Second Reformed Church

Sunday, March 29, 2015

"Hosanna" Sermon: Mark 11:1-11


[Mark 11:1-11]

March 29, 2015 Second Reformed Church

            It was less than a week before the feast of the Passover.  Pilgrims from all over the world were streaming into Jerusalem for the feast.  Jesus had become a stench in the nostrils of the Pharisees as they continued to seek ways to put Him down – and failed.  Jesus’ popularity continued to grow.

            And we read that Jesus and the disciples headed towards Jerusalem, but stopped – Jesus sent two of them ahead to borrow a donkey:

            “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” say, “The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.”’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go.”

            And the first question we ask ourselves is why did Jesus ask them to get a donkey?  Jerusalem was less than two miles from Bethany – most of us could have walked that – and Jesus was a professional peripatetic – He walked all over Israel teaching and preaching.  Walking the two miles from Bethany to Jerusalem would have been nothing to Him.  So, it was not a matter of being tired. 

            Jesus also would have been well aware that people were to walk to Jerusalem for the Passover feast.

            Why did Jesus ask His disciples to get the donkey? 

            The answer is found in the fact that the people of Jesus’ day would have vast sections of the Scripture memorized – many people could not read, so they would have memorized the Scripture they heard read in the Temple.

            So, when Jesus rode the donkey towards Jerusalem, a significant percentage of the people would have remembered what the prophet Zechariah prophesied:  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, ESV).

             A great number of people would have remembered this prophecy seeing Jesus riding towards Jerusalem on a donkey – they would have understood Jesus to be saying that He is the prophesied Savior King Who God would send.

            They would understand that Jesus’ fulfillment of this prophecy as Savior King would prove that He has a kingdom.  Jesus Himself said so when He was interviewed by Pilate: 

            “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. [Understand, this is an expression which means, “You said it – I am a king.”]  For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice’” (John 18:33-37, ESV).

            The rabbi, Jesus, was fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy.  He was bringing salvation – He was restoring the Kingdom – He was the King – the rightful successor to the throne of David.

“And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.”    

So the people – the poor – the commoners – saw Jesus, remembered the prophecy – understood that Jesus was fulfilling it as the Savior King of God’s Kingdom, and they threw their coats and branches from tress down on the ground in humble acclaim that Jesus is the King – the rightful heir to the throne of David.  (Today, we would have rolled out the red carpet.)

            “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’”

            The crowd gathered around Jesus, walking with Him, making the way “soft” for Him and the donkey as they travelled, visibly announcing His Kingship and Kingdom, and praising God, after the words of Psalm 118:

            “Save us, we pray, O LORD!  O LORD, we pray, give us success!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!  We bless you from the house of the LORD.  The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.  Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!  You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;             you are my God; I will extol you.  Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:25-29, ESV).


            The first thing the crowd cried out as they walked along was “Save us!” They were calling on Jesus as Savior in the same way as the Psalmist cried out, “Hosanna, we pray, O LORD!” – “Save us, we pray, O God” – specifically, “Give us salvation, YHWH!”  The crowd was paralleling Jesus’ ability to save with God’s ability to save – using God’s Most Holy Name – that Name given by God to Moses at the burning bush.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

The people lifted up Jesus and blessed Him as the One Who comes in the Name of the God YHWH – (which is what the translation of “Lord” is in this text). 

First the people heralded King Jesus and His Kingship by saying that Jesus is YHWH the Savior.  Then they said that Jesus came in the Name of YHWH.  Jesus is the One Almighty God and Jesus comes in the Name of the One Almighty God.

They certainly were not consciously confessing Trinitarian theology – that there is One God with –as we find in the Scripture – Three Persons – but they are coming very close to confessing that as they herald Jesus along the way to Jerusalem.

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

Then they praise Jesus as the One to restore the Kingdom of David – and they were right to do so – remember what the angel told Mary:  “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33, ESV).

Jesus will be known to be the Son of the Almighty God.

Jesus will inherit – and thus restore – the Kingdom of David.

Jesus will reign on the throne of David eternally.

“Hosanna in the highest!”

Luke points out that this refers back to the angel’s song before the shepherds:  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14, ESV).

The parallel here is that just as glory only belongs to God, and peace only comes to those with whom God is well-pleased, so salvation only comes from God – God Alone can save His people – those with whom He is pleased and gives His peace.  Jesus.

So, picture the scene – pilgrims are coming to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.  They are all walking to the city, as they were supposed to. 

Less than two miles outside of town, Jesus has gotten astride a donkey and begun to ride him towards town.  Not only that, a great crowd of the poor has gathered around Him and are throwing their clothes and branches down before Him, as though He were a returning hero.  And they are crying out – over and over again:  “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

“Grant us salvation, O God!  You are blessed, Jesus, as the One Who comes in the Name of God!  You are blessed, Jesus, as the One Who now restores the Kingdom of our father, David – You are the King of Israel!  O God Alone, to You do we plead for salvation!”

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

The crowd grew and the spectacle grew as they got closer to Jerusalem.  Word travelled ahead of the crowd as the Pharisees – and those who sought their understanding of the “peace of Jerusalem” – rose up to confront what was happening.  They could well have been on the verge of a riot – something the Romans – their occupiers – would not have stood for.

Just the week before, after the raising of Lazarus from the dead, John writes, “So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’ But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death” (John 11:47-53, ESV).

And we wonder why – why did Jesus ride into Jerusalem?  Why did Jesus allow the crowd to get stirred up over Him?  Didn’t He know they would know Zechariah’s prophesy?  If He wanted to go to the Temple for the Passover feast, He could have blended in with the crowds of pilgrims making their way in and not have been noticed – why did He ride into Jerusalem and cause this great commotion – which He would have known would only upset the Pharisees?  Jesus knew that the Pharisees – and others – were out to stop Him by whatever means necessary.  Why did He ride into Jerusalem?

There’s only one answer that makes sense:  Jesus wanted to draw attention to Himself.  The time had come – it was time to push the Pharisees over the edge, so God would be glorified in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So, Jesus sent the disciples to get the donkey, because the people would understand that Jesus was declaring that He is the fulfillment of the prophecy.

The end was near and the crowd announced the truth on His behalf:

Jesus is the Savior God promised to send.

Jesus is the King of Israel.

Jesus reigns on the throne of David over His kingdom.

And we may wonder – is Jesus reigning over His Kingdom?  Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world, if Jesus is reigning?  Why do we pray, “Your Kingdom come,” if Jesus is reigning?

When we pray for Jesus’ Kingdom to come, we are not saying that His Kingdom is not here, but that not everything submits to His Kingdom yet – which is why sin and evil continue.  But when Jesus returns, all of Creation will submit to Him – as Paul explains – after all those who will ever believe do believe in Jesus savingly:  “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26, ESV).

Jesus also confessed His Sovereign rule over His Kingdom right before His Ascension:  “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [Jesus is King now.] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV).

So Jesus is King over His Kingdom now – but not all of Creation has submitted to His Reign.

Our text ends:

            “And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”

            Jesus had come to Jerusalem and made His point – and He was recognized as King and Savior by the people outside of Jerusalem – and He had outraged the Pharisees.

            “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people’” (Matthew 26:3-5, ESV).

            “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Matthew 26:14-16, ESV).

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for the record of Jesus’ ride to Jerusalem, for it confirms that Jesus is God the Sovereign Savior Who brings all things to pass according to His Sovereign Will.  We thank You for answering the cry of “Hosanna,” and we ask that we would be as convinced as those who saw Jesus ride the donkey that He is God, Savior, and King, and we are drawing ever-closer to the day when even death will be under His feet.  May You be glorified.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: "Shepherding God's Flock"

I chose to read and review Shepherding God’s Flock:  Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond, edited by Benjamin L. Merkle and Thomas R. Schreiner, because I thought it was a book on pastoral theology.  It is not, it is (almost entirely) a book on the offices of elder and deacon.

I was encouraged by the upfront admission in the introduction that all of the contributors to this study are Baptists (8).  Thus, as objective as the authors tried to be in their essays, I knew where the authors’ bias lay.

 The first chapter considers leadership in the Old Testament, and specifically in the Temple.  The author concludes that there is a parallel between Old Testament and New Testament leadership (shepherding), though there is no direct parallel of the office of elder to be found in the Temple system.

In chapters two through four, authors look at the shepherd figure as shepherd and elder in the New Testament literature.  It is strongly noted that Christ is the Head Shepherd and we in the ministry are His under-shepherds.  There is, in fact, a plurality of elders to be found in the New Testament churches, and the minister, pastor, overseer, bishop, and elder all refer to the same office.

Chapters five and six look at the history of leadership in the Roman Catholic Church and its development over time – including the disruption of the Reformation. 

The seventh chapter by Nathan A. Finn concerns the Presbyterian understanding of eldership and contains the only formal critique within the collection.

Finn explains that Presbyterians discern two types of elders:  teaching and ruling (200) – of which only the teaching elders are preachers.  They discern this from verses such as:  “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17, ESV).

Finn argues this is an informal distinction, not a functional one (216).

Presbyterians also hold to a presbytery – groups of elders which hold each other accountable from a variety of churches.  This they discern from Acts 15 and the Council at Jerusalem (207).

Finn argues this example in no way proves a universal practice or submission (221).

Chapter eight considers the Anglican understanding of church leadership.

Nine explores the Baptist rational for the plurality of elders (as opposed to the Presbyterian understanding).

In the tenth chapter, Bruce A, Ware constructs “a theology of Church Leadership.”  He curiously begins by arguing that formal education ought not to be mandated for the elder (pastor) (283).

Ware continues by arguing that the Christ is head of the Church (284), the Scripture supports a plurality of elders who preach (289), and he outlines the biblical qualifications and responsibilities of elders (291) and deacons (297) – deacons, he argues can be men or women.

The book concludes with a “practical” chapter by Andrew M. Davis, in which he enumerates and explains twelve practical elements of Christian Leadership.  (This chapter is what I thought the book was about, based on the title.)

I found the authors convincing in their survey of the Scripture and history that there are only two offices in the Scripture – that of elder and deacon.  I am in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, and I believe we have erred in some regards on this issue.

However, especially in looking at the 1 Timothy text above, I don’t see how it can be denied that the Scripture puts forth a formal division within the body of elders:  those who preach and those who do not.  I did not find the assertions of the authors the least bit convincing on this issue.

To a lesser extent, I did not find them convincing in saying there is no mutual oversight among groups of churches.  True, one example to not prove the practice, but as One Body, does it not seem that mutual care and discipline is mandated?

I found the final chapter encouraging and engaging in thinking about how I am functioning as a leader in my church.  Davis makes sure that we who are leaders are always looking back to Christ, our Shepherd, and seeing that all is done for His Glory and the proclamation of His Gospel.

I found this book thought-provoking and very engaging, and I enjoyed reading it.

Three suggestions I would make are (1) to change the title, (2) to smooth out Finn’s chapter to be in similar style to the rest of the essays, and (3) to make Davis’ chapter the foundation of a separate book on pastoral leadership – I would greatly look forward to reading more like this.

[I received this book free from Kregel in exchange for an honest review.  This review appears on my blog and on] #ShepherdingGodsFlock

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Praying God's Will" Sermon: Luke 22:39-46

“Praying God’s Will”

[Luke 22:39-46]

March 22, 2015 Second Reformed Church

            What does prayer do?

            Does prayer change anything?

            There is a popular idea – especially in the United States – that prayer is our way to inform God and convince God to do what we want.  If we have enough reasons, enough faith, enough passion, God will do what we ask of Him.

            But, if God is Sovereign over all – if He is all-knowing and all-powerful and all-wise – is there anything that God does know?  Is there anything God needs advice on to make a right decision?  Is there anything about which God isn’t intelligent enough or wise enough to make the best decision – the decision that He wants – the decision that glorifies Him – that shows Him for Who He is?

            Still, some will say, “But God leaves some things up to our ‘free will,’ and He waits to act one way or another based on how we pray.”  But, if that were true, we would be sovereign, wouldn’t we?  If God waits on us to act, then we are sovereign, and God is not – we control God, in fact.

            In reality, God commands us and grants us the privilege to pray as part of the intimate relationship we have with God as His children.  He, as our Father, has given us prayer, to grow our faith and trust and obedience in Him – that we, as we pray, would pray for God’s Will – in fact, that we would become more and more aligned with God’s Mind, such that we would pray for what God wants, and since it is what God wants, God will grant it to us – glorifying Himself and giving us joy.

            And so, we consider a fifth principle of Church and Christian growth:  prayer.

            As we have said, we innumerate five principle of Church and Christian growth:  First, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, the Word of God must be central to our life and worship. Second, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must obey Jesus and evangelize. Third, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must engage in regular hospitality and fellowship with non-Christians and our fellow Christians. Fourth, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must pray rightly, privately, and corporately. Fifth, if want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must receive the Lord's Supper frequently, properly and worthily.

            So, let us turn to our text:

            Our text takes place Thursday evening of the first Holy Week:  Jesus had eaten with the disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper.  He had washed their feet.  He revealed Judas to be the betrayer and sent him on his way.  He prophesied that Peter would deny Him.  Then He rose from the table:

            “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.”

            We see first, this morning, that prayer ought to be a regular part of our lives and worship.

            Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray – and we are told that it was a regular practice of His to go to the Mount of Olives to pray.

            Likewise, we are to pray regularly.  Yes, we are to be available to pray spontaneously, as the Spirit moves us – but we also ought to have planned times when we pray in private and when we pray with other Christians – as we do in the worship service.  As we pray, we have fellowship with the Father, through the Spirit, in the Name of the Son.  As we know God through His Word, we learn Who God is – what His desires are – and we pray more and more after His Will – which are the only prayers that He will answer.

            As we spend regular time in prayer, we grow in the practice of fellowshipping with the Father.  Our trust grows as we see God carrying out His Will.  As we pray also with other Christians, we learn about each other’s needs and joys, and we can join together in bringing them before the Father – not to inform God, but to thank God and to ask that His Will would be done in our lives.

            And we might wonder why Jesus prayed if He is one hundred percent God – and He is.  Jesus prayed, because He is also – at the same time – one hundred percent human – and though Jesus – in His humanity – was sinless – He did not possess the full Mind of God, nor God’s Perfect Will.

            One of the things we understand from the Scripture about the Incarnation is that God the Son, Who is One Member of the Trinity – fully God from all of eternity – chose to come to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth – a completely real human being.  So, in the Incarnation, we have One Person, with two minds and two wills.    Although the mind and will of the Son and the mind and will of Jesus of Nazareth were never in conflict, the mind and will of Jesus of Nazareth did not have the knowledge and understanding and wisdom of God.

            This is how we can understand passages like:  “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32, ESV).

            How could Jesus be wholly divine and not know when He was going to return?  In this way:  His Divinity kept His humanity from knowing.  So, Jesus did not lie – in the Incarnate Person, He did not know.  Yet, that truth does not make Him less than God, because His Divinity and humanity – though in One Person – remained distinct.

            So, Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, prayed to the Father in His humanity, as the God-Man.

            If you are feeling confused, don’t worry – our minds are finite and cannot fully comprehend this.  What we affirm is what the Bible teaches:  God the Son incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, as the One Man, Jesus Christ, while remaining distinctly and wholly – one hundred percent – God and human in the One Person.  We can go no further.

            We see that Jesus prayed privately and with the disciples.  Thus, we who are not God Incarnate have good reason to also be in prayer to God, our Father, that we would grow in faith and obedience.

            “And when he came to the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’”

            Second, when we pray, we ought to be aware of the dangers around us.

            Jesus told the disciples that they ought to be praying – even as they gathered to pray – that they would not enter into temptation – that they would not fall into temptation – that they would not sin as they sought to pray.

            Peter wrote in the context of believers falling into sin through suffering:  “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV).

            There are many ways we can fall into temptation and sin when we are seeking to pray:

            We can doubt that God will hear us and answer us.

            The devil is most often referred to as “the accuser” – he is the prosecutor who stands before us as we pray and says, “Do you really think God will hear you after you have sinned by doing this and that?  You don’t merit God’s ear.  You’re not being humble before God – go away until you can approach God sinlessly.”

            The devil usually tells the truth in his accusations – but there is a twist on them that can catch us off guard.  Yes, we have sinned against God.  No, we don’t merit God’s ear.  No, we are not sinless of our own works.  But Jesus lived and died and rose that all we who believe can come into the throne room of God and call to Him as “Father.” 

            We can ask for sin.

            “Oh, Lord, just let me get even with so and so.  You know what he did to me, and I just want to get even.”

            We can bargain with God.

            “Oh, Lord, if you just let me win the lottery this week, I’ll give half of the money to the church – and You know You could use it.”

            We can treat God like a slot-machine or a bell hop.

            “Merciful God, I have been faithful to You all week, so, I ask that You reward me with the woman I deserve.”

            Or, we could be like the disciples and not recognize how important prayer is and fall asleep – we can just neglect prayer – or reduce it to – “Thanks for the food.”  “Good night, God.”

            Let us be on guard that we pray, and that we pray rightly.

“And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’”

Third, when we pray rightly, we conform our will to God’s.

Prayer is not merely about our getting what we want, but our getting what God wants for us.

Jesus knew what was coming.  He understood that the Divine Plan was that He would suffer the full Wrath of God for all of the sins of everyone who would ever believe on the cross – that He would endure the painful horror of being forsaken by God, and although He only understood that to a small extend in His humanity, He understood the suffering would be cosmic and unimaginable – no one would ever or could ever suffer the suffering He was about to suffer.

In His humanity, Jesus feared the suffering and the unimaginable magnitude of it – that the full weight of God’s entire Wrath against believers past, present, and future would be thrust upon Him in a moment.  We cannot begin to imagine what He suffered.

Even just to consider the flogging:  having a leather whip, imbedded with rocks and glass and sharp pieces of metal, whipped against your body – having them dig in and tear flesh out – until – as the historians wrote of Jesus – there was not a spot on His body that was not bruised or bloody.

Then to consider crucifixion:  to be stretched out on a cross, with spikes driven through your wrist and ankles – being held aloft as you struggled for air, as your lungs collapsed under your weight pulling your towards the ground.

And then to understand that that suffering was a mere bump on the arm compared with what God would do to you in inflicting His Wrath – not just for you – but for every believer – upon you.

Jesus, in perfect humanity, not desiring to be ravished in this way, prayed to His Loving Father, asking if there was any other way to make atonement for all those who would believe – asking if there was any other way He could save the Father’s sheep.

But, not my will, but Thine be done.

As much as His body recoiled at the suffering He was about to endure, He understood that God’s Way – God’s Will – was the best way – the only way – the most glorious way – and he submitted Himself to the Will of the Father.

That is our goal in prayer – that our desire – all that we pray for – would be God’s Will – after the Mind of God.

  That is what Jesus taught us to pray for:  “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, ESV).  The third petition – the third thing that Jesus said we are to pray for in the model of prayer that He gave us – is that God’s Will would be done by all of His Creation.

So, our desire is to be to pray for what God Wills – and as we grow in faith and obedience – as we pray and know God through His Word and through the answers we receive to our prayers – we will better pray after the Mind of God.

But what if we’re not sure?

Jesus was sure:  “if there is any other way…your will be done…this is the only way…”

But we don’t always know – is it God’s Will that so and so would get well?  Should we pray for their healing?  Their submission to not being healed?  What would God have me do with the life He has given me?  And so forth.

We are told two things:

First, we are to pray for things “if the Lord is willing.”  James writes – addressing boasting about one’s plans, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15, ESV).

Understand, this is not a magic code.  What James is telling us is to submit all of our plans and desires to the Will of God.  We do not have to say “if the Lord wills” as though it was a punctuation mark – or think if we don’t say it, it is an omen that things won’t come to pass as we would like.  Nor are we to use it as an excuse to get out of doing things we don’t want to do.

No, we are to speak and think with a humility that says we desire this and that, and if God is so pleased as to will and grant it for us, such will most assuredly come to pass.

Second, God the Holy Spirit Who lives in every Christian will pray on our behalf for the Will of God.

Paul explains:  “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27, ESV).

Our prayers fall short of being the perfect will of God – fully wise as the Mind of God.  You may have had times when you were conflicted as to how to pray for someone – or even yourself – times when you just didn’t know what the best prayer would be.

We are reassured that God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us will pray -- interceding on our behalf – to the Father – and the Father will answer the Spirit because They are of one Mind and pray for us – and our concerns – according to the Will of God for us.

So, when we do not know how to pray or what the best answer is, we do well to pray to the Father that the Spirit would lift up a perfect prayer after His Mind, which is the Will of God for us – and so it shall come to pass.

Finally, we read:

“And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

Fourth, prayer involves our whole person.

The author of Hebrews describes Jesus praying like this:  “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7, ESV).

Jesus prayed reverently, seeking that the Will of God be done.  But it was not some sort of passive, stoic prayer with no emotion – Jesus prayed with His heart and soul and mind and body.

Our text tells us that Jesus prayed with such vigor, asking the Father if there might be some other way – as He considered the death that was before Him – that God sent an angel to strengthen Him – to uplift Him – to keep Him from fainting.  He was strengthened such that He was able to pray in agony as He wrestled with the death before Him – and the blood vessels near the skin broke, sending blood into His sweat, so the drops of sweat were red and looked like great drops of blood.

I would venture to guess that none of us have prayed with such vigor that our blood vessels burst.  Have you ever prayed with such physical and emotional engagement that you were in pain?  Have you every prayed prayers of thanksgiving that were euphoric because of your great involvement in them with your whole person?

One of the reasons we don’t grow as the Church and Christians is that we think prayer is just part of the hour or two we spend in church worshipping.  We come and go and check off our “time with God” and don’t spend time lifting up our prayers and wrestling with God for clarity about His Will and for the humility to accept and rejoice in whatever God would have come to pass for us.

Don’t let the devil tell you, “See, you’re not there, so there’s no hope – don’t’ even try.”

We’re all growing – may God be pleased – none of us have finished the race – so let us strive to pray – both privately and corporately, as we gather in worship.  Let us pray for each other in person and privately.  Let us pray that God will guide us to pray His Will – that He would make His Will clear to us – that we would desire His Will above our own – that we would seek the Spirit’s intercession and help to pray after the Mind of God.

“And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.’”

            Let us pray:

            Lord God, our Father, we pray that You would deliver us from temptation – from the evil one and all his accusations and plans.  Increase the desire in us to pray.  Cause us to desire to align our minds and will with Yours that You would be glorified and we would have joy.  Strengthen us that we would continue to pray and seek Your Will until we humbly receive it for the sake of Your Kingdom and in the pursuit of Your Righteousness.  May You be pleased to grow us as the Church and as Christians.  In all things – as it is Your Will – transform us into the Image of Your Son, Jesus.  For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Community Lunch Cancelled

Second Reformed Church​ Irvington, NJ:  Due to the continuing snow, tomorrow's lunch is cancelled.  Rest, clean up, and D.V., see you for worship.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"The Road to Emmaus: Hospitality" Sermon: Luke 24:13-35

“The Road to Emmaus:  Hospitality”

[Luke 24:13-35]

March 15, 2015 Second Reformed Church

            A fourth principle of Church and Christian growth is hospitality and fellowship.  We are distinguishing the two in this way:  we ought to share hospitality with all people, and we also ought to share fellowship – based on our mutual belief in the Gospel – with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

            We have said:  First, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, the Word of God must be central to our life and worship. Second, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must obey Jesus and evangelize. Third, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must engage in regular hospitality and fellowship with non-Christians and our fellow Christians. Fourth, if we want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must pray rightly, privately, and corporately. Fifth, if want to grow as Christians and the Church, we must receive the Lord's Supper frequently, properly and worthily.

            And we have in this one history of the Emmaus Road encounter the centrality of the Word of God with Jesus as the Center and Theme of the Word – as Jesus revealed to the disciples that all of the Scripture points to Him.  And we have seen that the Lord’s Supper comes along side of the reading and preaching of the Word as a “help meet” – as one of the two visual displays of the Gospel that God allows and commands us to use – so it was that the disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread – in the blessing, breaking, and giving of the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

            Hear the account once more:

            “That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ And he said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.’ And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

            “So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them.”

            Here, we have an example of fellowship – Cleopas and his friend – as well as Jesus – were believers – well-versed in the Scriptures.  They had met Jesus along the road and discussed the Scriptures with Him – and they didn’t want the time to end, so they invited Him to stay at their home.

            They were gathering together as Christians to be together as Christians to enjoy Christian company and talk. 

            If we want to grow in faith and obedience, we ought to spend time with other Christians outside of formal worship.  Now, we live in different times – in first century Israel, it was common for Christians to gather in each other’s homes – in twenty-first century New Jersey – for many of us – our home is a sanctuary, an escape, or something else, which makes us not want to have people over – or at least not often.  We don’t have to have each other into our homes; still we ought to get together now and then.  That’s one reason we try different Bible studies and topical studies on different days and nights and times – that we would come together in this building to talk about things as Christians.

            We also ought to gather with non-Christians now and then to talk with them and take interest in their lives.  I know some of you gather at the Senior Center and have a group of friends there – some of whom are not Christians – and you share your lives with each other in support of each other and to uphold each other and so that you grow together.

            Even brief encounters:  Do we talk to service people?  Mail carriers?  Shop keepers?  Wait staff?  Do we take any time to get to know them – however briefly?  How many of us know anything about the lives of the people who take care of us during the week?

            We are a private culture!  And a certain amount of privacy is alright, but we also are called to care for each other – and that involves knowing something about each other, sharing our lives together, and sharing in the study of God’s Word together.

            We are knit together in Christ as His Body, as Christians.  The Church is not merely a group of people in a volunteer organization, but we – together – make up this living thing called the Church.  And as we share in each other’s lives more and share the Scripture together more – we grow stronger together in the One Body that we are, with Christ as our Head.

            Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, and “Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:29-31, ESV).

            The core principle in sharing hospitality and fellowship is loving our neighbor as ourself.  And that means everyone, as we are told:  “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him” (Exodus 23:5, ESV).

            If we see someone with a need that we are able to fill – from simple needs to proclaiming the Gospel to lifting each other up as we grow in faith and obedience together – we ought to show love by doing whatever it is that we are able to do.  And it makes no difference whether it is someone we like or not.

            Remember that does not mean that we have to be a doormat – it can be easy to think that we must be at everyone’s beck and call just because we have an ability to do something.  That is not the case.  We must be wise in all that we do – and do all to the glory of God.

            We may remember another question that was put to Jesus was, “Who is my neighbor?”
“Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise’” (Luke 10:30-37, ESV).

            In our Heidelberg Catechism, we are told that part of what it means what God commands us not to steal is:  “Q. 111. But what doth God require in this commandment?  A. That I promote the advantage of my neighbor in every instance I can or may, and deal with him as I desire to be dealt with by others; further also that I faithfully labor, so that I may be able to relieve the needy.”

            Hospitality and fellowship include getting to know others – both outside the Church and inside the Church – and learning how we might be able to help each other to grow by using those gifts and abilities that God has given each of us so we can give.  And, we are also to work – not merely to provide for our own needs – but so we will have enough to give generously to the Church and then to others who are in need.

            Our text continues:  “When he was at table with them,”

            Jesus ate dinner with the disciples He met on the road.

            In the first century, it was common to share hospitality and fellowship over a meal.  In fact, in the book, Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel (, I was fascinated to find that – almost without exception, whenever Jesus is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, He is either going to a meal, eating a meal, or coming from a meal – that’s how important food is to hospitality and fellowship – and even evangelism.  Food breaks down barriers and puts people at ease so we can talk more and learn more about each other and how we can care for each other, and with our brothers and sisters, we can also discuss the Scripture and what it means and what God is calling us to do and be.

            That doesn’t mean we always have to provide food for there to be hospitality or fellowship, but it can be very helpful.  Think about the times you have sat down over food with other people and gotten to know them and, hopefully, also come to seek after the Word of God.

            Perhaps, if you sit down to a meal with someone you don’t like, you – or both of you – will grow because of the interaction you will have over the meal.  It may not happen, but if we offer the meal and sincere conversation to someone, we will likely grow, even if the other person does not.

Our text concludes:  “he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:13-35, ESV).

And we saw last week that the Lord’s Supper is a visible representation of the Gospel that works alongside of the preaching of the Gospel.

And so, we see we grow as the Church and as Christians as we engage in hospitality with all people and fellowship with other Christians.  We grow as we proclaim the Gospel to others and discuss it with our fellow Christians.  We grow as we learn more about other people and truly care about them.  We grow as we find ways to meet each other’s needs as we use the bounty – the excess – the riches – and the gifts and abilities that God has given us for the Church and for others.

            As we consider these things, I wonder if any of us can think of someone who does not deserve our hospitality or fellowship.  Is there anyone you can think of that you would say was unworthy of even having you try to sit down with and talk to, or share some food with, or provide for a need?        

            Listen:  No one is beneath us.  We cannot dismiss anyone out of hand.

            Here’s why:

            “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27, ESV).

            Everyone was created in and bears the Image of God.  Something in each person proves the existence of the God of the Bible – the One Almighty God. 

            So, if we harm another person, simply by not doing good to them, we are attacking the Image of God.

            If we directly do something to harm another person or keep them from growing in faith and obedience to God, we are attacking the Image of God.

            If we turn someone away when we are able to help, we are attacking the Image of God.

            The primary reason we are to love our neighbors as ourselves is that they bear the Image of God.

            All humans are image-bearers of God – so we ought to love them and seek their good and proclaim the Gospel to them and encourage their growth in faith and obedience to God

            We grow as the Church and as Christians when we share in hospitality and fellowship.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, You have put people in our way, so we would talk with them and care for them  -- share food and other things that we have that can meet their needs – and proclaim the Gospel to them and study Your Word with them.  Forgive us for turning people away who bear Your Image.  Forgive us for thinking we are too good to care for and share with anyone.  Forgive us for thinking that we have nothing to give and no need to grow and no reason to help someone else grow.  Send the Holy Spirit afresh on us and awaken us that we would be able to truly care for each other and all those You put in our way.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.