Second Reformed Church

Monday, October 31, 2016

"Faith Alone" Sermon: Romans 1:16-17

“Faith Alone”
[Romans 1:16-17]
October 30, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            Today, we celebrate Reformation Sunday.  Reformation day is actually tomorrow – October 31st.  October 31st was chosen to be Reformation day because historians mark that day – not as the first act of reformation – but as the turning point, after which there was no going back.
            The basic idea of reformation – our church is a reformed church – is the idea that we are constantly “reforming” what we believe and what we do based on the Bible.  If anything we teach or do contradicts the Bible, we go back to the Bible and do what God has said.
            A number of historic figures stood up in the late Medieval period to argue that the Roman Catholic Church had gone away from the teaching of the Bible and must “re-form” according to what the Bible actually teaches.
            Martin Luther is usually chosen as the person who brought the issues to the turning point.  Luther was born in 1483.  In 1505, Luther began law school, but left due to a scare and became an Augustinian monk.  As he studied and taught, he found that the Bible disagreed with some of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
            In 1515, as the Pope sought money to build St. Peter’s Cathedral, an inventive monk named Tetzel took the idea of selling indulgences and added a jingle to boost his sales, “when the coin in the coffer rings, another soul from Purgatory springs.”
            The Roman Catholic Church taught that if you weren’t bad enough for Hell or good enough for Heaven, you went to a place called Purgatory (which is not in the Bible) to earn enough merit to get to Heaven.  The Roman Catholic Church taught that Jesus earned enough to merit a person part-way to Heaven, but you have to merit the rest of the way yourself; the Roman Catholic Church taught that Jesus’ works plus our works earns us Heaven, and, if you don’t earn enough merit in this life, you can earn it in Purgatory – in fact you could earn it for yourself, or the dead, or you could buy an indulgence – a document which lessened your time or your loved one’s time in Purgatory.
            Luther compared this with what the Bible teaches, and he found the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church to be lacking.  So, on October 31, 1517, he posted what has become known as his “95 Thesis” on the church door at Wittenberg.
            We need to understand that this was not a radical act, and he was not trying to split the Roman Catholic Church.  It was common for scholars to post items for debate on the church door.  Luther had posted 95 items he wanted to debate with other scholars – and it was written in Latin – so must people would not have understood what it said.  However, someone read the post and translated it into German, and using the new invention – the printing press – spread the thesis throughout the country – and they ignited a fire amongst the people.
            Is salvation earned by receiving Jesus’ good works and adding them to our good works, as the Roman Catholic Church taught, or, as Luther would argue, is salvation received as a gift based on the good works of Jesus Alone?
            And so, let us turn to our text:
            And we see, Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel.
            “For I am not ashamed of the gospel,”
            This comes out of nowhere as we pull it out of context:  Paul opens his letter with greeting to the Roman Christians – Gentiles – non-Jews – who had come to believe savingly in Jesus.
            Word had apparently gotten back to the Romans that they were not as important to Paul, since they were Gentiles and not Jews, but Paul argues that he loves them and prays for them and desired to be mutually encouraged by them, and – especially – he wants to opportunity to preach the Gospel to them.
            It is then that he writes the text we have this morning, beginning with his not being ashamed of the Gospel.  That is, the reason he so desperately wants to get to Rome to preach to the Romans is the fact that he is not ashamed of the Gospel – that is, he is of the opposite view regarding the Gospel – dismiss these ideas that he prefers to preach to Jews – no, Paul wants to preach the Gospel to all people at all times on all occasions.
            So what is this Gospel?
            We need to remember because so many people have wrong ideas about what the Gospel is.  Paul tells us rather concisely that the Gospel is the historical facts about Jesus, the Incarnate Son.  Hear Paul’s words:
            “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, ESV).
            That is the Gospel.  This is the message Paul was not ashamed of.  This is the messages we are called to believe and bring to all of Creation.
            Second, we see that this Gospel is the Power of God for salvation.
            “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
            “For it” – the reason Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel and wants to preach it to the Romans and all people is that it is the power of God – not of humans.  The Gospel is God’s power – God’s way – it is nothing that a human can do or add to or make better.  It is the power of God in this Gospel – what God did and does – that is the anyone is ever saved who believes.  There is no salvation – there is no belief – unless God – by his Own Power – through the preaching of the Gospel – grants salvation to those humans He gives it to.
            And it is worth noting that God did give the Gospel to the Jews first.  God did choose the Jews to be a special people – to give them the Word of God and to Incarnate as the Word of God to accomplish the Gospel.  God is the Gospel – Who God is – what God did – who God empowers to belief and salvation.  And since the Resurrection – the Gospel is sent to all peoples – including the non-Jews.
            It is not in any way or part the power of humans, because we cannot, as Paul explains: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7, ESV).
            The non-Christian – the non-believer – cannot submit – he cannot turn to God.
            Well, then, how do we believe?  How does God use His Power in the Gospel to change us and cause us to become empowered to belief?
            Again, Paul explains:
            “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9, ESV).
            Because God freely chose to have mercy and love a people – all those who will ever believe – the Church – even when we were spiritually dead in sin and could not and would not ever choose to believe in Jesus savingly, God chose to save us – by grace alone He saved us.
            And, as we saw Jesus explain in the Gospel of John recently, Jesus has gone to prepare a place in the Father’s house for all those who will ever believe in Him – so we are secure – our place with Jesus in the Kingdom is assured, if we have been saved by God and God alone.  So, in the ages to come, we will be absolutely blown away with the riches that God showers upon us as His adopted sons and daughters.  God is showing Himself to be outrageously generous!
            God has saved us by grace alone through faith alone, and the grace and the faith are not our doing – they are not our works – we cannot boast about them – because they are gifts of God to us.
            And what is faith?  Faith is the means by which we receive the gracious gifts of God – such as salvation.  Faith is like the gutters and leaders on your house that catch the rain and move it somewhere.  God gives us the gift of faith to be able to receive His Grace.  The faith is not something we come up with – it is not a good work – it is a tool that God gives us to receive what God’s Hand gives to us.
            Third, we see that the Gospel reveals the Righteousness of God.
            “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,”
            What is righteousness?
            Righteousness is the perfection that God requires for a person to be made right with Him.
            So, the Gospel reveals the perfection that God requires to for a person to be made right with Him “from faith for faith.”
            How does the Gospel reveal this perfection?  From faith for faith.
            What in the world does that mean?
            The Gospel reveals this perfection from faith – as we receive salvation and confess it – for faith – as we receive all that God has called us to do, and we obey.
            In other words, God’s free gift of salvation to us through the work of Jesus is revealed as we confess what we have received and believe and proven as we do those things God has called us to do as people who have received His salvation.
            Paul writes, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).
            Do we hear the “from faith for faith” here?
            God created us to be His, made us right with Him through Jesus Christ, and we now respond by doing the good works He calls us to – those works that God planned for us to do from before the Creation.
            Finally, Paul writes, “as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
            Here we have a summary of what he says:
            The righteous – those who receive the perfection necessary to be made right with God through the Gospel – Jesus’ works – are resurrected from spiritual death – are enlivened – are born anew – are born again – by faith – by receiving the gift from God.
            The gift of salvation is received by us by the gift of faith by which we receive it, confess our belief, and do the good works God predestined us to do.
            The Gospel is God’s work.  Our receiving faith is God’s work.  Our becoming righteous is God’s work.  We respond, but we add nothing – we add nothing to our salvation – we do not pay any part of the debt.  Salvation is by Christ Alone – by grace Alone – by faith Alone – and to the Glory of God Alone.
            And so, we believe that Martin Luther got it right; the Roman Catholic Church erred in saying that Jesus did part of the work of salvation and we do part of the work of salvation.
            But that was 499 years ago.  What’s the big deal now?
            This is what the current Roman Catholic position is:
"If anyone says, that by faith alone the ungodly are justified in such a way as to mean that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to receive the grace of Justification and that it is not necessary for a man to be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema." (The Council of Trent, Canon IX).
            Nothing has changed in 499 years.
            The Roman Catholic view is, if anyone says they are saved by Christ Alone, by grace alone, by faith alone, to the Glory of God Alone – if any denies that Jesus does part of the work of salvation and we do part of the work of salvation – “let him be damned.”
            The Reformation is not over.
            Martin Luther wrote:
“The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24–25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ... Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31). (The Smalcald Articles, part 2, article 1).
Being part of a reformed church means that we turn back to the Bible – and the Bible has the final word – and whenever someone or something disagrees with the Bible, the Bible is right.
Salvation is God’s work; it is God’s gift.  You and I don’t earn salvation – not even a little bit.  We respond to our receiving the Gospel.
Either you have been saved by Christ Alone, through grace alone, through faith alone – or you are your savior.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, Yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Authority forever and ever.  You chose to love us and save us and do this all through Your Son.  Open our eyes and minds that we would understand and not be confused.  Help us to be ever thankful for Your Word that has saved us.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 28, 2016

"Show Me the Father" Sermon: John 14:8-11

“Show Me the Father”
[John 14:8-11]
October 23, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            Are you still secure?
            Last week, we looked at Jesus preparing the Eleven for Jesus’ leaving earth.  Jesus assured them by telling them that He is the Only Way to the Father, the Truth and the Life of reconciliation.  We know God through the writings of the Holy Scripture.  Jesus is preparing a place for us in the Father’s house, and He will come back to bring each one of us who believes to that place.  And God loves us; He has chosen us for His own eternally.
            Are we secure in that?  Are we comforted in these truths and promises?  Do we believe that the Almighty God Who cannot lie is bringing these things to pass?
            Today we are considering how the Eleven react to these things.
            And we see first, weakness of faith makes us ask for more than God has revealed.
            “Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’
            “Show me the Father!  Show us the Father!  Then our doubts will be banished.”
            What is Philip – and the Eleven – asking for?  Were they asking that the Father come before them in incarnate flesh?  Probably not.  They well-understood as faithful Jews that God is Spirit.
            So, what did they want?
            They want a Moses experience.
            We may remember that Israel rebels, even after Moses brings them the Ten Commandments.  Again and again, Moses intercedes for Israel, and God saves them again and again.  And one time, Moses makes a special request after pleading for Israel; he asks that he be allowed a special assurance of God’s presence:
            “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The LORD.” And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’ And the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:18-23, ESV).
            Moses is given the extraordinary privilege of seeing the backside of the Glory of God after God passes by him.  Moses could not see God – His Face – His Glory – straight on, because it would have killed him – similarly, no human – no creature – can ever look upon the Pure Face of God and live.  What Moses does see causes his face to radiate the Glory of God – even seeing it at such a distance – and Israel tells him he has to wear a veil – they cannot stand to look on the reflection of the passing of the Glory of God on the face of Moses.
            Peter, James, and John had a similar experience with Jesus, as we read:
            “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only”
(Matthew 17:1-8, ESV).
            Now, the Eleven, led by Philip, ask to see the Father. 
            “Give us a Moses experience.  Let us see the reflected Glory of the Father.”
            We tend to be less brash – not that the request is necessarily sinful, but it does display the weakness of our faith – and it is foolish.
            We have a market for books about finding the Will of God.  Let us understand, we are to follow the Will of God – and we have the Will of God for us in the Bible.  But we want something more, as we look to many of these books:  What is the sign that this is the right person to marry?  What is the sign that this is the job God wants me to have?  Just give me a personal word from God that is not in the Bible so I can know what God wants from me.  I need something specific, because the Word of God is not enough.
            “God, if You let me win this scratch off card, I will know You want me to give to my church.”
            “God, if You let my team win this game, I will know that You want me to volunteer at my church.”
            “God, if You let me pass this exam, I will go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life, and I will never do anything wrong again.”
            “Jesus, everything You have said and done has been great, and we will stand with You to the end, if You show us the Father!”
            We don’t need mystical encounters.  God does not usually give us specific answers about who to marry or what job to have.  But God has given us His Word, and God has given us a massive amount of information about Who He is and what He has done and what to believe and how to live.
            And, as we have noted before, we do see God, through the Word of God, through the Person of Jesus.  We don’t see the straight on Face of God – which would kill us.  We don’t have a Moses experience – because God has not seen fit to give it to us.  But each one of us who has believed has seen God.
            Certainly, we grow in faith and understanding of God’s Word, but there are no secret texts or codes or messages, and God is not giving any new revelation.  The Word of God is enough.  It was written to be understood by regular people.  And if you think it is not enough, that shows the weakness of your faith.
Weakness of faith makes us ask for more than God has revealed.
Second, Jesus and the Father are the same One God.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’
Jesus is exasperated at the question and directs His answer to Philip: “You have been with Me for three years, how do you still not understand that if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father – [and the unspoken link] – because We are the same One God?”
We are seeing a statement that affirms what Christians believe about the Trinity – that there is One God and this One God exists simultaneously as Three Distinct Persons Who are equally and fully God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus can say that anyone who sees Him has seen the Father, because Jesus and the Father are the same One God.  We cannot look upon the Father and live, but we can look upon Jesus – in the flesh and in His Word – because His flesh mediates His Divinity – as Jesus’ Divinity – the fullness of the One God – comes through His flesh, we see His Divinity, but “as through a glass darkly” – we are kept from directly viewing His Divinity.  And that is a way in which the Father and Son are distinct – the Son incarnate in the Person of Jesus – the Son has flesh which provides a buffer for us as we look at God – the Father does not.
The truth that God is One and Three is bigger than our minds – we cannot fully understand how this can be, but we can understand from the Word of God that it is true.  And we can hold on to this truth and confess it, because God has revealed it to us.
Perhaps the best summary of the doctrine of the Trinity is The Athanasian Creed.  Rather than have us read through it today, let’s affirm a few statements – a few biblical facts – about the Trinity.
Please repeat after me:
There is only One God.
The Father is God.
The Son is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
The Father is not the Son.
The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
The Son is not the Father.
The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
The Holy Spirit is not the Son.
Thank you.
Here we have a basic outline:  There is One God.  And God exists equally and distinctly in Three Persons at the same time.
Because God says that in His Word, Jesus can say that if you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father, because they are both equally the same One God – the Only God.
Jesus and the Father are the same One God.
Third, each Person of the Trinity indwells the Others.
“’How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’
Jesus speaks of Two Persons of the Trinity, but we can extend it:
The Father indwells the Son.
The Father indwells the Holy Spirit.
The Son indwells the Father.
The Son indwells the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit indwells the Father.
The Holy Spirit indwells the Son.
How can this be true if the Three Persons of the Trinity are distinct – They exist and act simultaneously with Each Other?
Because the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and the Three are the same One God.  The Will of the Three is the Will of the One, because They are equally and wholly the One God.
Each Person of the Trinity indwells the Others.
Fourth, there are two evidences of Jesus and the Father being the same One God Who indwell One Another.
“’The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.’”
Jesus explains to the Eleven that He is not making this stuff up – there are two good reasons to believe that Jesus and the Father are the same One God Who indwell One Another:
First, the Father has to indwell Jesus, because the Father does His Works through Jesus.
In other words, in order for Jesus to live a holy and sinless life, to keep the whole Law of God, and to do the miracles He did, He could not merely be a human being.  In fact, He could not be anyone less that God Himself to be able to live a sinless and holy life – or, similarly, be God incarnate in human flesh – a real human being and God Himself at the same time in the same body.
You and I cannot live a completely holy and sinless life if for no other reason than we are born sinners.  But Jesus did, and not only that, He did miracles, and He did everything God the Father told Him to do.  Jesus could only do that if He is human and God in One Person – the Father, indwelling the Son, united to Jesus in One Person.
Second, if it is not enough for you that Jesus was able to do these works – that God the Father worked through Him, look at the works He did, themselves.  Look at all the ways in which Jesus did things that fulfilled all the prophecies of the Messiah – the Savior – Who has to be 100% God and 100% human in one person, or He would not be able to save His people.
No one could do all the things Jesus did unless He is exactly Who He says He is.
And so Jesus teaches the Eleven to help mature them in their faith, so they will not continue to seek for more revelation than God has so graciously given us.
We ought to be in prayer for ourselves and others that we would all grow in our faith and obedience to all the God has revealed to us – including things that are clear, but hard to wrap our heads around – like the Doctrine of the Trinity.
There is One God in Three Persons.
The Three Persons are equally, fully God at the same time.
And the Three Persons indwell each other, proving Jesus to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the Only Way to the Father – the Only Way to be reconciled to God.
As the promises of Jesus are confirmed to us again as the Word of God, do you find more comfort, renewed security?
May we desire and seek to know God in the fullness of His revelation in His Word, and may we find comfort and security in knowing that our God is the only God, our Savior, Who is coming back for us.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, Your Word calls those fools Who say there is no evidence of Your existence, and while we believe, we have had times of foolishness, just like Philip and the Eleven, asking for more that You have seen fit to reveal.  Forgive us for not seeking and receiving all You have told us and following after You in obedience, receiving Your comfort and joy.  And as we do so, enabled and guided by the Holy Spirit, we give thanks that we see You.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.