Second Reformed Church

Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Slaves vs. Sons" Sermon: John 8:31-38

“Slaves vs. Sons”
[John 8:31-38]
February 28, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            The question before us this morning is, are you still a slave, or are you a son?  And quickly notice we are talking about first century Jewish legal rites – we are not denying that some of you are women!
            Are you a slave, or are you a son?
            Jesus had explained to the crowd that when He was “lifted up” – when He was crucified – unbelievers would look at Him and know that He is truly God the Son and Savior, but they would hate the truth and prefer eternal suffering in Hell to submitting to the lordship of Jesus.  Yet, we are told that some who heard Jesus believed.
            Apparently, some of those who believed did so with something less that a salvific belief.  Some of them seem to have believed –  in some sense – that Jesus is the Messiah – the Savior – but they had not received Him in a heart-work of belief – it was merely an intellectual belief – their hearts were not in it.
            And so Jesus called out some of the Jews who had an intellectual belief, but not a saving heart belief in Him.
            And we see, first, the truth sets us free.
            “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’
            Jesus told them, if they abide in His Word – what does that mean?
            When Jesus spoke of “abiding” in His Word, He was talking about that heart response which hears what Jesus has to say – Who He is, what He has done, what He has commanded –  acknowledges it as true, and obeys.
            Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV).
            “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’” (John 14:23, ESV).
            “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” (John 14:24, ESV).
            “If you abide in My Word” – “if you know about Me, and you love Me, and you strive to do everything I have commanded in the whole of God’s Word”
            Do we believe in Who Jesus is and what He has done?  Do we love Him?  Do we strive to obey Him?
            Maybe we wonder.
            Dr. R. C. Sproul tells the story of someone who came to him worried about his salvation – worried that he did not love Jesus enough.  And Dr. Sproul asked, “Do you love Him at all?”  His point was that if we love Jesus at all, if we are striving to keep His commands at all – then we do truly love Him, we do abide in Him – because the only way we can love Jesus at all, is if God the Holy Spirit has changed our hearts and caused us to believe.
            If we struggle with obeying Jesus – if our sin is ever before us and all the more painful to us as time goes by – then we love Jesus and we are seeking to obey Him – we are abiding in Him, and we are growing and being grown.  These are our growing pains.
            If we are like a certain politician who says he is a Christian, yet he says he has never lied and doesn’t need to ask God for forgiveness – be very nervous.  Make sure you really do believe, because when we think everything is fine and we are good enough and doing well – that may be a sign that we have never really believed.
            So, if we abide in Jesus – if we love and obey Him as believers, we are His disciples – we are those people who are His learners – His students.  All we who truly and savingly believe in Jesus are His students in the faith.
            And if we are disciples, we will know the truth – not merely in an intellectual way, but in an experiential way.  We will know the truth in the sense that we have experienced the truth and its effects. 
            “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6, ESV).
            If we know the truth in this experiential way – through belief and obedience – we will be set free from slavery to sin, by the truth of the Triune God and His plan to save a people for Himself.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit apply Jesus’ work to we who believe by the work of God the Holy Spirit in us, and we are set free from slavery to sin.  We no longer have to sin.  We are now free to know God and to love and obey Jesus, as we are empowered by God the Holy Spirit.
            The truth sets us free!
            Second, people in spiritual slavery don’t realize it.
“They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free”’?”
Some of the Jews reacted poorly to Jesus’ saying that they were in slavery to sin, and they made what seems to be an outrageous statement: “We are the offspring of Abraham; we have never been enslaved to anyone.”
We can take it as a given that the people who responded in this way were biological descendants of Abraham.
But, what about the claim that they had never been enslaved?  Did they forget the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Romans?  No.  They knew that they had been enslaved as a people, and they knew that was not what Jesus was talking about.  Jesus was talking about their being enslaved spiritually.
And their response was: “How can we be enslaved when we are biological descendants of Abraham, we have attended worship in the Temple our whole lives, we offer all the sacrifices, we keep the 616 laws – or however many there are – everyone knows how religious we are.  We are the chosen people that God chose for Himself to be His.  How can we be spiritually enslaved?”
“I was brought up in a Christian family.  I attend worship as often as possible.  I give generously to the church, both in money and time.  I have taught Sunday School.  I head up our fundraising rallies.  I know all the books of the Bible.  I carry my Bible with me – the one my mother gave me – and everyone knows I have it with me.  I know all the hymns by heart.  Everybody says I’m such a good person.  How can you say I am spiritually enslaved?”
In this way:  religiosity does not save.  There is a life and death difference between people who go through all the motions and look like good people, and people who truly believe in their heart in the message of the Gospel – and have been changed by it.
Salvation is by faith alone by grace alone in the Gospel of Jesus Alone – Who He is and what He has done to accomplish salvation for all we who believe.
Third, slaves unrepentantly sin.
            “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’
            Notice that Jesus opened the scope here:  He had been talking to certain Jews, but now He made a statement about “everyone” – Jews and Gentiles.  Every single person who has ever lived – in fact.  “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
            Ash Wednesday, we looked at Psalm 51, and we saw that David wrote: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5, ESV). 
            And we discussed that David is not saying that his mother sinned in conceiving him.  No, what he is saying is that every mere human being since Adam who is conceived is a born sinner – a slave to sin – unable to do anything but sin.
            As Paul puts it:
            “What then? Are we Jews any better off [than Gentiles]? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave;    they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes’” (Romans 3:9-18, ESV).
            So, everyone is a born sinner, inclined towards sin.
            And since we are born sinners, it seems like our natural way of being; we don’t naturally think that we are spiritually dead and in need of salvation.  We have to be awakened and enlivened to our need for salvation.  We do not realize we are born slaves, and until we believe, we don’t realize we were slaves.
            And Jesus said that if anyone practices sin, he is a slave to sin.  What does He mean by “practice”?  The word He uses here is for a habitual action, something someone continually does (without repentance).  So, a person who practices sin is someone who constantly sins – he is someone who is a slave to sin.  He never does anything for the glory of God – any seeming good he does is done with some sinful motivation.  He is a slave to sin – and by himself, there is no way out of slavery.
            Now, think of slavery.  Are slaves members of the household?  Do they have the rights and privileges of the master and his family?  No.
            In fact, unlike the children of the master of the house, slaves are not part of the family – they do not live in the house forever – slaves are sold, sent away, and/or killed.  No matter how romantic an idea some have about the relationship between slaves and their masters – slaves are not members of the household – they are not brothers and sisters, daughters and sons.  They are, effectively, property.
            So, all mere humans since Adam are born slaves to sin, but don’t realize it.  Yet the truth is that we are born slaves, and the Master of the house does not consider slaves to be permanent family members.
            On the other hand, fourth, sons are free from slavery.
            “’The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’
            Sons remain in the house forever.  The sons (and daughters – remember we are talking about first century legal matters) of the master are always the sons of the master.  They are like their father; they are true members of the family – entitled to the inheritance of a son.
            Here, first off, we have the Son – in fact the Only Begotten Son.  The Son of God –Who has the right as a member of the household to free slaves.  And through the work that Jesus did, and because of Who He is as the God-Man, He is authorized and does free the slaves that God gave to Him from slavery – to become a people for Him – the Church.
            And this freedom is not simply freedom, but we who are freed are made sons (and daughters) with Jesus – we are adopted into the family of God, so we now have the rights and privileges of the household and inheritance, like Jesus.
            Paul put it this way:
            “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:3-7, ESV).
            We who believe have been freed from slavery to sin – we no longer have to sin.  Sin now is a choice we make contrary to our Father Who has adopted us and made us co-heirs with His Only Begotten Son, Jesus.
            Finally, we see that slaves want to kill the truth.
“’I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.’”
            Slaves are so blinded to the slavery that they were born into that they hate to be told the truth of their slavery and the Only Way to be free.  Rather than admit the Truth of Jesus and receive the gift of freedom that He has secured for all who will believe, they deny the truth – they say there is nothing wrong with them – they seek to kill anyone who would say that there is a problem – that they are slaves – that they need to be freed to and by the Truth.
            Jesus told them that this is because His Word finds no place in them.  And we’re back to the beginning of this section:  if we abide in the Word – if we believe in Jesus and Who He is and what He has done in the Gospel, and strive to obey Him in all things, then we are His students – His followers.  Those who do not abide in the Word are not students of Jesus, they do not follow Him, they do not seek to obey Him – in fact, the prefer Him to be dead – which is one of the reasons why Jesus was eventually crucified.
            Jesus knew what He was talking about – He had seen His Father and followed His Will perfectly.  They heard from their father and followed him.
            And, so we have this distinction:
            Slaves to sin are spiritually dead people who pursue sin and deny the Truth of Jesus to the point to wanting to kill it – if not Him – and then anyone and anything that stands for Him and His Truth.  Yet, they do not realize they are spiritually dead.
            Sons are all those who have been freed from spiritual slavery by Jesus.  They believe in Jesus savingly – with their hearts as well as their minds, and seek to obey Him.  They have been adopted into the family of God by God.
            So, are you a slave or a son – and how do you know?
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, our Father, we thank You for choosing a people to be freed by the Truth and Your Son.  We thank You for adopting us as sons and daughters that Jesus would be our brother and we would be delivered from the wages of sin and, instead, brought into Your everlasting kingdom.  Help us to know the difference between slaves and sons, and may we rejoice if we have believed and obeyed in love that we are now sons.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray.  Amen.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thursday Night Study

Due to various people's commitments, we will not meet this evening.  D.V., we will continue our study on March 3rd!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"You Will Know" Sermon: John 8:21-30

“You Will Know”
[John 8:21-30]
February 14/21, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            Jesus continued to teach in the Temple after telling the Pharisees that He is God the Savior and anyone who does not believe that He is God the Savior does not know God the Father.
            In this passage we see the profound blindness – the spiritual deadness of those who have not believed in Jesus as God the Savior.  And Jesus continued to teach and address the Pharisees, explaining to them the hopelessness of their spiritual condition.
            First, He explains that the death of the unbeliever is a death of despair.
            “So he said to them again, ‘I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.’”
            Jesus had explained to the Pharisees that He knew where He came from and where He was going.  He knew that He is God the Son and Savior incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.  He came to earth to obey His Father – to make the Way of salvation for all those who would believe in Him through His life, death, and physical resurrection.  And after He physically rose from the dead, He was going to return to His throne at the Right Hand of the Father until the time was fulfilled, and then He would return to judge humanity and then restore the Creation.
            So, Jesus told them that He was going away – He was going to be put to death, and physically rise, and return to Heaven where He had come from – with His physical body.
            And Jesus told them that they would seek Him.
            Jesus did not mean that they would seek Jesus.  They knew Jesus and they rejected His claim to be the Messiah – the Savior.  No, the one they would continue to seek would be another savior – another messiah.  They rejected Jesus, so they would continue to look for someone else – in their blindness and spiritual death and hardness of heart – they rejected Jesus but were zealous to continue to look for the savior that they would accept.
            What would be the result of their search?
            Jesus told them they would die in their sin.  If they did not receive Jesus as God the Son and Savior, they would die in their sin – they would bear the full wrath of God’s Anger against them for their sin.
            And Jesus, being God, knew their hearts, and passed the judgment that where Jesus was going – to the Father – into the Blessed Kingdom – they “cannot come.”  Notice the finality of it – Jesus did not say they may not come, or they would only come if they believed – He said the “cannot come” – as a matter of ability.  It was done, they were damned, they would never believe, they would remain dead in their sin, they would be eternally sent away from God, only to receive His Anger.
            Is anyone here still looking for the savior?  Is anyone here not convinced that the Savior is Jesus?  Is anyone looking for another yet to come?
            I have Jewish friends who are still looking for the Messiah.  I have Mormon friends who are looking for the Mormon incarnation.
            I can’t tell anyone’s heart.  Neither can you.  We cannot say as Jesus did – that there was no hope for those Pharisees.
            If you don’t believe, what’s holding you back?
            If you have friends who don’t believe, does your heart ache for them?  Do you pray for them?  Do you tell them about Jesus or bring them to where they can hear about Jesus?
            These Jews had already speculated that Jesus would run and hide with the exiles throughout the Empire, but now, with no little sarcasm, we see them ask Jesus if He is going to commit suicide.  They did not realize, second, that Jesus would give His life for all those who would believe.      
            “So the Jews said, ‘Will he kill himself, since he says, “Where I am going, you cannot come”?’”
            Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father”
(John 10:17-18, ESV).
            Yes, the Jews plotted against Jesus, and the Jews got the Romans to crucify Jesus, but Jesus was not suicidal, things did not get out of hand for Him, this was all a part of God’s plan from the beginning – human sin and evil was to lead to Jesus’ being put to death that He would bear the Wrath of God for the sin of all those who would ever believe – that we would be saved – it was the very plan that God had from before the Creation and for which God the Son came to earth in the person of Jesus.  He what Peter said:
            “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23, ESV).
            And so Jesus told them again, thirdly, belief in Jesus as God the Son and Savior is the Only Way to salvation – it is the Only Way to be made right with God – it is the Only Way to be set free from sin and have your sins forgiven.
“He said to them, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.’”
You are merely human – each one of us is merely human.  Jesus is God Who became a human while remaining God to save all we who will believe.  You are made from the dust of the earth – as we said on Ash Wednesday – each one of us came from the dust and will return to the dust – unless Jesus returns before we die.  All of us are sinners.  All of us are liable to the Judgment and Wrath of God for our sins.  And we will die in our sin unless – and only if – we have believed savingly in Jesus as God and Savior.
This is more important that who will win in the primaries.
This is more important that who is elected our next president.
Do we believe that?
Do we spend more time promoting our candidate or the One Savior Who Alone saves us – the only One Who can save us from dying in our sins?
The Pharisees responded by mockingly asking Who Jesus is, and He tells them, fourthly, He is Who the prophets said He is from the beginning:
“So they said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.’”
Peter wrote:
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16, ESV).
We are called to be prepared – to always be able to offer reasons – arguments – facts and truths that add up to what we believe – for anyone who will ask of us.  We are to be able – to the best of our ability and by the Power of God the Holy Spirit – to be able to tell people why we believe that Jesus is God the Son and Savior – and to lead others to people and resources that will help them understand that truth of Jesus.
And still, many will turn away and say it’s not good enough.  Many will laugh and say it doesn’t apply to them – that they are good enough.  Our heart of darkness holds myriad reasons not to believe.  And there are times – I have been there – when we present everything well and think there is no way around what we have said, and the person we have talked with still does not believe.
Jesus told the Pharisees that He was Who He always claimed to be – the Savior that they looked for in the Scriptures – the Savior that the Scriptures point to – the Only One Who fulfills every word of the Law and the Prophets.  But they did not believe – and Jesus warned them – He had much to say about them and their disbelief – He had much sin to judge them for – but for now – in his First Advent – He was doing the will of the Father and preaching the Gospel to the world.
Pray regularly that you would have the right words to speak to those you come in contact with.  Pray that God the Holy Spirit will guide what you say and prepare the hearts of those you come in contact with.  Pray that God would have mercy on all those you come in contact with – that God would open their eyes and hearts that they would see in you and me – in our words and acts – the Image of Jesus shining through us – that they might believe to the Glory of God.
As long as someone is alive, we have opportunity to preach the Gospel to them.  We don’t know a person’s heart – we only know that God has called us to proclaim the Gospel to every creature – and if someone has not believed, we are to continue to tell them and tell them.  That’s why I proclaimed Jesus to my grandmother while she was in a coma.  That’s why I proclaimed Jesus to Martha Bronner as she died after her stroke.  Don’t give up – tell others till the end.
Fifth, as we emphasized last week:  Jesus and the Father are the same One God with the Holy Spirit.
“They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father.”
The Athanasian Creed explains that there is One God, and the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, yet They are distinct persons:  the Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit yet there are not three gods, there is only One God.
We can understand that this is what the Scripture teaches without a perfect understanding of it.  The Pharisees should have understood.  They did not.  We have heresies and cults that refuse to take the plain holistic teaching of the Scripture:
Mormonism teaches there are three gods.
Jehovah’s Witness teaches that the Father is God, but Jesus is not God and the Holy Spirit is not God.
Believing in the Trinity is central to the Christian faith.
Sixth, Jesus said that when He was crucified they would know that He is the Savior, God the Son.
“So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.’
We have looked at the idea of Jesus being lifted up before – and we trace the imagery back to Moses and the people of Israel in the Wilderness:
“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’ Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Numbers 21:4-9, ESV).
The people of Israel sinned against God, and when they called out for salvation, God provided a savior in the form of a bronze serpent – crucified on a pole.
Jesus told Nicodemus that this sin and salvation episode was a foreshadowing of what He would do:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15, ESV).
The crucifixion was necessary for the full curse of all believing humanity’s sin to come upon Jesus for God’s Wrath to come against.
And Jesus told the Pharisees that when He was lifted up, they would know Who He really is – but notice Jesus did not say that they would know and believe!
They will not be like the centurion and his friends of whom we read: “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54, ESV).
No, they will be like the demons who screamed and came out during Jesus’ exorcisms; they would be one who saw the truth, but so despised it – as Jesus said:
“For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’” (Luke 23:29-31, ESV).
They would respond to the signs and wonders of the crucifixion, but it would be with wails of “No!  Take me now!  Just kill me now!”  They would hate and condemn God’s ways.  “It can’t be true!  This can’t be God’s way!  If this is what God always meant – I want nothing to do with Him or His salvation!”  They would understand, but not believe, but hate God so much that they pursue the Hell they earned rather than desiring to be with God.
Billy Joel sings, “They say there's a heaven for those who will wait.
Some say it's better, but I say it ain't.
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints,
That is the kind of hideous logic they and all those who never believe will have as they are finally confronted with Jesus and His Truth – “send me to Hell, I’d rather be in Hell than worship You.”
Finally, the Father is always with Jesus.
“‘And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.’”
This comes into question as Jesus cries out on the cross that He is forsaken by the Father, but the answer is not to deny that Jesus was forsaken – He was.  We must understand this as Jesus in some way being cut off from the comfort of the Father that He had experienced throughout eternity past.  Jesus did not come apart from being God; God did not make Jesus less than God, but Jesus had to suffer all of Hell in that moment on the cross – the greatest, most extreme suffering for all of us who would believe – an eternity of pain at once – that we would be forgiven.
And yet, the Father remained the Father of Jesus, and the Father remained pleased with Jesus, because He always did what the Father put to Him.  Even though we cannot comprehend all that happened on the cross, God was pleased and accomplished all that He set out to do in Trinity for the sake of our salvation.
Besides the despair and hatred of the Pharisees, we read:
“As he was saying these things, many believed in him.”
You see, brothers and sisters, God has saved a people for Himself, and they will all come to believe savingly in Jesus.  God has chosen to delivered the message of the Gospel through the lips of we who believe.  If you believe, you are sent to tell others, and God the Holy Spirit will enable each of us to speak, and He will apply it when and how it most glorifies Him.
As we begin this season of Lent, let us contemplate the horror of being so hardened in sin that someone would choose Hell over Jesus.  And let us prayerfully let everyone know that God has made the Way to be right with Him.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, our Father, You sent Jesus to secure salvation for Your people and send us now to tell the world.  Fill us with the Holy Spirit and help us to speak Your Gospel and tell others about Your Son.  Keep us from fear, and help us to trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us and bring fruit to be borne as You have planned to Your Glory.  Open our eyes and soften our hearts and compel us our that we would have joy with You as each on believes.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.