Second Reformed Church

Friday, January 27, 2017

Reformed Wisdom

John Calvin on John 14:21 --

"...the fruit of piety is progress in the knowledge of Christ;..."

"Another Helper" Sermon: John 15-17

“Another Helper”
[John 14:15-17]
January 22, 2017 Second Reformed Church
            The Eleven were anxious about what would happen when Jesus returned to the Father – they were unsure how they would be able to carry on without Jesus physically with them.  But, as we saw last week, Jesus assures them that they will be able to continue to do the works that Jesus did – they will be empowered to go forth and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And not only that, they will be able to take the Gospel to the whole Creation!  As do we today.
            Jesus assures them that – at the Right Hand of the Father – He hears their prayers – and anything they ask in His Name – anything they ask that is according to His Will – He will hear and do – because it is what He wants for them.  And we saw the same is true for us – and though we don’t always know the mind of God, we have many commands and promises in the Scripture that we can pray and know that Jesus will answer “yes” to them and do them – because it is what He wants for us.
            So, if you and I believe in Jesus as God and Savior, we are able to do the works He did and take them to the ends of the earth, and whenever we pray for what Jesus wants, He will do it.  You and I are able.  And Jesus is willing.  OK?
            Jesus continues teaching in this morning’s text, and we see:
            First, obedience to Christ proves our love of Christ.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
And some of us might shake our heads at Jesus saying this: “No, Jesus, that’s not true.  I’m a member of a Reformed Church – and it’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year – and I know that we are saved by faith alone – not by works.  If I have faith, I love You, I don’t ever have to do what You say.”
What about this:  if your wife comes home from work and says to you, “Did you get everything done on the ‘honey-do’ list I left you?”  And you respond, “I love you!  I knew you would be coming back to me.  I don’t have to do anything to prove my love to you.”
Or, if you said to your kid, “When I get home, I want to see that you have cleaned your room.”  And when you come home, your kid is watching TV and nothing has been done in the room, and you say, “Why didn’t you obey me and clean your room?”  And your kid responds, “You wouldn’t want me to think that your love is based on what I do, would you?  I didn’t obey you because I need to know that you love me just because, even when I just do what I want.”
Jesus has given us a wide range of commands – not to burden us – but because He knows that if we do what He says we will continue to grow in holiness and avoid sin, and we will continue to grow in our relationship with Him and be filled with His joy.
Obedience does not mean that we are trying to earn our way to Heaven or that we are earning our way to Heaven.  The Reformers said we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.  We respond to the salvation that God has given us through Jesus Christ by obeying what God has commanded – in thanksgiving, in worship, with the desire to become more like Jesus – to grow in holiness. 
Obedience is a reaction of love, not merit.  If your spouse constantly refuses to do what you ask, if your kid constantly refuses to do what you ask, there is a disconnect – love is not being shown.  If we constantly disobey our God and Savior, there is no evidence of our love for Him.
However, if we strive for obedience – if we strive to be holy – and we sin, because we are not yet holy, and we ask for forgiveness – Jesus forgives us and He knows that we love Him.  If we love Jesus we will strive to be obedient – we will strive to be holy – because we love Him.  And in response to Who He Is and what He has done, we want to obey Him.
Even in our human relationships, with the people we love, we do whatever we can to please them – that they would know we love them – right?
And we might wonder how – since we are still sinners – how are we going to be able to be obedient and show our love to Jesus?
Jesus answers in telling the Eleven:
Second, Jesus will send Another Helper.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,”
The first thing we should see is that if Jesus is sending Another Helper, then Jesus is a Helper as well.
What does that mean?
The word Jesus uses is “Paraclete” – not “parakeet” – “Paraclete” – it’s a Greek word that means, “one called towards” – literally, an advocate.  An advocate is someone that speaks on your behalf or does something on your behalf.
The word is translated by “Helper,” “Comforter,” and “Advocate.”
In John’s first letter, he writes this: 
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (I John 2:1-6, ESV).
This is very much what we have seen in the Gospel text thus far:  as Christians, we are commanded not to sin, but if we do sin, we have an Advocate – we have Someone Who will come alongside of us and speak on our behalf – Jesus will represent us before the Father – when we sin and confess our sin and repent of it and promise not to sin again, Jesus goes before the Father on our behalf saying that He has covered the debt for our sin.  Jesus is our propitiation – He has paid the debt owed to God for our sins and credited us with His righteousness – and He has done so for every person who ever believes.
So, if we say we know Jesus – if we say we have an intimate relationship with Him as our God and Savior – we show that relationship – we show that love we have for Him by obeying His commands, in doing His works, in striving towards holiness in our lives, in becoming like Him.
So, Jesus is our Helper – our Advocate – because He pleads our case before God the Father – representing us as forgiven and righteous in Jesus – because of Who Jesus is and what He did.
Now, Jesus tells the Eleven that He is leaving – He is going back to the Father – so He asks the Father – and being the Son and the same One God, He knows what the Will of the Father is, so He asks for what the Father wants – He asks the Father to send another Helper – another Paraclete – another Advocate – Jesus remains our Advocate at the Right Hand of the Father – but Jesus asks the Father to send another Advocate – Who will be with us forever.
Jesus tells the Eleven that He is going to the Father and will be their Advocate before the Father – and, He and the Father will send another Advocate to be with them and never leave.  The Father and the Son will send another Advocate Who will always be with us – with every believer – and will never leave us.
Jesus does not leave His people alone but gives them an Advocate – a Helper – Who is forever with them to speak and do things on our behalf.  Every believer has a Helper with him or her.
Third, the Other Helper is the Spirit of Truth.
“even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
The Spirit of Truth, also known as the Holy Spirit, is the Other Helper – Comforter – Advocate – that Jesus promises to send to indwell each one who believes.
As the Spirit of Truth, He helps us in understanding the Truth of God’s Word, He comforts us in the midst of tribulation, and He advocates for us against evil – both that we would recognize it and that we would resist it.
Notice that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth – “He.”  The Holy Spirit is not an “it.”   The Holy Spirit is not a “force.”  The Holy Spirit is not “Jesus’ residual spirituality.”  The Holy Spirit is a Spirit and He is a Person.  Just as the Father is a Person, and the Son is a Person, the Holy Spirit is a Person.
Just as the Father is God, and the Son is God, so the Holy Spirit is also God.  Still, there is only One God.  Each Person of the Trinity is the same One God.
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to contrast Him with those who reject the Truth.  The Spirit of Truth advocates the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Those who reject Jesus, reject the Truth.  And anyone who rejects the Truth cannot receive the Spirit of Truth because they have no inward experience of Who He is.  Those Who reject Jesus cannot see the Truth of the Spirit of Truth.  Those who reject Jesus cannot know Him – they cannot have an intimate relationship with the Spirit as Advocate, because they cannot recognize Him as Truth.
Only those whom the Father has chosen can receive Him and know Him as the Truth and have Him as their Advocate.
So, if you do believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then you do know the Truth, you do believe the Truth, and the Truth dwells in you.  In fact, the Spirit of Truth – the Holy Spirit – lives in you and remains with you forever and ever.  God, the Holy Spirit, permanently indwells and advocates for all those who believe savingly in Jesus Christ.
If you believe, you know the Holy Spirit dwells within you.  The Holy Spirit leads us in understanding the Word of God and in desiring to do what is pleasing to God.  No one desires the things of God until the Spirit of Truth has been given to Him by the Father and the Son.
As we read:
“And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32, ESV).
“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (I Corinthians 2:12, ESV).
If we have believed savingly in Jesus, let us not be slack, but seek to obey Jesus in all things as an evidence of our love for Him.
Let us understand that Jesus is our Advocate before the Father and the Holy Spirit is our Advocate forever with us.
And let us rejoice that God chose to cause us to see and receive the Spirit of Truth, Who is with us in tribulation and leads us in truth as we mature until we are received in the fullness of the Kingdom.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the salvation You have given us through Your Son.  We thank You that Your Son asked You to indwell us with God the Holy Spirit that we would always have an Advocate with us.  Help us to trust You and follow after You in faith and obedience.  Revive us and lead us to our everlasting joy.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: "You Carried Me"

The mere word gets peoples’ backs up for one view or another.
Melissa Ohden’s memoir, You Carried Me, is her story – a heart-story of discovery leading to a commitment to God and speaking boldly against abortion.  You see, Melissa is a failed abortion – and this is her story of being adopted, growing up, learning the truth, and seeking out her birth families, while she began a family of her own.
If you have had an abortion, or if you’re thinking about it, if you have had a child, or a miscarriage, if you wonder about birth and whether abortion really affects anyone, this is a powerful memoir to help you think and cry, forgive and tak a stand.
This would be a wonderful resource to share with anyone, but especially for junior high and middle school kids who are just thinking about what they might pursue sexually and what they believe about what that means and their responsibility in what they pursue.
A wonderful history and resource.
[This review appears on my blog and on  I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"Doing & Asking" Sermon: John 14:12-14

“Doing & Asking”
[John 14:12-14]
January 15, 2017 Second Reformed Church
            We return to our look at the Gospel of John today.  You may remember that Jesus has finished His public ministry at this point in the Gospel:  the Eleven are with Jesus in the Upper Room, Judas has gone off to betray Jesus to the priests and Pharisees, and Jesus is engaged in a marathon teaching session with the remaining eleven apostles.
            After Judas leaves, Jesus tells the Eleven that His disciples will be known for having a sacrificial love for one another.  Jesus reveals that Peter will deny Him.  And, Jesus explains that He is going to prepare a place in the Father’s house for all those who believe in Him savingly.  Jesus tells them that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – in fact, Jesus and the Father are the same One God – so anyone who sees Jesus, sees the Father.
            Jesus continues in this morning’s text as He responses to their anxiety about His leaving them.
            And we see, first, believers in Jesus will do the works that Jesus did.
            “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do;”
            You may remember that when we see “truly, truly” or “amen, amen” this repetition is for emphasis.  Jesus is telling the Eleven – and us – to pay attention – to listen up – this is important.
            Whoever believes in Jesus savingly will continue to be able to do the works that Jesus did and will do them.  Jesus’ physical absence will not leave them unable to do works with power.
            The Eleven were afraid of what would happen once Jesus was no longer physically around.  They looked at Jesus and saw Him – rightly – as the One with Power and Authority – the connection to the Father – the words of life – salvation.  If Jesus was with them, they could preach the Gospel with power, but if He was gone – they worried they would not have the authority or the power to do what they had been doing in His presence:  preaching the Good News, performing miracles – works of the Holy Spirit, and standing against the priests and the Pharisees who did not believe.
            It’s similar to the way some of my friends are feeling – they look at the incoming Republican majority, and they fear that everything the Democratic party has achieved in the past eight years will be overturned – they will not be able to continue the good things they achieved – everything will be taken away.
            Or, it is like a strong leader leading people into a battle, and when he or she is killed, there is a fear that all is lost.  A vacuum is felt – the followers do not believe they can carry on without that person who was such an influential presence.
            Now, of course, none of our leaders are the Incarnate God, but the Eleven were feeling a similar sense of loss and confusion about proceeding with the works of the Good News.  Without Jesus as their Source of Power and Authority, how could they heal the sick and raise the dead?  How could they preach the Gospel without fear before the forces of evil?
            And Jesus tells them that they will be able to do all the works that Jesus did after Jesus has bodily ascended back to the Father – and they did.
            And so do we and all those who believe in Jesus savingly.  The one caveat is that miracles were done to prove Who Jesus is – there is no need for believers to be able to perform miracles now – though God can certainly do as He wills.
            What this means for us is that each one of us is able – empowered – authorized – to proclaim the Gospel – the historical facts of Who Jesus is and what He did – to all people – even to proclaim them against the evil in the world with confidence.  Lord willing, we’ll see next week that the reason we can do the works that Jesus did is due to the fact that we are indwelled by God the Holy Spirit.
In fact, we are told that we were created to do good works: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).
You may have heard people say that if Jesus was just here – physically – or if we lived in His day – things would be better – we would be more effective in our work for the Gospel.  But it’s not true.  We are able – today, to do the works that Jesus did – and we are called – and it has been planned – that we will do them.
Second, believers will do greater works than Jesus.
“and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
Jesus tells them that the Eleven – and all who believe in Him savingly – will do greater works that He did.  That means you and I will do greater works than Jesus.
Are you waiting for the lightning to hit?
Is that blasphemy?
Jesus did not say – and we should never say – that those who believe savingly in Jesus are greater than Jesus!  No, He said that all those who believe savingly in Jesus will do greater works than He did.
How can that be?
What did He mean?
We have a hint as Jesus says that we who believe savingly in Him will do greater works than He did, because He is going to the Father.  As I mentioned, next week, we hope to look at the Gift of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit – when Jesus returned to the Father – everyone who believes that He is God the Son and Savior was indwelled with God the Holy Spirit – giving us the power and authority to act and speak in Jesus’ Name.
But, back to the question at hand, how is what we do greater works than Jesus?
Well, those works cannot be greater in impact on individuals – because Jesus is the One Savior Who provides the One Way of salvation to all who believe – there is no one and nothing greater.
The answer is found as we consider the extent of Jesus’ ministry.  If we look to the Bible, we see that Jesus preached and taught and did other works in a small section of what we call the Middle East.  But the Apostles, and the disciples, and all we who believe take the Gospel to the entire world – to all of Creation – to every people and tribe and tongue and nation.
We do greater works than Jesus did because we do the works of Jesus to the ends of the earth.
Third, Jesus will do whatever we ask in His Name.
“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
“In Jesus’ Name, I ask that one thousand gold bars appear on the communion table!”
“In Jesus’ Name, I ask that four hundred people come into the sanctuary to worship when I finish making this request!”
Did I do something wrong?
I remember watching the false teacher, Benny Hinn, on TV once, and a young man came up on the stage and this young man renounced his sins and asked Benny to fill him with the Holy Spirit.  And Benny saw that this young man was wearing earrings.  And Benny told him that until he had been delivered by the demon of men who wear earrings, the Holy Spirit would not come into him.  And Benny yelled at those earrings to come out in Jesus’ Name, and the young man removed them, and Benny waved his arms and the young man fell down.
Is that what Jesus means?
No.  Of course not.
Let’s think this through.
Jesus says that whatever we ask in His Name.  If we are asking “in His Name,” we are asking something on His behalf, we are asking something that is within His ability to grant, we are asking something that is representative of Him – something that is according to His character – something He would want.
Think about it this way:  if you spoke before Congress and said, “In the name of President Obama, I ask that rich people no longer have to pay taxes,” your response would be to say, “That is not in the name of President Obama – President Obama would never ask that rich people no longer have to pay taxes.”
If we speak in someone’s name – if we ask in someone’s name – it has to be in line with their character – with what they would want – what you would normally expect them to say if they were here in the flesh.
It also removes our merit for making the request.  If the request can only be answered by Jesus according to Who Jesus is, then it is all of Jesus, and not something that we have accomplished – so asking in Jesus’ Name rightly matures us in humility.
            Then Jesus says that He will do what we ask in His Name, so the Father is glorified in the Son.  So, anything we ask in Jesus’ Name must also be something that glorifies the Father in the Son – whatever we ask for in Jesus’ Name – if it is to be answered – if it is to be done – it must be something that reveals Who the Father is in the Son – it cannot mislead people about Who the Father is or Who the Son is – it cannot say anything that is contrary to Who They are.
            And Jesus repeats Himself: “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”
            And we have repetition for why?
            Jesus wants the Eleven – and all of us – to understand that although He is physically seated at the Right Hand of the Father in Glory – He hears ever request we make of Him – He hears every single prayer we raise to Him.  He is not too busy.  He does not get confused.  Every single prayer we raise in the Name of Jesus is heard by Jesus.  And if it is according to His Will, His Character, to the Glory of the Father in the Son – He will absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, do what we request of Him.
            Do you believe Jesus?
            If you do, then the question is, how do we know what is in Jesus’ Name – according to His Will – His Character, to the Glory of the Father in the Son?
            Part of the answer is that we don’t always know.
            For example, if someone is ill and we pray for his healing, if it is Jesus’ Will that he be healed, He will answer our prayer and do what we have asked.  But if it is not His Will that he be healed, Jesus will answer our prayer by saying, “no,” and allow the man to remain ill.
            The other part of the answer is that there are thousands of commands and promises in the Bible, and if we pray those, we know He will do them, because He wants us to keep the commands and He has promised to keep His promises.
            Consider these words of Jesus:
            “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:1-11, ESV).
            There are a number of prayers that we can – and should – pray from this passage:
            Lord, prune us so we will bear more fruit, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
            Lord, keep us clean because of the Word You have spoken, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
            Lord, help us to abide in You and bear much fruit, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
            Lord, help us to abide in You so we would pray that Your Will would be done, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
            Lord, help us to abide in Your love, that we would love others, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
            Lord, help us to keep Your commandments, so we would abide in Your love, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
            Lord, help us to receive Your Word – to believe and trust it – that our joy would be full, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
            Do you understand?
            So, in this short text, we see that the eleven apostles were worried about continuing the Gospel mission in the world once Jesus had physically left – returning to the Father.  But Jesus comforts them and assures them that they will continue the Gospel mission – spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
            In fact, Jesus tells them that His disciples – which includes you and me and all those who believe – will continue to do the works that Jesus did – especially preaching and teaching Who Jesus is and what He has done.
            Jesus tells them that His disciples – which includes you and me and all those who believe – will do greater works that He did – in the sense that we have been commanded and given the authority to bring the Gospel to every nation and tribe and tongue and people throughout Creation.
            And Jesus tells them that His disciples – which includes you and me and all those who believe – that He most assuredly will do whatever we ask of Him that is according to His Will and to the Glory of the Father.
            So let us take comfort in Jesus’ words, and seek to obey Him in all that He has said.
            And let us pray:
            Almighty God, Your Son promised that we would be enabled as His disciples to do the works that He did – even to the ends of the earth – and we ask that we would tell others the Gospel with the power and authority of Your Son, Jesus.  We ask that You would help us to pray with wisdom and trust, knowing what Jesus has said and all that You have commanded and promised.  And we ask that we would know You so well that we, indeed, pray according to Jesus’ Will and to Your Glory, for it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.