Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Believing God" Study

Due to the severity of the weather -- and everybody cancelling that I knew was coming -- tonight's meeting is cancelled -- and we'll see what God has for us next week!

"Believing God" Study

God has promised to give us the desires of our hearts.  Do we believe it?  How are we to understand the promise?  Join us this evening at 7 PM, D.V., to discuss what God has said.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

On Hebrews 13:18 --

" is yet right and meet that we should be peculiarly solicitous for godly and holy men, whose probity and other marks of excellency have become known to us." -- John Calvin

"Your Pastor Will Be Judged" Sermon: Hebrews 13:17

“Your Pastor Will Be Judged”

[Hebrews 13:17]

April 27, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            When we last looked at the book of Hebrews, we considered that we are to remember the faithful preaching and teaching of pastors and teachers.  We saw that we are to imitate the life and faith of faithful pastors and teachers, because they are given as examples to us, as well as those who proclaim and preach and teach the Word of God.  Pastors and teachers who are faithful to the Word of God are gifted and used by God that we would be able to understand what the Bible says – and particularly the Gospel message – and, as they faithfully live out what God has commanded – as we see how they take the Word of God and live it out in obedience – showing their love of Jesus – we are given examples as to how we may live out the Word of God faithfully in our lives.

            From there, we went on to look at another aspect of how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament Sacrificial Law – seeing Jesus not merely as our High Priest and the Perfect Sacrifice, but also as the Altar on which the Sacrifice was offered.  Look on our blog for the March 2nd sermon, if you don’t remember.

            And we saw that Christ calls us to leave everything behind and pick up our cross.  And we are to respond as people seeking a permanent city.  This world, as it is – sin-filled and broken, is not the world we expect to inherit and live in in the Kingdom – this world will be purged and restored to its pre-Fall state and glorified.  Until then, though we shouldn’t seek out suffering, we ought to consider suffering for the Gospel to be the normal state of the Christian life.

            So, the author of Hebrews explains that we should look to our faithful pastors and teachers as examples of faithfully living out the Word of God and imitate them, and we ought to hear and do what we need to do to remember what our faithful pastors and teachers have taught us from the Word of God, so we will remember what God has said and commanded us, such that we will live this life for Christ and in the sure expectation of the Kingdom which is to come.

            The author of Hebrews completes his explanation of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Sacrificial Law – remember that is the point of the letter – “Is there reason to hang on to Jesus and His Gospel amidst persecution when we can just go back to observing the Old Testament Sacrificial Law and be left alone?” – and He has explained at length how Jesus fulfills all of the Old Testament Sacrificial Law and how returning to it would be to abandon the only hope of Salvation there will ever be.

            And then he writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

            Here we see:

            First, we are to obey our pastors and church officers when they preach and teach the Word of God faithfully.

            Second, we are to respect our pastors and church leaders for the offices they hold.

            Third, we are to respond to the faithful preaching and teaching of pastors and church leaders in a way that gives them joy.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

First, we are to obey our pastors and church officers when they preach and teach the Word of God faithfully.

Persons who faithfully hold an office in the church and preach and teach the Word of God faithfully are to be obeyed, because they are faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God.  That is, if these persons are faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God – if they are presenting and explaining what God has said, we ought to obey what they are saying because it is what God has said.

Understand, the author of Hebrews is not saying that we must absolutely obey anything and everything that an officer of the church says.  Normally, officers of the church have no authority to tell you what color carpet to have in your home or to command you to vote for a certain candidate or to invest your money in a certain bank.  Officers of the church are sinners and make mistakes and also may purposefully distort God’s Word at times.  It is only when officers of the church are preaching and teaching the Word of God Alone that we must obey them, because what they are doing is acting as heralds of God’s Word – they are acting as God’s messengers to deliver God’s Word to us.

The question then becomes, why should we believe the Word of God?

Peter explains:  “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21, ESV).

Notice, Peter affirms that the Scriptures were written down by men – by humans.  However, he states that humans didn’t make up the information that was recorded – even though they wrote it in their own words and in their own language and in their own grammar and spelling – what we have in the Scriptures is what God has said – and God the Holy Spirit has overseen the writing down of the Scripture so it is wholly accurate, without mistakes or errors, in the original documents.

Paul writes:  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV).

Paul confirms what Peter wrote – since they both penned the Word of the One God, we would expect them to agree – all Scripture is breathed out – it is inspired – it comes from the mouth of God.  It is not dictated, but the writers of the Scripture were enabled to write what God wanted us to know – and do so without error in the original documents.

And then the question is, do we have the original documents?  No.  Then how can we be sure what we have is accurate?  Because we have more copies of the books of the Bible than any other ancient manuscript, and they almost exactly agree, and the places where they don’t agree do not affect the meaning of what God has said in His Word.

So we ought to obey the officers of the church when they faithfully preach and teach the Word of God Alone because it is God’s Word – not their own.

We ought not to consider ourselves unneedful or too wise or too great or too good to learn from an officer of the church who is faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God.  Ultimately, the officer is a tool that God uses – the preaching and teaching of the Word of God is not about the officer – and if it is, that officer is not faithfully teaching and preaching the Word of God.

            Second, we are to respect our pastors and church leaders for the offices they hold.

            The offices of pastor, elder, and deacon are not to be entered into lightly or taken lightly.  Persons who receive the call to serve in these offices have been called by God to a specific service in the church.  Pastors and elders are given the oversight of the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the discipline of unrepentant sin, and deacons are given the oversight of the physical needs of the church, maintenance, and care for those in need.

            Whatever else we may think of church government – and there are several different views of how to divide up church government – the Bible clearly teaches that there are elders and deacons.  We see this division of labor in the early church:

            “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:1-6, ESV).

            In the early church, the twelve apostles were preaching and teaching and ministering to the physical needs of the people, and as the number of disciples grew, it became too much work for them.  So the distinction was made between those who spent the bulk of their time reading and studying, and praying, and preaching and teaching, and those who spend their time seeing that the needs of the people are met by the church.

            Paul later explains the type of person who may be called to these offices:

            Elders he describes in this way:  “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:1-7, ESV).

            And deacons like this:  “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:8-13, ESV).

            As offices given by God for work in God’s church, we ought to respect officers of the church for the offices they hold.

            But that is not the only reason to respect office-bearers:  “for they are keeping watch over your souls.”  Those who hold offices in the church are called to watch over you – to care for your spiritual health – to do those things to help you mature in the faith and become strengthened in the faith.  They are to be available to you for spiritual help and seek after you to make sure you are well.  They are the spiritual guides – the shepherds – of the church.  They have been called to lead you in holiness, knowledge, and faith.

            They have a call to make sure the Word of God is being preached and taught faithfully – and the Word of God Alone.  They have a responsibility to correct false teachings and root them out of the church.                       

            We ought to also recognize that those who hold office in the church and faithfully preach and teach the Word of God have a heavy burden and engage in dangerous labor.  They answer God’s call on them to preach and teach God’s Word – speaking to us as those who are to be trusted to faithfully deliver and instruct us in God’s Word.  The officers of the church are required both to teach and preach God’s Word Alone and to assist in the spiritual health of all of us.

            “as those who will have to give an account.”

            And for this call, they will be judged more strictly on the Day of Judgment.  James warns:  “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1, ESV).

            Who is he talking about?  The “teachers” are the “didaskalos” or the “rabbis” of the church.  This is primarily talking about pastors and elders, but refers to anyone, and especially those who hold church office, who say they are speaking for God.

            For example, I, as your pastor, am explaining what this verse in Hebrews means and how we ought to respond to it – how to obey this part of the Word of God – as Christians.  As the office bearer of pastor, I will be judged more strictly for what I tell you the verse means and how to apply it than if you just read it on your own and came to conclusions, because I have been trained and called to this office and should have a better knowledge and skill in preaching and teaching God’s Word.

            This verse in James frightens and humbles me – and it’s one of the reasons it took me so long to enter the ordained ministry – I was not willing to enter the ordained ministry unless I was sure I was called and willing to take on the burden and the judgment of being a pastor.

            Now, remember, we will all be judged – not for salvation – salvation is the gift of God as He is pleased to give it, but for what we have done:    “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15, ESV), And, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10, ESV).

            And so, those who serve as officers in the church – and especially pastors – will be judged, both for what they did and said in this lifetime, and for the care they gave your souls – and they will be held to a higher standard based on the call and the gifts and the training they have received.

           “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Third, we are to respond to the faithful preaching and teaching of pastors and church leaders in a way that gives them joy.

Why do we come to worship?  Why do we come to Bible study and evening study?

Here’s why we ought to come:  to hear what God has said and to respond in worship and obedience.  A worship service is about acknowledging the worth of the person or thing we are worshiping.  And if we deem someone or something worthy of worship, we should want to hear from that object of worship and follow in obedience.  And if we have come to worship the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, the One and Only God, the Giver of Salvation, wouldn’t we be pleased to hear from Him – and believing in Him and finding Him worthy of worship, wouldn’t we obey Him?

And, if God chose to send His Word through humans and have His Word taught and preached by humans whom He calls to be preachers and teachers of His Word, wouldn’t we desire to hear what they have to tell us – at least so far as they are faithfully reporting the Word of God and helping us to understand it?

And, wouldn’t it give the office bearer who is preaching or teaching the Word of God and watching out for our souls joy to have us hear the Word of God and believe the Word of God and obey the Word of God?  Wouldn’t it give the office bearer joy to see you living out the Word of God and professing it to others so that more people would know – especially as we share the Gospel with those we come in contact with?

This is not just saying, “good sermon, pastor” – which is fine, if you really mean it, but if it’s just something to say so I will get out of your way – not so much.

I have joy in people telling me they understand the Scripture and are doing something about it.  I have joy when people want to learn more about something.  I have joy when people tell me they have invited their friends and family to worship, because they want them to hear the Gospel.  I have joy when people tell me that they were able to tell someone else about what was preached or taught, and they were drawn to God through the conversation.

What the author of Hebrews is saying is that when an officer bearer preaches or teaches faithfully, we ought to receive what has been said – having come to worship or study in a teachable frame of mind and heart – and then we ought to do something with the Word of God that has been put before us.  We ought to find a way to apply it to our lives – whether or not it is one of the ways brought up in the preaching or teaching.

What is not helpful is telling our office bearers that the Word of God is wrong.  Understand, there is nothing wrong with asking questions and making sure that the person teaching or preaching has not made a mistake.  What’s not helpful is after being taught something God commands, our response is, “Well, I’m not going to do that – you don’t know my life.”  That’s possibly quite true – do you think God has any idea about your life and what you are able to do as a Christian indwelt by God the Holy Spirit?  If we say, “Yes, I understand what you said.  Yes, I believe it is what God said.  No, I’m not going to believe and obey” – the person preaching or teaching will be left “groaning,” rather than being filled with joy.

And maybe someone is saying, “Who cares?”

The “who cares?” is this:  refusing to be taught and refusing to obey the Word of God Alone clearly taught, will result in the teacher or preacher becoming weary, grieved, disheartened, less diligent, and, perhaps event cold.  If we continue to throw up our hands and say, “We don’t care what the Word of God says – even though it is faithfully preached and taught – we have our own ideas, and we are committed to being troublesome, disobedient, fruitless, and faithless,” we will be unprofitable to the ministry of Jesus Christ and cause our preachers and teachers to be groan-full and possibly give up the work that God has called them to.   

Please understand, the author of Hebrews is not talking about our personalities – some of us are naturally, odd, eccentric, nuts, pains in the backside – what have you.  What he is talking about is a person who refuses to receive the Word of God clearly and faithfully preached and taught.  Such people are detrimental to the ministry and to the health of those preaching and teaching.

Hopefully, we have no one like that here.

We are to obey our pastors and church officers when they preach and teach the Word of God faithfully.

We are to respect our pastors and church leaders for the offices they hold.

We are to respond to the faithful preaching and teaching of pastors and church leaders in a way that gives them joy.

May we all be faithful and obedient sons and daughters of God, our Father.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for giving us Your Word, and we thank You for giving us preachers and teachers to proclaim Your Word to us and help us to live it out.  We thank You for Your call on their lives to serve and to watch over our souls.  Help us to be respectful, teachable, and joy-giving as we worship You together and seek to obey You in all that You have said.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Free Community Lunch

Join us tomorrow, D.V., Saturday, April 27th, for our free Community Lunch from 12 - 1 PM.  Help in cooking, serving, and clean-up is always welcome.

Christian Wisdom

"Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology that can really be proven." -- G. K. Chesterton quoted in "World," May 3, 2014.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Believing God" Study

Tonight's class is cancelled due to illness.

"Believing God" Study

God has promised to give us the desires of our hearts.  Do we believe it?  How are we to understand the promise?  Join us this evening at 7 PM, D.V., to discuss what God has said.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"I Have Seen the Lord!' Sermon: John 20:1-18

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

[John 20:1-18]

April 20, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Jesus was dead.  One thing that the Romans were very good at was making sure a person was dead.  True, Jesus had not been on the cross very long – only three hours – but, we must remember that He had been flogged so brutally that the writers of the day say there wasn’t an inch of skin on His body that was not torn and bleeding – and He had lost a great deal of blood.

            But there was controversy: 

            “The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise.” Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, “He has risen from the dead,” and the last fraud will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:62-66, ESV).

            Most of the chief priests and the Pharisees did not believe that Jesus is the Savior sent from God – and they wanted to make sure that nobody did anything to make it look like Jesus had risen from the dead – so they could claim that He is the Savior God sent.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees went to see Pilate on the Sabbath, and they asked Pilate to secure the grave so no one could steal the body and make up a story.  Not unreasonable.

            So Pilate told them to take a guard of soldiers – a squad of soldiers – to guard the tomb until the third day.  And every painting you have ever seen depicting the Resurrection is wrong about the number of guards.  The problem is, we know how many soldiers there were in a Roman legion, but the number of soldiers in a Roman guard or squad varied, depending on the circumstance.

            So, let’s think this through – as the scholars have done:  after the Resurrection, we’re told that “some” of the guards went to report what happened – so that means there were at least three guards.  Yet, we read in Acts 12:4 that a squad of sixteen guards were assigned to watch over Peter while he was in jail – to keep him from escaping – and the chief priests and the Pharisees knew that there were eleven apostles who believed in Jesus and hundreds of disciples, as well.  So how many would have been reasonable to send to make sure the tomb was secure and that they would not be overpowered by believers trying to steal His Body?

            Scholars figure there were likely between thirty and fifty soldiers guarding the tomb – strong, well-trained soldiers – like in “Gladiator,” and “300,” and “Blood and Sand” – to take on any fishermen or women who might try to steal the Body.

            They also had rolled a large stone across the front of the tomb, so that it covered the entrance and sat in a channel in the ground, so it would have taken several strong men to move it – the women noted as they made their way to the tomb that first Easter morning that they didn’t know how they would get the stone moved so they could finish the burial preparations that they couldn’t do because the Sabbath was upon them.

            The chief priests and Pharisees also had the tomb sealed – what that would involve is pouring melted wax along the spot where the stone met the tomb and then pressing Pilate’s ring into the wax, so his mark would be there.  The legal implication was that if anyone broke the seal, they would have to answer to Pilate.

            So, the chief priests and the Pharisees secured thirty or more soldiers and a legal injunction against anyone who even tried to get into the tomb.  The tomb was rather secure.

            But something happened:  Somehow – even with the guards and the seal – the Body disappeared, and we read:  “While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day” (Matthew 28:11-15, ESV).

            The guards knew what really happened, but the chief priests and the Pharisees could not have the guards telling everyone that Jesus had physically risen from the dead – that would prove that they were wrong, and they weren’t wrong – they couldn’t be wrong.  So they told them to say they all fell asleep and the disciples stole the body.  And they offered them all a bribe to stick to that story, and they promised to intercede on their behalf before Pilate, because if they had fallen asleep while they were supposed to be on watch, they would have been put to death – and if their falling asleep made for this rag-tag group of Galileans to cause him more trouble about this Jesus, after all the trouble he had gone through to put Him to death – they would have really have suffered.

            So, yes, thirty or more guards fell asleep at the same time and so soundly that they didn’t hear the disciples sneak past them, push the stone up out of its resting place, out of the way of the opening of the tomb, and stole the Body.  And the Jews believed the story!

            What does our text tell us – and we’ll add some of the details from the other Gospels:

            “Now on the first day of the week [there was a great earthquake and] Mary Magdalene [and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, and Joanna, and other of the women] came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb [by an angel from heaven].”

            Luke records:  “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:1-11, ESV).

Returning to John:  “So she [they] ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple [John, the author of the Gospel], the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.”

At least six women followers of Jesus went to the tomb to finish anointing His Body for burial.  That morning there had been an earthquake, but they rose at dawn, and set off for the tomb, not knowing how they would get in, but when they got there, the tomb was open, the guards were on the ground, having fainted seeing the angel come down and move the stone away from the tomb, and the angels asked, “What are you doing here?  Don’t be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, but don’t you remember that He said He had to be crucified, and on the third day He would rise from the dead?”

They remembered Jesus’ words, but they didn’t quite get it.  They were filled with fear and joy and ran to tell Peter and the other disciples, and when they told them that Jesus was gone – that they had seen angels and the angels had told them that Jesus had risen just as He said, Peter and the others said, “Aren’t women cute?  They’ve got such imaginations.  If the tomb was empty, we men will go check it out and find out what really happened.  You sit down here and rest – you got up too early – you’ve been overwhelmed with grief – you’ve got ‘the vapors.’”

So Peter and John ran to the tomb – they were probably both in good shape, being fishermen, but Peter was the elder statesman, and John beat him to the tomb.  But John stood back and looked into the tomb to see what had happened.  But Peter being Peter – he ran in without any thought – straight into the tomb, and John joined him and looked around.  And the women were right – Jesus was gone.  But they didn’t see any angels.  And they didn’t understand yet what Jesus had told them about His death and Resurrection.

“Those poor women.  Something happened – the Body is gone, but they’re such a nervous gender – they thought they saw angels who told them that Jesus was alive.  What wishful thinking!”

So, they went home.  They told everyone that the women were right – the tomb was empty, but that’s all they knew.  There were no angels.  And now, some of the guards were spreading a rumor that some of Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body during the night.  It was best that they go home and see if this would all blow over – or perhaps if someone would come forward.  It would take some time for them to make sense of what had happened.  So, they went home.

But Mary Magdalene went back to the tomb.

            “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.”

            Mary went back to the tomb, confused.  She wasn’t sure about what she had heard and experienced before.  We’re the disciples right?  Had they imagined the angels?  Had it been wishful thinking?  Had it been a delusion?

            Jesus was gone.  There was no body in the tomb.  What had happened?

            Mary stood weeping and wondering.

            Just then, the angels returned – and they asked why she was crying – and she said she didn’t know where the Body of her Lord was.

            Just then, she turned and saw the Gardener – so she supposed.  She didn’t recognize Jesus – not because He didn’t look like Jesus any more, but because God kept her eyes from seeing for the moment – just as the disciples on the road to Emmaus we initially kept from seeing Who Jesus was.

            And so Mary asked Him to just tell her where the Body was so she could take it and tend to it and lay it to rest.

            But then Jesus spoke to her – and God pulled the blinders back – she heard His Voice and recognized Him, and she cried out “Rabboni!” and hugged Him.  And Jesus told her not to “cling to” Him – not to “clutch on” to Him – because He had yet to ascend to the Father.

            Many fanciful reasons for this have been put forward, but quickly, understand that Jesus was raised in the same physical body that He died in, but glorified.  He could be touched; He could eat – as we see in the Gospels.  What Jesus was telling Mary was not think that He was lost to her because He was not physically there – He was yet going to ascend back to the Father, and His Physical Body would remain with the Father.  And so we understand that Jesus is spiritually with us through the reading and preaching of His Word and through the Sacraments.

            Jesus told Mary to go and tell the disciples that He would soon be ascending back to the Father – having completed His work in the flesh on earth.

And, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.”

The disciples still weren’t convinced – not until Jesus Himself came into their midst and presented His wounds to them.  And this is one of the greatest and most striking evidences that the history of the Physical Resurrection of Jesus is true.

Did you miss it?

The first, primary, and largest witness to the Physical Resurrection of Jesus is the testimony of a bunch of women.  Today, we turn our noses up and say, “Humph, women are just as reliable as men.”  And that is absolutely true – however, that was not the prevailing opinion in the first century Middle East.  Women were not allowed to give testimony in court, because women could not be trusted to get the facts right.

Margaret Manning writes, “Women were the witnesses because no man in his right mind would give credence to a woman’s testimony in the first century.  They simply were not credible witnesses in court, or anywhere else, for that matter.  Why then did the gospel writers report them as witnesses?  If women were not credible witnesses, why would the gospel writers insist that they were witnesses, indeed, the first witnesses for the resurrection?  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to offer some credible, male testimonial?

            “Anglican priest and physicist John Polkinghorne answers this question with a resounding ‘No!’  He writes:  ‘Perhaps the strongest reason of taking the stories of the empty tomb absolutely seriously lies in the fact that it is women who play the leading role.  It would have been very unlikely for anyone in the ancient world who was concocting a story to assign the principal part to women since, in those times, they were not considered capable of being reliable witnesses in a court of law.  It is surely much more probable that they appear in the gospel accounts precisely because they actually fulfilled the role that the stories assign to them, and in so doing, they make a startling discovery’”  (

            Women are the first, primary, and largest witness to the Physical Resurrection of Jesus.  The testimony of women was not admissible in courts when the Gospels were written.  If the disciples were making up a story – if the Physical Resurrection is a lie – in first century Israel – they would have written the story so men brought the evidence – influential men – like Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus – not a group of women!  The fact the women are the ones who discover the tomb empty, and women go and tell everyone that the tomb is empty, and women report that they have seen the risen Christ before any men come on the scene – make the whole story much more believable.  It would have been absolutely foolish to make up a story about Jesus and have the testimony of women be the evidence.

            But that is how God tends to work, isn’t it?

            As Paul explains:  “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ 

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

            “For consider your calling, brothers [and sisters]: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31, ESV).

            God has commanded that His Gospel be preached to the whole Creation – and He began by putting the witness of the Truth of the Gospel in the hands and mouths of women who would not be believed, due to the sexist views of the courts in the first century Middle East.  And now He uses you and me.

            Surely, salvation is of the Lord!  So let us boast in Him.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for coming to earth to save us and make us Your children.  We thank You for being willing to come to earth, live, die, rise and ascend – and this is all to Your Glory.  Thank You for using us to spread Your Gospel.  Help us to believe that salvation is Your Work and pray for Your saving power as we proclaim the Gospel.  For You have chosen us – the foolish – to proclaim Your Salvation to the wise.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Community Lunch

Due to the Easter weekend, we are not having our Community Lunch today (the 3rd Saturday of the month) as we usually would.  The lunch is rescheduled for next Saturday, April 26th, at 12 PM, D.V.  Please plan to join us then.

"You Saved My Life" Sermon: Psalm 116:1-8

“You Saved My Life”

[Psalm 116:1-8]

April 18, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Today is called, “Good Friday.”  It’s the day that we remember that Jesus was unjustly arrested, illegally tried in three courts, tortured, and crucified – and died.   Why do we call this day “good”?

            We are looking at the first half of Psalm 116 – the author is unnamed.

            We see in the first half of this psalm:

            The Lord answers the prayers of His people.

            The Lord listens when His people cry out to Him in distress.

            The Lord is our salvation in life.

            The Lord is our salvation in death.

            “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.  Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.”

            The psalmist tells us that he loves the Lord because the Lord heard his voice.

            The psalmist tells us that he loves the Lord because the Lord had mercy on Him – the psalmist loves the Lord because He showed him unmerited favor.

            The psalmist tells us that he loves the Lord because the Lord inclined His ear to him.

            The Lord answered the prayer of the psalmist.  When the psalmist was in distress – even to the point of death, as we shall see – he prayed to God, and God answered Him, and showed Him mercy, and delivered him from whatever it was that put his life in such distress and danger.

            So, the psalmist tells us that he will call on the Lord as long as he lives.  Since the Lord answered him and inflamed his love for the Lord through answering his prayer, the psalmist turned to prayer when he needed the mercy of God.

            The same is true for us, is it not?  Jesus taught us how to pray and the author of Hebrews reminds us that we can come boldly into the throne room of God to ask of Him as His children.

            Jesus certainly prayed – we read of His praying throughout the Gospels – going off by Himself to spent time in prayer with His Father.  In those last hours on the cross, we find two prayers recorded:

            “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (Luke 23:34a, ESV).

            “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46, ESV).

            The Lord listens when His people cry out to Him in distress:

            “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.  Then I called on the name of the LORD:  ‘O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!’”

            The psalmist tells us that he was trapped in the “snares of death” – he was overwhelmed by the feeling that he was unable to escape from the death that was upon him – he saw no reason to believe that he would be able to survive whatever was occurring.

            The psalmist tells us that “the pangs of Sheol” grabbed him – the pain of the grave grabbed him – he could feel his life descending into the grave.

            The psalmist tells us that he suffered distress and anguish – it surely looked like the end for him – and then he called on the Lord to deliver him.

            Our Father is waiting for us to call to Him in our distress.  He is with us and walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death, and we are comforted by His rod and His staff.  Even if the answer He gives us is “wait” or “no.”

            Crucifixion is still considered one of the most horrifying and painful ways to die.

            As Jesus hung on the cross, He was trapped in the “snares of death.”  He felt the pain of the pull of the grave on Him as His Blood flowed out of His wounds and it became more difficult to keep breathing.  And He cried out:

            “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’…” (John 19:30a, ESV).

            “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46, ESV).

            We need to remember that these were cries of victory – even though death was upon Him – He had won.  Jesus had endured the Wrath of God for the sins of everyone who would ever believe – ending with His physical death.

            The Lord is our salvation in life.

            “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.  The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.  Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.”

            Unlike Jesus, the psalmist did not have to endure death at this point in his life.  No, God heard his prayer and saved Him.  God showed how gracious He is in extending the salvation of the life of the psalmist to him.  The Lord showed that He is righteous in dealing with the psalmist as He did saving him in this life according to His good and holy will.  And the Lord showed His mercy is not bringing the psalmist to death in that moment.

            The psalmist tells us that the Lord preserves the simple – the Lord preserves those who are humble about their circumstances – even though it be great peril.  For none of us deserves salvation.  All that we receive from the Hand of God is a gift.  So, when the psalmist was brought low – even near to the grave, God saved him and restored him to his life – a gift of salvation.

            The psalmist tells us that He was restored such that his soul could rest.  He was no longer shaken – looking into the grave – by his circumstances, but God heard his prayer and in His Righteousness – in grace and mercy – God chose to deliver him in this life – to deal bountifully with him – as He has with us all, has He not?

            Has God short-changed any one of us?  Has God neglected to give us some good thing that we deserve?  Or have we received so much more than we could possibly have imagined, given our sin, that we can rest and be satisfied in all that God has done for us?  Has not God even delivered us from disastrous situations in this life?

            The Lord is our salvation in death.

            “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;”

            The psalmist tells us that he was delivered from death – whatever it was that was upon him, God mercifully removed and let him live.

            The psalmist tells us that his eyes were delivered from tears.

            The psalmist tells us that his feet were delivered – God kept him stumbling – either in his feet or into sin in that moment.

            He was saved, and we may think of the final salvation, remembering these words, “[The Lord GOD] will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.  It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.  This is the LORD; we have waited for him;    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’” (Isaiah 25:8-9, ESV).

            The Lord answers the prayers of His people.

            The Lord listens when His people cry out to Him in distress.

            The Lord is our salvation in life.

            The Lord is our salvation in death.

            Why do we call this day “good”?

            Paul explains in one of his benedictions:  “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:11-14, ESV).

            This day is called, “good,” – and we do well to give everlasting thanks to God – because through Jesus’ Death, Jesus completed part of the gracious work that He set out to do to deliver us from the reign of Satan over us.  We were slaves to the prince of lies, and we have been saved from his dominion over us through Christ suffering and dying for our sins.

            Not only that, we have been transferred from slavery in the devil’s domain to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son of God, through Whom we are redeemed.  Christ’s Life and Death were traded in to God that we would be brought back to God – reconciled – made right with Him – as sons and daughters – our sins have been forgive through Jesus and we are now, through the imputation of Christ’s Righteousness – through the crediting to our accounts of Jesus’ perfecting keeping of the Law of God – also seen as holy.  We are living this life now, striving for holiness, and looking forward to His Kingdom coming in all its fullness.

            On this day, we rejoice that the Lord saved the psalmist in this life and in the life to come and that He will do the same for all those who believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, help us to see and receive the Work of Christ for our salvation.  Let us call out to You and cry to You for our daily needs and distresses and for all the hopes of our future – in this life, and in the Kingdom.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.