Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Believing God" Study

With the pastor at Banner of Truth, we will not have our evening study this week.  D.V., we will resume on June 4th at 7 PM.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Repent" Sermon: Acts:17:22-31

“Repent”

[Acts 17:22-31]

May 25, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Do you like to learn new things?

            Do you like to be in the know?  Do you like to know what people are doing and what’s going on?

            Do you like to read or listen to some sort of news?

            If so, you may be an ancient Greek.

            Paul explains, in the context of why some people don’t receive the evidence of the Gospel, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,” (1 Corinthians 1:22, ESV).

            What we see in this morning’s text is Paul entering into a discussion with the Greeks in the Areopagus.  The Areopagus literally means “Ares’ big rock.”  And it is a big rock topping a mountain that overlooks Athens.  When the Romans conquered Greece, they called this area, “Mars’ Hill.”

            The Greeks used this area for their court of appeals – the elders would gather and hear cases and rule on them – it was, in mythology, the place where the gods passed judgment on the murderer of Poseidon’s son.  It was also just generally a place where people would gather to discuss the latest ideas of the day – to debate different theories and philosophies and religions and rule on their wisdom – their reasonableness.

            Paul went there one day to talk to these men of wisdom and justice, and that is the record we are considering this morning, and we see:

            First, all humans worship something.

            Second, the One True God is self-existent and self-sufficient.

            Third, all humans were created in the Image of God.

            And fourth, all humans are command to repent and believe in the Savior God sent.

            “So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.”’”

            First, all humans worship something.

            Paul begins by looking around the area – which was littered with statues of gods and goddesses.  The Greeks were a people and a society of worshippers – as are all humans.  They made statues of their gods and set up altars to their gods and they participated in worship because they believed that their gods affected and participated in shaping the future of humanity and the world.  They believed that offending a god could bring them great disaster, so they sought to appease the gods through worship.  Different gods would be favorites of different people and different professions, but all the gods were to be worshipped to keep them at peace with humanity.  And, as Paul noted, just in case they missed a god – just in case they had forgotten to assign some realm of life to a god – they had an altar which was dedicated to “the unknown god” – they didn’t want to take a chance on offending any god, so they set up this altar to “the unkown god” to cover all their bases.

            Humans naturally worship something, even if we say we don’t – even if we think we don’t.  John Calvin wrote, “Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.”

            Do you talk about “luck” or “chance” “causing” something? Do you read your horoscope?  Do you pray to saints?  Do you think you can offer God something that will make Him owe you?  These are all aspect of idolatry – of false worship – but they are worship.  We all – all humans – worship.

            Putting it very basically, what is the most important, most worthwhile, most necessary person or thing that you hold in highest regard in your life?  Whatever that is – that is your god!  (Did any of you say to yourself, “me”?  Then you worship yourself.)

            So, Paul starts on a level playing field – “We all worship.  I worship.  You worship.  I see the statues of your gods and the altars to your gods all around.  I even saw one to ‘the unknown god.’”

            Can you picture the crowd listening?  “Yes, we all worship one god or another.  Yes, we don’t want to offend anyone.  Where’s he going with this?”

“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

Second, the One True God is self-existent and self-sufficient.

Paul tells them, “And I know who the unknown God is.”

Deafening silence – “I know who the unknown God is, and I’m going to tell you Who He is” – and what Paul doesn’t say out-right is, “The unknown God as you have called Him is the only God there is – all of these other gods that you have invented are idols – they are false gods.”

As John recorded, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22, ESV).

This God is the God Who made everything that exists.  This is the God Who existed before the material Creation existed – He is self-existent – He has always been – and He is the One Who brought all things into existence.

This God is the God Who is the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  He is Sovereign over every molecule of His Creation.  Everything is His and He rules Sovereignly over everything and everyone He has created.

As the Creator of all things and as the Sovereign Lord over all things, this God does not live in temples made by human hands – even among the Jews – the Temple did not “contain” God – nor did the Ark of the Covenant – which had the Ten Commandments in it – contain God or His Power.  Certainly Israel made that mistake of thinking that God was bound to the box or to the Temple – the rushed out into battle, thinking that they couldn’t be hurt if they had the Ark with them.  They mourned the destruction of the Temple as though God could not be with them without the Temple and its rites.

No, this is the God of Heaven – the Creator and Lord over all of His Creation.  God does not need a home – everywhere and everything is His and He is too great to be contained by any human structure.

With that being understood, we see that this God is the God Who needs nothing from us – God does not need sacrifices of bread and wine and oil and animals.  Those were symbols for our sake – God is not hungry or needed.  God does not need us at all.  God created us and saves those He saves because it pleases Him to do so but God does not need us or anything from us, because everything forever and ever is His.

As Moses wrote, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14, ESV).

And God said, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine” (Psalm 50:10-12, ESV).

Paul wrote, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17, ESV).

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

God is not any less God if He is not worshiped by us, and God has never and will never had any need, because everything is His.  God has been and will always be in perfect love, harmony, and union with Himself – Three Persons in One God.

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’  Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”

Third, all humans were created in the Image of God.

This God created all humans.  God created the first man and women, Adam and Eve, and every human being who has ever lived is a direct descendant of them.  And when God created humans, God created them in His Image.

As Moses records, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27, ESV).

“then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7, ESV).

 So, all human beings were created by God in God’s Image.

And God did not leave human beings alone, but God is intimately involved with us and our history and all of our doings.  God has set out – predestined – everything that is to be – including our life and death and everything that comes in-between.

As Moses records, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God” (Deuteronomy 32:8, ESV).

This God is not far away, but is here and He calls all human beings to come after Him and seek Him out.  And this would have been nothing unusual to the Greeks, for, as Paul explains, their own poets teach that this is true:

“for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”

And we might wonder why Paul quoted their poets to prove his point, instead of quoting the Scripture.  And the answer is that they would not have believed the Scripture.  The Word of God was nothing to them but another book of wisdom.  It had no authority over them to hear it and confess that it was true as the Word of God.  They did not yet know this God – the One True God – so they would have just considered it one more piece of wisdom literature.  So, Paul quoted their own poets – their own wisdom literature – the literature that they held in esteem – to them to prove that they already knew and believed that God is the Creator and Sustainer of human life, and He is among us, even now.

Now, they would have not understood exactly what Paul meant as He used those words – because they divided the work of the gods among many gods and saw them as superhuman, not as a Sovereign, Divine Being, Who is the God that Paul was bringing to them.

And that is something we ought to keep in mind as we evangelize –as we witness – as we proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – to our friends, and family, and neighbors, and strangers, and enemies – we need to meet them where they are.  We need to find an “in.”  We need to begin with something they understand and move from there to explain the Gospel.

That is why the worship service is not primarily an evangelistic time – the time we gather for worship is a time to instruct and edify and correct Christians, primarily – it is not the time, generally speaking, to seek to give the Gospel to non-Christians, because they will not understand it.  And this is one reason why the “seeker sensitive movement” has failed – because the message is always aimed at conversion – the message must always be “milk,” as the author of Hebrews would say – there is no growth, no “meat.”  So, believers eventually leave to find another place to grow.

So, Paul points them to their own respected writers:  they say the same thing – God gifts humans with life and being and with all that we do.  And God is not unreachable, but He is here all calls all humans to Him, and, if they are able to seek Him, they will find Him.

Yet, we must understand that the God Who is being sought – “the unknown God” – the One True God – is not a god that is made by human hands.  God is not made out of stone or gold or silver, not is God a piece of artwork or a creation of our imagination.

Paul explains that it is ignorance of the One True God – “the unknown God” – that causes people to create gods of stone and gold and silver and art and as our imaginations lead us:      “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23, ESV).

Since their poets agree that God is the God Who created humans – in His Image, as Paul tells them – and this God is the Sovereign God over all, Who is not a creation of human hands, but the self-existent and self-sufficient God, we understand that God must be a being – in a similar way that humans are beings.

If God were made of rock or silver or gold or artistic work or an imagination we had, then, if we were created in His Image, it would be to say that humans are also made out of rocks or gold or silver or an artistic creation or just in someone’s imagination.  And there are people we say have “rocks in their heads,” but that does not mean that they are made of stone.  And there are people who believe that they are the only existent creature, but we can ignore them, because they don’t believe we exist.

For example, Samuel was created in the image of Rebekah and Joshua.  Now, Rebekah and Joshua are humans.  Therefore, Samuel is a human.  Samuel is not the same as Rebekah and Joshua, but he was created in their image.  Similarly, all humans are created in the Image of God, so, while God is not a human, we can understand that God must be a being, like we are human beings.  To be created in the image of something means that there are similarities – there is a likeness.

Those who followed Paul that far – that all humans worship something, that the One True God is self-existent and self-sufficient, and that humans were created in the Image of God, so God is a being – were now ready to hear about this God and what He requires of humans.  So Paul said,

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

As Paul wrote, “and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:4-6, ESV).

            Prior to God coming to earth in the flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ to be the Savior of all those who will believe, God overlooked – in some sense – the ignorance of people of the details of Who the Savior must be – (yet they had to believe in the Savior Who was coming).

            Now, Paul argues, in the early mid-first century A. D., God has come in the flesh, God has lived a perfect life under His Own Law as a human being, God has suffered the Wrath of God against all those who will ever believe in His human flesh, and God has raised Jesus physically from the dead and He has ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father – the days of ignorance are over.  The Savior is known historically and in detail, so we can believe in Him for salvation.  If we do not see Him and believe in Him when the Gospel is presented to us, it is because we have hardened our hearts against the One True God and His Savior:

            As Paul wrote, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18, ESV).

            Upon hearing what Paul explained, the hearts of some of those listening were turning – as we read later in this chapter – as Paul told them that all people everywhere are commanded by this God to repent.  All humans are commanded by God to repent of their sins – to turn away from them – from all idolatry and disbelief – and to turn around, instead, and believe in the One True God and in the Savior He has sent – the Only Way of Salvation for all those who will ever believe.

            As Paul explains, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26, ESV).

            All must repent, because a time of judgment is coming.  God will judge the world against His standard of holiness and righteousness – and only those who are holy and righteous will be permitted into the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of Everlasting Glory.  Those who refuse, who choose to take on the Wrath of God themselves, will be shut out to suffer eternal Hell.  Those are the only two possibilities.

            Because all humans have sinned against God, and God promised to save His people, God has sent His Son, in the Person of Jesus, to be the Savior of all those who will believe.  So that on the day of Judgment, God will judge the world righteously – condemning all those who are not righteous – who are not holy – who are not sinless, but receiving all those who believe in His Righteous Son, Who paid the debt for all those who believe and credits them with His Righteousness that they may live for God and enter into the Kingdom.

            When the people in the Areopagus heard Paul explain that their only hope was through a Man Who had physically raised from the dead, some of them laughed it off and went away – “crazy Jewish fairy-tales.”  But some believed.

            Paul spoke to them, beginning at a place that they could understand, filling in the blanks, and then stressing the urgency of the Truth of the Gospel as the Only Way to Salvation.
            
            As Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15, ESV).
            
            Paul told them – the time of ignorance is over – all people must repent and believe if they are to be saved, because God is coming to judge the world – the living and the dead – you and me – and only those who believe in God the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Gospel – which are the historical facts that we have said and remember every week – only those will be saved from the Wrath of God and received into the Kingdom. 

Our assurance of this is true is that Jesus physically rose from the dead.  Since Jesus endured the Wrath of God on the cross, died, and physically survived – it is proof that what He said and did are true and the Only Way of Salvation.

Some of those listening to Paul asked him to come back later and they would talk about it another time.

If there is anyone here who has not believed – who is thinking you can believe another time – consider that you may not have another moment after I finish speaking.  This could be the moment that the Sovereign Lord and God of All has chosen to end your time on earth.

Repent.  Believe the Gospel.  Don’t wait.  You may not have the time.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You that You have made Yourself the known God to us.  We thank You for revealing Yourself and for providing salvation through the Promised Savior.  We ask that anyone here who does not believe would be struck by the Truth of Your Word, as we have examined how Paul approached the Greeks, and we ask that all would repent and believe and not put it off until another day, but know that this may be the end – there may not be another time.  Lord, gather Your sons and daughters into Your Kingdom, for it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, May 23, 2014

"Who Decided That?"

Who Decided That?

There are three types of church government:  Episcopal, in which there is a top leader who makes decision – the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church is an example of this.  Congregational, in which everyone gets an equal vote.  And Presbyterian or Representative, which is the type of government we have in the Reformed Church in America – as well as the United States of America (no relation).  What that means is that the members of the congregation get to elect representatives in the form of deacons and elders to serve on the Consistory, which is the church’s ruling board, with the pastor.

The “active” or “serving” elders and deacons are part of the Consistory at any given time.  Anyone who has every served as an elder or a deacon is part of the “Great Consistory,” which may be called on for certain issues and occasions.

When decisions need to be made in the church (generally speaking) the Consistory makes every effort to know “the mind of the congregation” and take it into consideration, though it is not binding on the Consistory or its decisions.

There are certain areas which are the primary and normal purview of each of the offices represented in the Consistory:  the pastor is responsible to preach and teach the Whole Counsel of God and its relation to Christ and His Gospel.  The elders are responsible to oversee the preaching and teaching and discipline of the members of the church.  The deacons oversee the financial welfare of the church, the ministry to those in need, and the care of those who are sick.

We meet as the Consistory and as the board of elders and the board of deacons to discuss issues that need to be addressed.  If someone is in need, he or she should make that need known to a member of the Consistory or to someone in the church who can direct him or her to the appropriate member of the Consistory.

In the Presbyterian or Representative system, the pastor generally preaches and teaches as he sees fit and sees need or interest in amongst the members of the congregation.  The elders, in particular, are to watch over what is being taught and preached and bring concerns about such to the pastor.  The pastor does not, generally speaking, have the authority, as he would in an Episcopal system of government, to make unilateral decisions.  He works in conjunction with the elders and the deacons to make good decisions for the sake of the whole membership of the church.

If someone is interested in how a decision was made, usually, it is not a problem to have the Consistory explain how it came about.  The Consistory meetings are open to all – except when a closed meeting is called – though only the “active” serving members may vote.  The pastor has one vote, as does each elder and deacon serving on the Consistory.


Comprehensive details of the work of the Consistory can be found in our Book of Church Order which can be found at http://images.rca.org/docs/bco/2013BCO-Consistory.pdf.  If a print copy is requested, it will be made available.  Please keep the Consistory in your prayers as we seek to glorify God and bring you His Joy through the ministry of Second Reformed Church.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Believing God" Study

Join us tonight at 7 PM, D.V., as we consider Jesus' promise that, if we just have faith, we can through a mountain into the sea.  And why would you want to throw a mountain into the sea?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Banner of Truth Conference

Banner of Truth begins a week from today, D.V.  There's still time to register.  God is going to be there -- how about you?  http://banneroftruth.org/us/events/2014-usa-ministers-conference/

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Bear With My Word" Sermon: Hebrews 13:22-25

“Bear With My Word”

[Hebrews 13:22-25]

May 18, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            We conclude our look at the book of Hebrews this morning, and we consider his final appeal, greetings, and prayer for the Hebrews to whom he was writing.

            In these final words, we find the author of Hebrews teaching three things:

            First, we ought to stand for the Gospel.

            Second, we ought to mutually salute our fellow Christians.
            
            And third, we ought to pray the whole good will of Jesus for our fellow Christians.
            
            Hear the Word of God:

“I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.”

First, we ought to stand for the Gospel.

Do we remember why the author of Hebrews wrote his letter?

This letter was written in the late mid-first century when the Christians we suffering severe persecution under the Romans and the Jews.  The Romans considered them to be trouble-makers and atheists, and the Jews considered them to be heretics.  None of them wanted the Christians around – and the Christians were being tortured and killed and driven underground to worship.

The solution to their suffering was a seemingly simple one:  deny the Gospel and go back to practicing Judaism with its Sacrificial Law.  “Come back to Judaism and all will be forgiven – you will be welcomed back – all will be well again.”

The author of Hebrews appealed to the Hebrew Christians being tempted with the argument to return to Judaism and he begs them as brothers – as men and women that he loves in Christ, as men and women he knows, and as men and women with whom he shares a common interest – he begged them to “bear with his word” – to listen – to take to heart – his admonition – his teaching – based on their experience of him as an apostle of Jesus Christ and based on their reception and knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – he begs them to stand for the Gospel.

Why?

There are two reasons:

First, the Sacrificial Law was never intended to make a person right with God – the best it could do was make a person partially right with God for the moment that they offered their sacrifice, which was no salvation at all.  Being partially saved is like being partially pregnant – it’s meaningless as far as salvation is concerned.

One of the reasons that Law was given was to make it clear that all people are sinners and everyone needs a salvation that cannot be earned in order to be made right with God and escape God’s Wrath.  Our only hope is the Savior that God promised back in the Garden of Eden.

Second, as the author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to show, Jesus is both the fulfillment of every aspect of the Old Testament Sacrificial Law, and He is also the Promised Savior and the Only Hope of salvation for humanity – God come to earth in the flesh, Who lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne – having merited righteousness through His Life, which He credits to all those Who believe, and having taken on the Wrath of God for all of the sins of everyone who would ever believe in the Savior, so those Who believe are now seen as holy and justified through Jesus.

Given the results – the only sensible thing to do is to stand for the Gospel – to believe what historically occurred that makes Jesus the Only and Promised Savior from God.  That’s why he says that standing for the Gospel is urgent – that he appeals to them – he begs them to consider all he has said in love and for their benefit.  It is urgent to stand for the Gospel, because nothing else will save us – we cannot keep the Law of God and the Law of God was never meant to be a way of becoming right with God – a way to salvation.

However, as the Hebrew Christians knew all too well, standing for the Gospel is dangerous.  But that should not have come as a surprise, even in the early days of the Gospel – Jesus was crucified, after all.  And the Bible paints the Christian life as normally being one of suffering – Christians ought to expect to suffer for our faith:

“and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17, ESV).

“If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer” (2 Corinthians 1:6, ESV).

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” (Philippians 1:29, ESV).

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:8-12, ESV).

“For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21, ESV).

And Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24b-25 ESV).

Those preachers who promise that everything is going to be peaches and wine when you become a Christian are lying.  The promise from the beginning is that if you believe in Jesus, the Only Savior, that God has sent into the world, you will suffer for His sake and for the sake of the Gospel.

Standing for the Gospel is dangerous, but it is the only hope for a human to be saved from the Wrath of God!

All over the world, Christians are still put to death for professing their faith – for proclaiming the Gospel.  We gave money to an RCA missionary this past year who is in a part of the world where, if it was found out that he was there as a missionary and not just there for the job he is doing to provide for himself and his family; they could be deported or even killed.

Please understand we are nowhere commanded to seek out suffering.  However, we are told to expect suffering for the sake of the Gospel – and the point of the letter to the Hebrews is that suffering, even to the end of being put to death for the sake of standing for the Gospel is worth it.  For – as Peter put it, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, ESV).

Does it really apply to twenty-first century Americans?  Shouldn’t our religious views be private and personal?  Shouldn’t we not annoy people with what we believe?

There are only two questions for us:

One, do you believe that Jesus is the Only Way to salvation?

And if so, two, will you be obedient and tell others the Gospel?

At this point in history, we do not tend to be killed in this country for professing our faith.  But, are you willing to be ridiculed?  Are you willing to lose a promotion?  Or a job?

When I became confident of my call to the ordained ministry, I had relatives say that I was “wasting my talents.”

I have had people tell me my beliefs are “uneducated,” backwards,” “ignorant,” and “anti-science.”

I had someone recently tell me that I was a racist for disagreeing with an African-American pastor on the definition of the Gospel.

I have been told by higher ups in the denomination that I probably couldn’t get another call in the Northeast because I believe that the whole Bible is true.

That’s not being tortured or killed – by a long shot…

Standing for the Gospel is urgent, because it is our Only Hope.

Standing for the Gospel is dangerous.

“Bear with my word” – “take to heart what I have taught you and lived for and recognize that it is worth being put to death for,” or losing your home, or your job, or just being ridiculed.  Open your mouth, proclaim the Gospel, live for Jesus, and whatever comes, may Jesus Christ be glorified in our living and in our dying.

The author of Hebrews says, apologetically, that he wanted to make sure that they stood for the Gospel and hang on to the Gospel and understood the Gospel – that Jesus Christ fulfills the Old Testament Sacrificial System and is our only salvation – it was urgent that they not turn away – that they not be sway by the rhetoric of the Jews and the threats of the Romans – and that’s why he wrote such a short letter.

And some of you may be thinking, “Short letter?  He’s been preaching on this the better part of two and a half years.”  But, it’s actually only eight and a half pages – it’s something that could have been read to the congregation in one worship service – in less than an hour.  It is short.  But what it says is of utmost importance and urgency.  And that is why he is apologetic in tone about the shortness of his letter.

 Second, we ought to mutually salute our fellow Christians.

“You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings.”

The author of Hebrews goes on to personal greetings:

First, he tells them that Timothy has been released – probably from prison.  What Timothy is this?  We might quickly jump to the conclusion that this was Timothy, the companion of Paul, to whom the two letters of Timothy are written, but we cannot be one hundred percent sure.  What we can be sure of is that this Timothy was a missionary of the early church who had been imprisoned for some time, and who was now released from prison. 

We also see in the text that this Timothy was going to come to the author of Hebrews, wherever he was and whatever the circumstances were that were keeping him from returning to the Hebrews, and that Timothy would go on to meet with the Hebrews after he was reunited with the author of the letter to the Hebrews.

We also note that this Timothy was a close friend and Christian brother to both the author to the letter of the Hebrews and to the Hebrews themselves, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews calls him, “our brother.”

From this, we can see it is good and right to rejoice in the good things that happen to our brothers and sisters in Christ – to have the mutual love for one another that overrides our being jealous of others and their successes, but rather rejoices with them as fellow members of the Body of Christ.

Thus, we ought to rejoice and spread the good news when good things happen to our brothers and sisters in Christ – when we get a new job, when we have children and grandchildren, when we recover from illness or some other thing which is keeping us down – and especially if it was from continuing to proclaim the Gospel freely, when we are thanked for what we have done or the example we have been – we are to rejoice with each other’s joys and support each other in them.

As Paul reminds us:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:12-26, ESV).

We are one together in Christ and when one suffers, we all suffers and when one of us rejoices – like Timothy being freed – we ought all rejoice with the person or people who are rejoicing.

Secondly, the author of Hebrews makes his third comment about leaders in this chapter:

First, he told us that we are to remember what our leaders rightly taught us from the Word of God and imitate them as they live lives which are pleasing to God and according to His Word.

Second, he told us that we are to obey our leaders in those things that they rightly teach and preach from the Word of God – for the sake of the office they hold and because they are proclaiming and commanding what God wants from us.

And third, now, he tells us to greet all our leaders.  We are to care about our leaders and greet them as brothers in Christ – as parts of the Body of which we are all one.  We ought to be joyful to see and sit under our faithful preachers and teachers – looking forward to hearing what they have to bring to us from the Word of God – giving thanks for the diligent work they have put into prayer, study, and preparation to deliver the Word of God to us.

Third, he tells us to also greet all the saints – all those who are believers with us – and
that he and the saints in Italy greet them.  We are to care for our fellow Christians – desiring to be with them – especially in the House of God for worship.  Although we are different people and, perhaps, some of us would not normally choose each other for friends if we were not part of the Church – remember the saying, “you can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family.”  That’s a negative way of putting it – but recognize that you and I and all those who believe through time and space are brothers and sisters with each other and Jesus Christ – part of the same One Body, the Church, of which Jesus Christ is the Head.  Just as we are pleased to have all of our body parts – we ought to be pleased and give thanks for our brothers and sisters in Christ – extending fellowship to all those who confess Christ.
            
Here, we also find out that the author of the letter to the Hebrews is confined in Italy.  Whatever his circumstance which prevents him from going to the Hebrews, we know that he is in Italy.

And third, we ought to pray the whole good will of Jesus for our fellow Christians.

“Grace be with all of you.”

What does the author of Hebrews intend in these words?

Grace is the unmerited favor of God in the Gospel, and the blessings of God and the ability given by God to do God’s Will.

The author of Hebrews is offering a prayer for them that as they face persecution for the Gospel, that they will not turn back to the Old Testament Sacrificial System – proving themselves to be false confessors of Christ, but that they will hold fast to the Gospel – having received the Grace of God that they would be able to believe and endure whatever comes their way for the sake of the Gospel – the Only Way of Salvation.

And he is praying for them that they who have believed savingly in Jesus and His Gospel would be equipped and blessed in every way that they need to be the people of God that He has called them to be – to do all that God has put before them – to do it well – to the Glory of God and for the good of them and all the saints – all those who believe.

That is something we ought to pray for each other, is it not?  That we would truly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not merely be hypocritical posers in the House of God to look good or to try to reap benefits from we who cannot see the heart. 

We ought to pray for each other that we truly believe and that God will supply us with everything we need to do the good works that He has set before us.  We ought to pray for each other that we would keep from sin and show love – especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ – but also to all people that they would see Christ in us.  So, even if we are taken away and thrown into prison for our profession of faith and threatened with torture or death we would stand strong and confess Jesus Christ and His Gospel, because there is no other hope – there cannot be any other hope – God has made One Way through Jesus Christ that all those who believe would be saved.

So ends the letter to the Hebrews.

Let us pray:


Almighty God, we thank You for making the Way of salvation through Jesus Christ.  We thank You for choosing us to be Your sons and daughters.  We ask that You would give us Your Grace – that we would be sure that we have believed that Jesus, the Incarnated Son of God, is the One we are putting our hope and salvation in, and we ask that You would give us Your Grace to stand for You and the Gospel of Jesus Christ no matter what we may endure at the hands of those who do not believe and those who are fighting against Your clear Word.  We ask that You would give us all that we need to do those good works You have planned for us, and we ask that You would enable us to do them.  Help us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ – all those You have called to Yourself through Jesus – may we rejoice with those who rejoice and stand with and mourn with those who mourn.  Make us a more caring, more Christ-exalting people, that we would have joy and You would be glorified. For this is our life and our purpose, and it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.