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

Old Testament Faith

January 26, 2009 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Faith, Meditations, Old Testament

Psalm 69:29-33 (NKJV)29 But I am poor and sorrowful; Let Your salvation, O God, set me up on high. 30 I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving. 31 This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bull, Which has horns and hooves. 32 The humble shall see this and be glad; And you who seek God, your hearts shall live. 33 For the Lord hears the poor, And does not despise His prisoners.

Within the last two centuries much has been made of the supposed contrast between the faith of our fathers in the Old Testament and the faith of God’s people in the New Testament. It has been said that the Old Testament was an economy of works where our fathers were required to earn their salvation by their own merits whereas the New Testament is an economy of grace in which salvation is a free gift. Others have said that the Old Testament articulate an external religion, based wholly and entirely upon rituals and regulations whereas the New Testament is focused upon the heart and the inward attitude of the worshiper toward God. The Old Testament was focused upon the corporate deliverance of Israel whereas the New Testament focuses upon individual salvation.

What does David say to these supposed contrasts? Hog-wash. Well he doesn’t say it in quite those terms but notice what he does say – I am poor and sorrowful – me, individual me, not corporate Israel, but lonely old me – rescue me O Lord, set me on high. Was Israel poor and sorrowful as well? Yes. Did Israel too need to be set on high? Yes. Did this mean that David didn’t? No.

But notice that David goes on. “I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bull, Which has horns and hooves.”

Wait, David, you can’t say that. The Old Testament is all about ritual. How can you say that your songs of thanksgiving please God better than an ox or bull? I don’t remember reading that in Exodus! You must have missed the whole point of the law. O, but wait, the Holy Spirit inspired you to write this didn’t He? Hum. I guess you must be right. I guess I must have missed the whole point of Exodus. The Old Testament really is all about personal faith and trust in the Lord that manifests itself in godly worship.

Now don’t get things wrong. I’ve emphasized where the contrast between the Old and New Testaments does not lie. There is a contrast between the Old and New Testaments. But the contrast lies not in the God who is worshiped, not in the reverence He demands, not in the standards He maintains, not in the faith He expects, but in the fullness of the revelation now that the Christ has come. I have come, Jesus declares to us, to fulfill the law – to manifest the full extent of what My Father promised throughout the ages but has now manifested in My presence. He who has seen Me, he declares, has seen the Father, the very Father who redeemed Israel from Egypt, the very Father who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, the very Father who overthrew the town of Jericho, the very Father who raised up Samson, Gideon, Deborah, and Jephthah to deliver our fathers from bondage, the very Father who inspired the prophet Elijah to contend with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, the very Father who raised up Nebuchadnezzar and then drove him mad – he who has seen Me, Jesus declares, has seen this Father.

And so whereas we once saw the Father dimly, through clouds and fire and vapors of smoke, we now have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

And so having come into the presence of such an august company, let us kneel and confess our sins to God seeking His forgiveness for despising the first portion of our Bibles.

Contrasts versus Parallels

July 31, 2008 in Bible - NT - James, Meditations, Old Testament

James 4:4-6 (NKJV) 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? 6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

One of the persistent problems that nags the modern church is the tendency to draw contrasts where Scripture draws parallels. We pit portions of the Word of God against one another and soon end up endorsing a version of the faith that bears little resemblance to the faith introduced by Christ.

James’ stark language in our text today highlights a couple areas where the modern church has gone astray in this regard. As a result, his words make us uncomfortable.

Take, for instance, James’ sharp contrast between being a friend of the world and a friend with God. One of the practices that our Church has embraced with all the abandon of a football fan when his team wins the Superbowl is the singing of the psalms. And one of the things that happens when you start singing the psalms is the frequency to do double takes. Here you are singing along merrily with narry a thought for what’s on the page when – pow! – the words leap up and smack you in the face.

“Treat them like Midian, like Jabin’s army. Treat them like Sisera at Kishon’s brook.”

Sisera? Wasn’t that the fellow who had the tent spike stuck in his head? Treat them like Sisera? Who’s that “them”? Oh – it is the enemies of God. Enemies? God has enemies? I thought God loved everyone. Hasn’t all that nasty stuff changed with the coming of Jesus? God doesn’t actually have enemies anymore, does he?

These questions and comments reveal how far removed we are from a biblical mindset. But notice how well the stark language of the psalms meshes with the language of James in our text today. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God. Consequently, he who desires to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” An enemy of God? Yes. James draws a parallel where the modern church draws a contrast.

And notice, as a second instance, that James draws this parallel in the Church of God. There is a tendency in some pietistic circles to imagine that the historic church is composed only of those who have been regenerated – whose hearts have actually been transformed by the grace of God. These folks argue that whereas ethnic Israel, the people of God in the OT, consisted both of people who were personally saved and of others who were unsaved, the church consists of only those who are actually saved. As a result of this teaching, some churches frequently go to great lengths to make sure no bad apples ever get in the bunch. “Yes, in order to be a member of Praise the Lord Church, we require you to write a ten page essay describing your wretched, sinful condition prior to your supposed conversion and, if we judge that you’re really converted, we’ll let you join.”

But note how James’ words don’t mesh with this perfectionistic doctrine of the church. To whom is James writing? To the Church of God – saints dispersed throughout the Roman world. And what does he routinely call them throughout the letter? Brothers. And what does he call some of them now? Adulterers and adulteresses. In other words, James is poignantly aware that bad apples do get in the bunch – and the job of leaders in the church is to exhort and discipline such folks as necessary. There are personally saved and unsaved folks in the historic or visible church even as there were in ancient Israel. Once again, where the modern church draws a contrast between Old and New Testaments, James draws a parallel.

And so James’ words serve as a wake up call to all of us who are in the Church of God. Whose side are you on? Are you trying to be friends with the world, friends with the system of belief that sets itself against God? Then beware! No amount of kneeling in confession, listening to sermons, or eating the Supper will save you from the wrath to come. Repent, turn from your sin and acknowledge that you have been unfaithful to the Lord. No man can serve two masters – for he will love the one and hate the other.

Reminded by James’ words that we stand in constant need of the grace of God to deliver us from our duplicity, let us kneel and confess our sin to Him.