The Unshakeable Kingdom

December 2, 2018 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Bible - OT - Daniel, Christmas, Church Calendar, Dispensationalism, King Jesus, Meditations, Old Testament

Hebrews 12:25–29 (NKJV)

25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.

 After the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Jewish kingdom with its bloody sacrifices, priestly rituals, and frail kings, was replaced by the Kingdom of God – a kingdom that Paul describes in our text today as an unshakeable kingdom.

This picture of an unshakeable kingdom harkens back to Daniel chapter 2. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had seen the kingdoms of men as a great and impressive statue made of different metals. But as Nebuchadnezzar was looking upon the statue, its feet were struck by a rock made without human hands. This rock caused those kingdoms to shake and totter and crumble while the rock itself became a huge mountain that filled the entire earth. The rock was unshakeable. And what was that rock? Daniel identified that rock as the kingdom of God.

In Paul’s day this rock had just struck the feet of the statue: Jesus had come and fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament: He was the long awaited King who would reign on earth, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, the Rock that struck the feet of the statue. Through his earthly ministry he established the kingdom of God but the remnants of the old covenant system were still around. The Temple still stood; the priests still offered sacrifices; the feasts of the old covenant were still celebrated. But Paul knew that all that was going to change – the old covenant was ready to disappear, to be destroyed, and in its place would stand the kingdom of Christ, the unshakeable kingdom. Paul’s prediction came to fruition in AD 70 when the Romans, inspired by God Himself, destroyed the temple and the old covenant system collapsed. The kingdom of the Jews came to an end; the kingdom of the Messiah was established.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the time of year that we call to mind this transition from the old covenant to the new, from the age of immaturity to the age of maturity, from the kingdom of the Jews to the kingdom of Christ, from the shakeable kingdom to the unshakeable. As we recall this transition, let us remember that the Lord who spoke to our fathers in the old covenant continues to speak to us in the new and that this means not less accountability but more. Paul exhorts us,“See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth [during the old covenant], much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven… [in the new] Because Jesus has risen from the dead and speaks to us as the Lord of all, seated at the right hand of the Father, we are called upon to approach Him with reverence and awe – for our God, Paul writes, is a consuming fire.

Reminded that the Lord has given us the great privilege of being members of His unshakeable kingdom through the sacrifice of Christ, let us confess that we have treated this privilege lightly. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why We Need the Psalms

October 14, 2018 in Bible - NT - James, Dispensationalism, Liturgy, Meditations, Old Testament, Singing Psalms, Thankfulness, Worship

James 5:13 (NKJV)
13
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

What are we to do when facing the ups and downs of life? When we are suffering and weighed down, heavy of spirit – what are we to do? On the other hand, when cheerful, full of joy and wonder at God’s work in our own lives or in the world – what are we to do? Today James tells us. “Is anyone among you suffering – feeling poorly, enduring trouble? Let him (an imperative, a command – this isn’t simply good advice) Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him (again, an imperative, a command), Let him sing psalms.”

James tells us that when we are suffering we are to pray; we are to take our troubles straight to the Lord. Cry out to God; He wants to hear; He wants to be the one to whom we direct our cries. Likewise, when we are cheerful, we are to sing psalms. Why? Because singing enables us to funnel the joy that we are experiencing in the right direction – in praise and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer.

But as we think about the psalms, remember that many of them express grief and longing for God, not cheer – so how do they fit with James’ theme of cheerfulness? It is here that we must return to James’ command to pray when sorrowful. For what are many of the psalms but model prayers of sorrow, embodying what desperate cries to God look like? Singing them enables us to funnel our sorrow in the right direction – in prayer and petition to our Creator and Redeemer.

In other words, James’ exhortation in this verse directs us to the psalter in times of both sorrow and cheerfulness. Notice then the priority that James places upon the psalter. What are we to do when suffering? We are to pray. And where do we find examples, patterns of prayers offered up in the midst of suffering? In the psalter. What are we to do when joyful? We are to sing psalms. And where do we find these psalms of praise? In the psalter.

So here’s the question for you – do you know your psalter well enough to obey James’ exhortations? How well do you know your psalms? Do the psalms, when you are burdened and weighed down, come to your mind and fill your soul with cries to God? Do the psalms, when you are cheerful and lifted up, come to your mind and fill your home with praise and thanksgiving?

I dare say that if you are like me there is some lack in this regard. Not many of us grew up singing the psalms; hence, the psalms are often strange and foreign to us. Some of the tunes that we have in our English psalters are hard to learn. Some of the words of the psalms are difficult to understand or even believe. But the problem is not with the psalter but with us. We need to grow in our ability to sing and to understand the psalms.

Consequently, one of the things we are committed to do as a congregation is to become more skilled in our ability to sing the psalms and more knowledgeable of their content. To facilitate that, we prioritize the psalms in our worship and hold regular psalm sings in which we can learn to sing more skillfully. We do these things so that the entire congregation, not just a few individuals, can fulfill James’ exhortations – is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

Reminded that in our suffering and in our joy God has given us the psalms to channel our prayers and praises, let us confess that the American church has largely ignored the psalms of late, believing that we no longer need them; and let us confess that even in our attempt to recover them, we too have neglected to hold them close to our hearts. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess.

Cain’s Offering Was Not the Problem

September 7, 2014 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Bible - OT - Genesis, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Justification, Meditations, Old Testament, Worship
Hebrews 11:4 (NKJV)
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
This morning we study the story of Cain and Abel. Paul informs us in Hebrews 11 what distinguished the two brothers. Though related by blood, though possibly twins, the two brothers were as different as different can be. For Abel lived by faith: he trusted God, worshiped God, loved God, cherished God. Cain did not.
And it was this that distinguished the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. It was not necessarily that one was an animal and the other fruit; nor that one was most excellent and the other humdrum. It was that one offering was offered in faith and the other in disbelief. Cain did not love God, did not believe God’s promise, did not cherish God’s ways. The problem was Cain’s person, Cain’s character, not his offering.
And so God testified of Abel by receiving his offering. God testified that without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. This is what Abel knew and it is what he continues to tell us even now though he is dead: if you would please God, you must come to him in faith – believing that he is and that he rewards those who diligently seek him.
But not only does Abel teach us, Cain’s story warns us: Don’t come here offering your prayers and songs and tithes if those things are not offered in faith, not offered from a heart that loves and trusts the Living God. God does not need you; God does not need you; you need him. And if you worship in unbelief, you will find that God is no more pleased with your offerings than with Cain’s. Solomon tells us, The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight (Prov. 15:8). God had regard to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering he did not. So what of you? Whom shall you follow?

Reminded this morning that we must come to God in faith like Abel, let us seek his forgiveness trusting in Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.

Justification in the Old Testament

August 5, 2014 in Church History, Federal Vision, Justification, Old Testament, Quotations, Sanctification

“The faith of the fathers was grounded on Christ who was to come, as ours is on Christ who has now come. Different times do not change faith, nor the Holy Spirit, nor his gifts. There has been, there is, and there will always be one mind, one judgment and understanding concerning Christ, in the ancient fathers and in believers today and in the future.”

Luther, Galatians, p. 137.

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.

The Edenic Covenant: Covenant of Works or Covenant of Grace?

June 9, 2014 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Creation, Creeds, Federal Vision, King Jesus, Law and Gospel, Old Testament, Quotations, Sacraments, Sanctification

     “The Adamic covenant should not be considered in such narrow terms that it is seen only of the eating prohibition and its consequences. It is also improper to call this covenant a covenant of works. The implication then would be that other covenants are not covenants of works, or that this covenant, which obviously had its inception before the Fall, is not a covenant of grace. Then grace can only be evident in matters which have to do with redemption, which is a post-fall activity.
     “Such distinctions should be abandoned. All covenants between God and man should be seen as covenants of grace. The metaphor of covenant portrays a relationship between a sovereign and a vassal. The sovereign is under no obligation to initiate this arrangement. That he does so is a matter of grace. But the vassal is going to benefit from such an arrangement.
     “When we see the first biblical covenant in this light we will find that it frees us from the problems introduced by a covenant of works concept. First, it removes the idea that Adam could have worked for his salvation.
     “Second, it puts the entire original creation into a different perspective. The creation, with Adam as its head, is seen to be under covenant obligation to the Creator-Sovereign.
     “Third, there are implications, in an original Creator-creation covenant, for the concept of free will. Is a creation which is in covenant relationship free to do whatever it wants? When man and the rest of creation with him chose to disobey the creator this was an act of rebellion. It was willful breaking of the creation covenant.
     “The covenant with Abraham, Aaron (Levi) and David are covenants of promise. God promises to do something for Abraham, Aaron or David and their descendants. But when we consider what happened to some of their descendants we find that God rejected them and God stated that they had broken his covenant. Implicit in every covenant is the obligation of obedience. Along with promise-covenants is the understanding that those to whom the promises come must obey the Lord. Failure to obey marks the one under promise-covenant oath a rebel.” John M. Zinkand, Covenants: God’s Claims (Sioux Center, IA: Dordt University Press, 1984), pp. 54-55.

The Spirit and the Law

June 8, 2014 in Holy Spirit, Law and Gospel, Liturgy, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Old Testament, Pentecost, Ten Commandments
One of the ancient associations of Pentecost is with the giving of God’s Law on Mt. Sinai. While the feast of Passover was associated with the deliverance from Egypt, Pentecost 50 days later came to be associated with the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. As Christians, it is important, as we celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, that we not drive a wedge between God’s Law and His Spirit. For the Spirit who has been poured out upon us is the Spirit of holiness who enables us, by His grace, to live lives that fulfill God’s law. The Spirit teaches us to cry out with David, “O how I love your law! It is my meditation day and night.” So this morning we mark our celebration of Pentecost with a responsive reading of God’s law – I will be reading each of the Ten Commandments and you will respond with passages from the New Testament that parallel these commandments.
Responsive Reading of the Law of God (Exodus 20:1-17)
Minister: Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
People: For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
M: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
P: Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)
M: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
P: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.’” (Matthew 6:9)
M: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
P: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.(Hebrews 10:24-25)

M: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
P: Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)
M: “You shall not murder.”
P: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8, 9)
M: “You shall not commit adultery.”
P: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)
M: “You shall not steal.”
P: Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need. (Ephesians 4:28)
M: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
P: Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)
M: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
P: Do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints. (Ephesians 5:3)
All: Amen!

Reminded of God’s law, let us kneel together and confess that we often fail to implement it in our lives.

Remember the Sabbath Day

February 9, 2014 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Eschatology, King Jesus, Lord's Day, Meditations, Old Testament, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:8–11 (NKJV)
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
Today we return to our series of exhortations on the Ten Commandments. God’s law is an expression of God’s character and, as those who love and treasure Him, the law gives us an appreciation for what God is like and how we can become more like Him. Indeed, one of God’s promises in the New Covenant is that He will write His law upon our hearts and teach us His commandments. As believers in Christ we are to delight in the law of God in the inner man, hungering by the grace of God to please Him in all respects by treasuring His commandments and fulfilling them in our lives.
The first four commandments inform us of our duty in relation to God, the way in which we are to respond to Him and honor Him. The first commandment governs our heart: God alone is to be the object of our affection; the second regulates our bodies: God alone is the one to whom we bow in worship; the third governs our lips: God’s Name must not be treated lightly; the fourth regulates our time: God must be prioritized in our weekly lives.
The Westminster Confession explains:
As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. (XXI.7)

The Lord’s Day is a holy day – a day set apart from ordinary days for the honor of God and the good of mankind. The Sabbath was given to mankind as a gift, a gift of rest from the Creator. The Sabbath reminds us that all we have and all we are comes as a gift from God not a result of our own labor and performance. God announces through the prophet Ezekiel:
Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. (Ezek 20:12)
The Lord’s Day announces this same thing and more today. On this day Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death. Because Jesus has risen, He has poured out His Spirit upon us that we might be sanctified – made more like our Savior, increasingly reflecting the character of God. God continues to use the rest of the Lord’s Day to remind us that all that we have and all we are come as gifts from Him. They are not primarily a result of our labor but of His grace – for there are many who labor long and hard and who have nothing to show for it.
Increasingly as a people we have ignored and despised the Lord’s Day, we have rejected the privilege of rest and have insisted on working. We have declared that it is not God whose work is primary but we whose work is primary. So God is increasingly making us slaves to our labor and making the portions which we have thinner. Unless we repent and acknowledge once again our dependence on God and the need to reverence His Name by resting on His Day, we can expect this bondage to increase.

So let us confess this day that as a people we have despised God’s holy day and that we need Him to forgive us and restore to us the rest we have lost. Let us kneel as we confess together.

A Biblical Case for Infant Baptism

February 6, 2013 in Baptism, Ecclesiology, Old Testament, Sacraments

Our men’s group is currently reading Book IV of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Finding ourselves in the midst of his defense of infant baptism, I decided to take the time to reformat a paper I wrote some years ago when I was still a credobaptist and moving toward paedobaptism. As Calvin makes clear in his defense, the linchpin of the argument for paedobaptism is the correspondence between circumcision and baptism. Being keenly aware of that I did a fair amount of meditating and wrestling with that very issue. This paper was the fruit of that meditation. I hope you enjoy it.

The Significance of Circumcision