Tuesday, December 27, 2011
"Do not go where it is all fine music and grand talk and beautiful architecture; these things will neither fill anybody's stomach, nor feed his soul. Go where the gospel is preached, the gospel feeds your soul, and go often." -- Charles Spurgeon, as quoted in "Why Church Matters" (78).
Let me get this off my chest right away: if publishers are going to re-release a book under a new name, they should be very upfront about it. I was some ways along in Why the Church Matters: Discovering Your Place in the Family of God by Joshua Harris when I noticed some microscopic print on the bottom of the front cover which reads: “Previously released as Stop Dating the Church.” If you bought the book under the original title and then bought this “new” book based on your wanting to read something new from the author, I would say you would be rightly annoyed. I certainly have been when I have purchased two titles of the same book in the past. So, publishers, bigger print about such thing, please!
The book itself is very good. (Though I am suspicious that this book was “cut out” of his book, Dug Down Deep” – at least, I could easily see this as additional material in that book.) I would recommend it for most Christians, as I observe a growing number of people attending worship and even participating in some aspect of the church, but not being willing to join the church. After all, if someone is faithfully attending, giving, and supporting the church, why should it matter if someone becomes a member?
In the first chapter, Harris explains that if one does not join, one is missing the fullness of the church relationship. He does not deny that all Christians are part of the Church (universal), but there is an aspect of commitment that is missing if one does not join the local church.
In the second, he looks at how Jesus looks at the church – particularly the bridal imagery, (though he looks at body and temple imagery as well). This is where the original title of the book comes from, paralleling dating with attending and marriage with membership.
In the third, he shows that membership proclaims one as being part of a new society. He explains the three distinctive ordinances of the society as being baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline. Here, as I have noted before with Harris’ books, though he wants his book to be available for all denominations, by stating that baptism is only for confessing believers and that the Lord’s Supper is (merely) a memorial of what Jesus did, he has lost some of us (39).
I am not saying he cannot believe and teach that – Harris is in favor of denominations, so long as we all hold together on the “essentials.” My point is that it is misleading to say that all Christians agree with his presentation of the sacraments here.
In the fourth chapter, Harris looks at seven points of passionate commitment. He parallels his friend’s membership in a Jeep club and does a good job at showing the difference between attending and membership and how it involves a change in commitment even if one is already attending and participating.
In the fifth chapter, he looks at the “ten things that matter most” when choosing a church. He rightly looks at the preaching of the Word, doctrine, pastoral faithfulness, evangelism, striving for holiness, discipline, etc., but says nothing about the administration of the sacraments. The right administration of the sacraments is also an essential. Even just for the fact that this culture is looking for visible representations, and God has given us two approved visible representations – only – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are the Gospel in physical representation today.
The sixth chapter is about preparing for Sunday, and in the seventh, he encourages the reader to say “yes” to membership.
The book concludes with a useful study guide.
Belief in church membership is very low today, and Harris’ book is a welcome addition to the argument for church membership. My one caveat would be to use this book in a class setting with denominational material about the sacraments, so they are covered as well.
[This review appears on Amazon.com and on my blog. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]
Monday, December 26, 2011
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is going to eat, eating, or coming from eating – so contents Robert J. Karris in his fascinating book, Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel. In the Gospel of Luke, the reader sees how important food was in the earthly ministry of Jesus – and if food and eating meals was of great significance for Jesus, ought it not be for His followers?
Karris’ book is amazingly comprehensive for such a short book (109 pages).
Karris begins by exploring what the people of Jesus’ time would actually have been eating and how they would have been eating and with whom – wonderful background information for preaching or researching.
Then, he looks more at the theme of food in Luke by examining the passages and Greek words used.
The third chapter looks at Jesus as glutton and drunkard, friend of sinners. The fourth, Jesus as guest, host, and teacher. The fifth, Jesus’ petitioning of food, and food imagery in the parables.
In the sixth chapter, Karris gives and overview of the theme of food in Matthew, Mark, and John – quoting Scripture at length.
In the seventh, he explores the relationship between women and food in Luke.
In the eighth, he addresses how eating serious, dangerous, and joyful – in context.
An appendix correlation the books pages to the Gospel readings of Lectionary Cycle C. This makes is very easy to find explanation of the food passages in his book when they arrive in the preaching cycle.
Each chapter has a good-sized selection of works for further reading, and the book has its own selected bibliography.
The one assertion that I had trouble with was when he stated that when Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of Me,” He was not merely referring to the Passover or the Lord’s Supper, but to the fellowship of all meals. I don’t see how one can interpret the text that far.
Even so, this is an amazing and helpful book for any interested in the topic of food in Luke, Jesus’ interaction with food, and preaching and researching the texts that concern food in Luke (especially). He has done a great deal of work to put together his presentation and to provide further resources. I highly recommend this book to all preachers and to all interested in food in Christian context.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
My mother sent me to the store to pick up some Christmas napkins for our family gathering this afternoon, but I was unable to find any. I went to the help desk at the store, and the woman told me they, indeed, had Christmas napkins. And she showed me plain white dinner napkins. I told her I was looking for something with holiday symbolism on it, and she told me, "This napkin is reminiscence of snow."
December 25, 2011 Second Reformed Church
We begin looking at the book of Hebrews today. The book of Hebrews was written in the mid to late 60’s A.D., and, although most people throughout history have attributed the book to Paul, it is anonymous – we are not sure who actually wrote it. What is clear is the theme of this book: “Jesus is greater.”
In the 60’s, false teachers were arguing that angels were greater than Jesus, Moses and the Law were greater than Jesus, and the priesthood and the sacrificial system were greater than Jesus. The author of Hebrews addresses each one and shows that Jesus is greater than all of them, and He must be if He is to be the Savior of all those who believe in Him. The book ends with encouragement and practical application for Christians facing these false teachers and persecution.
The author of Hebrews begins by telling his readers that God, in His Mercy, has spoken:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,”
God has spoken to His people in times past, and now in these last days.
God spoke to His people from the beginning. God has always made Himself and His purpose clear to His people. From the beginning, God chose to enter into a relationship with His people.
Do we understand that God did not have to enter into a relationship with humans? God could have just created us and left us to suffer whatever ends befall us. But God chose, for His Own Reasons and for His Glory, to enter into a relationship with humanity, and especially His people.
The author of Hebrews notes that these are the last days, and God still speaks to humanity in these last days. The last days began, we understand, with Jesus, and they extend until the end of this age – until Jesus returns – which will occur at the time God has ordained, which could be any time.
In the days of old, God spoke to his people through the prophets – people that He chose to speak through and have speak His Word. Peter reminds us: “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21, ESV).
And God spoke to the prophets and through the prophets at different times and in various ways as they delivered God’s Word to His people. At times, God spoke directly through the prophet. At other times, God spoke through animals, such as Balaam’s donkey. God spoke through the whirl-wind, as He spoke to Job. God spoke through dreams, and through writings. God spoke out of the heavens, as He did at the Baptism of Jesus. And God spoke through inspiring the writers to put down what we call the Old Testament – the Law and the Prophets. This is the Word of God.
Now, God has spoken to us, finally, by His Son, Jesus. God, Himself, in the Person of the Son – the Incarnate God – has come with the Word of God which is the Good News. John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2, ESV). Jesus is God’s Word, and Jesus is God. And Jesus is the Good News of God, as the angels said, “‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:10b-14, ESV).
Notice, then, if the Law and the Prophets are the Word of God, and the Gospel of Good News is the Word of God, then, since God is the Unchangeable God, God’s Word is the same. There is no contradiction between the Word of God in the Old Testament and the Word of God in the New Testament. The message of the Old Testament is the same as the Message of the New Testament. The whole Bible is a coherent whole of the One Word of God.
What then is the message of the whole Bible? Humans sinned against God and are, thus, deserving of eternal punishment and can do nothing to change that fact. But God, in mercy, and for His Own Reasons, came to earth in the Person of Jesus, to live, die for the sins of all those who would believe, physically rise, and ascend back to His Throne. That is God’s Word from beginning to end.
In the beginning, God spoke at many different times, in many different ways, through many different prophets, and they all delivered exactly the same message. But now, Jesus has come, and He is the Final Word of God, the same Word of God that was spoken through all of the prophets, now spoken most clearly through His Life as we have it received in the New Testament.
Jesus has come once and finally to proclaim the Word of God. The Word of God as we have it now in our Bibles is a “closed canon” – nothing more can be added to it, because we have everything that God intended to tell us and reveal to us. Now we are to read it and know it and know Him and follow Him in obedience and faith and love.
We are not left on our own to interpret the Word of God: God – the Father and the Son – have sent God the Holy Spirit to live in each person who believes in Jesus for salvation. John records: “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.
“’These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 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 14:23-26, ESV).
All those who believe in Jesus savingly – all those who believe the Good News – that Jesus is God come to earth, Who lived under His Law, died for the sins of all those who would believe, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to His Throne – every one of these receives in the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, and He helps us to remember what we have read and heard of God’s Word, and He helps us to understand what we have read and heard of God’s Word.
“whom he appointed the heir of all things, you have put all things under his feet,”
Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God, inherits everything. What does that mean?
It means that everything is in subjection to Jesus. Everything, including Jesus’ enemies, serve Jesus and exist for His Glory. “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;” (Psalm 8:6, ESV). “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory“ (II Corinthian 1:10, ESV).
“Everything” includes us – humanity. We exist for the Pleasure and the Glory of God. Our purpose is found in glorifying God – in showing others the greatness of God – in showing people Who God is. “Therefore God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, ESV).
It means that everything good comes from Him, as well as from His Father. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).
It also means that through Him, we can be saved as co-heirs, because Jesus is completely God and completely human. “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29, ESV).
What is the point of Christmas? The point of Christmas is that God came down as a real human being and lived under His Own Law – sinlessly – so He could give all those who believe in Him as Savior, His Righteousness. As Paul wrote, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:45-49, ESV).
In other words, God created humans and breathed life into them. God became a human being that first Christmas and breathes spiritual life into all those who believe in Him. The first man, God made from the earth; Jesus is God come down to the earth as a real human being. In Adam, humans receive sin and death; in Jesus, all those who believe receive everlasting life, because He fulfilled all of the Law – He never sinned. He was born a human, lived under the Law, and kept it perfectly, as no human ever had before or since. And Jesus gives that perfect record of Law-keeping to all those believe at the same time He takes our sin from us and the punishment for it.
Jesus came to earth, and by God coming to earth as a human, He became able to save us from our sins and to restore what was lost in us – and throughout Creation – by the sin of our first parents. As Paul wrote, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:19-25, ESV).
Humans sinned, not the Creation. Still, the Creation was and is punished for human sin. When Jesus returns, all things will be made right, and both humans and the Creation will be restored – in our physical bodies – and we will live in the New Jerusalem on the New Earth – the Restored Earth.
“through whom also he created the world.”
Jesus, God the Son, created everything that is. There is only One God, so if God created everything that is, the Father created everything that is, and the Son created everything that is, and the Holy Spirit created everything that is. Paul wrote, “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:15-20, ESV).
If Jesus created everything that is, then Jesus is God, the Eternal One, the Creator of the heavens and the Earth.
The book of Hebrews opens by explaining that God spoke in times past in many ways through the prophets, and finally, God spoke through Jesus, His Son – speaking the same Word, the same Good News, and the same Truth about humanity and God, through all of His recorded Word.
Let us understand that the Bible is all of God’s Word; it is what God wants us to know and believe.
Let us read our Bibles and see that the Old and New Testaments teach exactly the same thing because they are both the same Word of God from the same God.
Let us believe and submit to the Word of God – both to what God has said in the Bible itself and as and through Jesus, Himself.
We also see that Jesus, God the Son, came to earth to live a perfect life under God’s Law so He would be able to take our place, receive God’s Wrath – the punishment – for our sin, and also give us His Righteousness – crediting us with His perfect keeping of the Law. In this, we are made right with God and able to inherit the Kingdom.
Although this world is fallen and there are people who rebel against God – and even those of us who believe still sin against God – one day, Jesus will return and all things will be restored and all of the Creation – including humanity – will submit to God, showing that all authority is His, all good comes from Him, and all glory and thanks are due Him.
And we see that Jesus is the Creator, Heir, and Owner of all things.
So, let us believe in Him now, understanding that Jesus had to be born a human if He was to save us.
Let us turn to Him in prayer, believing that He is able and trustworthy: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14, ESV). If we ask anything according to Jesus’ Will, He will do it.
And let us have hope, believing that this Jesus is our God and Brother, through whom we shall inherit the Earth and eternal life.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You chose to come to earth in the Person of Jesus on that first Christmas two thousand years ago. We thank You that You came to glorify Yourself through saving us. We thank You for Your Word and for the history of Jesus through Whose Life and Death and Resurrection and Ascension we are saved. As we leave this place, help us to remember Who You are – the Almighty God, Creator, and Savior. Cause us to turn to You and all of Your Word for Wisdom, Truth, and Salvation. For You have spoken, and it is so. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
December 24, 2011 Second Reformed Church
Before God created anything, He knew that to create humanity would mean that we would need a Savior. God would have to come down and become one of us – to live under His Own Law, and then be crucified, dead, physically rise, and ascend back to His Throne. That is the Good News – the Savior has come – and there are historical facts about the Savior that we must believe in order to be saved.
When the time was right, God arranged the familiar events of the Christmas story that they would occur as He had prophesied through the prophets over four thousand years of human history.
The Romans, led by Cesar Augustus, controlled the known world, including Israel. And a time came when Rome desired a census to be taken – this was when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was to return to their ancestral home to be counted by family.
There was a man by the name of Joseph, who lived in Nazareth, whose ancestral father was David – the king. David had been from Bethlehem, so that was where Joseph needed to be counted. But Joseph was engaged, and engagement was a legal document, so his fiancé would need to come along. Her name was Mary, and she was pregnant – almost ready to deliver. But the law was the law.
They went to Bethlehem, and shortly after they arrived, it was time for Mary to give birth. But the town was overcrowded with everyone returning for the census – there was no room left to be rented anywhere in Bethlehem. But they found someone who allowed them to stay in the place where he kept and fed his animals. When the Baby was born, they wrapped Him in rags that were about the place, and they lay Him in the feeding trough – the manger – so He could sleep. And so Mary and Joseph could relax, as well.
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
We tend to have a rather glorified vision of what it was to be a shepherd. We picture them as movie stars who take the sheep out to eat and then go home to their McMansions. Such was not the case: shepherds were generally seen as the bottom of the heap.
“Jeremias describes a shepherd's life: ‘The dryness of the ground made it necessary for the flocks of sheep and cattle to move about during the rainless summer and to stay for months at a time in isolated areas, far from the owner's home. Hence, herding sheep was an independent and responsible job; indeed, in view of the threat of wild beasts and robbers, it could even be dangerous. Sometimes the owner himself (Luke 15:6; John 10:12) or his sons did the job. But usually it was done by hired shepherds, who only too often did not justify the confidence reposed in them (John 10:12-13).’”
He continues citing “… Rabbinic sources to the effect that ‘most of the time they were dishonest and thieving; they led their herds onto other people's land and pilfered the produce of the land.’ Because they were often months at a time without supervision, they were often accused of stealing some of the increase of the flock. Consequently, the pious were warned not to buy wool, milk, or kids from shepherds on the assumption that it was stolen property. Shepherds were not allowed to fulfill a judicial office or be admitted in court as witnesses. A midrash on Psalm 23:2 reads, ‘There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd.’" [Quoted at http://www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/2_8-20.htm].
Shepherds. Dirty. Untrustworthy.
Mary and Joseph were back with the cattle and their Baby, and the shepherds were out in the fields – in the dark – protecting the flock.
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.”
All of a sudden the darkness was broken, and there, immediately in front of them, radiating with the Glory of God, lighting up the field, was an angel, and the shepherds were severely terrified.
“Why has an angel come into our midst? Especially with such power? Nobody comes to the shepherds, unless it is to accuse us of something or to tell us to bring the animals in. Angels come with a Word from God. Has he come to destroy us? Is the message that God is going to destroy us?”
“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news’”
“Don’t be afraid, I have a message, but it is not a message to cause you terror – it is a message of good news. This is a message from God. God sent me to tell you, shepherds, particularly. God has good news for the invisible people of society, for the lowest caste of society, for the economically oppressed, for the poor, for a people who are under political oppression. God has good news for you.”
It is “good news of great joy.”
“The news I have for you is not small – it is great. It is enormous. It is beyond anything you could ever imagine. And it is of great joy. This is not news that will pass away. It will not affect you for merely a short time – but forever. In fact, all of history will be affected forever because of the news I have for you.”
It is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
“And the news I have for you and the joy it will bring it not just for the Jews – it’s for the Gentiles, as well. It is for men and women, slave and free, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, Arab, Israeli, African, European, Islander, Asian – all people of every kind.”
Can we imagine the shepherds, crouched down; covering themselves for fear and the brightness of the Glory of God which came with the angel, testifying that the message was, indeed, from God?
Good news? They were used to bad news. They were used to status quo. And good news that brought great joy? Something that would rock their world? Had Rome been conquered? Had they somehow risen in the eyes of society? What more might they hope for?
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The Good News is the Savior has come. The Savior God repeatedly promised for four thousand years has arrived. Salvation has come. Everything has changed. The Lord God, Himself, is the Savior. God came down to earth to save His people.
Have you received the Good News which is of great joy?
I distinguish between “happiness” and “joy.” If you were to ask me if I was happy, more often than not, I would say, “no.” I consider happiness a short-lived, fleeting, recurring period of life – like you feel after eating a meal that you really enjoy, but before you step on the scale. We are not always happy, and there are times when we do well not to be happy – times when we are right to be sad or mad. I would not say I am “happy,” when I am sad.
But I would say I am “joyful.” I always have joy. Joy, I consider to be, an eternal state of solid – secure – hopefulness. Joy is the belief that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him (cf. Romans 8:28). Joy is knowing that the glory that is coming is greater than anything I may endure now (cf. Romans 8:18). Joy is the belief deep down in the very depths of who I am that Jesus is God the Savior – of all those who believe in Him.
When the angel came with good news of great joy, he was not guaranteeing the shepherds a better life than the one they had – in this sense – they remained shepherds. They returned to the same life, the same status, the same job they had after the received the Good News (cf. Luke 2:20). The promise of good news of great joy had to do with hope – with their eternal future – with the way they lived now in the light of what would surely be.
The same is true today: receiving the Good News may change nothing about our job or our debt and so forth. But theh Good News gives us hope – hope about our eternal future – hope about the way we live now in the light of what will surely be.
The shepherds returned to the same job, under the same conditions, working for the same people – but everything had changed. They had received the Good News – the announcement of the Good News had been made to them – shepherds. They had run to the place where God the Savior had been born, and they believed – they were filled with hope and eternal joy, knowing that they were saved through this Little Baby. They had faith and hope that He would save them and bring them into His Glory one day.
Have you received the Good News? Do you believe that Jesus is God the Only Savior, Who came to earth, lived, died, physically rose, and ascended back to His Throne? If you do, do you have joy? Do you know in this Good News – in the very depths of your being – that Jesus has made you right with God – a son or daughter of God – and you will be received into God’s Glory – with the shepherds – and all those who ever believe?
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”
The angels returned to heaven, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw the Good News, which the Lord has made known to them. They ran found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger. And when they saw Him, they told Mary and Joseph that angels had come in the Glory of God and told them that Jesus is the Christ – God the Savior – Who will save anyone and everyone who believes in Him – even shepherds. And everyone who heard what the shepherds said wondered what it might mean. “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
Let us pray:Almighty God, we rejoice and have everlasting hope, because You came to earth in the Person of Jesus with the Good News that we can be right with You through Him. Help us to think about what You did. Help us to open our mouths and let others know. Help us to be amazed at Your coming to earth – the Incarnation. And that You have come to us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
We have graciously been invited to one of our women's homes for dinner on Thursday (you know who you are and where we're going -- no need to have all of cyber space show up!). Therefore, we will not have study tomorrow evening. We also will not meet next week -- between Christmas and New Year's. Please watch for more information. We will continue (D.V.) in the New Year, but we may be changing the day of the week to accommodate those who continue to show interest. (Not that you all shouldn't show interest in God and all things about Him, but, truth be told, most of you really don't care to know any more about God...but I ramble.)
Monday, December 19, 2011
December 18, 2011 (November 27, 2011) Second Reformed Church
Isaiah’s ministry stretched from 740 to 700 B. C. – about twenty years on either side of the conquest of Israel by the Assyrians.
Near the end of his ministry, we have the text that was read this morning – which is part of a prayer. To understand this prayer, we need to turn back to chapter 63 and a vision that God gave to Isaiah.
Chapter 63 begins with God giving Isaiah a vision of a Man walking through the lands of Edom and Bozrah into Israel. This Man’s clothes are drenched with something red, as though He had been working in the wine press, pressing out the juice of the grapes. And Isaiah recognized that the Man was God in human form – God Incarnate, and Isaiah asked Him why He was covered with something that looked like wine.
And God told Isaiah that He, indeed, had been treading the winepress, but He was not covered with grape juice, He was covered with the blood of humanity. God told Isaiah that He had looked for someone to save – someone to give help to – and all He saw was rebellion and sin, and His Anger was stirred up, so He took all of humanity and thrust them into a wine press and pressed them until their blood spattered all over His robe and filled the streets of all the earth.
We may remember that John had a similar vision, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God” (Revelation 19:11-13, ESV).
As we might imagine, Isaiah was disturbed by this vision. God had allowed the Assyrians to conquer Israel and take them into captivity, and now God was telling Isaiah that – based on the actions of humanity – all was lost, and God would solve the problem of humanity by wiping humanity out.
So Isaiah cried out to God and asked Him to remember: “Remember the steadfast love You have shown to Your people. Remember the compassion You have shown to Israel. Remember how You became Israel’s Savior. Remember how You saved Israel in days of old from her affliction. Yes, we have rebelled all along the way, just as Moses recorded it. Still You fought our enemies and You saved us and You put the Holy Spirit in our midst. Lord, in all that You have done for Israel, You have made Your Name Glorious throughout the earth.”
Understand, Isaiah did not ask God to remember because God has a bad memory. Isaiah had nothing to offer God to sway His Judgment – Isaiah was just as much a sinner as everyone else. In asking God to remember what He had done in the past, Isaiah and Israel remember what God had done in the past. They remembered that God is faithful to His Covenant – to His Promises – despite Israel’s sins – He always has been faithful.
Isaiah received this terrifying vision of world-wide slaughter – which humanity, admittedly deserves. Isaiah turned to God and said, “Now, consider, God, how you have acted in the past.” And Isaiah understood that God knew very well how God had acted in the past and God would remain faithful. God cannot sin. God cannot break His Promise. God will not break His Covenant with His people.
So, in chapter 63, verse 15, Isaiah begins to pray: Isaiah asked God to look at His “home on earth.” And Isaiah told God that God’s Zeal and Might were not being seen. Isaiah understood that the most important thing to God – God’s number one objective – is to be glorified. The primary reason God does everything that God does is to have people see God for Who He is and give Him praise.
We may remember that when Jesus was asked what sin caused a certain man to be born blind, “Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3, ESV). The primary reason God does everything that God does is to have people see God for Who He is and give Him praise. So, Isaiah tells God to make His Name glorious on the earth.
Isaiah told God that even if Abraham and Isaac didn’t recognize them, God knew each of His people. God is forever Lord and Father and Savior of His people. So, Isaiah asked God to intercede – which brings us to this morning’s text, as Isaiah continued to pray:
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!”
Isaiah asked God to come to earth – to shake the Creation as He had done in the days of old. Isaiah acknowledged that the only hope for humanity is that God comes down. And surely Isaiah's audience would remember God’s visitation in the wilderness: “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:16-20, ESV).
Isaiah knew that the only hope for humanity is that God will directly intervene and not merely sent prophets, but that He Himself would come to earth – shaking the Creation, causing earthquakes and fire – all manner of response from the Creation. Then God’s Glory would be seen. Then the people would respond.
That’s exactly what we see when God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, isn’t it? With the advent of Immanuel, no one is left on the sidelines. When God comes to earth – all Creation reacts – all Creation trembles – for one reason or another. Herod trembled in fear and hatred – and lashed out, seeking to kill the God-Man. Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds, and the magi, also trembled – they were filled with awe, praising God for coming to earth.
And when He returns again, the Scripture tells us that each person will have one of two responses: Those who hate Him will cry out, “Kill me!” And those who love Him will cry out, “Hallelujah!”
When God comes to earth, all Creation trembles.
“When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.”
God’s Visitation is from mercy – for His Own Reasons – and unexpected.
We can never say that God has to appear – He owes us nothing; we owe Him everything. And still, God chooses to bless us and bring us back and be merciful to us again and again. God came to earth in the Garden, God came to earth to meet Abraham, God came to earth after the battle of the kings, and God came to earth – most blessedly – most mercifully – in the Person of Jesus.
And He will come to earth again: “And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days” (Mark 13:20, ESV). Out of mercy, He will come – for His Own Reasons.
And it will be unexpected when He comes: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, ESV).
God’s Visitation is from mercy – for His Own Reasons – and unexpected.
“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.”
Isaiah proclaimed in his prayer that Israel is not ignorant of God and His existence, even though God is a Spirit and cannot be seen and heard as we see and hear each other. If God had never come to them in any other way, still they would know Him. As Paul wrote, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20, ESV).
Everyone knows there is a God. Atheists and agnostics don’t really not believe in God, they just hate Him. Everyone believes in God; it is obvious to everyone who has ever existed that God exists.
His Invisible Attributes are also known to all who have experience of the created order. Everyone who encounters God’s Creation not only knows that God exists, but he knows what type of Being this God is. That knowledge gives everyone the understanding that we are not right with God. The Creation, Itself, does not reveal how to be right with God, but an honest consideration will bring anyone to the conclusion that only God can make us right with God.
“Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
And so, Isaiah made confession on behalf of all the people: “God, You are right to be angry with us. We have sinned against You. We have continued unrepentantly in our sins for a long time, while You waited patiently. How can we be saved? Shall we ever be saved? Or is this vision the end? And now we are unclean. Our righteousness – how dare we call it that? – the very best we offer to You – is an unclean garment – unacceptable in Your Sight. We’re dried up, like a dead leaf, and our sin is blowing us away.”
Isaiah confessed their sin – that they have sinned, even after knowing they were in sin and being called to repentance – they continued in their sin. And God was angry – righteously angry with them. On their own, they were helpless and hopeless. They were dead leaves blowing in the wind. “How shall we be saved?”
That’s the most important question in the entire universe, isn’t it? “How shall we be saved?” It is the question on which the Reformation turned.
We are rightly concerned with the economy, with war, with disease – we rightly seek answers for them all. Israel surely had many concerns and many questions as they suffered under Assyrian rule in captivity. But all of them pale in significance when we consider that the Holy, Almighty, God of all Creation, is angry with us – and we understand there is absolutely nothing we can do to make things right – to appease Him.
“How shall we be saved?”
“There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”
To add to the horror that Israel was experiencing, we can look and understand, as the prophet did, that most people didn’t realize that they were at odds with God. Just like today. Most people thought that God was on their side and all was well. God would never let His people be destroyed! So they didn’t pray. They didn’t call out to God. They didn’t seek Him and strive after Him. In fact, they continued in their sin, and they forgot about God. It was as though God disappeared from their collective memory, when, in actuality, the people were melting in the hands of their own iniquities.
When we first commit any given sin – generally speaking, we experience a pang of guilt. We know what we have done is wrong; we feel guilty. But the more we commit a sin, the easier it becomes – the less guilt we feel. We begin to excuse what we are doing. We think it’s not so bad. And eventually, we convince ourselves it’s not a sin at all.
For example, why isn’t this church packed with people, worshipping God? Is it because people don’t know there is a God? No. Is it because they don’t know God is worthy of worship? No. Is it because they are all worshipping at other churches? No. Is it because they don’t know this church is here? No. For the past three years, I have invited an average of seventy different people a month to worship with us. We have now have taken an ad for the church which will be in the mailbox of all 27,000 residents of Irvington four times a year.
God commanded that one day in seven be set aside for the worship of God. So every person should be in worship at least once every seven days. But we make exceptions. And then we regularly miss worship. And then we decide that other things are more important, and as long as we show up once or twice a year, we will have done our due diligence. Even the first century church – in the midst of revival and reformation – sinned against the worship of God, as the author of Hebrews is found to have enjoined: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).
We know God. We know what God has commanded. We know we are in dire straits. But we escalate in our sin until we are no longer men and women, but quivering blobs of melted wax, unstable in all that we are and do.
“How shall we be saved?”
“But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.”
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.”
The only answer is found in Who God has made Himself to be for Israel – and for everyone who will believe in – God the Savior. God has made Himself to be the Father of His people; we are the children He has given birth to. God has made Himself the Potter Who has cast us to be pots He has created for His use.
Now consider that God did rend the heavens and come down; being born of the Virgin Mary, in the Person of Jesus, because the only way that God could make us right with Him was to come to earth. And the only way that God could make us right with Him was to come to earth as one of us, to live under His Own Law, and then be brutally murdered for our sins, and then physically rise from the dead to the Glory of the Father and for our salvation.
As Simeon prophesied at Jesus’ bris: “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed’” (Luke 2:34-35, ESV).
In coming down to earth, God has glorified Himself in making us right with Him by Himself: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:10-14, ESV).
Consider: how might we be saved? Through believing in our hearts and confessing with our mouths that God came to earth in the Person of the Lord Jesus and God physically raised Him from the dead.
Let us pray:Most Blessed, Most Marvelous, Most Wonderful God only God, who could go up to Heaven and bring You down to us or cause You to forgive Your people? You are Sovereign over history, Sovereign over our salvation, the Most Glorious God. And we quake in awe of Your Presence. In the Name of Him Who was and is and is to come: Lord Jesus. Amen.