The Descent into Immorality

September 8, 2019 in Apologetics, Bible - NT - Romans, Church History, Confession, Depravity, Evangelism, Hell, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Image of God, Judgment, Justice, Meditations, Providence, Sexuality, Sin, Temptation

Romans 1:24–25 (NKJV)

24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

This morning we continue our survey of Romans 1. When peoples reject the Living God, they descend from unbelief into idolatry into immorality into unnatural homosexual lusts and thence into utter debasement and societal instability. As we have noted, Paul insists that civilization is the fruit of faith whereas barbarism is the fruit of unbelief.

Today we examine the descent into immorality. Individuals are notoriously and, at times, gloriously inconsistent. We act in ways at odds with what we profess to believe. Consequently, you can have an unbelieving neighbor who is a remarkably kind, gracious, and pleasant fellow and a believing acquaintance who is a narrow, caustic, and unpleasant one. Individuals are frequently inconsistent.

But groups of people, cultures, are always consistent with their most basic presuppositions; they always begin to act in a way consistent with their most fundamental and cherished beliefs. And one of the consistent outworkings of unbelief and idolatry is sexual immorality, sexual rebellion. A survey of the idolatrous cultures of the world illustrates this: among the Canaanites, for example, two of the most prominent deities were Baal and Asherah, fertility gods whose rites included mass orgies. In Rome, one of the most popular cults was that of the phallus, the male reproductive organ. And you are no doubt aware of the many cult prostitutes who served patrons at the various pagan shrines. Idolatry degenerates into immorality: pornography, fornication, adultery, polygamy, concubinage, prostitution, voyerism, sexual abuse, sexual trafficking, ad nauseam.

Why? Well consider America’s descent into public immorality that sprouted in the 1960s and has continued to grow to the present. The form of idolatry in Western Civilization is secularism and its dominant story line is Darwinism or macro-evolution. According to Darwinism, men are but sophisticated animals, in no way unique and in no way accountable to our Creator. Indeed, we are self-created and determine our own purpose. Since the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, American society has increasingly absorbed this presupposition, this basic belief.

In Paul’s words, “we exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” You see, if we acknowledge that there is a glorious and incorruptible God who has created us in His image to use our bodies with honor and to respect the sexuality of our neighbors, then we will strive to display the glory of God in our sexual conduct. This was once our most cherished belief as a people. But we rejected this truth; we embraced the lie that we are just animals. And what has happened? God has given us over to our lie: we have begun to act like animals and to follow our baser instincts. We have declared that restrictions on sexual behavior are no more than prudery, hold-overs of an uptight generation. Dishonoring our bodies? That’s silly! Sex is just a natural and necessary function like breathing. Honor is irrelevant.

Paul’s words remind us that ideas have consequences. Groups of people always act consistently with their most cherished beliefs; God is not mocked. What a man sows, what a culture sows, that will he also reap. And when we begin to reap the terrible harvest – the immorality itself, the battered women, the abused children, the aborted babies, the STDs, the mental illnesses – that harvest is God’s wake up call, God’s summons to repent and return to Him.

But we have not done so, have we? We have doubled down on the lie. So this morning, as we enter into the presence of the Lord of glory, let us lead our culture in the way of confession. Let us acknowledge our sin and pray that God would have mercy upon us, enabling us to treat one another with honor and integrity again. And as we confess our sin to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Descent into Idolatry

September 1, 2019 in Apologetics, Atheism, Bible - NT - Romans, Church History, Greek Gods, Human Condition, Judgment, Meditations, Politics, Sovereignty of God, Truth

Romans 1:18–23 (NKJV)

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Several weeks ago we began a study of Romans 1. Paul declares that when peoples reject the Living God, they descend from unbelief into idolatry into immorality into unnatural homosexual lusts and thence into utter debasement and societal instability. In other words, the fruit of unbelief is barbarism whereas the fruit of faith is civilization.

Having discussed unbelief itself, we proceed to idolatry. Paul writes that our unbelief degenerates into idolatry – unbelieving men “became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” In other words, Paul insists that idolatry is an affliction of our minds and of our hearts. First, he says that men became futile in their thoughts. Idolatry is a problem of the mind. The idolater exchanges “the glory of the incorruptible God” for “an image made like corruptible man”; he exchanges the solid foundation of rationality for no foundation at all. You see, if there is an incorruptible God, a God who exists over and above all things, who has created all and who is Himself the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty, then the world as we know it and experience it makes sense. It makes sense that there are mathematical formulas, moral laws, and intricate designs. The world and all things in it reflect the grandeur of God.

But if there is no such God, if the idolaters are right and the gods are just part of the world or if the gods don’t really exist at all and we’re just alone in the world, then there is no foundation for reason and rationality. For example, materialists declare that only physical properties are real, that there are no spiritual entities, no universal truths; but then they set out to justify their contentions using mathematical formulas and principles. Really, where is the material of which mathematics is made? Darwinists claim that humans are just sophisticated animals and yet insist that we have a moral obligation to care for the planet. Really, where did morals come from? Relativists claim that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and yet turn away in revulsion from rotting flesh. Really, why isn’t rotting flesh lovely? Idolatry is a problem is the mind; it cannot provide a foundation for truth, goodness, and beauty.

But idolatry is also a problem of the heart. Paul writes that “their foolish hearts were darkened.” Our loves and desires are corrupted such that we call truth, error, we call good, evil, and we call beauty, ugliness. So John Calvin was right to remark that the human heart is an idol factory. We erect false gods so that we can cling to our unbelief, because to acknowledge the true God would be to confront the truth about ourselves and our need for a Savior, a Savior who can renew our hearts and teach us to love what is true, good, and beautiful again.

Idolatry, therefore, is a problem of the mind and a problem of the heart. But hear the Word of God: there is a source of truth, goodness, and beauty. That Source is the Eternal Word of God who took on human flesh and dwelt among us. Why is the world rational, why does it reflect eternal mathematical principles, why do we find the Fibonacci Sequence again and again and again? Because all things were made by the Eternal Logos and reflect His genius. Why do men long for justice, complain about unfairness, and condemn the dictator who butchers his people? Because in Him was life, and the life was the light of men. Why do we delight to catch a glimpse of the Western Tanager, to sit and watch a sunset, and to stair into the starry heavens? Because He is glorious and full of grace and truth.

So what of you? Are you still clinging to your irrational and dark idolatry? Then hear the voice of Christ. Turn from your sin and turn in faith to the Living God. Reminded that as humans, we are so prone to turn from God to idols, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord. And as you are able, let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sins to Him. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

No Creed but Christ?

August 18, 2019 in Bible - NT - Matthew, Church Calendar, Church History, Creeds, King Jesus, Meditations, Temptation, Tradition, Uncategorized

Matthew 16:13–17 (NKJV)

13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Our culture has institutionalized the tradition of anti-traditionalism. It is not that “rebellion” is acceptable within our cultural milieu; “rebellion” has become our cultural milieu. From “Not your father’s Buick” to “Not your father’s Root Beer,” to “Just be yourself,” our culture expects each new generation to be different, unique, revolutionary. “Out with the old, in with the new,” we are told. “This is the evolutionary process.”

Unfortunately, we evangelicals have imbibed much of this cultural food, routinely wolfing down the latest fad. However, because we have a residual loyalty to the Bible, we often try to cloak our anti-traditionalism in pious language. Consider, for example, the sentiment, “No creed but Christ.” “All we want to do is focus on Jesus. Away with these other teachings and traditions! Away with the creeds!”

Such a sentiment is nothing more than the anti-traditionalism of our culture cloaked in pious language. A moment’s thought reveals its utter inadequacy: No creed but Christ? What Christ do you mean? Who is this “Christ”? Is he…

  • The literal offspring of God the Father & Mary as Mormons teach?
  • The greatest of angelic beings as JWs & Arians teach?
  • Simply a great moral teacher as liberalism teaches?
  • A spirit being who only appeared to be human as Docetism taught?

To say, “No creed but Christ,” in other words, is vacuous. We must specify which Christ we mean. And this is the dynamic we see at work in our text today. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” They respond, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  But then Jesus presses, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus declares, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” In other words, Peter got the answer correct.

Jesus’ interaction with the disciples reminds us that creeds, doctrinal summaries of the faith, are inescapable. It is not whether but which; not whether we have and embrace a creed but which creed we embrace – the true one or the false one? It was this insight that led our fathers to compose creeds in the history of the Church – summaries of biblical teaching that answer the question, “Who is this God we worship?” They composed creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon, and then handled them down to us as a sacred trust. These creeds were attempts to distinguish truth from error, to combat various false teachings that tried to infiltrate the Church – Gnosticism, Arianism, Sabellianism, Docetism, and others.

So how ought we to receive these creeds? As we shall learn in our sermon today, we ought to receive them in thankfulness and then hand them on to the next generation. Rather than scorn the creeds with our arrogant mantra, “No creed but Christ,” we ought to thank God that He poured out His Spirit upon His Church and enabled our fathers to summarize faithfully the teachings of Scripture.

So what of you? Have you given thanks to God for these creedal summaries, treasured them as gifts from God, and considered how you might hand these on to the next generation? Or have you taken them for granted, mumbling through them each Sunday and largely ignoring the blood, sweat, and tears that went into their composition and transmission?

Reminded that God has been good and kind to His Church throughout history and has given us the creeds to lead and guide us in the proper understanding of His Word, let us confess that we have often taken these creeds for granted. As we confess, and as you are able, let us kneel together before the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Heart of Unbelief

August 11, 2019 in Apologetics, Atheism, Bible - NT - Romans, Church History, Confession, Eschatology, Human Condition, Meditations, Politics

Romans 1:18–23 (NKJV)

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

When nations apostatize and reject the Living God, they imagine that they can do so with impunity. They say, “The Lord does not see, nor does the God of Jacob understand” (Ps 94:7). But this is a delusion. God sees and understands – and, as the Righteous Judge, He deals with these peoples in a predictable manner, a manner that Paul outlines in Romans 1. Peoples who reject the Living God descend from unbelief into idolatry into immorality into unnatural homosexual lusts and thence into utter debasement and societal instability. In other words, civilization is the fruit of faith whereas barbarism is the fruit of unbelief.

Paul begins his discussion of God’s dealings with unbelieving man at the fountainhead: unbelief itself. God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men because all men know God and yet they suppress that knowledge in unrighteousness. This is why, Scripturally speaking, the dilemma of the ignorant native who has never heard the Gospel and who is condemned for refusing to believe in Jesus is fictitious. The native isn’t guilty for refusing to believe in Jesus – he is guilty because he refuses to listen to his own conscience and to worship the God he knows created him. Our basic problem as human beings is not that we have failed to trust in Jesus for salvation. Jesus is the solution to our problem. Our problem is our sin. We have rebelled against God and we know it.

Paul writes that “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful…” Even in our unbelief, we all know God and we do two things: first, we refuse to glorify God as God and, second, we refuse to give thanks to Him. So let’s consider these two things.

First, we refuse to glorify God as God. Unbelief fails to worship the God who is worthy of all praise. We will offer praise to sticks and stones; we will bow down before idols of our own devising; we will pray to our ancestors; we will deify the state and look to government to save us; we will act as a law unto ourselves; anything to avoid praising the Living God who has created heaven and earth and who speaks to us in our conscience. In our unbelief, we refuse to glorify God as God.

Second, we refuse to give thanks to God. At its heart, unbelief is ungrateful. We will pretend that all we have and all we are is the gift of some other god, or the fruit of our own labor, or the gift of the fatherland, or an inheritance from family, or a random happen-chance; anything to avoid giving thanks to the Living God who has given us life, breath, and all things. In our unbelief, we refuse to give thanks to God.

So if the heart of unbelief is a refusal to worship God as God and a refusal to give Him thanks, then what ought to characterize those who claim to believe? The heart of belief is a willingness to glorify God as God – to worship Him faithfully – and to give thanks to Him for all His many gifts. And this is why we have gathered here this day. We have gathered to glorify God as God and to give Him thanks.

So as we gather in His presence, if you have lived thus far in unbelief, refusing to glorify God as God and refusing to give Him thanks, then let me urge you to repent, to confess your sin in Jesus’ Name, and to seek God’s forgiveness – Jesus is the solution to your problem. If, on the other hand, you have already believed, then let us too bow before our God in humility, acknowledging that we often fail to glorify Him as is His due and to give Him thanks as we ought. And as you are able, let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sins to Him. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Our Ascended Lord

June 2, 2019 in Ascension Sunday, Bible - NT - Ephesians, Church Calendar, Church History, King Jesus, Meditations

Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-13
7
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” …11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

Today is Ascension Sunday. Ascension Sunday celebrates – along with Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost – one of the most pivotal events in the life of Christ and, hence, in the history of the world. On this day, Jesus ascended into heaven and took His seat of authority at the right hand of God Almighty, ruling there as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And from this position of authority, He sent forth His Spirit upon His disciples – an event we shall celebrate next week in Pentecost.

In our text today, Paul indicates one of the implications of the Ascension for the people of God. When Christ ascended on high, when He was enthroned in power, sitting at the right hand of God Almighty, He did so as the victorious Conqueror, in a position to distribute spoil among his followers. “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”

And what is the nature of the gifts He bestows upon His people? Ah they are numerous and glorious – for His gifts are not merely objects but persons. He has given apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – from other places we learn that He has given helps, works of mercy, humility, joy, contentment, peace, self-control, wisdom, virtue. Glorious gifts all!

So why has He given these things to His people? Paul writes that Jesus has given them “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Christ has given gifts to each of us that we might bless and build up our fellow believers in the faith. He has given to us that we might give to others.

So what does Ascension Sunday mean for us? First, Ascension Sunday means that Jesus is exalted as the Great King, the Ruler over all the kings of the earth and that all are called, both the small and the great, to worship Him as such. Second, Ascension Sunday reminds us that our King has given gifts to all His people; He does not leave anyone out. If you have been baptized into Christ, then Christ has poured out gifts upon you. Third, Ascension Sunday summons us to use those gifts to bless others, to be a generous people who imitate our great King. Finally, Ascension Sunday calls us to be an incredibly thankful people, thankful for the gifts which He has given each of us personally and for the gifts He has given us through others. “Our Lord Jesus, thank you for calling the Twelve and giving them to the Church; thank you for Paul, for Athanasius, for Clement, for Gottschalk, for Helena and Clotilda, for Luther, Zwingli, and Bucer. Closer to home, thank you for George and Freddy and Sally and for the gifts You have given Your Church through them.”

But frequently our attitude and actions are far from this. Frequently, we complain that we have not been given the gifts that others have received, and we endeavor to horde our gifts, increasing our own cache rather than blessing others. So reminded of this, let us confess our sins to Him and let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Centrality of the Resurrection

May 19, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Easter, Ecclesiology, Glorification, Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:12–19 (NKJV)

12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

As part of our celebration of Eastertide, I’ve selected these words from 1 Corinthians 15 to help us meditate on the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. As we approach Paul’s words, we must beware lest we drift into auto-pilot and simply assume that we know what Paul is saying. We might be tempted to assume, for example, that Paul is defending the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. “Paul’s point is that Jesus really rose from the dead and that this is what guarantees our forgiveness.” If we assumed this, however, we would be wrong. While Jesus’ resurrection is central to Paul’s whole argument, it is not Paul’s point in these verses.

So what is his point? Paul’s point is not that Jesus rose from the dead but that all other human beings are going to rise from the dead. You see the Corinthians weren’t denying that Jesus had risen from the dead; they were denying that the rest of us would rise from our graves. Listen to Paul again: Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead [generally, at the end of history]? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.

Notice that Paul is endeavoring to highlight the inconsistency of the Corinthians’ beliefs. If there is no resurrection at the end of history; if the dead will not be raised when Christ returns again in glory, then neither did Jesus rise from the dead. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee that every human being will rise from his tomb and stand before God. Jesus is, as Paul says elsewhere, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. His resurrection is God’s pledge of the resurrection of all men. So note Paul’s argument: if we deny the general resurrection then we must, of necessity, deny Jesus’ resurrection. And if we deny Jesus’ resurrection, then we are still in our sins and without hope. But Jesus has risen from the dead; therefore, there will be a general resurrection.

In the modern American church we stand in dire need of re-reading these verses. We have gone on auto-pilot. We imagine that we can teach that Jesus rose from the dead and simultaneously teach that our ultimate destiny as human beings is to go to heaven when we die. But this is not the Gospel; this is not the Christian hope for the future; this is not the meaning of Easter. Our hope is that we shall emerge from our graves just like Jesus. So our confidence is that the bodies of those who have fallen asleep in Christ have not perished but that they do rest in their graves until the resurrection. We are not to be pitied; for we have not only in this life placed our hope in Jesus; there shall be a resurrection of the just and the unjust – Jesus’ resurrection is proof.

Paul’s words today remind us that it is not only our actions that are sinful; sometimes our ideas are sinful as well. We can embrace ideas that are erroneous and dangerous. The Corinthians were tempted to do so. So when God in His grace and mercy shines the light of truth on our error and corrects us, corrects our thinking, what ought we to do? We ought to confess our error, ask God’s forgiveness for our folly, and rely upon the sacrifice of Jesus to make us right with God despite our erroneous ideas. Jesus is the sacrifice for our sinful ideas even as he is the sacrifice for our sinful actions. Praise God this is so.

And so reminded that our ideas are often sinful and dishonoring to our Creator, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness through Christ. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

History is Foundational

May 5, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Easter, Ecclesiology, Meditations

1 Corinthians 15:3–8, 12-14 (NKJV)

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time…12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

The American Presbyterian historian and theologian J. Gresham Machen wrote his classic work Christianity and Liberalism to expose the massive chasm that separates these competing religious beliefs. In his day liberalism was just beginning its infiltration of American mainline churches. Machen warned that liberalism is not merely a corrupted Christianity, it is no Christianity at all. As one proof of his thesis, Machen noted that in liberalism Jesus’ resurrection is historically unimportant; what truly matters is not that Jesus rose from the dead but that Jesus lives on in each of our hearts. In other words, for liberalism experience not history is foundational.

As Machen correctly perceived, this notion is entirely foreign to Christianity. Christiantiy is not merely a system of dogmas or teachings, but a declaration of events that have theological and experiential significance. Christ died and rose again – that is history. Jesus did not swoon or get spirited away or exchange places with someone else. He actually died on a cross outside Jerusalem while Pontius Pilate served as governor of the Roman Empire in Judea. After three days, He rose from the dead and was seen by Cephas, the Twelve, 500 brethren at one time, James, all the apostles, and, finally, Paul himself. The Gospel is rooted in history, rooted in reality.

So why did Christ die and rise again? The answer to that question is theological. He died, Paul says, for our sins (15:3); He died to endure the punishment that our sins deserve. Then He rose from the dead to conquer death and free us from fear, to transform our experience. Our experience, therefore, depends upon history. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus in history, Paul tells us, “our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (15:14). In other words, in Christianity, history not experience is foundational.

In our broader culture, however, theological liberalism has won the day. Hence, we are constantly barraged by the claim that religion is primarily subjective, primarily a matter of personal experience. Religions are simply various ways of meeting the subjective needs of their followers; each religion is merely a record of the private, personal experiences of its adherents; hence, no religion is objectively true or false, just different. There are different strokes for different folks. Experience not history is foundational.

Christianity rejects this exaltation of subjectivity, of experience, over objectivity, over history. The Gospel is an announcement of something that objectively happened and that objectively changed the course of human history. Christianity is not just the record of private religious experiences; it is a public declaration: Jesus died, was buried, and then rose again; so all men and nations are called to confess that Jesus is Lord; He is God’s Anointed One.

So reminded that if we are to approach God it must be on the basis of truth, of something that really happened, and not just on the basis of our sincerity, of our personal experience; reminded that we must approach God through Jesus who died and rose again for our sins, died and rose again to reconcile us to God, let us kneel and confess our sins to God. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Epiphany as Revelation

January 7, 2019 in Baptism, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Christmas, Church Calendar, Church History, King Jesus, Meditations, Missions

Isaiah 49:6 (NKJV)

6 Indeed [the Lord] says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Today is Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany means “revelation.” On this Sunday, therefore, we celebrate God’s wonderful mercy in revealing His Son to the world. Historically, Epiphany has been associated with three distinct yet related events: the baptism of Jesus, the coming of the Magi, and the wedding at Cana. Each of these events reveals Christ in a unique way.

Consider, first, the baptism of Jesus. In the waters of the Jordan, Jesus entered upon His earthly ministry; He was washed in water to identify with His people and prepare the way for our forgiveness. As Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven declared, This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. God revealed His Son to the watching world. Epiphany celebrates that Jesus is God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One.

Anointed as what? It is this question that Jesus’ revelation to the Magi answers. The Magi were a powerful ruling class within the Persian Empire – wise men, counselors, astrologers who were often the power behind the throne. So while Herod, the King of the Jews, plotted Jesus’ destruction, these Magi, Gentile rulers, sought Jesus out and bowed before Him, acknowledging Him as God’s King. God revealed His Son to these Gentile rulers; they were the first fruits among the Gentiles. So Epiphany celebrates that Jesus has been anointed by God as King of all nations.

So what kind of King is Jesus? It is this question that is answered at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Recall that this was the first sign that Jesus performed after His baptism and temptation in the wilderness. As He entered upon His earthly ministry, Jesus turned water into wine and, in the words of the Apostle John, revealed His glory. He revealed that He was indeed God’s Anointed King, come to rescue His bride, and to shed His own blood for her that He might restore to her the joy of salvation, that He might make glad the hearts of men. Epiphany celebrates that Jesus is the festal King.

Epiphany, therefore, is a day of revelation, a day when God demonstrates how determined He has been to eliminate our excuses for rejecting His Son and rebelling against His lawful and joyful rule. As one of the ancient blessings for Epiphany announced, “Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.”

So what of you? Have you given heed to God’s revelation of Himself in Christ and acknowledged Him as God’s Son? Have you rejoiced in His coming and brought your gifts before Him? Have you rejoiced that God has revealed Himself to you and to the world? If you have done all these things, then thanks be to God! So one more question: have you then, in turn, been another means of God’s revelation of Himself to the world? It is to this that Epiphany calls us – to reveal Christ to the watching world.

Reminded of our calling to receive the revelation of God in Christ and to be the revelation of Christ to the world, let us kneel as we are able, confess our sins, and rejoice in His mercy.

The Church is Culpable

November 7, 2018 in Church History, Confession, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Image of God, Judgment, King Jesus, Providence, Quotations, Sin

The English poet William Cowper (1731-1800) reflected on the condition of England in his day in his poem, “Expostulation.” His words condemning the compromise of the Church and her ministers are as true of the American Church in our day as of the English Church in his. The first two lines are golden: “When nations are to perish in their sins, ‘Tis in the church the leprosy begins.” Cowper informs us that the future does not look good for America primarily because things do not look good in the Church. So if we want to see reformation and revival in America, then it must begin with the Church and her ministers returning to God’s Word.

When nations are to perish in their sins,
‘Tis in the church the leprosy begins;
The priest, whose office is with zeal sincere
To watch the fountain, and preserve it clear,
Carelessly nods and sleeps upon the brink,
While others poison what the flock must drink;
Or, waking at the call of lust alone,
Infuses lies and errors of his own:
His unsuspecting sheep believe it pure;
And, tainted by the very means of cure,
Catch from each other a contagious spot,
The foul fore-runner of a general rot.
Then Truth is hushed, that Heresy may preach:
And all is trash, that Reason cannot reach:
Then God’s own image on the soul impressed,
Becomes a mockery, and a standing jest;
And faith, the root whence only can arise
The graces of a life that wins the skies,
Loses at once all value and esteem,
Pronounced by gray-beards a pernicious dream;
Then Ceremony leads her bigots forth,
Prepared to fight for shadows of no worth;
While truths, on which eternal things depend,
Find not, or hardly find, a single friend;
As soldiers watch the signal of command,
They learn to bow, to kneel, to sit, to stand;
Happy to fill Religion’s vacant place
With hollow form, and gesture, and grimace.