Homily in Remembrance of Tom Madison

July 22, 2017 in Bible - NT - Acts, Bible - NT - John, Cross of Christ, Ecclesiology, Evangelism, Faith, Funeral Service, Law and Gospel, Resurrection, Sin

Acts 26:28–29 (NASB95)
28 Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”

The passage that I have quoted today contains Paul’s witness to a Jewish king named Agrippa. Two years prior to this exchange, Paul had been unjustly imprisoned and had remained in Roman custody that entire time, awaiting a trial, awaiting his freedom. At the end of those two years, however, the Roman Governor Festus was prepared to deliver Paul into the hands of his enemies; consequently, Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal for justice to Caesar in Rome; his appeal was granted.

Shortly after he made his appeal, King Agrippa arrived and Festus decided to use Agrippa to help him explain to Caesar why Paul was being sent to Rome. Festus permitted Paul to explain why he was in prison; Paul, as was his custom, used the opportunity to preach about Christ. He wanted to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian. So Paul highlighted the way Jesus had fulfilled all the promises that God had made throughout the Jewish Scriptures – “that the Christ [God’s chosen Ruler of the world] would suffer [and die], that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (26:23). Jesus is proof of God’s intention to reconcile human beings with Himself.

This may seem an unusual passage for a memorial service. But it is fitting for this reason: even as Paul had suffered in prison for about two years, our beloved brother Tom suffered in a prison of sickness these past two years. Tom would not have chosen that trial for himself any more than Paul would have chosen to be imprisoned. Far better to be free, far better to be well, and able to do what he was accustomed to doing.

But Tom knew, even as Paul did, that his Heavenly Father had some purpose for his suffering. Consequently, Tom used his suffering to speak to others about Christ. Tom’s faith was always strong – as the testimonies we have heard illustrate. But these last couple years Tom’s faith was even deeper; his perception of eternal realities clearer; and his understanding of the fragility of life keener. Though Tom suffered much in his sickness, he suffered in faith. When I would meet with Tom to encourage him, I would regularly go away encouraged. For he would remind me of God’s promises, remind me of God’s purposes, and remind me of God’s lovingkindness. Perhaps Tom did the same with you?
I was reminded of Agrippa’s encounter with Paul as I spoke with Connie and the children this week. They told me of a conversation that Tom had with an unbelieving friend in which he spoke of Christ and repeated Paul’s words in our text: I would wish to God…[that you] might become such as I am, except for this cancer. Tom would want all to know the hope of being reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ and having hope even in the face of suffering and death.

So I am here to repeat Tom’s urgent appeal; I am here to remind you of the fragility of life; I am here to tell you that you will die and face your Creator and your Judge; and the only way to look forward to that moment in hope, as Tom did, is if you have been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. Your sins – your failure to worship your Creator as you ought, your acts of selfishness and spite, your mistreatment of your spouse, your unjust divorce, your anger and bitterness, your lust for money, for sex, for control, for youth – your sins have separated you from God; if you should die and stand before your Creator with those sins between you and Him, you will perish eternally.

But hear the Good News: God has been gracious to you – He has offered clear and irrefutable evidence of His existence and of His determination to reconcile you to Himself. Jesus’ death and resurrection are that proof – proof that God has provided a sacrifice to forgive your sins and reconcile you to Himself and proof that death is no longer a cause of hopelessness for those who believe in Jesus. So I am here to plead with you: be reconciled to God before it is too late. Turn from your sin and turn in faith to Jesus Christ. Listen to the words of Sacred Scripture:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

These words remind us that our condition as sinful human beings is so dire that there is no way to deal with our sin and be reconciled to God other than through Jesus; He is the only sacrifice for sins. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). These are the only two options. Believe in Jesus or face the judgment of God.
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Despite God’s gracious proof of His existence and His purpose to reconcile us to Himself, many continue to resist Him and refuse to believe in Jesus. The Scriptures say again:
This is the [sober truth], that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God… (John 3:19-21)

So what of you? Are you willing to humble yourself before your Creator? Are you willing to come to the light and have your deeds exposed now? Or will you try to hide and hope that the day of death will not overtake you? Tom’s death illustrates that that hope is vain. It is appointed unto all men to die once and after this to face the judgment. So hear Paul’s wish once again: “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” Let us pray.

The Malevolence of the Devil

February 21, 2016 in Bible - NT - 1 Peter, Bible - NT - Colossians, Bible - NT - Mark, Cross of Christ, Meditations, Satan, Temptation, Word of God
Mark 1:12–13 (NKJV)
12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
1 Peter 5:8–9 (NKJV)
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.
As Christians, God has called us to fight against three primary enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. And since we find ourselves on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, continuing to anticipate our remembrance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, it is fitting that we look at the third member of this unholy triumvirate – the devil. Last week we considered the power of our flesh; today, the malevolence of the devil.
The devil was and is a created being, an angelic figure, who rebelled against God in the beginning. He was filled with pride and rebelled against the Good Creator, seeking to exalt himself rather than to exalt His Lawful Lord. In this rebellion other angels took part – and they are the demons whom our fathers worshiped in their idolatry. These demons often possessed hapless victims and drove them toward evil and to this day they feast on human suffering and misery. The devil is their leader and prowls about seeking whom he may devour, endeavoring to swallow us up in his own judgment.
It was against this malevolent being that our Lord Jesus waged war during His 40 days in the wilderness, an event that Lent recalls. Jesus did three things in the wilderness that we must remember.
First, Jesus fought against the devil. The Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to enter into the lists. He did not go into the wilderness for an extended vacation but to contend with the Evil One. So we are called to imitate Him in this. We too are to “resist the devil” – are to be sober and vigilant; to be on our guard like good soldiers. Why? Because, like Jesus, we are at war with the devil who would like nothing more than to destroy us.
Second, Jesus fought using the Word of God as His weapon. The Word of God was for Jesus (even as for us) the Sword of the Spirit with which He manfully attacked the perversions of the wicked one. You see only occasionally does Satan show himself in lurid displays like demon possession; more commonly he seduces us through sin, temptation, compromise, and mediocrity. He is content to destroy people from behind the scenes. And he accomplishes this chiefly by undermining the integrity of God’s Word and causing us to doubt God’s reliability and goodness. “Has God really said…?” was not only the question he posed to Eve in the garden but also the question he poses to each of us in the moment of temptation. So what is the solution? How do we fight him? By clinging tenaciously and faithfully to the Word of God even as Jesus did. In Peter’s words, we are to “Resist him, steadfast in the faith…” To Satan’s question, “Hath God really said…?” we are to reply like Jesus, “Thus it is written…”
Finally, we must never forget that Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was but the prelude to the great contest between Jesus and the devil on the cross. The wilderness anticipated the cross even as Lent paves the way for Good Friday and Easter. On the cross, Satan believed he had achieved his greatest victory; in fact, however, it was his ultimate defeat. Paul writes that Jesus has taken away “the handwriting of requirements which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers [Satan and his minions], He made a public spectacle [a laughingstock] of them, triumphing over them in [the cross]” (Col 2:14-15). Hence, though Satan remains a bitter foe, we must never forget that he is a defeated foe. Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.

As we continue anticipating the coming arrival of Good Friday and Easter, therefore, let us (like our Lord Jesus) enter boldly into the lists and fight bravely against the wiles of the devil. And reminded of our call to fight, let us begin by confessing that far too often we have given way to our enemy. Let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.

40% of the Gospels to .1% of Jesus’ Life?

April 5, 2015 in Bible - NT - Romans, Cross of Christ, Easter, Justification, Meditations, Resurrection
Romans 4:24–25 (NKJV)
[Righteousness] shall be imputed to us who believe in [the Living God] who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was [crucified] because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
For nearly two millennia our fathers and mothers have been celebrating Holy Week – beginning last Sunday with Palm Sunday and culminating today in the feast of Easter. Part of the rationale for this celebration is the unbalanced record of Jesus’ life found in our four Gospels. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that each Gospel devotes about forty percent of its narrative to the last week of Jesus’ life. Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus lived for about 33 years – or approximately 1,716 weeks. One week of those 1700 weeks amounts to less than 1/10 of 1% of Jesus’ total life – yet the Gospels devote 40% of their narrative to that one week.
In so doing they announce – as does the rest of the NT – that Jesus’ ministry reaches its dramatic climax in this week. Jesus’ birth was not the climax; His childhood in Joseph and Mary’s home was not the climax; not even His interaction with John the Baptizer nor His teaching nor His miracles were the climax. Though all these events were important in their way, they were mere preludes to this one week in Jesus’ life.
So why is this week so important? Paul answers that question here in Romans. It is in this week that Jesus “was crucified because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” First, Jesus was crucified because of our offenses. In other words, all of us have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. We have failed to love our Creator with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Consequently, by nature we all stand guilty before God – estranged from God and in need of reconciliation with Him. We are, Paul says, “children of wrath.”
So how shall we be set right with Him? How shall we be reconciled to God? Only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Jesus gave His life that He might take away our guilt and set us right with God. He was crucified because of our offenses.
But how do we know that Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted by God? How do we know that trusting in Jesus to reconcile us to God isn’t just some pie in the sky hope; just wishful thinking? We know because Jesus rose from the dead. In the resurrection, God has given proof to all men that the sacrifice of Christ has been accepted. Jesus was raised because of our justification. In other words, Jesus was raised to set us right with God.
So what of you? Where have you placed your hope for acceptance by God? Have you placed it in your good works? This hope shall fail. Have you placed it in your sorrow for your bad behavior? This hope shall fade away. Have you just hoped that God won’t care? That He is a benign and easy-going deity? That hope is vain. Our only hope lies in Jesus, the Lamb of God who was crucified for us and then rose again from the grave that we might be set right with God. So put your trust in Jeus. On the last day, we shall all rise from our graves and stand before our Creator – and the only way we shall endure that interview is if the crucified and risen Christ is our Defender.

Reminded that we can only be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus, let us kneel and seek His forgiveness in Christ.

What is our only hope?

February 12, 2015 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Cross of Christ, Election, King Jesus, Newsletter

This last week our catechism questions centered on the universal sinfulness of humanity. As David declares, “God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Ps 53:2-3). David’s assessment is sobering, is it not? But his assessment agrees with that of Paul – by nature we are children of wrath (Eph 2:3). So is there no hope?
 
Well no – at least there is no hope from the human level. If salvation depends upon us as human beings, then we are lost. There is no way that we can be acceptable in the sight of God – for we have sinned against God and, what’s more,we want to sin against God. There are none who understand or seek God.

So what then? What is our only hope? Our only hope is if God Himself should come and rescue us. And this God promised to do: “I looked, but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to uphold; therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; and My own fury, it sustained Me” (Is 63:5). This, my friends, is the message of the Gospel: what we could not do because of our sinful nature, God did in sending His own Son to rescue and redeem us. Praise to the Lord!

And what our catechism question this week reminds us is this: this action was the fulfillment of God’s plan in all eternity. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world; love us while we were yet sinners; saved us apart from any merit on our own part – for we had and have none. So all glory goes to God alone.

Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God, having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

Unite My Heart to Fear Your Name

August 31, 2014 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Confession, Cross of Christ, Depravity, Heart, Meditations, Sanctification
Psalm 86:11–13 (NKJV)
11 Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. 12 I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will glorify Your name forevermore. 13 For great is Your mercy toward me, And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
As a result of our rebellion against God in the garden we are all by nature, at birth, estranged from God. We are alienated from God in the womb. As we will read in our sermon text this morning, our rebellion against God resulted in our expulsion from the garden, from God’s presence.
By the grace of God this estrangement from Him, this alienation, is recoverable. We who were once alienated from God, strangers to the covenants of promise, have been brought near by the blood of Jesus Christ. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, our sins which separated us from God, have been covered. Therefore, for all those who turn from their sin and approach God through Christ there is forgiveness, reconciliation and peace with God.
But even if you are at peace with God, you sense the remnants of the sinful nature. In this life we groan – we groan under the consequences of living in a sinful world and we groan under the folly of our own sin. It is this latter groaning which prompts the psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 86. The psalmist prays, Unite my heart to fear Your name. In other words, he asks God to give him singleness of heart. Why? Because as believers in Christ we still face a divided heart – sometimes we find ourselves longing for the glory of God and the praise of His Name; other times we long for our own glory and sin against God and others. We need God to give us a united heart.

So this morning as we enter into God’s presence to worship – let us approach Him only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ; and let us beseech him to root out of our lives the sinful desires which divide our hearts from him and from one another. Let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

The Danger of Self-Righteousness

August 3, 2014 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Cross of Christ, Faith, Justification, Meditations, Sanctification
Colossians 2:6-8
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
It is common for those who have a passion for good works to degenerate into self-righteousness. The Pharisees, the Galatians, the Judaizers, and, at moments, even Peter and Barnabas fell into this trap. After all, nothing makes more sense to our carnal reason than to say that if we have achieved righteousness, then we must have earned it solely by our own merit and hard work.
It is to combat this notion that Paul exhorts us to walk in Christ, to conduct our lives, according to the same principle that united us with Christ in the first place. And what was that principle? Faith. Faith united us with Christ, was the appointed means by which God credited to our account the righteousness of Christ, was the gift that enabled us to emerge from darkness into the light of life.
So let us be absolutely clear what this means. Faith brings nothing of its own to the transaction; we did not receive Christ because we were wiser than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because we were more intelligent than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because of anything in us. For by nature we are all children of wrath, deserving of destruction, committed to waste and profligacy. What then does faith do? Looking to self and despairing of any self-deliverance, faith looks to Christ and rests upon Him for deliverance – save me O Lord, for I am helpless and needy; have mercy on me, for I am a sinner worthy of death.
And so Paul urges us to pursue our growth in holiness with this same mentality. Look not to your own worth, not to your own deserving, not to your own wisdom, but instead to the grace of God, the mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who frees us from our self-absorption and enables us to pursue righteousness to the glory of God. God will not honor those who strive to achieve righteousness in their own strength. He looks to the one who is humble and who relies on His grace in Christ.

And so, reminded that God’s grace is the source of our strength and righteousness; that that which distinguishes us from our neighbor is not our commitment, not our determination, not anything of ours, but rather the completely free grace of God, let us confess that we often fall into the sin of self-righteousness.

The New Covenant is the Oldest Covenant

July 28, 2014 in Covenantal Living, Cross of Christ, Justification, Old Testament, Quotations, Trinity

“So the work of Christ is the source of all human salvation from sin: the salvation of Adam and Eve, of Noah, of Abraham, of Moses, of David, and of all God’s people in every age, past, present, or future. Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved through the new covenant in Christ. Everyone who is saved receives a new heart, a heart of obedience, through the new covenant work of Christ. So though it is a new covenant, it is also the oldest, the temporal expression of the pactum salutis [the covenant of peace between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in eternity].”

John Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 80.

Justification and Sanctification

July 24, 2014 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Bible - NT - John, Bible - NT - Romans, Cross of Christ, Federal Vision, Justification, King Jesus, Law and Gospel, Rome, Sanctification

“Of course, we must also teach good works and love, but it must be done in the right place – that is, when we are dealing with works, not justification. Here the question is how we are justified and attain eternal life, and so we reject and condemn all good works, for this passage will not allow any argument based on good works.

“Indeed, ‘the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good’ (Romans 7:12). But when we are dealing with justification, it is not the time or place to speak about the law. The question is, who is Christ, and what benefit has he brought us? Christ is not the law; he is not what I have done or what the law has done; he is not my love, my obedience, my poverty. He is the Lord of life and death, a mediator, the Savior, the redeemer of those who are under the law and sin. By faith we are in him and he in us….

“Christ is no law, and therefore he does not exact the law and its observance. He is ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). It is only faith that takes hold of this, not love. Love, however, must follow faith, as a sort of thankfulness. Victory over sin and death, then, and salvation and everlasting life too, did not come through the law, nor through the observance of the law, nor yet through the power of free will, but through the Lord Jesus Christ alone.”

Martin Luther, Galatians, p. 91.