Sunday, December 31, 2017
“The End is Here”
[I Peter 4:7-11]
December 31, 2017, Second Reformed Church
We have reached the end of the calendar year. It is a time when we think about new starts, new beginnings, making resolutions, and singing, “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auld_Lang_Syne].
Many will pass into the New Year in fogs of alcohol or dreamy remembrance – and it’s not wrong to party with our friends – but we must always keep the truth before us, as well, that the end is here.
We think of comic persons – or scary, perhaps – waving signs threatening that the end is near. But that’s wrong – the end is here.
Peter wrote this letter around 63 AD, just as the persecution from Caesar Nero was escalating – both of Peter’s letters concern how Christians are to live in an age of savage persecution as they wait for the return of Christ. Jesus, John, and Paul address these circumstances in the same way. Christians were being persecuted and are being persecuted – as Jesus promised – and the persecutions go in cycles around the world and place to place, because the end is here.
The end times began with the Ascension of Jesus and will continue until His return. And we are not to be afraid: our salvation is secure in Christ, and we have been sent to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world until His return. As we suffer for Christ – as unpleasant as it is – it is proof that we are His. People are convince that we are believers, and so they attack us in various ways.
Jesus will return, and the Father knows the day and the hour, but we do not. We are called to be ready at all times for His return, because it could be any time – and we do not want to be found unready. Between now and Christ’s return, we have much work to do, and we have been told how we are to live as Christian people.
Peter tells us, we are to be self-controlled and sober-minded.
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”
Since the end is here, since we are Christians – believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are to be self-controlled and sober-minded.
Through God, the Holy Spirit, Who lives in us, we are to be a people who strive for stability and clarity. We are not to run after every swindle and theory and conspiracy and every cry of the flesh to buy and engage and overdo. We are not just to react. We are not to covet our neighbor’s donkey or husband or cookware. We should not be convinced there is a boogeyman around each corner and all hope is lost.
We are to be a people who calmly, logically, look at the world around us with our heart and soul and mind and strength, and respond and engage it in a way that is good and right and pleasing to God and for His glory.
We are to be a people of hope – with reasons for our hope.
Paul writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9, ESV).
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (I Thessalonians 4:3-8, ESV).
Be self-controlled and sober-minded – for the sake of your prayers.
Why for the sake of our prayers? What does being self-controlled and sober-minded have to do with our prayers?
It is easy not to pray, but prayer is our lifeline. Prayer is a means of grace by which God conforms us to the Image of His Son as we become more in line with God’s Will – asking for all those things God desires for us and the world.
The devil is at us, “O, you don’t have time to pray. You don’t know the right way to pray. The pastor will do the praying. Well, God knows anyway, so you really don’t have to pray.” I was going to give you an example, but then I thought better of it – I think you would be preoccupied with it and not continue to listen!
Jesus tells us to pray – as He answers the question of how we are to pray – called “the Lord’s Prayer.”
Our bodies and minds must be strong to spend the time in prayer and to pray rightly – to not be distracted by all the temptations of the devil and the thoughts of worthless things. Our whole selves must be focused in asking God for our needs and thanking Him.
Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of our prayers.
Second, we are to love one another earnestly.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Above all – most importantly – notice – “keep loving” – this is something Peter knew the Christians he was writing were doing – love one another – love all other Christians – earnestly.
What does it mean to love all other Christians earnestly?
Quickly, understand that we are all different people with different temperaments and preferences, and it is not wrong not to like a fellow Christian – God is not saying that we are all to be best buddies and move into one house together.
But we must love one another earnestly. We must love one another seriously, zealously, truly, sincerely.
We have seen in our Thursday night Bible study that Paul writes, “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss” (I Thessalonians 5:26, ESV). In that culture, is was a sign of sincere friendship to kiss each other with a holy – non-sexual, pure – kiss. We kiss our friends less frequently in our culture, but we can understand that such a greeting indicates a real gratefulness for the person and the person being there. And so, we are to love each other is such a way that shows we truly care and are grateful to have our fellow Christians as Christians.
Paul writes of this unity in love this way:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (I Corinthians 12:12-26, ESV).
We love each other earnestly as we recognize each other as part of the Body of Christ and genuinely love – long to be with in worship and mission – with those Christ has saved to be part of His body.
We are to love one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Paul attaches Proverbs 10:12 to the idea of earnest love of all believers – those who Christ died for. But what does it mean? How is our genuine love for each other related to covering sins?
Christians sin against each other, and our sinful nature wants to parade those sins “so everybody will know what he or she is really like!” “You wouldn’t listen to the pastor is you knew his sins!” “You wouldn’t let so-and-so in your home if you knew where they got their money!” Love seeks to preserve honor, not to parade sins.
Jesus instructed us on how to deal with the sins of a brother or a sister – and that begins – and, in the best cases – ends, in private. It hurts the body of Christ when we drag each other through the mud.
Some of us are caught up in cycles of sin that we must continue to forgive and continue to push each other to forsake. There are times when we might get tired of forgiving and just want to splash the truth across the walls, but Jesus says, “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:22, ESV). We have the guidelines that Jesus gave for addressing sin, and we have this statement, to the effect that we are always to forgive the truly repentant sinner, just as our Father in Heaven forgives us.
We are to love one another earnestly.
Third, we are to show hospitality without grumbling.
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Hospitality is receiving guests – here, brothers and sisters in Christ, and sharing what you have with them – a place to stay, a meal, entertainment, etc.
When a brother or sister comes to visit, our response should not be, “Watch how fast I can get rid of her.” Or, “Oh, it’s him. Why didn’t I pretend to be dead?”
Now, that does not mean that we must always receive guests, no matter what’s happening in our lives. Nor does it mean that we are at liberty to be pests and go from home to home, eating and drinking and taking up everyone’s time. What is means is we are to receive brothers and sisters as members of the body of Christ and visit with them as such.
We can imagine the abuse, can’t we? In our Thursday night study, we have seen Paul confront those who thought, “Well, if Jesus is coming soon, I’m not going to work, I’m just going to live off everyone else.” That is abuse of the idea – that is sin.
On the other hand, if we are inviting the whole church over to our home, we cannot leave out inviting certain people just because we don’t like them.
There is a balance to be reached. Times when we want to show hospitality, and so we do, and we find ourselves surprised by who shows up, and we must show that Christian love to them.
As the author of Hebrews writes, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:1-2, ESV).
Fourth, we are to use our gifts to serve each other.
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
God has gifted every person, including every Christian. We are all gifted in one way or another. God have gifted some people with public speaking, some with writing, some with teaching, some with entertaining, some with listening, some with singing, some with cleaning, some with organizing, some with giving – we are all gifted in at least one way – and we must use those gifts in the Church and for the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We are told two reasons: It is good stewardship. In other words, one of the reasons God gave you the ability to play the saxophone or to enjoy climbing and working off ladders is that you would use that gift in the Church and for the sake of your brothers and sisters.
And, when we use our gifts, it glorifies God. When we use the gifts God gives us and understand that they are gifts that God has given us to use in these ways, attention is directed towards God, who is given the glory for the gifts.
We are not given gifts to glorify ourselves or to become prideful about ourselves. They are for the Church and to the glory of God.
We are to use our gifts to serve each another.
It is the end of 2017. The end of history is here – it has been for two thousand years. The end began with Jesus’ Ascension and will end with His return, the Judgment, and the Restoration of the Creation.
As we live through whatever time is left in the end:
We are to be self-controlled and sober-minded.
We are to love one another earnestly.
We are to show hospitality without grumbling.
And we are to use our gifts to serve each other.
In whatever time the end has left, know that the world is watching each one of us to see if we believe in Jesus savingly. They are looking at us to see if we are really the body of Christ, or if we are just like every other self-sufficient sinner.
May God be glorified in our faith and obedience and be pleased to grow us into the Image of Jesus as we pray, asking that these things would be true of us, because God will be pleased when it is so.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, what remains of our old nature doesn’t want to be a part of the body of Christ. We want to run free in our sin and not care about our brothers and sisters and use our gifts for our own glory. Lord, please send the Holy Spirit to convicts us and guide us to follow after Your Will, that You would be glorified and our joy would be made full. Make us desire the strong love You have called us to in the Church, and may the world wonder and be drawn to You through it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Thursday, December 28, 2017
Monday, December 25, 2017
December 24, 2017 Second Reformed Church
The angel, Gabriel, came to Mary and announced that she would give birth to the Promised Savior – that God Himself would cause her to become pregnant – as a virgin – and bear the Incarnate Son of God. And they lived in Nazareth in Galilee.
The problem was that the prophet, Micah, said that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem in Judah: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2, ESV).
If the birth of Jesus was a conspiracy, Mary and Joseph would have to have found a reason to move that wouldn’t be questioned, so the Baby would be born in Bethlehem. But it was not a conspiracy, and, as Daniel says, God moves men and nations to suit His purposes: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:20b-22, ESV).
And so we read:
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
This is the Hand of God – the Hand of Divine Providence – that moves all of history to accomplish God’s purposes. God has not left us to our own devices, but is intimately involved in everything that happens – even in seemingly small things – like guiding a pagan nation to conduct a census which would make Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem – where the Christ-Child was prophesied to be born.
As we read through the Bible, we see God moving all things to bring His plan to the end for which He intends. God moved you and me to be here this evening – God is moving in our lives right now to accomplish His purposes. Have you ever looked back at your life and thought, “If I hadn’t done this, I would have gone here, and this wouldn’t have happened, and I wouldn’t have the result I do now”?
Paul tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). If we love God, if we are called according to His purposes – all things are working together for our ultimate good.
The nation of Israel was conquered by the Roman Empire, and they decided to take a census, which sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, so the prophecy of the birthplace of the Savior would come to pass – for our ultimate good.
That is not to say that everything that ever happens to us, we would consider “good,” or that we will enjoy every step along the way – we know that’s not true. There is pain and suffering in the world and in our lives – for sin, as the result of sin, and for our discipline. But – ultimately – all things are working together for the good of we who believe in the Savior – who love God – who are called according to His purposes.
And, so, for the good of all those who love God and are called according to His purposes, God sent the Roman Empire to conquer Israel and to have Quirinius call for a census which would send Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy of the birth of the Savior.
At the time that Mary was giving birth to Jesus, we read:
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.”
Shepherds – those filthy, smelly people, whose word was almost as unreliable as women’s – so the culture said – were out in the fields with their sheep – they were out doing their job. And suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared and the sky filled with the Glory of the Lord, and they were terrified.
Rightly so, don’t you think?
Not just because seeing an angel appear is a frightening event – not just because he appeared suddenly – not just because they wouldn’t have known if the angel came to kill them or bring them news or something else – but because the Glory of the Lord filled the sky – that Glory which caused the prophet Isaiah to cry out, “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 6:5, ESV).
Isaiah’s response is telling – the Glory of the Lord – the Holiness of God – causes the Creation to shake – and it causes those who have committed rebellion against God to shake in fear. As Daniel said just a minute ago – God dwells in light, and He knows what is in the darkness. The darkness runs and hides from the light, and humans with darkness – with sin – in them – cry out in fear.
But the angel quickly comforts them:
“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
What is “good news of great joy?”
If you were a millionaire and you won a thousand dollars, it would be good news, but it wouldn’t necessarily be of great joy, because you already have so much.
On the other hand, if you were unemployed and you won a thousand dollars, it would be good news, and a great joy.
Similarly, if you were a millionaire and lost a thousand dollars, it would be bad news, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a great disaster.
But, if you were unemployed, and you got a bill for a thousand dollars, that would be bad news, and a great disaster.
So, the goodness of the news and the greatness of the joy relates to the badness of what bad news would be, and the greatness of what a disaster would be. Right?
So, the further you were in debt, the more the thousand dollars would be worth – the greater a joy it would be. (We’re talking in general terms.)
What would be such good news that it would be a great joy to every type of person in the world?
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah God.
The shepherds surely knew from attending worship in the Temple that they needed a Savior – they were at odds with God due to their sin – and they understood that the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – was not going to be enough in the long run. And if we take our sin seriously, we understand that nothing we do or try to be will ever be enough to make us right with God.
So, the announcement that the Savior God had been born – that the Way to be right with God had been born – would be good news of great joy to everyone who recognized that he was not right with God and couldn’t become right with God on his own.
God judges all mere humans in these words: “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 3:9b-18, ESV).
That’s pretty bad news – isn’t it?
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:18-21, ESV).
Anyone who is not right with God will be condemned. And Jesus – with the rest of Scripture – says the Only Way to be right with God is through faith alone in Jesus Alone as Savior – the Messiah God – the Christ.
The bad news is that all mere human begins are against God – which is the worst of all bad news, because God is against those who are not right with Him – and the end of those who do not get right with God is condemnation fitting the crime of rebellion against God.
But the angel told the shepherds that there is good news – the best news there could ever be – for every type of person on earth – shepherds and kings – men and women – Jews and non-Jews – which is a great joy – what greater joy could there be than to be saved from the Wrath of God and be made right with Him? The Savior has been born!
The problem with many people is that they don’t understand the bad news – God requires us to be holy as He is Holy – and if we are not, we will be justly condemned. But the news is even worse – as we just heard – we can’t make ourselves right and we don’t even want to be right – we are happily in rebellion – in sin.
The problem with many people is that they have heard that God is love, and they believe that they are pretty good people, so God will be grateful for being the best they could be on their own.
The problem with many people is that they not only don’t believe they’re that bad – they don’t believe that God is that Holy. They haven’t been confronted with the Glory of God that makes them cry out, “Woe is me! A sinner!”
I hope you have received Jesus Alone by faith alone – the One Savior. If you have not – know that you are in desperate need of being saved from the Wrath of God for your sin. God is Holy, and being good enough is not good enough for God. The only hope for any person is to receive and believe the historical work of the Savior for all those who will ever believe.
If you have received the Savior – if you can feel the great joy that would have welled up in those shepherds as they heard the good news announced to them – that caused them to run to the manger and then run to tell everyone they could find, then you are now one who has the Gospel and the Glory of God in you – in your earth vessel – in your jar of clay – for others to see. Don’t hide the Light! Go beyond, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” and explain why this good news is of great joy – explain what Jesus did on earth and why that is good news of great joy – why He is the Only Hope of anyone who will believe.
The angel told the shepherds where to find Him:
“’And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”
As we remember God’s birth – His Incarnation – in the person of Jesus – as we consider what God did to save us – as we think about this good news and find ourselves filled with great joy – let us take every opportunity to tell others the good news that they may be filled with great joy.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for loving the world and sending Your Son to become a real human being to live among us, die, and rise again that we would be forgiven and made righteous – that we would be right with You eternally with You in Your Kingdom. Forgive us for our sin, and let God the Holy Spirit embolden us and give us the words to speak so all the world would know this good news of great joy. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.