Death is not Normal

May 25, 2014 in Baptism, Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - John, Easter, Eschatology, Judgment, Meditations, Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:29–34 (NKJV)
29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? 30 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? 31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
Prior to becoming a pastor I used to daydream about preaching a sermon on the text in John, “Jesus wept.” I found myself frustrated by the way in which death is often trivialized in our current discourse; by the way in which even well-meaning Christian people speak of death as though it is a normal and natural part of human existence. And so I wanted to preach on that text, “Jesus wept.” There in the face of death, the death of his close friend Lazarus, Jesus wept. Tears that were a protest against death; a protest against the notion that death is natural. Jesus wept.
And we all sense this, particularly we who know our Bibles and who know that Jesus has risen from the dead. We know that death is unnatural; we know that death is an enemy. Jesus wept. And it is this knowledge of the abnormality of death which Paul highlights in our text today.
How can some of you say, Paul has been insisting, that there is no resurrection of the dead? How can you say that death has the final word? How can you say that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead has not transformed all of human history? Jesus is the firstfruits of those who sleep! Because Jesus has risen from the dead, we too shall rise from the dead.
Now Paul appeals to the absurdity of their claim, their claim that death will basically continue on indefinitely. If death is normal, if death is not something that God intended from the very beginning to eliminate when the Seed of the Woman crushed the head of the Seed of the Serpent, then why did God command our fathers be baptized, to be washed with water, whenever they touched a dead body? Further, why do we Christians keep putting ourselves in harm’s way? Subjecting ourselves to ridicule, to criticism, to persecution, to death? Why endure all this pain and agony? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.
But Jesus wept. Jesus wept because death is not natural; it is an invader; it is not a normal thing; it is a foe. But glory be to God, it is a defeated foe. There shall be a resurrection of the dead. Jesus has risen – so we too shall rise. We shall stand before our Creator and give an account of what we have done in the body.
Therefore, we must beware how we conduct ourselves during the time of our stay on earth. We must pursue righteousness and holiness; we must beware departing from the simple Gospel of the death and resurrection of Christ; we must beware embracing ideas that undermine our hope in the resurrection.

So what of you? Are you prepared to stand before your Maker? Have you sought His forgiveness through Christ and endeavored to conduct yourself in righteousness? It is the reminder that we must all appear before our Creator that is issued to us every Lord’s Day. Today we enter into God’s presence – and so we must kneel before God and confess that only in Jesus are we worthy to enter into His presence. So let us kneel and seek His forgiveness in Christ.

Religion and Culture

May 21, 2014 in Eschatology, King Jesus, Politics, Quotations, Reformation

“In the broad sense, a person’s religion is what grips his heart most strongly, what motivates him most deeply. It is the value that transcends all other values… Religions are totalitarian. They govern everything… everything we do in culture will reflect our faith in some way… Culture, therefore, is never religiously neutral. Everything in culture expresses and communicates a religious conviction: either faith in the true God or denial of him.” John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 858.

Two Humanities, Two Representatives

May 18, 2014 in Baptism, Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Creation, Easter, Eschatology, Judgment, Meditations, Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:20–28 (NKJV)
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
Today we continue to make our way through 1 Corinthians 15 in celebration of Eastertide, the time of year when we are invited to give special focus to the significance of Easter, the significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Here Paul unfolds for us the point that we endeavored to make last week: there is an indissoluble connection between the resurrection of Jesus and our resurrection. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, we shall rise from our graves. Jesus came, Paul tells us, as a Second Adam, head of a new and renewed humanity. While the sin of the First Adam plunged not only himself but all humanity into death and judgment, the resurrection of the Second Adam, Jesus, brings new life not only to Himself but to all those who are in Him.
What this means is that throughout history there are two humanities: the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent; the sheep and the goats; the circumcised and the uncircumcised; the wheat and the tares; those who have the First Adam as their representative before God and who will, therefore, face death and judgment; and those who have the Second Adam as their representative before God and who will, therefore, inherit eternal life and salvation.
You see, when Jesus returns in glory, every human being shall be made to appear before our Creator – and when we appear before Him, there will be but two fundamental groups of men and two spokesmen. There will be those who stand with the First Adam and who say to God through their representative, “I will rule my life by my own standards; I will be my own authority.”Then then there shall be those who stand with the Second Adam and who say to God through their representative, “All glory be to You, O Lord; for you have created me so I will live for your glory not my own.”
So in which group shall you be found? Will you stand with the First Adam? Will you stand in rebellion against God, choosing your own way and ignoring the commandments of God? Or will you stand with the Second? Will you stand in submission to God, choosing His way and treasuring the commandments of God? These are our two options; these are the two spokesmen. You must choose one to speak for you; there is no viable third option.
Of course, there are those who try to fool God; there are those who unite themselves with the Second Adam in baptism but who really embrace the life of the First. But on the final day there will be no fooling God or others. He knows the Adam with whom you identify.

So today as we confess our sins, let me remind you to confess them in the Name of Jesus Christ, trusting in Him as your representative. Only in this way shall we rise unto life on the Last Day. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord.

What was God to do?

May 14, 2014 in Atheism, Book Reviews, Church History, Creation, Cross of Christ, Eschatology, Human Condition, King Jesus, Quotations, Trinity, Word of God

I’m doing sermon prep on the Image of God and recalled this glorious passage from Athanasius:

     What was God to do in the face of this dehumanising of mankind, this universal hiding of the knowledge of Himself by the wiles of evil spirits? Was He to keep silence before so great a wrong and let men go on being thus deceived and kept in ignorance of Himself? If so, what was the use of having made them in His own image originally? It would surely have been better for them always to have been brutes, rather than to revert to that condition when once they had shared the nature of the Word. Again, things being as they were, what was the use of their ever having had the knowledge of God? Surely it would have been better for God never to have bestowed it, than that men should subsequently be found unworthy to receive it. Similarly, what possible profit could it be to God Himself, who made men, if when made they did not worship Him, but regarded others as their makers? This would be tantamount to His having made them for others and not for Himself. Even an earthly king, though he is only a man, does not allow lands that he has colonised to pass into other hands or to desert to other rules, but sends letters and friends and even visits them himself to recall them to their allegiance, rather than allow his work to be undone. How much more, then, will God be patient and painstaking with His creatures, that they be not led astray from Him to the service of those that are not, and that all the more because such error means for them sheer ruin, and because it is not right that those who had once shared His Image should be destroyed.
     What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.
     In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need.

Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Trans. Anonymous. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977) 40-41.

Auto-pilot and Sinful Ideas

May 11, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Creeds, Easter, Eschatology, Heresy, King Jesus, Meditations, 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 readers of Scripture we are often tempted to go into auto-pilot and assume that we know what a text is saying without really paying attention. Consequently, we miss the point of the text.
Take the Scripture before us today. Many read our text and assume that Paul is arguing for the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. “Paul’s point is that Jesus really rose from the dead and that this is what guarantees our forgiveness.” And so we go on auto-pilot and move on to the next paragraph. But this is not Paul’s point. While Jesus’ resurrection is central to Paul’s whole argument, it is not Paul’s point. Jesus’ resurrection is not under dispute; Paul has already asserted that Jesus’ resurrection is central to the Gospel he preached. 
So what is his point? His point is 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 the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 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. Paul’s point is that the resurrection of the dead on the last day is a central part of the Christian faith; we believe, as the creeds remind us, in the resurrection of the dead.
In the modern American church we stand in dire need of re-reading Paul’s words here in 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 Jesus’ resurrection. 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.
What Paul’s words remind us is that sins are not simply wrong actions; sometimes our ideas are sinful as well. We can embrace ideas that are erroneous and sinful. By denying the general resurrection, the Corinthians had embraced an idea that was poisonous to the Gospel. 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? What ought the Corinthians have done? 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. And 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. Let us kneeel as we confess.

Not all Israel is Israel

March 10, 2014 in Church History, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Regeneration

Following up the reading of Doug Wilson’s Against the Church, the following excerpt from the Second Helvetic Confession emphasizes the mixed nature of the visible church and the need for personal faith.

NOT ALL WHO ARE IN THE CHURCH ARE OF THE CHURCH. Again, not all that are reckoned in the number of the Church are saints, and living and true members of the Church. For there are many hypocrites, who outwardly hear the Word of God, and publicly receive the sacraments, and seem to pray to God through Christ alone, to confess Christ to be their only righteousness, and to worship God, and to exercise the duties of charity, and for a time to endure with patience in misfortune. And yet they are inwardly destitute of true illumination of the Spirit, of faith and sincerity of heart, and of perseverance to the end. But eventually the character of these men, for the most part, will be disclosed. For the apostle John says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would indeed have continued with us” (I John 2:19). And although while they simulate piety they are not of the Church, yet they are considered to be in the Church, just as traitors in a state are numbered among its citizens before they are discovered; and as the tares or darnel and chaff are found among the wheat, and as swellings and tumors are found in a sound body, And therefore the Church of God is rightly compared to a net which catches fish of all kinds, and to a field, in which both wheat and tares are found (Matt. 13:24 ff., 47 ff.).

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.

Awake and Sing!

December 22, 2013 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Christmas, Church Calendar, Eschatology, King Jesus, Meditations, Singing Psalms, Worship
Isaiah 51:9-11 (NKJV)
9
Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, In the generations of old. AreYou not the arm that cut Rahab apart, And wounded the serpent? 10 Are You not the Onewho dried up the sea, The waters of the great deep; That made the depths of the sea a road For the redeemed to cross over? 11 So the ransomed of the Lordshall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
In our passage today Isaiah calls upon the Lord to fulfill His promise to rescue His people Israel from exile; indeed, not only to rescue His people Israel but to rescue all the peoples of the earth. The nations that sat in darkness needed the light of God. And so Isaiah cries out to God to fulfill His promises, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!”
Isaiah calls to the Lord’s mind His previous acts of deliverance and implores Him to act again. “Was it not You, Lord, who acted to destroy Egypt? Was it not You who dried up the Red Sea? Who made the depths of the sea a road for Israel to cross upon? Yes it was You, Lord, who did this.” So Isaiah calls upon this same Lord, the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, Yahweh, the Creator of all men and nations, to fulfill His promises, “Awake! Awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old.”
And this, brothers and sisters, is what we pray in Advent. During Advent we recall the cries of our fathers like Isaiah and issue cries of our own. We rejoice because God answered Isaiah’s cry by sending our Lord and Savior Jesus to rescue the world from sin and darkness. But we not only rejoice that God has fulfilled Isaiah’s prayer, we also lift up prayers of our own. For the Lord has yet to fulfill all His promises. He has yet to fill the earth with the knowledge of His name, yet to spread justice to all the ends of the earth, yet to bring history to a close in the return of Christ and the resurrection of the just and unjust. And so we are instructed by our Lord Jesus to cry out, “Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” In other words, “Awake! Awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old.”
One of the chief ways that we issue this cry is in our singing – we praise the Lord who has acted and beseech Him to act yet again. Note that Isaiah’s vision of God’s redemption in Jesus is filled with singing. “So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing.” Because God has answered Isaiah’s cry to “Awake!”, we ought to sing and praise the Lord, to come to Zion with singing. And even as Isaiah, remembering the Exodus from Egypt, remembering God’s past deliverance, petitioned the Lord to rescue Israel again, so we cry out in song for the full revelation of Christ’s kingdom.
So how ought we to sing? Isaiah models and instructs us. Note that his cry to God is filled with passion, conviction, entreaty, hunger, longing, joy, and delight. “Awake! Awake!” he cries. Then he describes our singing, So the ransomed of the Lordshall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. May God make it so and fill us with joy and peace in believing and in singing.

Reminded that we are yet in need of the Lord’s mercy, that the Lord has exhorted us to sing and pray for the full arrival of His Kingdom, let us confess that we are often complacent and do not cry out to the Lord to fulfill his promises.