Second Reformed Church

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Noon to Three" Sermon: Matthew 27:45-61

“Noon to Three”

[Matthew 27:45-61]

March 25, 2016 Second Reformed Church

    Jesus was taken from the Garden of Gethsemane and brought before the Sanhedrin for trial, where He was falsely condemned for blasphemy. 

    Then, because the Jews were occupied by Rome and could not carry out capital punishment, they appealed to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, to have Jesus crucified, accusing Him of plotting to overthrow Caesar.

     Pilate wanted to set Jesus free, but the crowd threatened to accuse Pilate of treason before Caesar.  So Pilate gave the order, and Jesus was crucified.

    We may remember that crucifixion is a toruous death in which the person being crucified usally dies of suffocation after several days.  The crucified is nailed and/or tied to the cross by his wrists and ankles, and there is a small bar under his feet from which the crucified could push up.  As the crucified hangs, his lungs deflate, so he has to push up on his feet to get air, and when all strength is lost to push up, he suffocates.  This form of execution is still practiced.

    Jesus hanged on the cross for several hours by the time we arrive at our text.  During the hours He hanged, Jesus spoke a number of times, and a number of startling events occurred:

    First, there was sudden and total darkness for three hours.

    "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour."

    This was not merely an eclipse or a storm -- Matthew would have been well aware of those types of events, but he identified this as something different:  at noon, there was a sudden and total darkness -- and it lasted for three hours.

    What was it?

    Humans had just committed the greatest sin in putting God the Son to death.  They had utterly defied God and rejected the Savior He sent.

    Jesus is the Light Who came into the darkness -- but the people preferred the darkness and killed Him.

    So, we might look at this as God saying, "You want darkness?  Then have darkness.  Thick, consuming, heavy darkness."

    We might look at this as the sun being so repulsed by what it saw, that it stopped showing forth its light for a time.

    Whatever the specifics, the darkeness was a thick darkness -- a darkness unlike any darkness we have experienced.  A darkness -- dare we say?  Of biblical proportion.

    Second, God the Father forsook Jesus.

    "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?' And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, 'This man is calling Elijah.' And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, 'Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.' And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit."

    In a moment that we cannot understand, Jesus was forsaken by the Father.  Somehow, God the Father Who experienced perfect communion with God the Son from all of eternity and never ceased to be God -- the One God, experienced being cut off from the Son.  Jesus, while remaining God and human, experienced abandonment by the Father.

    And this is such a difficult thing to understand or even put accurately into words, because none of us have ever experienced being God Incanate, living a sinless and holy life, and being crucified for the sins of all of the people who would ever believe -- that there is a tendency to say it never really happened.

    But it did happen.  It had to happen.  In order for Jesus to be our Savior, He had to experience the eternal Wrath of God against every believing sinner for their sin.  This most horrific moment on the cross is the Father forsaking Jesus.

    Jesus cried out in the words of Psalm 22, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?" (Psalm 22:1, ESV).

    In Psalm 22, David wrties prophetically about the crucifixion -- describing, not just his own condition at the time, but what would happen to Jesus -- that He would be foresaken, that He would be mocked, that His body would be wracked and pierced, but His bones would not be broken, that His clothes would be gambled over -- and woven throughout the Psalm, David declares that God is the holy and praiseworthy God, nevertheless, and that God will bring justice in the end.

    Isn't that why we call this day "Good" Friday?  Despite all the horrors that happened in history to our God and Savior, they have made our God all the more worthy of glory and honor and praise to us -- the One we look to and ascribed all holiness and goodness and justice to.

    And as in the Psalm, the crowd around Jesus mocked Him:

    "Hear that?  He's calling out to Elijah!  Wouldn't it be something to see Elijah appear and free Him from the cross?  Call our again!  Hahaha."

    And Jesus cried out one more time and breathed His last.

    But the day was far from over.

    Third, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two.

    "And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom."

    The curtain that is being referred to is the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple.  It was the curtain that separated the Presence of God from the people.  It tearing open the curtain the people now stood directly before the Presence of God.

    And that is what Jesus has done for us, right?  We no long live in fear but come into the throne room of God boldly, calling Him, "Abba, Father."  We have entered into a new relationship with God through Jesus and the work He accomplished.

    Let us notice that the curtain that spearated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple was not a flimsy lace curtain -- it was weighty.  And let us also notice that the curtain was torn from the top of the Temple to the floor -- as though God was tearing His clothes in sorrow as His beloved Son died.

    Fourth, the earth reacted violently to Jesus' death on the cross.

    "And the earth shook, and the rocks were split."

    As Jesus died, the earth shook -- there was at least an earthquake if not a far greater shaking of the planet, and rocks split apart -- the earth was shaken to the core at the horror of what we had done.

    While some people mocked Jesus, and some people hid, and some people cried, the Creation reacted appropriately.  The Creation is always in total obedience to God -- the creatures and the plants and the inanimate objects all do what they are supposed to do and they react as God formed them to react.

    We may remember that when Isaiah saw the vision of God in the Temple, the Temple had the good sense to tremble before God.

    It's only we who think we know better than God.  It's only we who challenge God and ask Him, "What have You done?"  When we have no authority to do so.

    How far away have we turned in cosmic rebellion to crucify God Incarnate for the crime of blasphemy -- claiming to be God?  Which He is!

    We saw last Sunday that the rocks had the good sense to recognize Jesus for who He is, and if the Jews got the crowd to be quiet, the rocks themselves would start crying out and praising Jesus:  "Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!"

    Fifth, many dead believers were raised from the dead.

    "The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many."

    What must this have been like?

    What did they say?

    This is one of those texts I wish there was more recorded, but God in His Providence did not see fit to tells us more than this:

    When Jesus died, the graves of many believers opened and they rose from the dead.

    And when Jesus rose from the dead that Sunday morning, all of those believers who had been raised from the dead left their tombs and went into Jerusalem.  Can we imagine all those we know who have died in Christ rising from the dead and joining us here in worship -- in their bodies -- on Easter?

    There is a day coming, because Jesus did physically rise from His grave, when all we who have believed in Him will be physically raised from our graves and brought and made holy and sinless and perfect in our physical bodies.  No more to suffer and die, but to ever live and praise the First-born from the dead.

    But not on Friday.

    They waited until Sunday.

    And we wait until our God and Savior returns for us on that final day.

    Sixth, some who saw these things believed.

    "When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'”

    When the darkness fell suddenly for three hours, when Jesus was forsaken, when the curtain was torn, when the earth shook, and the dead were raised, some who we at the cross believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

    And people will continue to respond to the call to believe and repent of their sins until the last day.  God is patiently waiting while we proclaim the Gospel until the last one who will believe has come to faith, and then He will return.

    We are not called to fancy gimmicks, but to tell the truth of the history of what happened -- just as those who saw what happened at the foot of the cross saw and believed.

    We are told who of Jesus' disciples were there:  John and many women.

    "There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee."

    About three hours later -- about six o'clock -- as the sun began to set and the Sabbath was coming upon the land, the followers of Jesus asked if they might have His dead body to bury, and it was granted to them to take Him.  As we read:

    "When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb."

    Jesus' body was taken and the initial embalming preparations were made, and He was laid in the tomb belonging to Jospeh of Arimathea.  A great stone was rolled in front of the tomb, as was the custom, and, as we read later in the Gospel, the cheif priests asked that Pilate seal the tomb so it would be a crime against Rome to open it, and they asked for a guard of soldiers to keep the tomb safe until after the day that Jesus prophesied He would rise from the dead, and Pilate consented.

    Then they all went home and took part in the normal Sabbath worship.

    What else could they do?

    Let us pray:

    Almighty God, when the greatest trials are upon us and we don't know how we will survive, help us to remember and to think on these things that occured between noon and three that Good Friday.  Comfort us with Psalm 22 in knowing that You are forever and always the Holy God, worthy of worship, the God Who never lies and keeps all of His promises.  Send the Holy Spirit to assure us and strengthen us as we call the world to You.  For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Worship

Join us for worship at 7 PM tonight!  All are welcome.

"That the Sciptures Be Fulfilled" Sermon: Matthew 26:47-56

“That the Scriptures Be Fulfilled”
[Matthew 26:47-56]
                                             March 24, 2016 Second Reformed Church
     After the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus spent Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday teaching – culminating in His celebration of the Passover meal – the Lord’s Supper, as He would transform it – one last time before His crucifixion.
      Jesus dismissed Judas from the dinner, and the other eleven went with Jesus out to the Garden of Gethsemane, where they sang a hymn, and then Jesus prayed – with Peter, James, and John nearby – portraying in His prayer the horror that was about to occur. 

     When He had finished praying, Jesus told them to wake up and be alert, for the betrayer had come – which brings us to this evening’s text.

     And, we see first, Jesus was feared by those who came to arrest Him.
     “While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.’ And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.”
     Judas had never believed savingly, and when the Pharisees sought a way to have Jesus eliminated, they looked at the disciples and found Judas was the weakest link.  Judas had a love for money above all things – the Gospel writers tell us that Judas embezzled from the common fund of the Apostles – and Judas accepted a bride of thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus.
     That Thursday night, he came – not alone – he didn’t have the authority to arrest Jesus.  Not with the High Priest and members of the Sanhedrin, which would have been enough to arrest Jesus on the charges of blasphemy they brought against Him.  But, with a great crowd – with the chief priests and the elders and many other Jews, carrying torches, and clubs, and swords.
     What was the need for this militia?  Might they have been afraid?
     Now, Judas had told them that he would identify Jesus by kissing Him – the traditional familial greeting between friends.
     And we wonder why they needed Judas to identify Jesus?  They knew Him very well.  Was it due to the darkness of the night in the garden?
     And then, in one of the most grotesque verses of Scripture, Judas went immediately, straight-away to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi.”
     By Judas’ reaction later, it seems that Judas truly believed that he was acting for the good of the nation – that he truly believed that Jesus was deluded – or power-hungry – and had to be stopped, so it may have been with a triumphant sarcasm that Judas reached Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi.”  “I have stopped a great evil in Israel!”
     “And he kissed him.”
     And in English, we don’t see that the word “kissed” in this verse, is not the same word that was used earlier.  The word that is used here means a long-lasting kiss – not a sexual kiss – but one that was intense and lingering – perhaps to make sure that everyone saw who he was identifying.  But, in any event, the perversion of a greeting meant to show great love and friendship.
     Jesus responded with sarcasm, “Friend.”
     And Jesus was ready.  He had prophesied all that would happen and just wrestled in the Garden in prayer to prepare Himself for all that He would endure for the sake of all those who would believe.
     So, Jesus told him, “Do what you came to do.”
     And the crowd leapt forward and grabbed Him – they had caught Jesus!
     Second, we see that the disciples still didn’t understand what was happening.

     “And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’”

     Peter, always willing to jump without thinking, pulled out his sword and cut the ear off of the high priest’s servant.  But Jesus stopped Peter from continuing and disciplined him, and –  as we are told by the other Gospel writers – Jesus reached out and healed the man’s ear.

     Jesus told Peter to put his sword away – he didn’t understand what was happening – this was not a time to take up the sword – and if he continued, he would lose his life to the sword.  Jesus didn’t need Peter to take up his sword.

     “Don’t you understand?  Don’t you know that I have the authority to call to My Father for more than 72,000 angels to fight by My side?  Haven’t you understood that I have told you that this would happen.  This must happen.  This is what was prophesied about Me in the Scripture.  I must fulfill the Scripture, or I will not be the Savior.”

     Jesus didn’t do anything accidently.  The Son of God came to earth in the person of Jesus with a purpose and a plan – to save a people for Himself – and a very specific way in which He would have to accomplish that work, so God would be just and justifier. 

     In order for God to be just, sin had to be punished; in order to be justifier – in order to save His people – He had to also – at the same time – in the same person – be a sinless and holy human being.

     So, Jesus lived a sinless and holy life, which He credits to the account of all those who will believe, and He suffered Hell at the hands of men and God for our sins, that they would not be counted against us.  This was all prophesied from the beginning.  This had to happened that the Scripture would be fulfilled.  If it did not, we would have no salvation, no hope, and the Scripture would be false.

     “Put your sword away, Peter.  I am God Incarnate, and I know what I am doing – what I must do to fulfill the Scripture.”

     We will remember what Jesus said right before the Ascension: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18b, ESV).

     Jesus has all authority in Heaven.  Jesus has all authority on earth.  Jesus is Sovereign over everything and every creature that exists.  Nothing happens that He does not permit to happen. 
     Everything that happens is according to Jesus’ sovereign plan.

     Was it outrageous to arrest Jesus?  Yes.

     Was is horrific to mock Him, and flog Him, and crucify Him?  Yes.

     But He was never out of control.  Everything was going as it was prophesied in the Scripture and as it must be for Him to accomplish the salvation of His people to the glory of God.

     Third, Jesus rebuked the crowd and submitted to His Father’s Will.

     “At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples left him and fled.”
     Jesus rebuked the way the crowd came after Him: “Am I a dangerous criminal – a thief – that you had to come after Me in a mob with swords and clubs to capture Me?  I sat in the Temple day after day – with no guards or anyone to keep you from arresting Me, but you did nothing.  You waited until I was in the Garden, away from the public.”
     It was as though Jesus said, “Aren’t you ashamed to come after Me like this?  What were you afraid of in the Temple?”
     Of course it was necessary.  Every step of the way to the cross was necessary.  Jesus reiterated His statement that this had to happen that the Scriptures would be fulfilled.  Jesus had wrestled in His prayers – there was no other way for Him to accomplish salvation – so He submitted to the Will of the Father, as He had always done – and He did what was necessary.
     Remember what Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:38-40, ESV).
     Jesus came to obey the Will of the Father which was to save the people that God gave Jesus for Himself.  And everything that Jesus did was in accordance with the prophets and what was necessary to secure our salvation.
     We will remember that after the Resurrection, Jesus met two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus, and He asked them what they were talking about: 

     “Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ And he said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.’ And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”
(Luke 24:18-27, ESV).
     Jesus told the crowd arresting Him that He was fulfilling the Scripture.
     Jesus told the disciples on the road to Emmaus that all the Scripture points to Him – it is all fulfilled in Him.
     That should lead us to read the Scripture with new eyes – especially the Old Testament – if everything in the Old Testament – somehow – points to Who Jesus is and what He would do to secure the salvation of His people – we ought to read the Old Testament looking for how these things point to Jesus.
     Jesus was upset that the disciples didn’t understand the meaning of the Scripture.  We have far greater resources – with far more revealed – now that we have the New Testament.  Let us take the time to pray that God would help us to understand all that He said in Moses, and the Prophets, and all the Scripture about Jesus.
     Now, we have to be careful not to just automatically say that every bush and animal and piece of footwear points to Jesus.  That is a type of interpretation called “allegorical interpretation,” which is limited – and it is not what Jesus is talking about.
     But we may read the Scripture – we can see how the New Testament authors interpreted the Old Testament as prophesying Jesus – Who He is and what He did – and receive instruction from them, even as we ask that God the Holy Spirit would help us.
     And so we see, as the fearful crowd lead by Judas came to arrest Jesus, and the disciples misunderstand and are rebuked by Jesus, and the crowd is rebuked by Jesus for coming to Him in that way, when He was fulfilling the Scripture and obeying His Father, as we read the Old Testament, we ought to pray for God the Holy Spirit to show us how these texts point to Jesus.  We ought not to be afraid of the Old Testament, but learn more about Jesus and what has been revealed about Him in all of the Scripture. 

     That’s what we do when we love someone, is it not?  We want to know them better?

     Let us read the Old Testament to see Jesus.
     Let us pray:

     Almighty God, as Your Son was betrayed and carried away by the mob, He told His disciples and the mob that everything in Your Word points to Him and all that He was doing was to fulfill the Scriptures.  Help us to see these things in Your Word.  Make us desire to see them.  And give us joy in all You have said.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday Worship

Join us this evening at 7 pm for our Maundy Thursday worship service!  All are welcome!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Who Is He?" Sermon: Matthew 21:1-11

“Who Is He?”

[Matthew 21:1-11]

March 20, 2016 Second Reformed Church

            Who is Jesus?

            Who did the people at the Triumphal Entry understand Jesus to be?

            Who are we to understand Jesus to be?

            In this morning’s text, we see:

            First, Jesus claimed to be God, the King.

            Second, the crowd recognized Him as the King of Israel.

            And third, the crowd worshipped Him as the promised Messiah – the Savior.

            It was Sunday – the first day of the week.  Jesus had been leading His disciples towards Jerusalem, where He told them that He must suffer and die.  It was time:

            “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them,” and he will send them at once.’”

            Now, Jesus did not tell the disciples to get the donkey and her colt because He was tired and couldn’t make it the rest of the way to Jerusalem – it was only about two miles away – and they were walkers – it would not have been a big deal for them to make the journey.  No, the point of getting the donkey and the colt was the symbolism that would arise from the use of them.

            Consider how Jesus showed Himself to be God in requesting that His disciples get the donkey and the colt:  His instructions to them either involved a plot on Jesus’ part, a great deal of luck, or a divine knowledge of who and what lay before them. 

            Jesus’ told His disciples to go into the village, and immediately, when they arrived, they would find a donkey and her colt tied there.  How did Jesus know that?

            Jesus told them to take them and bring them to Him.  How did Jesus know that the owner would be home?  That it would convenient for them to borrow the donkey and the colt?  That the owner would lend them to strangers?  And so forth?

            Jesus told them if they were questioned, they should say that “the Lord” needs them.  Now, that doesn’t mean much to us in English, but in Greek, it’s another matter.  The words that are used here can simply mean someone who has authority, but, phrased as they are, Jesus was using that most Holy Name of God that God gave to Moses for Himself – Jesus was saying, “If anyone asks you why you are taking them, tell them that the Lord God Almighty – YHWH – has need of them.”  “The Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, has need of this donkey and her colt.”

            Why?  Matthew explains the picture Jesus was painting – and remember – though many people couldn’t read – they had memorized vast portions of the Scripture that they had heard read:

            Matthew explains, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you,   humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”’”

            As Zechariah wrote, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, ESV).

            Zechariah wrote sometime after 538 B.C., after Israel returned home from her captivity in Babylon.  Zechariah was a contemporary of Nehemiah, Ezra, Zerubbabel, and Haggai.  Zechariah prophesied against the people, warning them not to go back into the sins that their fathers had committed, lest they be sent away into exile again.  He also prophesied of the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Savior.

            Zechariah’s text, which is quoted by Matthew, is one of those texts which points to the fulfillment of the promise of God to send the Savior.  In this text, Zechariah prophecies that the Savior God will send is their King – the rightful heir to the throne of David.  He is righteous and is the provider of salvation – He will make God’s people right with God.  Yet, He will come – the announcement of Who He is – will be that He rides into Jerusalem, lowly, humbly, on a donkey, on a colt.

            In riding into Jerusalem in this way, Jesus was announcing Himself to be the King and Savior that God had promised to send.  Jesus was announcing that He has a kingdom.  Yet, He was coming to them on a borrowed donkey, sitting on clothes – not a saddle, and cheered on by the poor.  Jesus’ Kingdom is not like other kingdoms – and it is not the one that some people expected the Savior would bring.

            Jesus explicitly states this in His trial before Pilate: 

            “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’”  (John 18:33-38a, ESV).

            The expression, “You say that I am a king,” is an idiomatic expression which means, “You’re exactly right – it’s just as you say – I am a king.”

            The truth is what some people didn’t recognize that day:  Jesus is God, the King.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy and the promise made that God would send the Savior to save His people and make them right with the Father that they might enter into His Kingdom

            Second, the crowd recognized Him as the King of Israel.

            “The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’”

            The disciples made the preparations Jesus requested – bringing Him the donkey and her colt.  They lay their coats on them, and Jesus sat on the coats on the donkey.  And He rode the donkey – with colt in tow – down the main road – and a crowd of – mainly – the poor – the commoners – gather around Him – and they begin to praise Him – to call to Him for salvation as the King of Israel.

            They sang – at least portions – of Psalm 118 – a psalm of David in which he reflects on being deserted by his friends and colleagues as he endured attack from his enemies, yet found his hope in the Lord and in His sanctuary and in the promised Savior:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!  Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’  Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’  Let those who fear the LORD say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’

            “Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.  The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?  The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD  than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.

            “All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!  They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!  They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!  I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.

            “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous:  ‘The right hand of the LORD does valiantly, the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!’

            “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.  The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  Open to me the gates of righteousness,    that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.

            “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.  The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

            “Save us, we pray, O LORD!  O LORD, we pray, give us success!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!  We bless you from the house of the LORD.  The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.  Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!

            “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.  Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118, ESV).

            As the crowd sang this song and watched Jesus ride into Jerusalem on the donkey, they confessed belief in Him as the King of Israel – and called out to Him for their salvation.  He had not come in on a military steed, but on a donkey; He had not come in with victorious pomp, but with meekness – Him only understanding that this was, indeed, a ride to victory – a ride to the cross – victory through His Blood for Himself and for us.

            And the Gospel writers highlight one section of the song:

            Matthew notes:

             “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9, ESV).

            And Mark:

            “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9b-10, ESV).

            And Luke:

            “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38, ESV).

            And John:

            “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
(John 12:13, ESV).

            “Hosanna” is a word which means “save us, we pray!” and it is directed either to the king or to God.

            When the crowd said that Jesus “comes in the Name of the Lord” – they were saying that He came in the power and the authority of God – He is God’s legal representative.

            They called Him King, they said that the Kingdom of David is His, they said He is the Son of David – that is, the legal heir to the throne of David.

            But the call and confession of Jesus as King is upped as they confessed that Jesus is blessed and that their “Hosannas” are directed to the “highest” – to the “peace” and “glory” of “heaven.”  This is a confession of Jesus as the Divine Messiah – this is the crowd confessing that Jesus is the Promised Savior.  This is the crowd announcing that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus to save His people.

            “But,” you may be thinking, “if Jesus claimed to be God, the King, and the crowd proclaimed Him to be King, and the crowd worshipped Him as the promised Messiah – the Savior, why did they crucify Him?”

            John tells us, “ His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16, ESV).

            Some of these people – most of these people? – spoke the correct words, but they didn’t understand what they really meant.  They hadn’t received salvation in their hearts.  Not a week later, they would say, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21, ESV).  They didn’t get it.  So it doesn’t surprise us as we read:

            “And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’”

            The crowd confessed that Jesus is the prophet – not a prophet – and the crowd noted that He was their prophet – He was from Nazareth in Galilee – He was a local – an Israelite – the Son of a carpenter – someone just like them.

            John explains that this crowd was made up – largely – of those people who had been at the resurrection of Lazarus and those who had heard about it:  “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him’” (John 12:17-19, ESV).

            “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out’” (Luke 19:39-40, ESV).

            Who is this?  The stones know.  The Creation knows.  And in the mercy of God, some people have had the scales removed from their eyes, and their hearts of stone replaced with a heart of flesh, and they have been raised to spiritual life, so they can see Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem, flanked by the praising crowd, who is calling Him King and Savior, Divine Prophet of God, and confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16, ESV).

            The answer you give to the question, “Who is this?” is the most important question you will ever answer – because it has eternal consequences.

            Is Jesus the prophet of God?

            Is Jesus King of Israel?

            Is Jesus God the Savior?

            Who is this?

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for sending prophets so we can read Your Word and see how Jesus fulfilled all that was said about Him.  We ask that You would open our hearts and ears to hear Your Gospel – to recognize and receive Jesus as Prophet, King, and through His Sacrifice on the cross – our Priest – the Only One Who can make us right with You.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"I Am Before Abraham" Sermon: John 8:48-59

“I Am Before Abraham”
[John 8:48-59]
March 13, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            We conclude our look at this discussion Jesus had in the Temple:  Jesus told the Pharisees who were working against Him, “I am the light” – a shocking statement, since it was a claim to be God.  Yet, after Jesus explained that they would not understand Who He is until they crucified Him, some believed – some to one extend, and some savingly.
            Jesus talked with this group of people who believed in Him, but not savingly, and explained the difference between being a son and being a slave.  And last week, we saw that Jesus also explained that those who are children of God do the things God commands – like Jesus did.  But those whose father is the devil do what he desires – like they did.
            As we turn to the final section of this text, we see that the Jews continued to dismiss Jesus based on His disputed parentage, and Jesus told them that the dead in Christ are alive, Abraham knew the Christ and rejoiced at His incarnation, and Jesus told them – again – that He is God.
            As we might expect, the Jews did not take well to Jesus telling them that their father was the devil, not God – and as we saw last week, they resorted to calling Jesus “illegitimate” as their response – and they continued in this morning’s text, increasing their slander:
            “The Jews answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’
            They accused Jesus – not only is He illegitimate – his father was a Gentile – so He was a Samaritan!  The Samaritans were a hated group of people – the children of Jews and non-Jews – Gentiles.  They were considered half-breeds – not real Jews.
            It was as if they said, “You’re not merely illegitimate – You’re not even a real Jew – You’re a half-breed – a Samaritan.”  It was the worst insult they could think of.
            And then they added to it – “You are not merely a product of moral sin – to be able to say these awful things about us – You must be demon-possessed!  Do You deny it?”
            How our Lord’s heart must have broken as His creation hurled insults and accusations against Him and even claimed He was in association with the evil one.  This type of abuse was part of the suffering that Jesus bore for our sake and the sake of all those who will ever believe.
            Imagine accusing one of your parents of being illegitimately conceived – then imagine condemning your parent for it – and saying that he or she was possessed by a demon due to the way he or she raised you.  And imagine that none of your accusations were true.
            There are children who treat a parent so viciously, and there are parents who treat a child likewise.  Our parents and children are sinners, but this type of accusation is beyond the pale.
            And now, consider, these Jews were not making these accusations against a sinful parent, but against the Holy God Who enfleshed to save all those who will believe.
            “Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.’
            Jesus began with a simple denial of their accusations, and then set the record straight:  Jesus honors His Father, but they did not honor Jesus. 
As we have seen, God the Father and God the Son (even in the Person of Jesus) are the same One God.  So, if you don’t honor the Son, you don’t honor the Father.  If you don’t believe in the Son, you don’t believe in the Father.  If you deny that Jesus is God, you deny that the Father is God.
But Jesus honors the Father.  Jesus does the Will of the Father.  Jesus’ work on earth was to reveal the Father’s keeping of His promise through the salvation merited by the Son.  And because the Son seeks the honor of the Father, the Father glorifies the Son.  The Father causes the Son to be known for Who He is like a telescope causes planets and galaxies to be known.  The Father has given us His Word and the Sacraments that we would hear and see the Gospel through them and know Jesus, God the Son and Savior, Who is far greater that we can conceive or understand, because He is God.
And, Jesus told them, the Father is the judge.
What’s His point?
Jesus told them that the Father glorifies Him and the Father is the judge, so, the implication is, if they did not glorify Jesus – if we do not glorify Jesus – we will be judged by the Father in a most negative way.
Jesus continued: 
“‘Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.’
Anyone who believes in Jesus as Savior will never die.
And we might want to chime in here and say, “Wait a minute, Jesus, I know many people – who as far as I can tell – and know I can’t tell a person’s heart – but I have known many strong believers in You and Your Gospel, and I have attended their funerals – how can You say they will never see death?”
Our physical bodies die due to the sin that our first parents brought into the world.  And unless Jesus returns first, all of our physical bodies will die.  That is temporary:  at the end of the age, when Jesus returns, all those who have ever died will be raised in their physical bodies for the Judgment.
But Jesus was talking about something different.
Peter helps us understand:
“since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;” (1 Peter 1:23, ESV).
Remember earlier in the book of John, when Jesus and Nicodemus talked, Jesus explained the need to be born again, to be born anew, to be born a second time – and that this was the spiritual rebirth?
Peter explains that when we are born again, we become imperishable – “through the living and abiding word of God” – Who is Jesus.
All those who believe in Jesus savingly – with their hearts and minds – are made imperishable, and though our bodies die prior to Jesus’ return, we will never experience the second death and its eternal suffering that is promised to those who never believe.
So, those who did not believe in the Savior when they died are now beginning their eternal death.  But those who did believe in the Savior when they died are now beginning their eternal life with Jesus.
All those who died believing in Jesus are alive with Him now waiting for the Resurrection and the coming of the Kingdom of God to earth.  My father, who died, is alive, waiting for the Resurrection.  Barbara Bell is alive.  Larry Norman is alive.  Keith Green is alive.  All those you and I have known who have died in faith – believing that Jesus is God the Savior – are alive and will never die.
The Jews didn’t get it.
“The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?’
Here, the Jews move from insulting Jesus and questioning where His views are coming from to ruling out all possibility of insanity.  This statement, they are convinced, now proves the only reasonable explanation is that He is possessed by a demon.
“You say that anyone keeps Your Word will never die?  Well, what about Abraham?  He’s dead.  All the prophets died.  They kept the Word of God, and they died.  Are You claiming to be greater than Abraham – the father of our people?  Are You claiming to be greater than all of the prophets who have given us the Word of God?  Just exactly do You think You are?”
Yes, Abraham died physically.  All of the prophets died physically.  
But consider:  another time, when Jesus was arguing with the Sadducees – a group who denied the resurrection of the body, Jesus said, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32, ESV).
God said, “I am” – not “I was,” but “I am” – right now – I am the God of Abraham, because he is alive.  I am the God of Isaac, because he is alive.  I am the God of Jacob, because he is alive.  To say that Abraham and the prophets are dead is to ignore what God so plainly said – they are alive – all those who believe the Word of God are alive – even if their physical bodies are dead, they are alive.
Adam is alive.  Eve is alive.  Seth is alive.  Noah is alive.  Abraham and Sarah are alive.  Isaac and Rebecca are alive.  Jacob and Rachel are alive.  Everyone who believes the promises of God regarding salvation from the beginning and till Jesus raises all, are alive.
The Jews did not understand that Jesus was not merely talking about their bodies, but that which waits for the Resurrection and experiences the beginning of life – or death.
And Who did Jesus think He was?
“Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’
Jesus began to answer by telling them that if He was pointing to Himself, if He was only promoting Himself, then He would be nothing.  But that is not the case – His Father, the One they called their God –  He is this God Who glorifies Jesus and shows Him to be God the Son and Savior.  The very One they claimed to know and believe was the God they did not know or believe in – the Father of Jesus Christ.
Jesus told them that He actually knew the Father, and He would not deny that He knew the Father, because He was not a liar like they were – their lying proved who their father was – the father of lies – the devil.
And then Jesus said something they might have caused them to take a step back in shock: “’Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’
“Not only is Abraham alive, but he looked forward to seeing My day.  Even though God promised to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham’s seed, and that blessing was fulfilled in Me some two thousand years later, Abraham believed God that he would see it happen.  And Abraham did see it.  Abraham is alive and saw My Incarnation, and he was glad.”
The word that Jesus used for Abraham rejoicing is a word that means a “vehement zeal” and an “ardent affection.”  This was not a simple happy occasion – this rejoicing was over the greatest thing that would ever happen:  God came to earth in the form of the human Jesus of Nazareth to merit salvation for all who believe – blessing for all the nations of the world.
John Calvin puts Jesus’ thoughts about the difference between the Jews and Abraham this way: “[Abraham] had no other object…during his whole life, than to see my kingdom flourish.  He longed for me when I was absent, you despise me when I am present” (Calvin, 360).
And the Jews objected:
“So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’”
The Jews were incredulous: “You’re not even fifty years old.  Abraham died over two thousand years ago.  And You know Abraham; You have seen Abraham?”
Were they thinking, “They only way He could know Abraham is if the demon possessing him knew Abraham – Jesus is a young man, He could not possibly have ever known Abraham…”?
Have you ever known someone who had to say the opposite of you – even to deny what is obvious?  I have some friends like that.
“That’s a beautiful blue sky, isn’t it?”
“No it isn’t.”
“It’s been a very nice week, hasn’t it?”
“No it hasn’t.”
“We have so much to be thankful for.”
“I don’t.”
“It’s hard to imagine – all the atrocities that happened during the Holocaust.”
“They never happened.”
“Why are you mad at God?”
“There is no God.”
And so forth.  A stubborn disagreeableness.
Paul was that way about Jesus before his conversion.  Paul was one of the best educated Pharisees of his day.  It would seem like he should have recognized Jesus for Who He is based on his knowledge of the Scripture.
When Paul was finally confronted by Jesus, we read, “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads’” (Acts 26:14, ESV).
We better understand this text when we understand what “goads” are.  Goads are any type of sharp instrument used to prod a farm animal forward.  When one was plowing the field, one would attach a board with spikes behind the oxen, so, if they got angry and refused to move and kicked back, the spike would pierce their hoof.  The way to stop being hurt was to stop kicking against the goads and to move forward as the farmer wanted.
So, Jesus told Paul, he was like an ox kicking against the goads as he persecuted Christ and His Church.  He was kicking and wounding himself by not receiving what would have made perfect sense to him – that Jesus is God the Son and Savior – the promised Christ – if he were not spiritually dead.
The Jews were kicking against the goads, they were acting in a way that only hurt themselves because they were unable to accept and receive the Truth of the Gospel.
Those who are spiritually blind and dead also hurt themselves fighting against the Truth.  May we be compassionate as we pray for the salvation of those who do not believe.  May be we compassionate as we seek to tell the Gospel to those we meet.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’”
We will remember that repetition in Hebrew is for emphasis – so, Jesus was saying, “Attention, listen up, this is very important!”
“Before Abraham existed, I have always been.”
Or, “I know Abraham because I am God.”
We will remember we have talked about how the “I am” saying of the book of John use the expression that God gave Moses, when Moses asked God what His Name was, and God told Him, “I am.”
God has neither beginning nor end, but is, forever and always, God.
We may remember that the author of Hebrews said the same thing about Jesus:  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, ESV).
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God in Three Persons, is and was and will ever be.  God is.  The Trinity is.
Now the Jews understood:
“So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
They understood that Jesus was claiming to be God – the God of Abraham – the One True God.  And if Jesus was lying – that would be blasphemy – and blasphemy was a capital crime, as we read:
“Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16, ESV).
But Jesus got away, because it was not yet His time to suffer and die.
Let us rejoice as we think of those who have died in Christ, knowing that they are alive, and they will be raised with their bodies on the last day – never to die again – even as each of us shall, if the Lord tarries.
Let us wonder at the joy Abraham had in knowing God the Son before the Incarnation and in his profound rejoicing at seeing God become man for our salvation as the great fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations through Abraham and his seed.
And let us hold dear to us that Jesus is God before the Incarnation, and Jesus is God in the Incarnation, and Jesus is God as He sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us in His flesh.
May we be comforted and emboldened in these things.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You are.  We thank You that You give life – even eternal life through Your Son.  Well us up with joy as we consider what Your Son did, and may our joy cause many others to look to You.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.