Thursday, November 16, 2017
Sunday, November 12, 2017
“The Stone Witness”
November 12, 2017, Second Reformed Church
Joshua is one hundred and ten as he speaks to the people of Israel. He is about to die.
The people of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt three generations prior; the people have been in the land of Canaan – Israel – for three generations. The adults Joshua speaks to are the grandchildren of the children who came out of the wilderness into the Promised Land. And Israel is a peace with her neighbors and free from all enemies at this point.
In chapter 23 of Joshua, he explains that God will fight for Israel – He will continue to fight for Israel – if they obey God, if they don’t intermarry with non-Israelites, and if they don’t worship false gods. If they keep the Covenant God made with them, all will be well, but if they do not, God promises to bring every form of evil down upon them until they all die.
Then Joshua reminds the people of all that God has done for them: God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, brought them through the wilderness into the Promised Land, and saw that every king that opposed them was put to death. God is faithful and showered blessings down upon Israel.
Now, Joshua calls upon the people to make a decision – today, and tomorrow, and for each day henceforth: will they serve the Lord their God – the One True God Who has proven Himself to them for generations in faithfulness – or will they serve the false gods of their pagan forbearers and the nations around them?
Here, we have the famous quote from Joshua, “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:14-15, ESV).
And all the people respond together: “We will never forsake the Lord! Look at all the good things He has done for us.”
That brings us to this morning’s text. And as we consider it, let us take our place in the people of Israel before Joshua.
First, we see, God requires holiness.
“But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the LORD.’”
The people answer quickly – and as a man. They put no real thought into their answer. They had not considered their history, or the inclination of fallen human beings.
“Will you serve the Lord or false gods?”
“Of course we will serve the Lord! It wouldn’t make sense for us to deny the One True God Who has blessed us with all the blessings we know from our history and even to this day. Of course, we will serve the Lord. We will never turn away again. We will never sin again. From this day forth, all is well, God has nothing to worry about.”
In most churches in America, if the people all responded like Israel did that day, the pastor would lead them all in joyful prayer, and then they would all go to the church coffee bar and sports lounge and enjoy the afterglow.
But Joshua understands humans better than that. Joshua understands his people, Israel, better than that. He understands that they have just answered the most profound question flippantly – with hardly a thought – as though it were something easy.
Joshua tells them, “You are not thinking this through. Are you able to serve the Holy God? The God Who requires holiness from each one of His people? Are you able to instantly make yourself holy and never sin again? Don’t you think – as you look back just over the past three generations – that following God completely in holiness is an impossible act for fallen humans? Don’t you understand that if you commit yourself to God and you sin against Him – if you sin against the Holy God – the fullness of His Wrath will come down upon you? Do you understand the magnitude of one sin against the Holy God? Do you really think you can make this covenant with God based on your own ability to be holy?”
And all Israel responds, “No problem, we will serve the Lord.”
Do we remember Isaiah’s encounter with God?
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’
“And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:1-5, ESV).
Over the past six weeks, we looked at the “solas” of the Reformation and saw that we have nothing to add to our salvation – we have nothing and no ability to make ourselves right with God. Our right response is that of Isaiah’s, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” The only hope is God intervening on our behalf, which He is under no obligation to do.
And yet, God has intervened on our behalf. He sent His Son to accomplish salvation for us – all by Himself – completely His own work – His own merit. As Paul writes:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11, ESV).
Not that the Law has been abolished – no: the author of Hebrews writes, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, ESV).
We, Christians, are told that unless we are holy – without sin and having fulfilled all of the Law – we will not see the Lord – we will not be received into the Kingdom.
If you feel something in the pit of your stomach, that’s alright. We cannot be holy, as God calls us to be. We are to strive towards it in this life, but we will not be 100% holy in this life. However, as we have seen in Paul’s words above and in the recent Reformation series of sermons – through Christ – we are holy. Through Christ – and through Christ alone – we are holy.
So, you can breathe now.
Israel in that day still thought they could do well enough on their own. They didn’t understand the seriousness and the impossibility of our fulfilling the call to holiness.
So, God requires us to be holy, and we are to strive to be holy – not sinning and keeping all of the Law of God – and we are holy in Christ and through Him alone.
Second, the worship of God must be pure.
“Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.’ So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem.”
Joshua tells the people, “OK, then, you will be witnesses against yourselves if you do sin and fail to keep God’s Law.”
And the people say, “No problem.”
So, Joshua tells them to start with the first commandment: “Put all the foreign gods away from you and worship the Lord alone.”
And the people say, “Sure, we will serve and obey Him alone.”
Then Joshua reads the covenant to them – at least the book of Deuteronomy – perhaps Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
And the people vow to worship God in the way He commands and to live their lives as He commands.
But they didn’t and we haven’t either, have we?
The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, ESV).
Why not, what’s the big deal?
If we worship false gods – if we try to worship them alongside of the One True God – we are giving glory to something other than God – and we remember that all glory is to be given to God alone.
Even with good intentions, we go beyond what God allows – “to bring people in” – “to make worship more accessible.”
R. C. Sproul writes, “Over and over again God invited the people, ‘Come near to Me.’ But that invitation was balanced by what God said following the deaths of Nadab and Abihu: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy.’ We are commanded by God to come into His presence—to come near to Him. Not only that, we may come boldly into His presence, as Hebrews 4:16 makes clear. But there is a difference between coming boldly into the presence of God and coming arrogantly. When we come boldly into His presence and draw near to Him, we must always remember that we are to regard Him as holy.
“We also must remember that we have no right to come into God’s presence on our own. No amount of preparation that we can do is enough to make us fit” (http://www.ligonier.org/blog/preparing-your-heart-worship/
Each day – each hour – we’re tempted by false gods – by idols – by anything we put in God’s place by sinning and not doing what God has commanded.
How would our husband or wife react to our saying, “You don’t understand. I had an affair to show me how to be a better husband or wife for you.”
How do you think that would go over?
It is the same thing in coming before God – any moment of the day – in private prayer – in corporate prayer – we say we will worship in holiness – and then we make exceptions for this reason and that reason – for idolatry.
We must not take God’s Word about life and worship lightly. Rather than hear the Word of God and say, “OK, no problem.” Let consider our hearts and the ways in which the evil one will seek to tempt us to sin.
And so the people would be witnesses against themselves if they were not holy – if they did not worship God purely.
Yet, the Word of God calls for two or three witnesses to prove a case, so a second witness is set to come forward against the people – and us.
Third, the stones witness our faithfulness or faithlessness.
“And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.’ So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.”
Joshua writes down the rash response of Israel in the Word of God, and then he sets up a large stone underneath a pistachio tree near the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua tells the people that the stone would also be a witness against them, because it heard the vows made by Israel.
Joshua was not saying that stones are alive. He was not indicating that there was an animal in the stone that could hear them.
On the other hand, God causes Balaam’s donkey to speak to Balaam (Numbers 22:30), and Jesus says that if His followers do not proclaim Who He is, the stones will cry out (Luke 19:40).
What Joshua is impressing upon Israel is that God is not ignorant – God knows everything that is done and not done. He knows what each one of us does and neglects to do. And though it is not necessary for Him to do so, He could call on the Creation to give an account against us.
No, the stones don’t really have ears to hear what we have vowed and how we have actually lived, but do we have ears? Do we hear the Word of God and seek – with the help of God, the Holy Spirit – to do it, or do we figure we’ll do the best we can – and that will be that? After all, Jesus died to pay the debt for our sins and gave us His righteousness, so does it really matter what we do?
That is the question of the unbeliever – one whose fruit betrays him.
The Christian will ask for help to steward every moment of every day and each gift and blessing that God has poured upon him. He will ask God, the Holy Spirit, to strengthen him and guide him, and apply the merits of Christ to him, even when he strives after holiness and purity and fails – failing into sin.
The Christian recognizes the amazing grace and mercy God has shown him, and he is greatly pained and repents when he sins and fails, because He knows what it cost Jesus Christ to secure his salvation.
As Paul writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, ESV).
Have you received salvation through Jesus Christ Alone? Do you believe that He has paid the debt for your sin and given you His righteousness? Then let us come to the Father in prayer and in worship, rightly trembling because our God is the Holy God, and yet boldly, because He is our loving Father, Who has adopted us and made us co-heirs with Jesus, asking that He would say of us – through the merits of Christ:
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23, ESV).
What happened after Joshua died?
“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.
“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger” (Judges 2:10-12, ESV).
Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, it is so easy to say that we will be faithful. It is so easy to say that we will do all that You have commanded and not sin. But we still have the sin nature within us, and we still turn away from You and give into temptation and choose to sin. Lord, we are witnesses against ourselves. The walls of this sanctuary are witnesses against us. The Creation that did nothing wrong, but was plunged into futility for our sake, witnesses against us. Forgive us for our sin. Forgive us for taking all of these things that You have said lightly. Forgive us for thinking it doesn’t really matter what we do, because we are forgiven through Christ Alone. Lord, soften our hearts, make us more sensitive to sin, and send the Holy Spirit to stir up the fires within us that we would strive with every ounce of life that we have to live in a way that is pleasing to You, because You sent Your Son to save us. And it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Thursday, November 09, 2017
Monday, November 06, 2017
“To the Glory of God Alone”
[I Corinthians 10:23-33]
November 5, 2017, Second Reformed Church
We turn to the final of the five “solas” – “onlys” – of the Reformation this morning: Soli Deo Gloria – to the Glory of God alone.
Just as a reminder:
Scripture Alone: the Word of God Alone has the authority to tell us God’s way of salvation and how it is accomplished.
Christ Alone: the works of Jesus Christ alone merit our salvation – our works do not merit salvation.
Grace Alone: our salvation is completely a gift from God – we did nothing to deserve it.
Faith Alone: we receive our salvation and all of God’s Grace by means of faith, which is also a gift.
This morning we consider that everything exists to the glory of God Alone – not to anyone else or with anyone else – and we are to be glorifying God for everything – even the most minute things.
This “sola” emerged out of a teaching that came out of the Church in the Middle Ages. The conclusion was drawn – and it was taught – that there are two levels of people, gifts, and acts – the sacred and the secular.
For example, in the Middle Ages it was thought, a priest held a sacred job, and the banker, the baker, and candlestick maker held secular jobs. The abilities the priests had and the acts they did were sacred, and the abilities that the banker, the baker, and the candlestick maker had and their acts were secular. The priests were better, closer to God, the kind of work you would want your little Johnny to enter, rather than be the banker, the baker and the candlestick maker.
And so, the clergy were considered to be on a higher level. They were held on a higher level – they were glorified above the people. As a result of that, the laity – the common folk – were taught they had to go through the priests to God.
The reformers looked at this teaching and scratched their heads – because this is not taught in the Scripture. The only thing that is taught in any sense of this is that those who are called to preach and teach the Word of God will be judged more strictly than everyone else (cf. James 3:1).
Instead, the reformers taught what is called “the universal priesthood of believers.” That doesn’t mean that everybody is a priest. It doesn’t mean that there is no distinct between being a priest or pastor and some other calling – a banker, a baker, or a candlestick maker.
What is does mean is there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular. And you may shake your head and say, “Wait a minute, sacred music is worship music, and secular music is all that rap and heavy metal stuff on the radio.”
Yes, there are categories of “sacred” and “secular” in some things, such as music. But the point here, as one writer puts it, is “all of life [is] to be lived under the Lordship of Christ. Every activity of the Christian is to be sanctified unto the glory of God” (“The Five Solas of the Reformation” Gregg Strawbridge, Ph. D.).
If that is true, then it is also true that every Christian has direct access to God without a mere human mediator. We do not have to go to a priest to ask for forgiveness or to be told what constitutes acceptable repentance.
Peter writes of Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9, ESV).
And the creatures around the throne of God say of Christians, “and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10, ESV).
All Christians are priests, in the sense that we have direct access to God through prayer. And we are all called to recognize the absolute sovereignty of God and to do all things to the glory of God alone.
First, God is Absolutely Sovereign.
Let’s look at the issue Paul is writing to the Corinthians about: meat that had been offered to idols and is now for sale in the market to eat.
“’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”
Some in the church were saying, “In Christ we have Christian liberty – all things are lawful. There is nothing wrong with us eating meat that has been offered to idols.”
Paul reminds them that “not all things are helpful” – to the individual. And, “not all things build up” – their neighbors. Yes, it is true that they can eat meat offered to idols. What of it? Idols are nothing. However, eating meat can compromise your ministry – your witness – and it can mislead others. The Christian is not number one – we must be willing to restrain our freedom in love for the sake of our witness and the way others are perceiving us and our Christianity.
“Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.’ If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?”
Paul tells them they are free to eat the meat that is sold in the market, as the Psalmist explains – God is the God of all meat and God has said we are allowed to eat meat. In fact, God is the Sovereign God over all things. God created everything good – for our use and enjoyment.
However, there are times when – for our sake and others – we ought to put aside our liberty and not eat meat offered to idols. Why?
Paul tells them that, if a non-Christian invites them to dinner and serves them meat, they ought to eat what is put before them, not asking where it came from, but giving thanks to God.
However, if a non-Christian invites them to dinner and explains that they are going to have a wonderful meal, that the meat had just been offered up to the god or goddess, so it was fresh off the altar, they should not eat it. Why?
In not eating the meat, the Christian is witnessing to the non-Christian that he rejects the god or goddess the meat has been sacrificed to – he does not want to have anything to do with or to support the idea that this so-called deity is worthy of worship.
Well, we don’t usually sacrifice meat to idols in our culture, so how might we see this today?
Alcohol is one example. God, our God, the One Sovereign God, created grapes and gives them to humans for food and drink. God gives humans the understanding to ferment grapes and make wine out of them. God even gives us wine as part of one of the Sacraments, and in His Word, we read that Paul recommends that Timothy drink wine to help settle his stomach (I Timothy 5:23).
Alcohol is a good gift of God. Yet, we know it can be abused, and there are plenty of warnings in the Scripture against the sin of drunkenness. Still, alcohol is a good gift from God for those who choose to enjoy it rightly.
So, three scenarios:
Imagine you have just been dumped by your spouse, and your non-Christian friend finds out, and suggests that you both go to your favorite bar. (Going to a bar is not a sin; drinking is not a sin). But you drink yourself under the table, and your friend no longer takes your Christian witness seriously. You should have put aside your liberty and had no – or little – alcohol in this scenario.
Again, imagine your non-Christian friend is a recovering alcoholic and really needs to talk with you, and you suggest talking over lunch. But you like to have a drink during lunch, so you ask him to meet you at your favorite bar. Your friend comes, but no longer takes your Christian witness seriously, because you have put him in a very vulnerable position – on top of what he want to talk with you about. You should have put aside your liberty, forgone your lunchtime drink, and met at a place that would not add stress to your friend’s life.
On the other hand, suppose your non-Christian friend wants to talk with you – maybe about Christianity – maybe about his family – whatever, and you both enjoy having a drink, so you suggest you meet at your favorite bar. You meet, stay sober, and listen and speak with wisdom to your friend. After this, he will take your Christian witness more seriously.
Do you understand?
Our Sovereign God created everything that is and gives us the Creation to love and manage and enjoy. However, we are never to allow our enjoyment of what God has given us and our freedom to enjoy it to compromise our witness to the Gospel – to Christ being the One and Only Savior.
Second, we are to do all things to the Glory of God Alone.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”
So, as far this issue of eating meet offered to idols and Christian liberty – eat, don’t eat – what is most important is that you do what you do to the Glory of God. Whatever we do – what we have for breakfast, the car we choose to drive, the clothes we choose to wear, the way we speak to people, the way we hold ourselves in worship, the ways we interact with each other during fellowship, the jobs we pursue and our reasons for them, the families we have and the life we share together – the most important thing is that what we do and how we do it is done to the Glory of God.
What does that mean?
“[G]lorifying God means to acknowledge His greatness and give Him honor by praising and worshiping Him, primarily because He, and He alone, deserves to be praised, honored and worshipped. God’s glory is the essence of His nature, and we give glory to Him by recognizing that essence” (https://www.gotquestions.org/glorify-God.html).
We give glory to God when we recognize that God is Sovereign and we are not. God is God and we are not. God is the All-Sufficient One and we are totally dependent on God. If it were not God’s Will we would not be able to survive another second, much less enjoy it as we do. So, in humility, we ought to give thanks.
Like our wonderful lunch last week – it was certainly right for us to thank those who cooked and served and cleaned up, but Who brought the food into existence? Who made us able to buy the ingredients and understand how to put the ingredients together so we would have food to enjoy? Who gave us the income to be able to buy the food? Who gave us this building for us to enjoy food in? Who created the human body so we can taste, enjoy, digest, and benefit from the food that is made? In all these ways and more, we ought to bow our heads in thanks to God for His provision for us – for His Sovereign Will and work in our lives.
If we do – publically and privately, we ought to reflect back our thanks to God – showing Him to have all the Glory for Who He is and what He has done.
Others ought to be able to look at us and hear us speak and understand our thankfulness and our total reliance on the One Sovereign God. They ought to be able to watch and hear us and know we are serious about Jesus Christ and His Gospel – what He did in space and time to secure our salvation.
Like Paul says, we ought to be mindful about what we say and do and make sure that what we say and do points positively to Jesus Christ and His salvation. What we say and do ought to let others know who we believe God to be. We ought to glorify God with our lives.
Have you noticed a pattern as we have looked at the “five solas” of the Reformation?
By the Middle Ages, the Church had stopped teaching biblical doctrine in some areas. We have seen that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Scripture is not enough – commentaries and councils and popes have equal authority with the Word of God. Jesus is not enough; we must help Him by contributing our good works to secure our salvation. Grace is not enough – we must be worthy of the gift of salvation by merit. Faith is not enough – we do not merely receive salvation, we have to take it by mean of our works. And God does not deserve all of the glory – how can He, when He is not sovereign in our salvation?
By the Middle Ages, the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church became human-centered, rather than God-centered.
Yet, when the Scripture is read honestly, people like Martin Luther object and say we have to reform the Church according to what the Bible says. We have to repent of our errors and teach them and hold on to them no longer.
Hear again what Paul writes about Jesus:
“He 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).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are the Sovereign God, our Creator, Savior, Advocate. Yours is the Creation – of which we are part. Yours is the Church – of which we are the Body. Help us to glorify You in every detail of life that You would be known for Who You are and so we would not cause anyone to stumble over the announcement of Your Gospel. Draw us to Your Word, for there, alone, do we find the words of eternal life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.