Second Reformed Church

Friday, March 30, 2007

Easter Letter

"But God's anger was kindled [towards Balaam] because he went [to Moab], and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord [YHWH] standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the Lord [YHWH] stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord [YHWH], she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam's foot against the wall. So he struck her again. Then the angel of the Lord [YHWH] went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord [YHWH], she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam's anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the Lord [YHWH] open the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, 'What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?' And Balaam said to the donkey, 'Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.' And the donkey said to Balaam, 'Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?' And he said, 'No.'

"Then the angel of the Lord [YHWH] opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord [YHWH] standing in the way, with his sword drawn. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord [YHWH] said to him, 'Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live'" (Numbers 22:22-33).

30 March 2007

Dear Members and Friends of Second Reformed Church:

Do you talk to animals? To your pets?

Has one every talked back to you? In the language of your birth?

Balaam was a sinful prophet. And as we read in the history above, Balaam was blind to the extent of God's Rule, but his donkey was not. She saw the angel. She knew that Balaam had sinned. She knew that the angel was going to kill Balaam. She understood that God is the God of the Whole Creation, and every atom, every plant, animal, human, and angel is subject to Him. Balaam couldn't see what was right in front of his face, so God, in His Great Mercy, open the donkey's mouth and she rebuked Balaam in his native Hebrew. And Balaam understood, among other things, that the Creation naturally glorifies and praises God. Any want or deformity of the Creation is due to the sin of humanity. The Creation sees the angels and the other spiritual beings, it knows God, and it knows that God is the King of Creation.

As we look through the Scripture, we see plants, animals, and even inanimate objects naturally praising and glorifying God. They know Who their King is. They know Who their Creator is. They know the Ruler of All. They are crying out, "Worthy, worthy is the Lamb Who was slain!" They are crying out, "Can't you see? Can't you see?"

As this season of Lent ends and we soon celebrate Easter -- the Resurrection of Jesus -- let us remember that this day, this celebration, is not about the invention of candy or plastic hay. It's not about bunnies and chicks or any other animal -- and they would tell us so! This is the day especially that we celebrate the historical fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our God, the King of Creation.

As we spend time with friends and family, enjoying the meals and conversations, let us pray that our eyes would be opened -- that the eyes of all of the elect would soon be opened -- that we, with the Creation, would join in that great chorus singing, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" (Luke 19:38).

And let us not be too quick to punish or dismiss the Creation among us, it sees more than we see, and it may keep us from having our heads cut off.

Join us for worship:

4/1/07 Palm Sunday, Luke 19:28-40 "The Very Stones"
4/5/07 Maundy Thursday/Communion 7 PM, Exodus 12:1-28 "The Passover"
4/6/07 Good Friday/Communion 7 PM, Hebrews 10:19-25 "The Day Draws Near"
4/8/07 Easter/Communion, Luke 24:1-12 "He is Risen"

He is Risen,

Rev. Peter Butler, Jr., pastor
Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

April Sermons

D.V., in April I shall preach:

4/1/07 Communion/Palm Sunday "The Very Stones" Luke 19:28-40
4/5/07 Communion/Maundy Thursday 7PM "The Passover" Exodus 12:1-28
4/6/07 Communion/Good Friday 7PM "The Day Draws Near" Hebrews 10:19-25
4/8/07 Communion/Easter "He is Risen" Luke 24:1-12
4/15/07 "Elect in the Trinity" I Peter 1:1-2
4/22/07 "A Living Hope" I Peter 1:3-9
4/29/07 Guest Preacher: William Galloway

Puritan Wisdom

"Pray for me, that I may be made holier and wiser -- less like myself, and more like my Heavenly Master; that I may not regard my life, if so be I may finish my course with joy. This day eleven years ago, I lost my loved and loving brother, and began to seek a Brother who cannot die." -- Robert Murray M'Cheyne (Memoir and Remains..., 11)

"The Lord Reigns" Sermon: Obadiah 19-21

"The Lord Reigns"
[Obadiah 19-21]
March 25, 2007 Second Reformed Church

Israel and Edom were two neighboring nations; more than that, they were the descendants of two brothers: Jacob, the father of Israel, and Esau, the father of Edom. Edom was to the east of the Jordan, in the mountains, and they spent centuries being jealous and prideful, for, we remember, that Jacob trick Esau out of his birthright and blessing. So, when the Babylonians attacked in 586 B.C., Edom seized upon the chance to take revenge and help the Babylonians conquer and take Israel into captivity. You have heard of the Babylonian captivity.

God allowed Israel to be conquered and taken into captivity for her sins. However, Babylon and Edom had sinned in conquering Israel. And in the book of Obadiah, we have God's response, God's prophecy against the Edomites. God told them that for their sin, they would be punished. They believed they were safe on the mountains and in caves; God would bring them down. They thought their wealth would sustain them; God would give it to other people. They believed that their friends would protect them; God told them their friends would turn on them and slaughter them and God would make sure that every man, woman, and child of Edom was dead.

God told Edom that they should not have been prideful and jealous; although they were not the people of promise, God had still provided for them. They should have known better than to plot against the Israel of God. They should have known better than to rejoice in the destruction of the Israel of God. They should have known better than to loot the blessings of God from His people.

Now, God promised them, that just as they had rejoiced in seeing Israel destroyed, all the nations of the world would lift high a glass and celebrate the destruction of Edom. And, much to the dismay of Edom, God told them that God had made a way for Israel, there was an escape for them through Mount Zion, Israel was not lost; Israel was not annihilated; Israel would return. And the house of Jacob and the house of Joseph would one day return and take back their land and also the land of Edom. They would remove the last remains of the Edomite civilization; their flame would burn up Edom's stubble. Nothing would be left of the house of Esau; nothing would be left to show that they existed. The land and the remains of Edom would become part of the new Israel.

And if we are not familiar with the towns and the areas around Israel, it might help to hear how the Today's English Version, the Good News Bible, puts this morning’s text: "People from southern Judah will occupy Edom; those from the western foothills will capture Philistia. Israelites will possess the territory of Ephraim and Samaria; the people of Benjamin will take Gilead. The army of exiles from northern Israel will return and conquer Phoenicia as far north as Zarephath. The exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sardis will capture the towns of southern Judah. The victorious men of Jerusalem will attack Edom and rule over it. And the Lord himself will be king."

If we think about a modern map, God told them that when Israel returned from Babylon, she would be given, not just the modern country of Israel, but in the south, the Gaza Strip, in the west, the West Bank, in the north and east, most of the country of Syria, and to the south-east, what used to be Edom, God gave Israel most of the country of Jordan. God significantly increased the land of the nation of Israel after the final Babylonian captivity.

What does that mean for modern day politics? I don't know. And I won't speculate here.

What we can know, what we can say, is this: after Israel sinned, God sent her into captivity, and when she was broken and had come to repentance, God released her from her physical captivity, as well, and gave her back the Promised Land and more. And that is our story as well, isn't it?

We were born sinners, condemned through the inheritance of our father, Adam. But God has chosen from all humanity -- from all the descendants of Adam -- a people of God, and Israel of God, a people, not united by a land mass, but united through the One Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We who believe and have received Salvation in Jesus Christ Alone are part of the people of God. We have been freed from our captivity to sin, and we have been led out of Egypt, we have been led out of Babylon, we have been led out of whatever distant and horrible land our sin had consigned us to. And now, we hear and know these words:

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-32).

God delivered Israel, and still gave her the Promised land, and still gave her more, and still brought the Savior through her line. And we have been delivered from our bondage to sin, we have been adopted into the people of God, and God has given us, not only His Son, not only His Only Son, not only the Only Possible Salvation -- which surely would have been more than we could ever have believed was possible -- but He continues to give us more.

How can we be down cast? If we suffer for our sin, what did we expect? If we suffer for Christ, is there any suffering so great that it can eclipse the wonder and the beauty and the amazement of what God has done in becoming Incarnate, living, suffering, dying, rising, and ascending -- to the Glory of the Father and -- for you?

"The wages of sin is death." If you are physically alive this morning, that is a blessing. If you are spiritually alive this morning, that is a blessing. If you are spiritually alive this morning, it is because of the undeserved Gift of God in Jesus Christ -- you have blessing upon blessing upon blessing.

We have heard two translations of verse 21 this morning, let me give you a third, "Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord's [YHWH's]."

The word that is translated, "those who have been saved," "the victorious men," and "saviors" in the three translations is ma'yeshua'im, which literally means "the saviors." We may remember that the angel said to Joseph, "[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus [yeshua], for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). "Savior" can refer to people other than Jesus.

Here, in Obadiah, God promised that a special, chosen group of men who were from Jerusalem would be the ones to take Edom and rule over it. John Calvin said that these were "preservers" and he likens them to those who are called to be ministers (Commentaries, 454). These people are sinners, they also had to be freed by God, but they were now appointed to watch over, to preserve, to teach the people in the land, that they would not forget what God has done and what God continues to do, above and beyond what they could ever conceive.

Have you forgotten? Do you remember what God has done for you? Are you still amazed? Are you still thankful? Do you still believe and trust and hope in Him?

Obadiah said that God would send "saviors" to rule, but God would be king. YHWH was their ruler. YHWH was their Sovereign. They were living in YHWH's Kingdom. YHWH reigns.

Do you believe that? Do you understand that you and I are part of the Kingdom of God that rules over the earth and that is coming in its fullness when God to restores the earth and sets all things right again?

Calvin explains that it was God's Purpose to rule over His people after He had restored them -- that they would be part of a divine kingdom, with no other king but God, Himself (455). And since that was true for Israel, it is true for us as the Church, as the people of God, no longer confined to one nation, but scattered throughout the earth. God's Salvation is no longer tied to a piece of land, but it is found in every land and every people, and He rules the earth, and the universe, from His Throne. Yet let us understand two things:

Although God is ruling from His Throne in Heaven, but let us not think that God is afar off, because God is ruling here and now, in time. He is here in this church right now, just as assuredly as He is also ruling from His Throne on High. And after the mercy and grace we have been given, we ought to fall before Him in worship and obedience. Our response to this great Salvation is to submit to our God and Savior, to submit to His Word, to trust Him and follow Him and rejoice in Him now and forever -- He is our King!

And second, Calvin writes, "We hence see that the Church has no existence, where the word of God does not so prevail in its authority, as to keep down whatever height there is in men, and to bring them under the yoke, so that all may depend on God alone, that all may look to him, and that he may have all in subjection to himself" (455).

If we are Christ's Body and He is our head, if there is no Head, if we neglect the Head, or throw the Head away, there can be no life in the Body. If the Word of God Alone is not preached in a church, it is not the Church. If the Word of God Alone is not believe and taught to be the truth, then it is not the Church. If in our Consistories and Classes and Synods, we deny the Word of God based on our feelings, based on what psychiatrists and science so-called says, if we say, "Yes, the Bible says this is plain language, but I say..." -- that is not the Church.

Are we the Church?

The prophecy of Obadiah teaches us this: all sin most be punished; it doesn't matter who we are. God has made a Way of Salvation through Mount Zion for those who believe. We receive blessings from God far above what we could ever deserve or desire. Those whom God has saved have God as their King, and God rules the Church and the Church rules the world only through God’s Word.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank you for these days of reflection on our sin, we repent of our sin and abhor it and ask that You would keep us from sin -- leading us to the Way of escape. Keep Yourself as King before us, and cause us to serve You, that our joy may be found in Your Glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

"Mighty and gracious lords, I will tell you to what your honour shall come; first, ye shall wax old like others, then ye shall fall sick like others, the ye shall die like others, the ye shall be buried like others, then ye shall be consumed like others, then ye shall be judged like others, even like the beggars which cry at your gates: one sickens, the other sickens; one dies, the other dies; one rots, the other rots: look in the grave, and show me which was Dives and which was Lazarus. This is some comfort to the poor, that once he shall be like the rich; one day he shall be as wealthy, and as glorious as a king; one hour of death will make all alike." -- Henry Smith

Monday, March 19, 2007

"On Your Head" Sermon: Obadiah 15-18

"On Your Head"
[Obadiah 15-18]
March 18, 2007 Second Reformed Church

Israel fell a final time and was taken into captivity in Babylon in 586 B.C. Jeremiah tells us a great deal about the siege and destruction of Israel and all that God would do thereafter. Obadiah was sent specifically to preach against Edom, a nation east of the Jordan, who were the biological brothers of Israel.

We remember that Jacob and Esau were twin brothers, and Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright and blessing, so Jacob inherited the promise and the blessing -- Jacob became Israel. Esau's descendants became Edom. And for centuries, there was a rivalry between the two nations.

Edom was prideful and arrogant and blamed Israel that she had not been honored with the promise of God, yet she neglected to remember that God had given Edom her own nation and blessed her as well. Self-blinded to the good God had done for her, when Babylon attacked Israel, the Edomites helped the Babylonians defeat Israel and carry her off into captivity.

For this, and all her sins, God was very angry, and God sent Obadiah to tell Edom that she was going to be destroyed, her neighbors were going to turn on her and kill her, God was going to make sure that every single Edomite was slaughtered.

Still, Edom laughed, believing that her location and her money would keep her safe. But God told her that she would fall, her wealth, her land would be lost, and she would be punished by death for her treachery and for turning traitor on her kin.

And God told Edom that whatever she did to Israel would come back upon her head. She would receive from God, exactly what she meted out to Israel.

Jeremiah recounts this in greater detail:

"Concerning Edom. Thus says the Lord of Hosts [YHWH Elohim]: Is there no longer wisdom in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom vanished? Flee, turn back, get down low, inhabitants of Dedan For I will bring the calamity of Esau upon him, the time when I punish him. If grape-gatherers came to you, would they not leave gleanings? If thieves came by night, even they would only pillage for what they wanted. But as for me, I have stripped Esau bare, I have uncovered his hiding places, and he is not able to conceal himself. His offspring are destroyed, his kinsfolk and his neighbors; and he is no more. Leave your orphans, I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me.

"For thus says the Lord [YHWH]: If those who do not deserve to drink the cup still have to drink it, shall you be the one to go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished; you must drink it. For by myself I have sworn, says the Lord [YHWH], that Bozrah shall become an object of horror and ridicule, a waste, and an object of cursing; and all her towns shall be perpetual wastes.

"I have heard these things from the Lord [YHWH], and a messenger has been sent among the nations: 'Gather yourselves together and come against her, and rise up for battle!' For I will make you the least of the nations, despised by humankind. The terror you inspire and the pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill. Although you make your nest as high as the eagles, from there I will bring you down, says the Lord [YHWH].

"Edom shall become an object of horror; everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its disasters. As when Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighbors were overthrown, says the Lord [YHWH], no one shall live there, nor shall anyone settle in it. Like a lion coming up from the thickets of the Jordan against a perennial pasture, I will suddenly chase Edom away from it; and I will appoint over it whomever I choose. For who is like me? Who can summon me? Who is the shepherd who can stand before me? Therefore hear the plan that the Lord [YHWH] has made against Edom and the purposes he has formed against the inhabitants of Teman: Surely the little ones of their flock shall be dragged away; surely their fold shall be appalled at their fate. At the sound of their fall the earth shall tremble; the sound of their cry shall be heard at the Red Sea. Look, he shall mount up and swoop down like an eagle, and spread his wings against Bozrah, and the heart of the warriors of Edom in that day shall be like the heart of a woman in labor" (Jeremiah 49:7-22).

This should remind us of what Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will separate them one from the other, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'

"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'

"Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked, and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'

"Then they will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:31-46).

So we hear the same word from Jesus this morning: what we do and don't do -- good and evil -- will come back on our heads. We will receive back what we have given -- to others and God.

And it seems that most Americans would respond to this, "Well, alright. I'm a decent person; I'm going to be alright. I've done good for others. I go to church. I donate to charitable organizations. I haven't been perfect, but I've been better than most. I haven't kept all the commandments, but I think I've kept at least seven..."

What we need to understand is that the judgment of our works is not the basis of salvation. Listen again, this is very important: the judgment of our works is not the basis of salvation. We are and will be judged by our works -- even in this life, we talk about things "coming back to haunt" us. And there is a judgment of our works to come on the last day.

Edom received part of the judgment while in this life -- every one of them was slaughtered. Every one of them died in war. Every Edomite suffered the consequences of their sin. And God said, "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

Yet, God also said, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10). The Gift of God, Salvation in Jesus Alone, is the Only Salvation -- for Edom, for Israel, for us.

Obadiah then informed Edom, that just as she rejoiced and lifted a drink to celebrate Israel's defeat, so shall all the nations lift a drink and rejoice in Edom’s demise.

It is a hard thing for us to reconcile, but there are people who will suffer eternally, and there are people who will be in everlasting joy in the Kingdom of God. And somehow, those in the Kingdom will rejoice in seeing the justice of God on the damned. Understand, the Bible does not teach that those in the Kingdom are sadistically thrilled to see the damned suffer, what we are taught is that those in the Kingdom will rejoice to see God's Justice.

And here is hope for the Israel of God, for all those who believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation, there is an escape in Mount Zion. No matter what we suffer here, not matter what we go through here, even if we are ill and sick and abused, when the Kingdom is fully come, the Israel of God will all be safe, perfected, and glorified in the Kingdom.

But God told Edom that the day would come when Israel would return to the land , and not only that, she would burn up Edom. God would restore Israel and destroy Edom. So God has promised us:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

"'See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more; for the first things have passed away.'

"And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.' Then he said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns will fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:1-8).

Our works will be judged, but our hope is not in our works. Our Hope is in the escape to Mount Zion that God provides through Jesus Christ Alone.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that our Salvation is not based on our works, for if it were, we would perish, just as Edom did. We thank You for the Gift of Salvation in Jesus Christ Alone. We ask as we live out this Gift, that You would cause us to do the good works that You have planned for us, that in the Day of Judgment, You would be glorified and well-pleased. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"This Is Your Day"

I occasionally flip around the T.V. preachers to see what they are up to, and this morning, Benny Hinn had "prophecy expert" Jeffery Grant on, who said, "God doesn't even know when the rapture is going to occur -- it's based on how we do our evangelism, when God in His Wisdom knows that the last person has converted, then God will say, 'Come Home.'"

I wonder what else God doesn't know...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Puritan Wisdom

"God, to prevent all escape, hath sown the seeds of death in our very constitution and nature, so that we can as son run from ourselves, as run from death. We need no feller to come with a hand of violence and hew is down; there is in the tree a worm, which grows out of its own substance, that will destroy it; so in us, those infirmities of nature that will bring us down to the dust." -- William Gurnall

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"Brother's Misfortune" Sermon: Obadiah 10-14

"Brother's Misfortune"
[Obadiah 10-14]
March 11, 2007 Second Reformed Church

When Saddam Hussein was hanged a few months ago, what was your response? Were you glad he was out of power? Were you glad he couldn't hurt anyone anymore? Did you get giddy to know that someone had videotaped the hanging and that it had been posted on the internet? Did you go on the internet and burn a copy of the video of Saddam Hussein being hanged so you could watch it over and over again? Do you wish you could have?

What do you think of President Bush? How has he done as our President in your opinion? If you think he hasn’t done well, do you hope that he is prosecuted in some fashion? Do you laugh at him and ridicule him when you disagree with him? I was talking with one woman who said she prays that he will "burn in hell," do you agree?

Jacob and Esau were twin brothers of Isaac; Esau was the older son, so he held the birthright and was due the blessing upon his father's death. But Jacob tricked Esau out of both his birthright and his blessing. So Jacob became Israel, the children of the Promise, and Esau became the Edomites, a neighboring nation who was cut off from God's blessing to Abraham.

Generation after generation, the Edomites burned with anger and jealousy against Israel for the deception that occurred between their fathers. And when the Babylonians came to attack Israel, the Edomites turned their back on Israel and helped the Babylonians in their conquest of Israel, and the Edomites rejoiced Israel, they thought, had finally gotten their just due.

And Edom, being full of pride and arrogance, declared that she was safe, because she lived in the mountains, and she had allies in the nations, and she had wealth. But God told her that Edom was going to be slaughtered.

Now, understand, God was promising them pure justice. But remember what God said later, during this captivity, "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?"(Ezekiel 18:23). How do we balance this? God is not a sadist Who longs for people to punish. No, God would rather that the sinner turn from his sin and repent. But, either way, God is glorified. God is glorified in bringing justice upon sin, and God is glorified in being merciful. But God does not sinfully, maniacally, sadistically rejoice in people suffering.

Now, remember, last week I pointed out that the translators of our text put the word "slaughter" in verse ten, where it does not belong. Verse ten should read, "For the violence done to your brother Jacob." Because she did violence again her brother nation, she -- all of her people -- would experience shame for what they had done. And rather than enjoying what God had given her -- the promises that God had fulfilled in her land -- God says again, as He did in verse nine, Edom would be cut off -- forever.

Israel and Edom were kin -- their ancestral fathers were brothers -- they should have held an allegiance to each other. Instead, she stood back, rather than fighting with Israel against the Babylonians, Edom stood back, and allowed the Babylonians free access, so they -- strangers, foreigners -- walked off with all of Israel's wealth; they entered the holy city of Jerusalem and they gambled for her.

And on that day, on the day of her brother's misfortune, Edom stood in the hills and watched and gloated. She thought this proved that she was better than Israel; she watched the violence, the theft, the profanity, and laughed, believing herself to be superior.

She rejoiced to see Jacob brought to ruin; how she had longed for the day when justice would come to the sons of Jacob!

She boasted about how safe she was, how mighty she was, how wealthy she was. She taunted Israel as she went up in flames and the survivors were led away into captivity.

And then, Edom went down into Israel, and she joined in rejoicing in the Babylonians victory. She declared her superiority to Israel to all who would listen, and then she looted the goods of her brothers from what the Babylonians had left behind.

And Edom set up guards on the roads and in the mountains, and they caught survivors and fugitives and handed them over to the Babylonians. Edom didn't want one to be lost!

It was a glorious day for Edom.

But God, speaking through the prophet Obadiah said, "You should not have gloated. You should not have rejoiced. You should not have boasted. You should not have entered Israel. You should not have gloated with the Babylonians. You should not have looted Israel. You should not have handed over the survivors and the fugitives."

Why not? Well, for one, these were her brothers. And secondly, the law of God says that we are to love our neighbor as ourself. What does that mean?

As Luke records, "And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' He said to him, 'What is written in the Law? Have you read it?' And he answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.' And he said to him, 'You have answered correctly, do this, and you will live.'

"But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?' Jesus replied, 'A man was going down from Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took two denarii and gave it to the innkeeper, saying, "Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back." Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?' He said, 'The one who showed him mercy.' Jesus said to him, 'You go, and do likewise'" (Luke 10:25-37).

The Samaritans were half-breeds -- they were the children of an Israelite and a foreigner. Israel had been told only to marry Israelites. So these descendants, called Samaritans for the area in which they lived, were unclean. They were not allowed in the temple, and any pure-blood Israelite who came in contact with a Samaritan would be unclean for a time and unable to enter the temple.

If the Samaritan, who was a half-breed, was a neighbor to the Israelite, how much more was Israel -- full-blooded brothers -- the neighbor of Edom?

Is it wrong to try to stop sin, to warn others against sin, even to punish sin according to our laws? No. In fact, it may be love of neighbor that causes us to do so. But if we act to show our neighbor how much better we are, if we act to make ourselves look superior, if we act out of joy of seeing others suffer, then we sin.

Was it wrong to seek Saddam Hussein's removal from power to stop his murderous rule? Was it wrong to delight is seeing Saddam suffer? Is it wrong to be critical of our politicians, even our President? Is it wrong to pray for evil to befall him?

Edom did not love her neighbor, her brother, Israel. Do we love our neighbors? Do we smile at the people who pass by the church, say "hello" to them, perhaps even invite them to worship? Or do we run to our cars and hope that they won’t say anything or come near us? Do we desire to invite the single mother of five on welfare to worship? Of would we prefer financial audits of everyone in Irvington, so we would know how to focus our "evangelism"? Do we desire the church to be full of worshipers? Or do we only desire the "right kind" of people? Do we rejoice when drug dealers are killed and politicians go to jail? Or do we mourn for them and call all of us to a higher standard?

We ought to be about the Truth, especially the Truth Truth of Jesus Christ and Salvation in Him Alone. We ought to be about loving our neighbor, doing whatever we can to make our neighbor's lives better. And we ought to show mercy, lending a hand, reaching out, not being "above others," but showing the Truth and the Mercy of Jesus Who loves us and called us to be His people.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the example of Edom, that we could see the way we ought not be towards our neighbors, much less our brothers and sisters. We ask that you would help us to see ways in which we can love our neighbors here in Irvington. Let us be known as a people who are welcoming in the Truth and merciful in Jesus’ Name. Keep us humble before You. And give us wisdom as we serve in this church and accomplish Your purposes. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Monday Puritan

I am someone who has great difficulty with taking time off, relaxing, etc. That is not a good thing. For all of us who have difficulty with the blessing and the command of rest. Here's a Puritan on fun:

"How are we to use recreations?....four special rules:
"Rule 1. We are to make choice of recreations that are of least offense and best report.
"Rule 2. Our recreations must be profitable to ourselves and others, and they must also tend to the glory of God.
"Rule 3. The end of our recreation must be to refresh our bodies and minds.
"Rule 4. Recreation must be moderate and sparing, even as the use of meat and drink and rest."

-- William Perkins

"Wealth Lost; No Mercy" Sermon: Obadiah 5-9

"Wealth Lost; No Mercy"
[Obadiah 5-9]
March 4, 2007 Second Reformed Church

Where do you put your trust? What is the one thing or person that you would hold onto to the end? If it is anything or anyone but Jesus Christ our God, you have no hope.

The prophet Obadiah was prophesying around 586 BC, shortly after Israel was taken into captivity by Babylon with the help of her neighbor, Edom. Now, remember that Israel and Edom were brother nations: Israel were the descendants of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, and Edom were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s older brother, whom Jacob had tricked into giving up his birthright and blessing. And there's the rub.

We saw last week that the generations of jealousy and anger of Edom against Israel for this deceit between their fathers, had caused Edom, which was located in the mountain country to the east of Israel, to become prideful and arrogant, because of their superior location in times of war. They boasted of who they were and how they could survive an onslaught, even as God told them that all of the nations around them were now turning on them and planned to destroy them. And God, Himself, promised to bring them low. Still, they laughed and asserted their invincibility.

In this morning's text, we learn that the Edomites were very wealthy, and they had put their faith in their wealth. They believed that their location would save them, and if it didn't, then their money -- their wealth -- would save them. They believed they could buy their way out of anything. After all, everyone has their price, right? Don't you? And Edom had the cash.

But they didn't consider the fact that the Almighty God didn't need their money. If the Almighty God was waging war against them, if He was bringing them low, their money would be of no use. It would not save them.

YHWH said, "If thieves came to you, if plunderers by night -- how you have been destroyed -- would they not steal only what they wanted? If grape-gatherers came to you, would they not leave gleanings? How Esau has been pillaged, his treasures searched out!"

God told them that if their hope and security and faith was in their wealth, they could easily be destroyed. If their money was stolen in the night, if their crops were harvested and stolen by bandits, it would not merely be a sorrowful thing, it would be the destruction of Edom. And God tells them that they will be robbed, they will be pillaged, their treasures will be sought out and found and taken away from them -- and then what? What will be left of them?

Would you and I survive the loss of our stuff -- of money, our possessions? Or would we be crippled -- might we even die -- because our things are gone? We have had two fires in this church in the past two or three years. Thank God they were put out quickly and only minor damage was done. But what if they had not been put out? What if we had lost our church building? Would that be then end? Would we lose all hope? Would we give up and go home, or would we hold fast to our God and rebuild in His Name and for His Glory?

Edom lost their stuff, and they no longer exist.

"All your allies have deceived you, they have driven you to the border; your confederates have prevailed against you; those who ate your bread have set a trap for you -- there is no understanding of it."

Do you have friends, trusted colleagues? Do you have people in your life that you trust implicitly? Are their people in your life who you believe could never betray you -- people with whom you would trust your life and family and possessions? Do you share meals with them? Do some even meet you at the Lord's Table, confessing the same faith, receiving the same elements?

Judas betrayed Jesus. Brutus betrayed Caesar. Edom's allies betrayed Edom. Every human being fails to live up to what is expected of him, because all human beings are sinners. And then there are those who have pretended to be our friends, pretended to be our colleagues, pretended to be our fellow Christians, risking the terrors of not discerning the Body rightly in the Lord's Supper, to earn our trust that they might betray us later.

If our hope and faith is only in our allies, we shall be disappointed, and we may find ourselves the fool and destroyed. Edom's allies turned on her and stole her possessions, and ran her out of the land. And Edom was shocked, dumbfounded -- "How could this happen? You're our friends -- we're allies?"

Edom lacked godly wisdom. Edom had placed her trust and faith and hope in her things and those she believed to be her friends. And then they were gone -- their things and their land. They hadn't had the wisdom to put God first, to trust in God first, to seek out His Wisdom and His Treasure.

"On that day, says the Lord, I will destroy the wise out of Edom, and understanding out of Mount Esau."

On that day, God promised to show them that their wisdom had been nothing but foolishness, and they hadn't understood a thing. They had built on things that don't last -- and we can be sure that the truth of everything and everyone will come to light on our final day. Where have you put your faith? Where is your hope and trust located?

"Your warriors shall be shattered, O Teman, so that everyone from Mount Esau will be cut off."

And here, the translators of our text have shoved part of verse nine into verse ten, where it doesn't belong -- verse nine literally reads: "Your mighty men shall be dismayed, O Teman, your men will be cut off of Mount Esau by being slaughtered [mi-qetel]" (my translation).

YHWH God is not just going to chase the Edomites off of the mountain, God is going to make sure they never return to the mountain, because each and every one of them will be slaughtered in the ensuing war.

So much for their wealth and what it could do for them.

King Solomon, perhaps the wealthiest man who has ever lived, had this to say about wealth and what it is good for: "There is a previous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a previous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover all the days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.

"Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also whom God has given wealth and possession and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil -- this is the gift of God. For he will not remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

"This is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him the power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a previous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good -- do not all go to the one place?" (Ecclesiastes 5:13-6:6).

What is Solomon telling us?

First, he is telling us, that we are all the same: were are born with nothing and we take nothing with us when we die.

Second, he is telling us that if God has blessed us in this life, we should enjoy those blessings, not try to hoard them away. Now, he's not saying that we shouldn't be wise with our money and things and other blessing -- he's saying --

Third, that we shouldn't hoard everything away for the future, because we may die before that day comes, and then all the blessings that God gave to us will be given to others -- blessings that we should have enjoyed.

Now, keep those things in mind and hear what Jesus said: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart is also.

"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:19-24).

Our lives, our hope, our faith, is not to be found in our wealth, our money, our blessings -- those things will pass from us as we leave this earth. They can be stolen; they can be lost. And if they have become our god, they will always be too small. Do we understand?

How much money do we need to be comfortable -- stable -- in this church? If we had five hundred thousand in the bank? Seven hundred and fifty thousand? One million?

Jesus gives us the reason to trust in Him and to enjoy the blessings that we receive: it's only the treasures that we lay up in heaven that will last. It's only belief in Him, Salvation in Jesus Alone, that will endure -- everything else will be lost, burned up, like hay.

Yes, we should be wise. Yes, we should live within our means. But we ought also to trust that the God Who didn't spare His Own Son will give us everything we need with Him to carry out the good works He has planned for us. If our God is the Almighty God, Obadiah's God, YHWH, then He has and will shower down blessings upon us, and we ought to enjoy them, and we ought also to be hard at work in storing up treasures in heaven. We ought to be about knowing God better through His Word, desiring the Word and the Sacraments and the fellowship of fellow believers -- all the more. That's what will last.

Our stuff? Let's enjoy it. Let's be wise with it. But let's also remember, God can take it away, and it can be taken away when our friends and allies turn on us.

Let our hope, our faith, our future, be in Him Who will never leave us or forsake us.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the blessings that You have given us, as individuals and as the Church. We thank You that You allow us to enjoy the blessings that You have given us, and we ask that You would help us to know how to wisely enjoy them. Keep us from making Your blessings to us a god. Forgive us for neglecting the joy You have for us and hoarding away Your blessings to us, as if we could take them with us beyond the veil. Revive Your Church; raise us up in joy, in trust, and in hope. And may it be to the Glory of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Now Serving Wine

The Consistory has approved serving wine, as well as grape juice, during communion. This will be announced, and there will be labels to avoid confusion for those who want to make sure they receive one or the other. Come, hear the Word of God, received the Lord's Supper, and the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Friday, March 02, 2007

March Sermons

D. V., I shall preach the following this month:

3/4/07 Communion/Lent 2 Obadiah 5-9 "Wealth Lost; No Mercy"
3/11/07 Lent 3 Obadiah 10-14 "Brother's Misfortune"
3/18/07 Lent 4 Obadiah 15-18 "On Your Head"
3/25/07 Lent 5 Obadiah 19-21 "The Lord Reigns"

Come and worship with us at 10:30 AM.

What to Do with the Homosexuals?

Dear Members and Friends of Second Reformed Church, and especially my anonymous letter writer,

This past week I received an article with a short note attached to it. It was sent anonymously, which is fine, but, should the sender ever wish to talk, I am willing to talk, and look at the Scriptures with you.

The article concerned the Episcopal Church's debate over granting membership and ordination to practicing homosexuals. The priest about whom the article was largely garnered, who was not a homosexual himself, argued that the practice of homosexuality is just one sin, and as Christians, we have greater and more pressing issues to deal with, especially since our sins are forgiven in Christ. So, he was in favor of granting membership and ordination to practicing homosexuals by virtue of the fact that all Christians are sinners, and to deny practicing homosexuals membership and ordination because they sin, would be reason to deny all Christians membership and ordination.

The note asked me, as the minister of Second Reformed Church, to be compassionate, loving, and progressive by adopting the same stance.

I cannot.

I agree with the priest and my anonymous friend, that all Christians are sinners and continue in sin until they reside in glory. However, the issue here is not whether or not we allow sinners to become members and be ordained in the church, the issue here is, do we allow unrepentant, happily persisting, sinners to become members of the church and ordained to office.

Now, before we raise all the popular issues, let me answer them, so we can answer the question of my anonymous friend:

Is homosexuality genetic? I don't know.

Does it matter? No.

Why not? Just as we are born sinners, with the guilt and disposition of the will only to sin, which we didn't choose, but were born with, and are still guilty of through our representative inheritance, so, if the practice of homosexuality is a sin, whether it is genetic or not is a moot point.

Is the practice of homosexuality a sin? Let's leave out the Old Testament for those who get into side arguments about that. Instead, here are two quotes from the New Testament:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

"Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted" (I Timothy 1:8-11).

The practice of homosexuality is a sin, just like all the other forbidden items in these lists are sins.

So, what shall we do?

Shall we invite practicing homosexuals into our churches? Yes!

Shall we sit with them and talk with them and treat them like they are human beings? Yes!

Shall we touch them and pray with them? Yes!

Shall we allow them in our Bible studies and worship services? Yes!

Shall we tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Salvation in Him Alone? Yes!

Shall we call them to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Alone for their Salvation? Yes!

And if they repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Alone for their Salvation, then, shall we make them members of the church and even ordain them? Yes!

Because each and every one of us is a sinner. Each and every one of us has committed sexual sins, if not of body, then surely of mind. And no unrepentant sinner, not one who happily persists in their sin, ought to be considered for church membership or ordination. Because someone who continues happily in unrepentant sin is not yet a Christian.

And if you are a persistent gossip, and you love to hear about others and dig up dirt about them and spread it around and you see nothing wrong with it, you ought not to be allowed to become a member of the church or to be ordained. It is the same for every sin -- whatever sins plague us, and we all have our weaknesses.

Can a man who struggles with lusting after women, who has received Jesus Alone for his Salvation, and repents of and struggles with his lust, be allowed to become a member of the church or be ordained? Yes.

Can someone who struggles with homosexual lust, who has received Jesus Alone for his Salvation, and repents of and struggles with his lust, be allowed to become a member of the church or be ordained? Yes.

If someone is unrepentantly, happily persisting in his sin, he is not a Christian, and ought not be made a member or ordained -- whatever his pet sin is.

But anyone who has repented and received Jesus Alone for Salvation and fights not to sin may become a member, and such who are called by God to office may be ordained.

At Second Reformed Church, all sinners are welcome, whether believers or not. I am a sinner, I fight against my pet sins and continue to repent of them when I give in to them, but I am not unrepentantly, happily pursuing them. All are welcome to Second Reformed Church, but only those who have repented and believed in Jesus Christ Alone for their salvation will be allowed to become members, and only such who have been called by God will be ordained to office.

Is that compassionate and loving? That we invite all people to Second Reformed Church, that we welcome all people to Second Reformed Church, that we call all sinners to repentance and belief in Jesus Christ Alone for Salvation and the life-long fight against sin, that we don't fool people into believing that you can continue in unrepentant sin and escape eternal Hell? I believe so.

Is it progressive? Perhaps not, but I have often said, I have trouble trusting anyone who hasn't been dead for four hundred years.

Dear reader, member, friend, and anonymous one, you are welcome at Second Reformed Church, and I call you to repent of your sin and believe in Jesus Christ Alone for Salvation.

This is the call I have been given:

"But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time -- he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen" (I Timothy 6:11-16).

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is the judge of the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, enduring suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (II Timothy 4:1-5).

Know that I am a sinner, just like you. I have to fight against my sin, just like you. And I have to repent of my sin, just like you.

I pray I'll see you in worship,

In the Name of the Only Savior,

Rev. Peter Butler, Jr., pastor
Second Reformed Church

"Monday" Puritan

"Now believing is nothing else but the accepting of Christ for thy Lord and Saviour as He is offered to thee in the gospel; and this accepting is principally, if not only, the act of thy will; so that if thou art sincerely and cordially willing to have Christ upon His own terms, upon gospel terms, that is, to save thee and rule thee, to redeem thee and to reign over thee, then thou art a believer." -- Thomas Brooks

"The Lofty Fall" Sermon: Obadiah 1-4

"The Lofty Fall"
[Obadiah 1-4]
February 25, 2007 Second Reformed Church

"The vision of Obadiah."

If the Lord is willing, during the Sundays in Lent, we will be looking at the book of Obadiah. Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament, and most of us probably don't know anything more about it.

I hope you have noticed that when God is named, I usually mention the name that is used for God. In our pew Bible, though they don't do that, they give us signals to look for. For example, if the word "LORD" is all in capital letters, that signifies that the Name in Hebrew is "YHWH." Whereas, if the word "Lord" only has the "L" capitalized, it is signifying the Name "Adonai." Please notice in verse one, the first use of "Lord" only has the "L" capitalized; that is an error. The Name there, as in the rest of Obadiah is "YHWH" -- "LORD" should all be in capitals.

And some are thinking, "Who cares?" And the "who cares" is this: there are reasons for the Names that are used for God. "YHWH" is that most personal, most holy Name that God gave to Moses. "Adonai" is a much more generic word. The vision of Obadiah comes from YHWH, the Holy God, the Most Perfect Being, He Who Was and Is and Is to Come, the God of Being.

And Obadiah delivered the word of YHWH Elohim to the people of Edom, telling them that They have heard -- remember we have just looked at the doctrine of the Trinity -- God said that They have heard that all the nations of the world have joined together to make war against Edom. And, of course, God didn't "just hear" that the nations were going to war against Edom, as we see, He incited it.

Well, who was the nation of Edom? Why would the nations attack them? Why would God want the nations to attack them?

If we turn back to Genesis 25:23, we read that Isaac and his wife Rebecca conceived twins, "And [YHWH] said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the young.'" We remember that the two children, the two nations were Esau and Jacob. Esau was the first-born, a strong red-headed hunter, whom Isaac loved. The younger son, Jacob, was a quiet man, who stayed home and helped his mother in the kitchen. And we remember, in Israel, that the first-born, Esau, would receive the blessing of his father and the greater inheritance at his father’s death; he would be the head of the household.

One day, Esau came home from the hunt hungry. He burst into the kitchen where Jacob was making some red lentil stew. And Esau demanded that Jacob give him the stew to eat, and Jacob, trained well by his mother, said he would give Esau the stew, if Esau gave him his birthright. Esau agreed, and from that day forth, the descendants of Esau were called "Edom," meaning "red," after his hair and the stew.

Jacob received the birthright, and in another trick, the blessing of Isaac, and God changed Jacob's name to "Israel" and made him the father of God's people.

So the descendants of Jacob and Esau were the nations of Israel and Edom. The Israelites and the Edomites were kin. So what happened? Well, the Edomites resented the Israelites for what happened between their fathers, so, when Babylon attacked Israel in 586 B.C., the Edomites helped the Babylonians. The Edomites sold out their brothers in Israel; Edom sold out the people of God.

So now, we see in Obadiah, God has turned His Attention to Edom, and through Obadiah, He says, "Gee, Edom, We hear that all the nations of the world are turning and coming after you. You sold out Israel, and now everyone has turned against you."

But Edom wasn't worried, because Edom was located in the caves of the mountains, high up, and at a great advantage when it came to war: in order to attack Edom, invading armies would have to scale the mountains, so Edom thought herself invincible, based on her location. God thought otherwise.

"I will surely make you least among the nations; you shall be utterly despised."

If Edom thought they had gotten the short end of the stick all those years ago, now they would learn something. No longer would Edom look down from the heights on Israel and be jealous of what they had, because God was going to take away what Edom had for her sin. God was about to make them the very least of all the nations. God was going to make them despised, a word of derision among all the nations.

They were jealous of their brothers and wished them harm -- they assisted others in harming them, and God told them that He would make them least for their sin of jealousy and betrayal.

Are we satisfied as Second Reformed Church and as individuals? Are we thankful for what God has done for us and how He has preserved us? Or are we wondering why God hasn't given us as much as others? Now, we are right to look to see if our sin is keeping us from being what God has called us to be, but if we are simply lusting after others, if we are just being jealous of others -- then that may be the sin that keeps us from progressing in Christ. Who are we jealous of? Who are we jealous of as a church and as individuals? Edom's jealousy got the whole nation destroyed.

"Your proud heart has deceived you, you that live in the clefts of the rock, whose dwelling is in the heights. You say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to the ground?'"

Edom was filled with sinful pride; her response to the word of war against her was, "Come on and get us! You'll never make it up the mountain. We're in a better place defensively. You will lose. We're better than you are, and this will show it." They weren't taking the threat seriously; they weren't seriously considering that it was God Almighty Who had called for their destruction. And no one has cause to be prideful in the sight of God.

Pride is a sin that everyone can fall into, because we can always find someone, who, in our mind, is lower on "the scale" than we are. That's one reason there are so many court shows on television -- "Did you see the one where that foolish person said such and such and did such and such? Where do they get these bottom feeders?" Perhaps the greatest freak show on television is the "Jerry Springer Show." We feel good watching those shows because "we're better than they are." No matter what is going on in our lives, we can say, "did you see that one?"

And we can be prideful about our churches and denominations, "We know we're blessed by God because we're big and rich." "Well, we know we're blessed by God because we're right." "Well, we know we're blessed by God because nobody is ever offended by what is preached in our church."

Why are we the Church? What is the mission of the Church? Is it to know we are better than everyone else? Is it to keep ourselves happy?

Pride destroys. Solomon wrote, "The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate" (Proverbs 8:13). "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). "One's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor" (Proverbs 29:23).

"Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, says the Lord."

What Edom had forgotten was that they had been kept by God, and they had been kept well. God had kept His Promises to them according to the blessing their father received: "Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck" (Genesis 27:39b-40).

What was the blessing that Esau and his descendants received? "Yes, you have been tricked. Yes, you have lost the Promised Land. Yes, you will have to struggle. Yes, you will have to rely on your brother. But in time you will be a free nation." Edom was a free nation, but they were still concentrating on the foolish results of their father's sin, which they blamed on Israel! They didn't trust God; they didn't trust the Promises of God.

Do we? Do we believe that God has work for us and will sustain us and cause us to accomplish His Work? Or are we looking back at all our mistakes and sins, we which cannot change, and blaming everyone but ourselves. "If this minister had done this, if the denomination had stepped in, if the town hadn't changed..."

The prophet Isaiah came to Israel with a rebuke from God, saying, "Why, when I came, was there no man; why when I called, was there no answer? Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver?" (Isaiah 50:2a). "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear" (Isaiah 59:1).

Let us learn from Obadiah and the destruction of Edom, (which would come one hundred years later). Let us repent of our jealousy. Let us repent of our pride. Let us be about the work that God has called us to do: to go and make disciples, preaching and teaching the Word of God alone, to rightly administer the sacraments, to believe and teach and do all that God has taught in the Bible, and then let us trust Him -- let us humbly trust Him. Let us believe Him at His Word: "Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20b).

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we are a complex and sinful people. We have believed in You for salvation, yet we are still afraid of the dark; we are afraid of the future. Give us Your Wisdom and teach us to use it. Cause us to trust You in all things and humbly follow Your Word. Make us to be that city on a hill, that light on a stand, that You have called us to be. Cause us to rise up, not out of pride or jealousy, but for the sake of the Knowledge and the Glory of Jesus Christ. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

Ash Wednesday Sermon

"Even Now"
[Joel 2:1-17]
February 21, 2007 Second Reformed Church

In the days of the prophet Joel, Israel was struck with a plague of locusts. It was a plague similar to the one that God unleashed on the Egyptians in the days of Moses. Listen to what happened then:

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt, so that the locusts may come upon it and eat every plant in the land...' So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought and east wind all that day and all that night; when morning came, the east wind had brought the locusts. The locusts came upon all the land of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been seen before, nor ever shall be again. They covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was black; and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees...; nothing green was left, no tree, no plant in the field, in all the land of Egypt" (Exodus 10:12-15).

In response to Israel's sin, a similar plague had come upon them in the days of Joel. Locusts, like large grasshoppers, with heads that look like horses, descended on the land like a mighty army. They swarmed over the land, and the swarms were so thick that the sun was blotted out. And they settled down and ate the crops and the other plants of the land.

It was a day of alarm -- the locusts were destroying their food and their livelihood. It was a day of darkness, both as they blotted out the sun and the sky and covered the ground, and as the people were filled with dread and sorrow and depression over the state of the land. It was a day of desolation -- everything they had and needed to live was being destroyed. It was a day of fear, not knowing how bad the devastation would be, not knowing how they would be able to survive the onslaught. It was a day when the whole cosmos seemed to be in upheaval.

And Joel was called by God to prophesy: he told the people that the dread day that they were experiencing, under the onslaught of the locusts, was symbolic -- it is just like the Day of the Lord. On that Day, too, not only Israel, but the whole world would be in alarm. The sky would turn black -- the sun and the moon would seemingly be blotted out -- the darkness would be so thick. The people would be left in fear, deserted, not knowing what was going to happen next. On the Day of the Lord, the very cosmos would be in upheaval -- heaven and earth would react to the Day of the Lord violently, terrifyingly.

John also used the image of locusts for the first woe to befall the earth: "And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit; he opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given authority like the authority of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to damage the grass or the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torture them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torture was like the torture of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.

"In appearance the locusts were like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lion's teeth; they had scales like iron breast plates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails like scorpions, with stingers, and in their tails is their power to harm many people for five months. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon" (Revelation 9:1-11).

And in the midst of this horrific scene, the Lord says, "Yet even now," even on February 21st, 2007, "return [to the Lord] with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing."

God says that if we will return to Him, if we truly, humbly, with our whole heart -- not just a show of torn clothes and drama -- if we really repent, if we really believe in Jesus, the Savior Who has now come -- even now, we will be forgiven. David wrote, "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17).

And someone might say, "But this text says nothing about Jesus, nothing about the Savior."

Let us remember, the Name for God that Joel uses is YHWH and we have seen in the past few weeks that YHWH and Jesus are the Same One God. So, to repent, to turn, to YHWH, the LORD, is the same as repenting and turning to Jesus. Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father but through me" (John 14:6b). We can cry, we can pour ashes over ourselves, we can mouth the words, we can tear our clothes, but without belief in Jesus, we are left to the torment of the locusts, we are left in darkness, distress, and despair, and, eventually, we are thrown into the Lake of Fire with the angel from the bottomless pit, and all those who do not believe.

There are symbolic gestures of repentance and worthy practices of repentance. Fasting is good, the imposition of ashes, which we shall practice this evening, is good, even ripping our clothing at times can be good.

Yet, it is the heart-work that is necessary: it is the tearing of our hearts and truly repenting to our God, through Jesus Christ, that is received and credited as righteousness.

Joel says that they should blow the trumpet -- we rang the bell. Announce to the people a time of repentance, a time to come back to our LORD. And the people will gather; the Holy Spirit will bring the people of God together. And the people of God are all the people of God, no matter what their age is. If a child is too young to understand and truly repent, he or she can observe and learn and come to believe and repent for himself or herself. Joel says to bring the aged in to the sanctuary, bring the children, even bring the infants at the breast. The sanctuary is for all the people of God to come to repent and worship; we shall gather now in preparation for the Marriage of the Lamb.

And once the people have gathered, once they have understood the purpose of their gathering, of the God Whom they have offended, of the terrible place they now find themselves, then, the elect will come to repentance, and the minister will raise up prayers to our God, and he will weep for his sins and the sins of the people, and he will lead them in prayer, and they will be forgiven, and the people who are satisfied with the darkness will see that the Bride of Christ has believed and returned to God, and the people in darkness will be struck with the Truth, that our God is here, and He is the One God, the Only Salvation, the God of Grace and Mercy.

Let us pray:
"Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'" In Jesus' Name, Amen.