Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When Worlds Collide

D.V., we will resume our study this Thursday evening at 7PM.  Please read chapter two and join us!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sunday Bible Study

Due to our pulpit exchange on Sunday, we will not have Sunday morning Bible study.  Please join on on October 2, 2011 at 9 AM (D.V.) as we continue.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday Evening Study

In order to allow people to go to the lecture on baptism at North Reformed Church, our evening study tonight is cancelled.  We will resume, D.V., on September 29 at 7 PM.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"God Will Restore Joy" Sermon: Zephaniah 3:9-20

“God Will Restore Joy”

[Zephaniah 3:9-20]

September 18, 2011 Second Reformed Church

            Is there hope for the sinner?  Is there any way to become right with God?  Or is the judgment we have seen over the past several weeks all there is?  Hopefully, we have also seen that God will restore His people in His time – we see that very explicitly this morning.

            Judah had been involved in idolatry – adultery against her Husband, God.  They were arguing that they could worship God and idols – other gods – and be faithful to the God Who brought them up out of the land of Egypt.  And God, through the prophet Zephaniah, exposed their sin and told them that judgment was coming.

            God’s Judgment was coming against His own people – His bride – Judah for the sin of adultery.  God’s Judgment was coming against the nations around Judah for attaching her and taking her into captivity.  And God’s Judgment was coming against Jerusalem and her leaders for abusing the people and corrupting the Holy.

            We concluded last week with God’s Promise that He would tear Jerusalem and her people apart like a wild animal and then bring down His Fire upon them.  If we had any doubt about whether this was for purification or for destruction, we need only to read verse nine, as we begin this morning’s text:

            “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.  From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering.”

            God promises, as He tears them apart and pours down His Fire upon them – they would suffer in battle and in exile in Babylon – God would cleanse their mouths; God would purify their mouths.  This is symbolic of their whole person.

            James tells us, “How great a fire is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.  The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:5b-6, ESV).

            And Jesus said, “Hear and understand:  it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:10b-11, ESV).

            God knows the only way any of us will have clean mouths – clean speech – the only way we can be right with Him is if He cleanses us and makes us right with Him.  So God tells them that He will change their speech, so they will be able to call upon the Lord and serve Him.

            This is the same thing we see throughout the Scripture:  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.  Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.  The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is not fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10b-18, ESV).

            What is the solution?  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!” (Romans 7:25a, ESV).  “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1, ESV).

            “Yes, Judah and Jerusalem; I, your God, am sending you into captivity – punishing you for your sins.  But I, for My Own Reasons, have already decided to change you and bring you back to the land that I gave you.”  The work of salvation for Judah and Jerusalem and for the entire remnant that returned and still returns to God is God’s Work Alone.

            The remnant will return from Babylon and all over the earth; the remnant will turn and repent and believe savingly in the salvation that God Himself provides.

“On that day you shall not be put to shame  because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.”

What might Judah have expected – even if the great hope of return came to pass?  They might have been met with jeers and taunts from the nations:  “Where was your God when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed?  I bet you’re not so high and mighty now!  I bet you won’t say ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One God’ anymore!”

But God promised them that the mouths of the world will be shut; the remnant will not return in shame.  We know from the Scripture – and it is confirmed in secular history – that the remnant were not merely let go by Cyrus, the Emperor of Persia, but Cyrus sent them back with his blessing and with papers to protect them and to secure for them supplies to rebuild.  So God is known in their return as the Victor over the greatest kingdoms known up till that day.

God told them that He would remove the prideful and the arrogant from their midst; the remnant who returns will be humble and perfected by God.  But is that what really happened?  We read in Haggai and elsewhere that the remnant did return with all the support of Cyrus and Darius, but they quickly turned away from God and neglected the rebuilding of the Temple and the worship of God.

In reality, the remnant that returned did not become wholly humble and never prideful.  So, how are we to understand this?  We understand it on two levels – in fact, all of this text on two levels:  first, the Scripture must have something to do with the remnant who actually returned, so we understand this text to mean that they were comparatively pure – compared to the people who were taken into captivity out of Judah, they were pure – they were not perfect and holy, but they had received the Lord’s Discipline and were different people.  Second, we understand this to be referring to when Jesus returns for the remnant which is His Church, whom He will perfect and make holy, removing all possibility for sin from them in the New Erath and the New Jerusalem.

And this is what they will look like – comparatively when they first return, and ultimately, when Jesus returns:

“But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly.  They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue.  For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”

            God will be the Shepherd to His remnant.  They shall return to the land, and they will turn to the Lord and not to themselves or other nations or idols.  They will be just and truth-tellers; their tongues will be under control to the glory of God.  And God will lead them like sheep, providing for them in body, soul, spirit, and mind, and they will have no fear.

“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel!  Rejoice and exult with all your heart,

 O daughter of Jerusalem!  The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies.  The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.”

            Judgment will be over, and God will restore joy to His people.  They will rejoice with all of their heart in their God for the Lord will take all of His Judgments away.  What does that mean?  That means the debt will be paid.  There will no longer be a judgment against them.

            They will find their true joy in being in the presence of God.  Their enemies will be gone, and since, God the King is in their midst, all fear will be gone as well.  Does this remind you of another passage?

John writes, “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, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.’ He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV).

These things occurred comparatively with the remnant of Judah as they returned from the Medo-Persian Empire, but they will occur ultimately and completely for the entire remnant of God’s people when Jesus returns to restore the Creation.

“On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:  ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.  The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.’”

This is really quite astounding – God addresses Zion – which another name for Jerusalem, and He tells her not to become idle.  The Kingdom is not just sitting around on a cloud.  Keep your hands strong – able to work.  And understand this:

God is your Savior.  God told them as He had said in the past that He would provide a savior for all those who would believe in Him, yet here it is clear that the Savior will be – and we know He is – God, Himself.  Jesus could not receive the Wrath of God and live if He were not God Himself.  God is the Savior.  You cannot earn your salvation.  You bring nothing to the table but sin.  But God has chosen, Himself, to provide salvation for His remnant – for His Own Reasons.

But listen to this:  they were told and we are told – God rejoices over us with gladness.  God is filled with joy and gladness that He has saved the remnant for Himself.  If you believe in Jesus Alone for salvation – God rejoices and is glad that He saved you.

Not only that, but God says He will quiet His remnant with His Love.  God cherishes His people like a bride, and He promises to do what is necessary to calm us down and give us comfort and hope in Him by way of His Love for us.

And not only that, but God says He will exult over His people with loud singing.  God sings loudly because He is so in love and so joy filled over His people and His salvation of them.

Of course God doesn’t have a physical body – except in the Person of the Son, but, can you picture a bridegroom – after the “I dos” of the wedding – shouting and singing and holding his bride, as though to never let her go.  Zephaniah says that is what God will do for the remnant.

“I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.”

What is God saying?  Here God is saying that their salvation – the becoming holy of the remnant is a process.  There is confusion today in the Church about the different between justification and sanctification.  Justification is the one time legal declaration of “you are accounted as sinless – free to go.”  That is what Jesus secured when He cried out “It is finished,” on the cross.  Sanctification is a process by which God the Holy Spirit works in us to progressively make us holy – and which will only be accomplished in fact – totally – when Jesus returns.

“Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.”

We read this promise again in the words of John, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And 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 from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death’” (Revelation 21:5-8, ESV).

God removed oppressors – enemies – from Judah in a way He has never done or promised to any other nation; Israel is the only nation God ever called as His people.  But God promises the entire remnant of Earth that God will – upon His Return to earth – take care of our enemies and His – and cast them into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels – where they will be tormented for all of eternity.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise

 and renown in all the earth.”

            According to God’s Law, people with certain physical defects or diseases, or people who come from other countries, and women, were not allowed in the main sanctuary.  God says that He will remove all impediments to coming into His Presence for worship.

“At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord.

God tells Judah and Jerusalem that when the world sees what God is going to do to them – the slaughter that will occur – and then their being taken off into captivity – the world will think that God has cast them away and that they were – effectively – dead.  But God tells Judah and Jerusalem – the whole remnant of Israel – that God has a surprise for the nations.  God is going to bring the remnant back to the land and God is going to restore them – God is going to bring His dead bride back to life – so much so that the nations will praise them because they know that the God of Israel is the Only Real God.

What may we conclude?

First, we can conclude that God always keeps His Promises.  God keeps the Covenant.  God is always faithful.  No matter how often we turn away and do what is wrong in God’s Sight – if we have been saved by faith alone in Jesus Alone – we are God’s people forever and always, and, as Paul writes, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Second, we can conclude that God is passionately in love with all those who believe savingly in the Savior, Jesus Alone.  If you are a Christian – God is passionately, head-over-heels in love with you.  He is your husband, and He is working all things together so you will become perfect and holy, in the Image of His Son – our Brother – Jesus.

And third, we can conclude that in God’s Time, He will remove all evil and sin from the world and restore joy in His Kingdom – in the New Earth and the New Jerusalem – where we will be perfected and holy and glorified by our God and Savior, Jesus.

Let us pray:
            Almighty God and Savior, it is hard for us to receive Your Fatherly Discipline when we sin, but we thank You with great joy that You chose to take our sin upon Yourself and suffer for us, that we might be Your beloved, whom You will restore and glorify in the Kingdom which is to come.  Help us to live with that promise before us, that the day is soon coming when You will restore our fortunes to us, bringing us in and gathering us together, to make us renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, for You are our Treasure and the Hope of our Joy.  And it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"God Will Judge the Leaders" Sermon: Zephaniah 3:1-8

“God Will Judge the Leaders”

[Zephaniah 3:1-8]

September 11, 2011 Second Reformed Church

            Josiah, a good king – a king who followed after the ways to the Lord, had risen to the throne in Judah.  He had discovered the Law of God and had it read to the people.  He repented of his sin and removed the idols from the Temple and from the high places.  But the people did not repent.  They believed that they could worship God and idols and still be faithful to God.

            God sent Zephaniah the prophet to speak to the people, and he told them that God was angry with the sins of Judah, and God was going to bring judgment on Judah because she was His beloved bride – His child who needed to receive His discipline to be led in the way of righteousness.

            Zephaniah told the people that God would not only judge Judah, but He would judge the nations who had attacked Judah and tried to destroy her.  And God gave them an additional hope in telling them that the day would come when a remnant from Judah would return to the land, and a remnant from every nation would turn and repent and believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

            In this morning’s Scripture, Zephaniah prophecies specifically against the city of Jerusalem.  The people had thought, “Yes, God will take His Judgment against the nation, but God will never touch His Holy City – God will never touch His Temple; Jerusalem and her inhabitants are safe.”

            But God told them they had put their faith in the city and the Temple and not in Him:  Jerusalem – and her leaders in particular – had rebelled against God – they had tried to overthrow Him.  They had defiled the holy places.  They had oppressed God’s people in leading them astray rather than being the good shepherds that God had appointed them to be.   She refused to listen to the voice of God.  She refused His Fatherly discipline.  And truth begins with teachableness – she despised the truth; she despised correction.  She did not trust in the Lord; she did not draw near to the Lord.

            The leaders in Jerusalem thought they were above God’s discipline because of who they were and where they were, but God told them they had committed the unforgivable sin; they had committed the one sin that cannot be forgiven.  Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31, ESV).

            The sin against the Holy Spirit – the unforgivable sin – is refusing God’s Salvation – today, we understand this is through Jesus Alone.  So, the person who refuses to receive Christ and dies cannot be forgiven.  The leaders of Jerusalem were telling God, “Yes, Lord, there are many people in Judah who need Your discipline, but not in the Holy City.  It’s a wonderful thing that You will provide salvation for all those who will believe – thankfully, we don’t need it.  But we do know people who do need help – people who are not so involved with Your Temple and all things religious.”

            The leaders thought themselves as faithful – the true spiritual leaders of Jerusalem, but God told them through Zephaniah that God would judge the leaders.  The leaders God appoints are to be good shepherds to His people:  they are to lead the people in such a way that they do not have want.  They are to lead them besides still waters and make a place for them to lie down in green pastures.  They are to restore the souls of the people and to lead them in the paths of righteousness for the sake of the Lord.

            But that is not what they did.  God describes them like this:

            The officials were roaring lions.  They went about seeking someone to devour.  The officials weren’t interested in justice; they were interested in being able to punish people.

            The judges were “evening wolves that leave nothing until the morning.”  Wolves hunt during the day.  If they have gone until evening without eating, they become ravenous.  The people who came into their courts had no hope, but were devoured immediately and completely.

            The prophets were “fickle, treacherous men.”  Rather than proclaim the Word of the Lord, the prophets “adjusted” their message as it profited them to do so.  They would speak whatever would fill their coin purses and get them to be asked back to speak again.

            The priests profaned the holy.  Rather than showing the people that God is Holy through worship, the priests ate food that only belonged to God, they took bribes, and they engaged with temple prostitutes.  They flaunted their profaning of the holy.  They broke the Law of God with violence and abandon.

            Still, they said, “This is the Temple of the Lord – the Holy City, God would never let anything happen to it or us.”  Where would God go if He didn’t have the Temple to inhabit?  Where would God go if this church building no longer existed?   If we were not here to worship God, God might shrivel up and die, right?

            “But the Lord is with us!”  They objected.

            God told them to consider His Character – in verse five:  Yes, God was within her, and He is Righteous.  The author of Hebrews wrote, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31, ESV).  God was there – God is here – and that’s a wonderful thing if we are right with God.  But God is Righteous – God is Holy – God will not tolerate the slightest evil to remain in His Presence.

            “God is Righteous and does no injustice; God is the same day by day by day.  Leaders of Jerusalem – cheats, liars, unjust, rebellious, and uncaring – where is your shame?  Do you really think you can stand before the Face of God?” 

            God said, “Look what I have done for you:  I have cut off the nations – I have given you this land, made you My people.  I have killed your enemies so no one is left to stand against you.  I have given you their streets and their cities.  I have made you a mighty nation – My people – the people of the One Holy God.”

            “I thought, surely, if I made you My people and gave you the land of Canaan and defeated all of your enemies for you, you would be My people and follow Me in love and humility – that you would accept My Fatherly Discipline.  If you had, I wouldn’t be in the midst of cutting you off and bringing judgment upon you.  But the more I showed you My Love, the more you turned away and became more and more corrupt.”

            We know God is not really astonished – God is Sovereign over all and everything occurs according to His Plan.  Yet, God speaks in our text to the leaders in astonishment to shock them into seeing what they were doing.  God speaks to us in astonishment to shock us into seeing what we are doing:  “You say, ‘everybody sins,’ like it’s no big deal.  But I came to earth in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, allowing you to put Me to death, so I could pay the debt for Your sin.  Does that really sound like ‘no big deal’?”

            God gives us leaders.  Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (Romans 13:1-5, ESV).

            What does God say?  All positions of authority and all persons who occupy positions of authority have been put there by God.  That means that President Bush was given his position and authority by God.  It also means that President Obama was given his position and authority by God.  God’s Will is never trumped; whomever God would have in authority is in authority – for our good or our punishment.

            What does Paul say the two reasons are for government – for leaders?  We are given two reasons in the Word of God for leaders and government:  to protect the people and to punish evil.  The leaders in Jerusalem were doing evil and abusing the people – they had forsaken their call to leadership.  They thought they were autonomous and didn’t need God; they had forgotten that God gave them their positions, and they were amenable to God for their authority.

            God is the Sovereign Ruler and Lord over all earthly authorities.  Everyone who has authority has it because God created the authority and appointed the person to serve as leader for a time.  I was called to be the pastor of this church.  God created the pastorate of this church, and God placed me in leadership in this church – and I do well to remember that.

Each of us has some form of authority – whether it be in the church or in our jobs or in our family or in our relationships.  In whatever form of authority God has given us, we ought to acknowledge Him and submit to His Will, serving as He has shown us to serve through the example of Jesus – as Paul wrote, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look out not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:1-8, ESV).

As those who have authority by the will of God, we are to serve as leaders in the way that Jesus served.  (And we are given that mind of service by Christ Himself, so we don’t have to find it or work up to it.)  We are to serve in love and humility, looking out for others as well as ourselves, and serving sacrificially for the sake of others.

Consider for a moment that you are God.  You have a disobedient people who will eternally perish if you don’t intercede somehow.  You can’t let them off the hook – justice has to be served.  So, what you do is you come to earth in the form and person of a human being, and then you are killed by your people – as you take the punishment for their sin.  That is how we ought to serve each other as leaders.

Now, there is a fine line between humble service and allowing oneself to be used and abused.  God does not call us to seek out abuse; God does not call us to be doormats.  But God does call us to go a very far distance to show others what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  That is the point after all – we do not humbly serve as leaders to get others to look up to us – as if such a scenario were possible.  We serve others humbly that they may know Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

            God works through earthly authorities to bless, discipline, and punish.  Just as God rules over all, God has given us leaders to rule over us.  God has entrusted them with the roles of seeking after our good, disciplining us for our good, and punishing evil so it will not arise again.

            We ought to obey our leaders, so long as they don’t require us to sin – Paul mentions paying taxes as one thing Christians must do.  You may think taxation is legitimate or you may think it is not, but if it is the law, and we are not required to sin in paying our taxes, we must pay our taxes as a witness to the fact that we believe that God has put all authorities in power.

We ought also be in prayer for our leaders and encourage them whenever possible – that they would be humble and submit to God in all things, seeking to lead in love and justice, rooting out evil, that all people might know the God who gave them their authority.

            God is intolerant of people abusing the authority He has given them.

We ought to encourage our leaders to repent when they have sinned, not damning them as thought we have never sinned – “vengeance is the Lord’s” – but calling them to do what is pleasing in the sight of the Lord.  In this country we have the opportunity to write to our elected officials to encourage and rebuke, to praise and persuade our leaders and to vote people in or out of office as they fulfill the call on them to serve.

And some of you might be thinking, “Well, it does no good.  They won’t listen to us.  And as one person goes out and another comes in, it’s always the same.”  Whether that’s true or not is not the point:  leaders are responsible to God – ultimately – as are we.  And our role in government – in leadership – is to help the leaders God has given us to do what is right and pleasing in God’s Sight.  Our leaders’ sin does not excuse our sin.

            God is always Just, and as He is Pleased and Wills, He is Merciful and Gracious. As we have already see in Zephaniah, God promises judgment, and then He promises that a remnant will return – not just from Judah, but from all of the nations.

            Yet, it would take exile to bring the remnant back to God.  God spoke through Zephaniah and told the leaders of Jerusalem, “Wait for me…for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.  For my decision is to gather the nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out on them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all of the earth will be consumed.”

            God said, “I will descend on you like you have descended upon the people I gave you to care for; I will descend on you like a wild animal and tear you apart.  I will gather you with the nations and pour out fire upon you.”

            James wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1, ESV).  We will be judged based on the authority we have been given.

            And Peter wrote, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt away as they burn!  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Peter 3:10-13, ESV).

Judgment will come, but it is not a judgment of annihilation – the fires that burn do not destroy.  The judgment – for the remnant – is a judgment to purification – it is the fire that burns to refine gold.  Because God has chosen to be merciful and gracious.

On the Day of Judgment, God will not annihilate everything that is, but will purify and refine – the remnant – the elect – all those who believed savingly in Jesus Alone – perfected and made holy, into the Image of Jesus, God’s Son.

With that in mind, let us submit to our leaders in humility, recognizing them as God’s servants, and as we serve as leaders, let us serve in a way that brings glory to our God.

Let us pray:
            Almighty God, Ruler of All, we bow before You, ashamed that we have not been good leaders and we have not respected our leaders and humbly submitted to them.  Teach us to lead and to follow well – that we might reflect the Image of Your Son, Jesus, that His Gospel would be known through our leadership, and all nations would recognize You as the Sovereign King.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, September 09, 2011

"Destroy This Temple" Sermon: John 2:18-22

“Destroy This Temple”

[John 2:18-22]

September 8, 2011 Old First Presbyterian Church

The last time I was with you, we looked at Jesus’ driving the people selling animals and changing money out of the Temple in Jerusalem.  We saw that the reason Jesus drove them out of the Temple was they were cheating the people – selling sick animals and giving the wrong amount of money in exchange.  And we saw Jesus cast them out because He was upholding the holy worship of God – which they were corrupting – and because Jesus is Holy.

The Pharisees responded to Jesus’ action by asking, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”  They wanted to know where Jesus got the authority to judge the animal sellers and the money changers, as well as the authority to cast them out of the Temple.  They wanted Jesus to do a miracle that would prove His Authority.

And Jesus wouldn’t do it – not the way they wanted – not the way they expected.  Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

And the Pharisees began to giggle:  “Are you nuts, Jesus?  This Temple is still not finished – the workmen have been building it for forty-six years – so far – longer than You have been alive!  Are You seriously suggesting that You could destroy this Temple and then rebuild it all in three days?  That’s insane, Jesus!”

And we wonder:  did the Pharisees walk away, shaking their heads, and go to clean up the Temple?  Did they challenge Jesus again, only to have Him walk away?  We’re not told.

“Give us a sign to justify what You have done!”

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.”

The Pharisees didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about.  Notice, though – the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about either.  John tells us that it wasn’t until after the Resurrection that they understood what Jesus had said.  They had no more understanding of what Jesus was saying than the Pharisees.

John tells us it is only upon reflection after the Resurrection that they understood that what Jesus was saying to them.   After the Resurrection they remembered what He said – are you remembering what Jesus said?  “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).

God the Holy Spirit helped them to remember what they heard Jesus say; He helped them to understand what His words meant.  The Holy Spirit does the same for us today – if we have heard or read His Word; the Holy Spirit will not help us remember and understand what we have never heard or read.  Do you read your Bible?

Why didn’t Jesus tell them clearly what He was going to do?  Why did He wait for the Holy Spirit to make what He said clear to them?  Why didn’t He just say to the Pharisees:  “My Authority will be proved to you after I am put to death and I raise Myself from the dead on the third day”?

Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13, ESV).  Jesus spoke in parables – Jesus was purposefully unclear – so they would not understand – because it was not His intention that everyone should understand.  And even if He had spoken clearly, they would not have understood, because they were not meant to understand.

But we who have the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit are meant to understand, just as the disciples did after the Resurrection.

What was Jesus’ saying?

Jesus was prophesying that He was going to be put to death in His Incarnate Physical Body.  Why did Jesus have to die in His Body?  Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a, ESV).  But Jesus didn’t sin.  Right, Jesus died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe in Him.  Jesus took the place of everyone who would ever believe in Him and suffered God’s Wrath for their sin – our sin – and died in His Flesh.

Jesus was prophesying that He was going to rise from the dead on the third day.  Why did Jesus have to rise?  It proved that He is sinless, and He has accomplished salvation for all those who believe in Him Alone.  He suffered God’s Wrath for our sin, but physically rose from the dead because He is Righteous – Holy – unable to be kept in the grave.

And Jesus was prophesying that, since He is God, He would raise Himself up – Jesus would raise up His Physical Body from the dead by His Own Power.  Why did Jesus say that He would raise Himself up from the grave?  To show us that He has the authority over life and death, heaven and hell, that He is indeed God Almighty.

What is the Gospel?

Paul wrote, “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 then 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.  For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I but the grace of God that is within me.  Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (I Corinthians 15:3-11, ESV).

What is the Gospel?

Jesus died for the sins of all those who would believe, as it is written in the Scriptures.  Jesus was buried and physically rose from the dead on the third day, as it is written in the Scriptures.  (And there were more than five hundred eye-witnesses.)

That’s it.

The proof of the authority that Jesus had to do the things He did is the Gospel:  Jesus died for the sins of all those who would believe, as it is written in the Scriptures.  And, Jesus was buried and physically rose from the dead on the third day, as it is written in the Scriptures.

That tells us at least three things in the context of toady’s Scripture:

First, Jesus is God.  In order to take the place of everyone who would believe in Him under the Wrath of God and survive – “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” – Jesus had to be Divine – no mere human could have survived.  And Paul tells us, “For in [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9, ESV).  God the Son incarnated into the Person of Jesus.  So, Jesus, in His Divinity, is the same One God as the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Second, the Resurrection was not merely a spiritual victory, but a physical victory; the salvation Jesus secured is salvation of the whole person, including the physical body.  And Peter wrote about God’s promise regarding Jesus, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption” (Acts 2:27, ESV).  Jesus’ Body did not deteriorate in the least, but was raised with Him, a whole human being, glorified by the Father.

Third, that means that in the promise of salvation that Jesus makes to all those who believe in Him, that promise is not merely of a spiritual existence, but of a physical existence, as well.  Paul argued with those who said the five hundred eye-witnesses were delusional, or saw a ghost, not Jesus raised from the dead:  “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If only in this life we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:12-19, ESV).

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Jesus died for the sins of all those who would believe, as it is written in the Scriptures.

Jesus was buried and physically rose from the dead, as it is written in the Scriptures.

And our sure hope is that when Jesus returns, we who believe, will also rise in our bodies, perfected and holy, to live in His Kingdom in His Presence for all of eternity.

Let us pray:
            Almighty God, we thank You for the proof of Your Authority through the Death and Resurrection of Your Son.  Help us to hold fast to that Gospel that is found even in these words, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Give us hope, not to merely look with our eyes, but with the Sure Hope that You give us in Your Word.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Reformed Wisdom

John Calvin on Zechariah 3:8 -- It is as though God said, "I shall come as a wild beast; as lions rage, lacerate, tear, and devour, so also will I now do with you; for I have hitherto too kindly and paternally spared you. We hence see that these things are not to be referred to the hope and patience of the godly; but that God on the contrary does here denounce final destruction on the wicked, as though he had said — I bid you adieu; begone, and mind your own concerns; for I will no longer contend with you; but I shall shortly come, and ye shall find me very different from what I have been to you hitherto."

Thursday. September 8

Join me tomorrow at 12 PM at Old First Presbyterian Church in Newark for worship.  D.V., I will be preaching on John 2:18-22, "Destroy This Temple."

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Thoughts on Praying in Jesus' Name

            “Furnish thyself with arguments from the promises to enforce thy prayers, and make them prevalent with God. The promises are the ground of faith, and faith, when strengthened, will make thee fervent, and such fervency ever speeds and returns with victory out of the field of prayer.... The mightier any is in the Word, the more mighty he will be in prayer.”  -- William Gurnall

Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14, ESV).

What did Jesus mean?

Certainly, He did not mean that we could ask for anything whatsoever, and if we say “in Jesus’ Name,” He will do or give what we ask.  We know it can’t mean that because we have not received everything we have ever prayed for.  We also know it is not true, because we sometimes ask for things that are sin or for things which are just not good for us, and God would not honor a prayer for such things.

William Gurnall gets at the heart of the matter in the quote above:  if we pray for what Jesus wants, for what Jesus wills, for what is God-honoring and God-glorifying, God will grant than prayer.  Gurnall suggests that we pray the promises of God back to God, in Jesus’ Name.  If we pray for what God has promised, God will act on that prayer.

Of course, we often don’t know what God’s Will is:  Is it God’s Will to heal me?  Is it God’s Will for me to marry so and so, or for so and so to rise to an office in government?  That is why God cautions us to pray, “If the Lord wills” (cf. James 4:13).

But if God has promised something, God will bring it to pass, and we can pray with certainly, with sure hope, that those prayers will be answered.

For example, God promises, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).  So, as we and others profess and confess faith in Jesus and His Gospel, let us pray that God will save, in Jesus’ Name – and He will!

Likewise, Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).  Since we, Christians, as well as the Apostles and disciples, receive the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, we can pray that God the Holy Spirit will help us to remember and understand the Scripture that we have read and read – and He will!  (Of course, He will not help us remember and understand what we have never read – we must read the Bible.)

One caution:  we must understand who the promise is made to.  If God does not make the promise to all Christians or all people, we cannot ask God to fulfill it in Jesus’ Name, having the sure hope that He will do so.  That is why Dave Wilkerson’s book, The Prayer of Jabez, is in error.  Yes, God answer a prayer that Jabez prayed, but there is nothing in the Bible that says if anyone else prays the same prayer, God will answer it in the same way.

So, let us read our Bibles, learn the promises God has made to His people, and pray those to Him, knowing that He will most certainly do those things that He has promised and willed – in Jesus’ Name.

Monday, September 05, 2011

"God Will Judge the Nations" Sermon: Zephaniah 2:1-15

“God Will Judge the Nations”

[Zephaniah 2:1-15]

 September 4, 2011 (August 28, 2011) Second Reformed Church

Two weeks ago we began our look at the book of Zephaniah.  Zephaniah was a contemporary of Jeremiah, preaching in Judah during the reign of the good king, Josiah. 

Two weeks ago we looked at the first chapter of Zephaniah, and we saw that Zephaniah preached judgment on the people of Judah because they thought they could worship idols and God; they thought they were being faithful to God even though they were worshipping idols alongside of God.  God told them through Zephaniah that they were fatally mistaken in their belief:  they were not faithful to God; they were committing adultery against Him.

We also saw that, just as God’s Message of Judgment was first against the nation of Judah – God’s people – so judgment begins with the Church.  Although the sins of the Church are paid for by Jesus – God the Savior, all those who believe in God and His Savior are called to repent of our sins – to turn way from them and turn back to God our Savior in sorrow and hope-filled trust.  We also saw that God is the Loving Father who leads all of His people into holiness through discipline.

This morning’s Scripture opens with a word of grace and mercy from God to the people of Judah – the adulterous bride – the Church – the prodigal child, whom the Loving Father must discipline:

“Gather together; yes, gather, O shameless nation, before the decree takes effect – before the day passes away like chaff – before there comes upon you the burning anger of the Lord, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the Lord.  Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord.”

Once God has shown Judah that she was not being faithful – that she was, in fact, being unfaithful – God told her – His people – the Church – to turn before God’s Wrath came down upon them.  God tells them to turn back to Him before the time ran out.

God does not sweep their sin under the rug – He calls them a “shameless nation.”  In the book of Hosea, God told Hosea to marry a prostitute to portray the relationship that God and Israel had.  God told Hosea to name his son, “Lo-ammi,” which means, “You are not my people,” as a witness against Israel.  God sent Hosea to the northern kingdom of Israel and told them to turn back before it was too late.  God used Hosea’s very family as an object lesson against Israel.  Yet, Israel did not turn.

Years before, God sent Isaiah to Judah:  “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken:  ‘Children I have reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.  The ox knows his owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know me, my people do not understand.’

“Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly!  They have forsaken the Lord, the have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.

“Why will you still be struck down?  Why will you continue to rebel?  The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.  From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.

“Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.  And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:2-9, ESV).

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:  though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 1:18-20, ESV).

So God came to Judah through the prophet Zephaniah using similar imagery, telling Judah to repent – to turn back – to return to her Husband, God.  “Come back, I know you have committed adultery with other gods, but come back to Me.  Come back before the time is past and My Anger comes down upon you like a fire on the chaff.”

God was saying to Judah and He says to each one with ears to hear, “Have I any pleasure in the death of wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:13, ESV).  God is not a sadist, waiting and hoping that people will sin and reject Him so He can inflict judgment.  No, Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, ESV).

The good news for all those who hear God’s call is that there is the Hope of Salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.  God is speaking to His people amidst the wicked.  God is speaking to His elect in the Church.  Seek the Lord.  Seek to do His Commands.  Seek righteousness.  Seek humility.

Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.  Be sober minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of sufferings are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And when you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever.  Amen” (I Peter 5:6-11, ESV).

God told Israel and then Judah, and all people throughout time and history.  Turn.  Repent.  Come back to Me.  Believe in the Savior I have sent, and you will be saved from My Wrath.  And to those who have believed and yet sin, God also tells us to turn back, to come with humility, and to pursue righteousness.

And we may wonder:  there are plenty of evil people in the world, why doesn’t God send His Wrath against them?  Why must we talk about wrath against those who claim to be Christians and punishment of the sins of Christians?  And the answer is that God will bring His Wrath down in His Time.  We may never see some universally regarded evil person suffer, but the day will come when all people will have to appear before Jesus and pay the debt for their sins, unless they have already believed on Him.  Either Jesus pays the debt for our sins, or we suffer the Wrath of God for all of eternity.  There are no other options.

Zephaniah told the faithful remnant that they will return to the land, and, ultimately, they will be saved and brought into the Kingdom.  The day will come when God will judge the nations.  God has not turned a blind eye to the sins of those opposing His Will and His People.  But all things happen in God’s Time.  Still to reassure the remnant – to give a consolation to the elect – who would survive the Babylonian conquest and the exile which was to come, God told Judah about the judgment of the nations:

  “For Gaza shall be deserted, and Ashkelon shall become a desolation; Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon, and Ekron shall be uprooted.  Woe to you inhabitants of the seacoast, you nation of the Cherethites!  The word of the Lord is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines; and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left.  And you, O seacoast, shall be pastures, with meadows for shepherds and folds for flocks.  The seacoast shall become the possession of the remnant of the house of Judah, on which they shall graze, and in the houses of Ashkelon they shall lie down in the evening.  For the Lord their God will be mindful of them and restore their fortunes. “

We will remember from reading through the history of the Old Testament that the Philistines were a seafaring people who regularly attacked Israel from the very beginning.  They lived in an area on the seacoast which we now call the Gaza strip.  And God told Israel that by the time the remnant returns from Babylon, God will have destroyed the Philistines – God will have driven them out of the land.  So the coastland will become part of the nation of Judah and the very homes that the Philistines lived in would become homes for the nation of Judah.

“I have heard the taunts of Moab and the revilings of the Ammonites, how they taunted my people and made boasts against their territory.  Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Moab shall become like Sodom, and the Ammonites like Gomorrah, a land possessed by nettles and pits, and a waste forever.  The remnant of my people shall plunder them, and the survivors of my nations shall possess them.  This shall be their lot in return for their pride, because they taunted and boasted against the people of the Lord of hosts.  The Lord will be awesome against them; for he will famish all the gods of the earth, and to him they shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations.”

Moab was a nation that existed in the southwest corner of Judah – today, this is the nation of Jordan; they were the descents of Lot, the nephew of Abraham.   Yet, they were not the chosen people, and because they were estranged from God, they took out their anger and frustration and their worship of other gods by attacking Israel and Judah over and over.

Since Moab was prideful, God promised Judah that God would rain fire on them, as He did on Sodom and Gomorrah, and kill the Moabites.   God would leave treasure for Judah to plunder when they returned, and Moab would also be given to Judah when the remnant returned.

When the time came and God showed his vengeance against the gods of the nations and all those who followed them, God would terrify the people and some in every nation would turn and bow down and worship the True God.  See, there is even hope for the nations – for anyone who turns and believes that Jesus Alone is God the Savior.  There would even be a believing remnant from Moab, God told them.

  “You also, O Cushites, shall be slain by the sword.”

One short sentence of condemnation against the nation of Cush – modern day Ethiopia – just south of Egypt.  Cush also attacked Israel and Judah again and again, and God promised them death for raising their swords against God’s people; God would raise His Sword against them.

One wonders if this prophecy cut Zephaniah to the heart in a way that the others did not.  Remember, there is reason to believe that Zephaniah was from Cush – that he was a prophet from Africa.

“And he will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, and he will make Nineveh desolation, a dry waste like the desert.  Herds shall lie down in her midst, all kinds of beasts; even the owl and the hedgehog shall lodge in her capitals; a voice shall hoot in the window; devastation shall be on the threshold; for her cedar work will be laid bare.  This is the exultant city that lived securely that said in her heart, ‘I am, there is no one else.’  What a desolation she has become, a lair for wild beasts!  Everyone who passes her hisses and shakes his head.”

And it won’t just be the smaller nations that suffer God’s Judgment, but the very nation of Assyria, which God sent against Israel to punish her, God promised that He would destroy the nation of the Assyrians and lay their kingdom to waste.

You see, a single act can be both morally good and morally evil:  God chose to punish Israel for her sins by sending the nation of Assyria against her, and God allowed the Assyrians to destroy Israel and take her people into captivity.  God was good in doing that.  He punished the sin of Israel, which was His right and necessary, since He is Holy. 

However, the Assyrians did evil in attacking Israel.  Even though God chose to use them, God did not force them to sin, God simply allowed them to do the evil they wanted to do:  God did not stop the Assyrians from attacking, and God did not protect Israel from falling into captivity.  God promised that the day would come when He would wipe out the Assyrians for the sin of attacking God’s people.  And those in morning Bible study will remember that God did destroy the Assyrians and their empire – which covered – by today’s names – Egypt, Jordan, Judah, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Eastern Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.  The capital city of Nineveh was in what we now call Iraq.

The good news was that God did allow the Babylonians to conquer the Assyrians before Judah was captured.  The bad news was that God intended Judah to be taken into captivity by the Babylonians, which they were.  But the good news was that God promised that a remnant would return, and all those who believe in the Savior would be saved.

What do we see?

First, we see that God is merciful and gracious.  We never have to sin, God always make a way of escape so we do not have to sin.  And God was never obligated to forgive sin.  But God chose, for His Own Reasons, to make the Way through Jesus the Savior that we may be right with God, despite the fact that we have sinned against the Holy God.

Second, we see that there will be a remnant from the nations of Israel and Judah, and from all the nations.  God has called and elected people who will believe savingly in Him from every nation in the world.  And all those God has chosen to be His will come to faith and repentance.  God came to earth in the Person of Jesus to live and die and rise and ascend to secure salvation for each one who will believe.

Third, God will judge the nations.  All the enemies of God will find their final judgment on the last day.  Jesus said, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ … And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:41, 46, ESV).

How ought we to respond?

Let us turn quickly from our sin and follow after God in humility and righteousness, being faithful to our God and bridegroom.

Let us trust that God knows exactly what is happening among the nations, and God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and to His Glory (cf. Romans 8:28).

And let us pray for the nations and the peoples of the nations that they would hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that they would believe and repent and follow after the Only Savior.

Let us pray:
            Almighty God, Sovereign over the nations, we thank You that we can trust You for our salvation and our future.  Help us to follow You in humility and righteousness.  As You promised, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV).   And may You bring to pass what You have promised – that a remnant from every nation shall believe.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.