscript.

I find this a very good primer – it was encouraging to me and re-emphasized areas that I need to work more on, and some that I hadn’t been doing – such as praying for the work of the Holy Spirit on the congregation after I return home – which makes sense to me.

As I said in the beginning, I’m not sure anyone in my congregation would be willing to take up Murray’s book to understand what goes into sermon preparation, but I do think it is valuable for those who preach.

My one other comment is that I find it very curious that, despite having references for many of his quotes, he has an equal amount of quotes which are not referenced.  For example, on page 107, he quotes Al Martin, but there is no footnote as to where this comes from – and this occurs through out the book.  It concerns me that so many quotes are left unreferenced, not just legally, but there were times I wanted to follow up by reading more of a text, and there was no reference to follow.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Do Not Refuse Him" Sermon: Hebrews 12:25-29

“Do Not Refuse Him”
[Hebrews 12:25-29]
February 16, 2014 Second Reformed Church
            The author of Hebrews wrote to the first century Christians who were suffering intense persecution and considering returning to Judaism to persuade them not to turn away from the Gospel.  To those living today as Christians under persecution, he says the same: endure for the sake of Christ and do not turn your back on the Gospel.  And to those Christians who live in places like the United States where we live in relative ease – to the extent that we don’t believe that we need to be saved from anything – he tells us the same: recognize your need and the only way to be right with God through the Gospel.
            Last week, we looked at how he made a distinction between Mount Sinai, where the Law of God was received, and Mount Zion, where the benefits of the Gospel are received.  He argued that if we try to make ourselves right through keeping the Law – Mount Sinai – we will die, because we are all sinners.  But, if we receive the Gospel, we will be received into the Kingdom of Mount Zion, through Jesus’ life of perfectly keeping God’s Law, death in which He paid the debt for our sin, and resurrection.
            The author of Hebrews continues to draw parallels in this morning’s text.  He ends this chapter by drawing some conclusions in the context of a final warning.  He argues:
            First, it is fatal to refuse God.
            Second, those who refuse to obey God’s Law will be consumed.
            Third, those who refuse to receive the Gospel will be consumed.
            Fourth, God shook the earth when He delivered the Law.
            Fifth, God shakes the earth and heavens as the Gospel Kingdom comes.
            Sixth, we ought to respond to God with gratefulness.
            Seventh, we ought to offer God acceptable worship.
            And eighth, our God is a consuming fire.
            “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.  For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will they escape him who warns from heaven.”
            First, it is fatal to refuse God.
            The author of Hebrews is referring back to the distinction he has just drawn: God spoke the Law from Mount Sinai – which is on earth, and when the people disobeyed and made the golden calf to worship, they did not escape the Wrath of God.  We read:
            “And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side?  Come to me.’  And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.  And he said to them, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel, “Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.”’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses.  And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.  And Moses said, ‘Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day’” (Exodus 32:25-29, ESV).                       
            God spoke the Gospel from heaven – from Mount Zion – the Gospel Kingdom which is here and is coming – through Jesus. As the author of Hebrews stated in the opening of 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 spoke 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).                      
            Those who do receive the Gospel, we are told, will not be received by God in the Kingdom: “But nothing unclean will ever enter in, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:26-27, ESV).
            So, it is a fatal error to try to live by God’s Law for the end of salvation, which is not possible, and it is a fatal error to think we can be received into the Kingdom in any other way except through the Gospel.  For:
            Second, those who refuse to obey God’s Law will be consumed.
            Now, we must understand that the author of Hebrews is not saying that those who do not keep the Law will suffer eternal Hell.  No mere human being since Adam and Eve can keep the Law perfectly since we are born with Original Sin – a sin nature – an inclination to sin – our birth-response is to reject God and all that He has said and commanded.  No, what we need to understand here is that anyone who believes he can earn salvation through keeping the Law, who does not keep the Law, will suffer eternal Hell, because the Law cannot be and was never intended to be a way of salvation. 
            As Paul wrote, “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. ... For the law brings wrath, ...” (Romans 1:12; 4:15a, ESV).
            Similarly, third, those who refuse to receive the Gospel will be consumed.         
            In a land where most people say they are “better than average” and “good enough” to be received by God into His Kingdom, it is a horrifying thought that God is Holy, and He has made only One Way to be right with Him – through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
            Paul explains the outcome for those who refuse to receive the Gospel: “This is the evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering – since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed” (II Thessalonians 1:5-10, ESV).
            And so, the author of Hebrews draws a distinction between the Law and the Gospel, arguing that if we try to earn salvation by keeping the Law, the fatal end to that is God’s judging us by the Law for our sin, which only ends in our being consumed by the Wrath of God for our sin.  And if we reject the Gospel as being unnecessary, we will be judged by the Law for our sin, which only ends in our being consumed by the Wrath of God.  Either way is eternally fatal; the only hope is not to refuse the Gospel of God, but to receive it.
            It is a fatal decision to try to earn salvation by the Law which God gave on earth, but it is a much more fatal decision to reject the Gospel, which God gave through His Son, from heaven.  The Law is flawed in the sense that it was never intended to be a way to salvation – believing it is is a fatal mistake – to do so leaves no room for escape from the Wrath of God.  But it is a much greater mistake to refuse to believe the Gospel, since it comes from heaven, and proclaims the One Way to salvation – to reject the Gospel is to give less room for escape from the Wrath of God.
            The author of Hebrews continues to parallel by showing that God shook the earth in giving the Law and now shakes the earth and heavens in giving the Gospel:                    
            “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’  The phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken – that is, things that have been made – in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.”
            Fourth, God shook the earth when He delivered the Law.
            We remember how God shook the earth in giving the Law:
            “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very long trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.  Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire.  The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.  And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in the thunder.  The LORD came down on Mount Sinai to the top of the mountain.  And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:16-20, ESV).
            And we remember the response of the people:
            “Now when the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’  Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him might be before you, that you may not sin.’  The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21, ESV).
            God showed something of His Holy Power by shaking Mount Sinai, sending thunder and lightning, and the blast of a trumpet, continually increasing, to shake the people and let them know that God, the Holy God, was speaking to them, commanding them and instructing them on how to live a holy life – how to live as the people of God.  (The Moral Law remains for us – that Law that God has called us to keep as His people.)
            As disturbing and impressive as it was for God to shake the earth to show His Holy Power to the people, it is much greater – more impressive – that God is now shaking the earth and the heavens.  In this we see:
            Fifth, God shakes the earth and heavens as the Gospel Kingdom comes.
            The promise that the author of Hebrews quotes is from Haggai, chapter 2: 
            “Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel, declares the LORD.  Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest.  Be strong all you people of the land, declares the LORD.  Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt.  My Spirit remains in your midst.  Fear not, for thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.  And I will shake all nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts.  The silver is mine, the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts.  The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts.  And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts”   (Haggai 2:4-9, ESV).
            Haggai was preaching shortly after 835 B.C. to the people who came back to Judah after the Babylonian captivity.  They had come back to Jerusalem and had begun to rebuild the Temple, but it was much smaller and less ornate than Solomon’s Temple, and the people were mourning the comparatively pitiful Temple they were building.
            Though Haggai, God told Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua to not despair “the day of small things” – that they should not despair that the Temple they were building was so much less in every way than Solomon’s Temple – because God was going to shake the heavens and the earth – and when God did, God would fill the Temple with greater glory than was found in Solomon’s Temple.
            The author of Hebrews adds to this that when God shakes the heavens and the earth, God will remove the shakeable and leave the unshakeable.
            We need to ask ourselves when did – or will – the glory of the Temple be greater than Solomon’s Temple?  And, when did – or will – God shake the heavens and the earth, removing the shakeable things and leaving the unshakeable?
            We need to understand that the prophecy is not about a building, per se.  Haggai’s Temple and Herod’s Temple were certainly not more glorious than Solomon’s.  And there has been no Temple in Jerusalem since 70 A. D. when the Romans destroyed it.  And since Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Sacrificial Law, we should not expect a physical temple to rebuilt – and if it ever is, it will be a pagan temple, not the Temple of the biblical God.
            In one sense, we can say that the glory of the Temple was greater than Solomon’s when Jesus preached and taught in it, because, at that time, God Himself was in the Temple.   From the earliest days of Jesus’ life, He was in the Temple.  We read when Jesus was twelve years old, He went to the Temple and spoke with the priests, “After three days [Mary and Joseph] found [Jesus] in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47, ESV).
            And early in Jesus’ public ministry, we read:
            “And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.  And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16-21, ESV).
            In these incidents, and others, we see greater glory revealed than ever had been in the Temple – God Himself was revealing Himself and His Gospel of salvation to all those who will believe.  Ultimately, this greater glory will be fulfilled in the Kingdom, as we read: “And I saw no temple in the city [New Jerusalem] for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22, ESV).  The greater glory is Jesus in the Temple, in His people, and most fully in the New Jerusalem where He is the Temple Himself.
            The shaking of the heavens and the earth also began in the ministry of Jesus: as Jesus hung on the cross, we read: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. ... And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs were also opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of their tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:45, 51-54, ESV).
            God told Haggai that nations would be shaken – and we see in history that no one has caused so much upheaval and change in all the world than Jesus has through His life, death, and resurrection – the Gospel.
            David prophesied about this upheaval and the falling away of the shakeable and the sustaining of the unshakable: “Of old [God] laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment.  You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.  The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (Psalm 102:25-28, ESV).
            And Isaiah recorded God saying, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17, ESV).
            Peter described the coming of the fulness of the Gospel Kingdom through this shaking in this way: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (II Peter 3:10, ESV).
            Jesus said, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” Matthew 24:29-31, ESV).
            The greater glory of God began to be seen in the Incarnation and ministry of Jesus and continues to be revealed through the faithful, and will be seen in all its fulness when Jesus returns.  And the shaking of the heavens and the earth also began with the ministry of Jesus – both as the Gospel has rocked all the nations of the world and changed history forever, as well as the physical manifestations of the Creation reacting to Jesus’ crucifixion and death, to the ultimate restoration of the Creation and us with our bodies – when all that is able to fail and sin and fall apart is removed from all of Creation, and the Creation and we who believe are restored and brought into the fulness of the Kingdom forever with Jesus.
            As Paul writes, “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 decay 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 8:20-23, ESV).
            For we who believe, the coming of the fulness of the Glory of God in Jesus the Temple of the New Jerusalem, the removal of all that can decay and mar and sin, and the restoration of the Creation and us with our bodies, is not something we should fear, but something we ought to look forward to with great expectation and hope.  Jesus’ Second Coming is not escape from the world, but the making of everything right and good and holy, by removing all that can be shaken and all those who never believe.
            The hope that we have in Jesus and His Gospel, the Kingdom promises and the Restoration, is why we can endure all we must suffer for Christ in this world, yet hold fast to the Gospel.  If we do not hold fast to the Gospel – if we refuse God and His salvation – all is lost, and we will suffer the Wrath of God, but if we hold fast and receive Him and His Gospel, we have every sure hope in the world that God will sustain us by the Holy Spirit and bring us to Jesus in the Kingdom.
            With that sort of hope before us – if we have been convinced through the indwelling work of God, the Holy Spirit – the author of Hebrews draws some conclusions, with a final warning:
            “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
            Sixth, we ought to respond to God with gratefulness.
            One of the basic results of our sin nature is that humans are not thankful to God for the blessings we have received.  Paul writes, “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).
            That is not – and ought not be – the case among Christians – especially since we have received the greatest blessing in salvation through Jesus Christ.  Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  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 3:16-17, ESV).
            If we have been saved through the work of our God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we ought to do all things in thanksgiving and to the honor of the Name of Jesus.  We ought to be a people who always give thanks to the Father for saving us through the Son and the Holy Spirit.  How can we be anything less than thankful – we who have been taken out of the mass of humanity headed only to receive the Wrath of God, and made right with God, but not only that – being made brothers and sisters with Jesus, co-heirs of the Kingdom that is coming where we will be with Him forever in joy?                      
            Seventh, we ought to offer God acceptable worship.
            We are – first and foremost – to worship God in reverence and awe – recognizing Him for Who He is and what He has done.  Understanding who we were and who we are now, by His Will and for His joy and sovereign pleasure.  Our thanksgiving for Who God is and what He has done should lead to worship – the declaration to God, ourselves, and others, of the worthiness of God.  And we ought to humbly come before Him, for though He is our Father, He is still the Holy God before Whom the earth and heavens shake.
            Eight, our God is a consuming fire.
            To understand the greatness of God and the heinousness of our sin, we keep before us the fact that our God is a consuming fire – all those who refuse Him will be brought under His fiery Wrath to suffer the full measure of their sin.
            When Moses reviewed the laws against idolatry, he said, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24, ESV).
            God is holy and He will not allow an idol to take His place or be put along side of Him.  We cannot worship God and anything else – yet, whenever we sin, we commit idolatry, putting something else above the Word of God – telling God that He doesn’t know what‘s best for us – telling Him that our sin is worth more to us that rightly worshiping Him.
            God is jealous for His Name – for His correct worship – for His being seen as the Holy God He is, and when sin is committed, He rages against it, because all sin is against Him.     Let us not refuse Him, but receive the Gospel in thanksgiving and worship, as the earth and heavens continue to shake, and we wait in the sure hope of the New Jerusalem.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, help us to worship You with reverence and in awe.  Help us to see You for Who You are and to give thanks.  Be pleased to change the heart of anyone here who has not received the Gospel, that they would not need to fear the consuming fire of Your Holiness against sin, but rejoice in Your coming.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.