The Peril of Hypocrisy

March 21, 2021 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Confession, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Human Condition, Liturgy, Meditations, Sacraments, Tradition, Worship

Isaiah 29:13–14 (NKJV)
13 Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, 14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work Among this people, A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”

Whether they acknowledge it or not, every church is liturgical, has a liturgy that directs their public worship week by week. Liturgies are inescapable. For what is a liturgy? Webster defines “liturgy” as “a series of … procedures prescribed for public worship in the Christian church.” In other words, it is simply the order in which the activities of public worship are arranged. Sometimes these liturgies are simple and straightforward; other times they are intricate and complicated. But every church has a liturgy.

The question that must be asked, therefore, is not whether we should have a liturgy at all – that much is inescapable – but whether the liturgy we have reflects the principles given to us in the Word of God. And one of the first principles given us in worship is that it must come from the heart. As human beings we are always in danger of replacing genuine, heartfelt worship with hypocrisy – speaking “holy” words, doing “holy” actions, thinking “holy” thoughts all the while our hearts are far away from God.

Such hypocrisy is an internal problem that comes from the human heart and not an external problem that arises from our circumstances. Hence, hypocrisy infects all types of liturgy, whether a low church Pentecostal service with its planned spontaneity or a high church Anglican service with its elaborate script. Both types of liturgy are prone to hypocrisy because sinners plan and participate in both. And it is this sin of hypocrisy into which Israel had fallen in Isaiah’s day:

Therefore the Lord said: “… these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men…”

So what of you? Have you become distant from God? Are you attending the divine service out of mere habit, giving no attention to the words spoken, putting no heart into the service? Have you become a mere spectator thinking that worship is some sort of entertainment for your personal pleasure? Have you become dull of hearing? Or are you actively engaged? Confessing your sin? Learning your role in the service? Singing your part? Contributing your voice? Joining the one leading in prayer? Listening attentively to the sermon?

Brothers and sisters, Isaiah warns us to beware hypocrisy, to beware mere externalism, to beware drawing near to God with our lips when our hearts are far from him. God takes such hypocrisy seriously and threatens His people with His fatherly correction if we fall into such sin. So reminded that when we come to worship, we are to come with our hearts engaged, loving and cherishing the Lord and His law, let us confess that we often draw near with our lips while our hearts are far from him. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

What Happens in Baptism?

February 28, 2021 in Baptism, Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Children, Faith, Liturgy, Meditations, Sacraments

1 Corinthians 12:12–13 (NKJV)
12For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

Later in the service we have the privilege of welcoming ——– into membership and then baptizing their son —– into the body as well. ——- dad, Alan Burrow, who is the pastor of our sister church in Meridian, Idaho will be assisting with the baptism and so I wanted to say a couple words about baptism for our exhortation today.

We see here in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that baptism connects us not only with the Triune God in whose Name we are baptized but also with the body of Christ, with the Church. In baptism, the Spirit unites us with Christ and with one another, that together we may worship the Father and experience the transforming work of the Spirit.

In Biblical Theology sacraments are visible words not magic talismans. Even as God speaks to us in His written Word, the Bible, so He speaks to us in visible words, in covenant signs and seals – what we call sacraments or ordinances. One of the earliest covenant signs was the rainbow – God placed the rainbow in the sky as the sign of the covenant that He made with Noah (cf. Gen 9:12). The rainbow visibly proclaims God’s promise that He will never again flood the earth. Every time we see the rainbow, God invites us to believe His promise and trust Him. In other words, the rainbow isn’t our word to God but God’s word to us.

What is true of the rainbow is also true of baptism: it is primarily God’s Word to us, not our word to God. This is why Paul uses the passive voice to describe baptism, “For by one Spirit we all were baptized into one body…” We were baptized; we didn’t baptize ourselves. Why not? Because, first and foremost, baptism is God’s act, God’s word, not my act, my word. In Paul’s words, it is the Spirit who baptizes us into the body of Christ. Hence, the human agent who baptizes us represents God Himself. When Alan comes forward to baptize —— today, he does so not primarily as —–‘s grandfather, as wonderful as that is, but as a minister of the Gospel, a representative of Christ Himself. Robert Rayburn explains:

The reason why no one [but the minister] baptizes someone in our churches… is so that it be absolutely clear that baptism is not our act; it is Christ’s…. Suppose we were to have an infant baptism here next Lord’s Day: and suppose on this moment alone of all the moments in the history of the Church since the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ this was a sacrament by sight and not by faith: Just as the minister was prepared to begin, with a loud, tearing sound the roof of the building parted; and lo and behold, the Lord Christ Himself descended to where I am standing right now… He took the baby in His arms and He pronounced the Divine Triune Name over the child and made the promise of His Gospel and covenant to this child by name and then by name summoned him or her to the life of faith and godliness and consecration… Then He blessed the child and poured water on its head and ascended back into Heaven and with a loud crash the ceiling came back to where it was before and everything was as it was.

Let me tell you a few things that would be inevitably true. One is that that child, though he or she would be too young to have any personal recollection of that moment, would remember his Baptism forever and better than he would remember any other event in his life because scarcely a day would pass without his parents telling him what happened in the church when he was three weeks old and what the Lord Christ said and demanded and promised. He would live as he grew up—at 3, at 4, at 6, at 8, at 12, at 18, at 26—he would live under the specter and under the mercy, the glory of Baptism. His whole life would be colored and shaped and formed by it. That’s what Baptism is. That’s exactly what happens in the Baptism of a child or adult when it happens in this church. The only difference is that it is by faith that you see it and not by sight.

Baptism, therefore, is an invitation to trust God’s Word; it is a call to faith. In baptism, God speaks to each of us individually. He claims us as His own and promises us forgiveness and newness of life through faith in His Son. Consequently, baptism is not only for adults but also for our children – for God graciously claims them as His own and gives them His promises as well. Today, therefore, God speaks to —– and assures him that His promise of forgiveness and renewal is for him; even as He spoke to you in your baptism and made the same promise to you.

So reminded that in baptism God claims us as His own, puts His Name upon us, and summons us to trust Him and to walk in newness of life, let us confess that we often respond to His Word with unbelief. We often despise our baptism and forget the call that He has issued to us in it. Hence, we have need of His forgiving and cleansing grace as even our baptism signifies. And, as we confess, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Six Principles for Faithful Worship

January 3, 2021 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Bible - OT - Psalms, King Jesus, Liturgy, Meditations, Worship

Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV)

15 Therefore by [Jesus] let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

In our continuing study of Jesus in the Psalms we examine Psalm 61 today. As we will see, Psalm 61 articulates David’s longing to worship God with the people of God. He sings, “I will abide in your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings… So I will sing praise to Your name forever, that I may daily perform my vows” (Ps 61:3, 8).

Paul commands us in Hebrews to emulate this passion for worship, Therefore by [Jesus] let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Paul gives us six principles to guide our worship. First, our worship is to be Christological: “By JesusPaul writes, we are to praise God. Even as David looked in faith to the Christ to come, we are to look in faith to the Christ who has come. The only way that our sacrifice of praise can be accepted by God is through the substitionary sacrifice of Jesus. No one comes to the Father except through His Son, for there is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. Our worship is to be Christological.

Second, our worship is to be communal. “By Jesus, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God…” Even as David longed to be in the tabernacle, the place where God’s people gathered to worship Him together, so Paul commands us to join together to worship the Lord. Where the people of God gather to worship, there is God’s tabernacle, God’s temple, God’s dwelling place. The sacrifice of praise is something that we bring to the Lord together. Our worship is to be communal.

Third, our worship is to be continual. “By Jesus, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God…” Even as David vowed to sing praise forever and to daily perform his vows, Paul wants worship to saturate our lives. This would obviously include gathering week by week on the Lord’s Day with God’s people. But the worship that we enjoy here with the people of God is to seep into our homes, our personal lives, and our friendships. Our worship is to be continual.

Fourth, our worship is to be theocentric, God-centered. “By Jesus, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God…” Properly, worship is not a cathartic experience for our own amusement; nor is it a performance for others’ entertainment; it is primarily a sacrificial offering to God. Worship is offered up to God as a pleasing aroma, an offering that brings Him joy. Our worship is to be theocentric.

Fifth, our worship is to be vocal. “By Jesus, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of our lips…” As the fruit of our lips, the sacrifice of praise requires our lips to move. We are to sing praises to the Lord. Like David, Paul wants us to enter into the presence of the Lord with joyful shouts, celebrating the goodness of the Lord. Our worship is to be vocal.

Finally, our worship is to be thankful. “By Jesus, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name.” Thankfulness is the heartbeat of worship. A man or woman who is not thankful is a man or woman who cannot worship. He might move his lips but his praise just bounces off the ceiling. The resentful, bitter, angry man may grudgingly bow the head and speak the words, but his heart will not utter joyous shouts and so he does not truly worship. Our worship is to be thankful.

So hear Paul’s exhortation, “Therefore, by Jesus let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Our worship is to be Christological, communal, continual, theocentric, vocal, and thankful. Often, however, our worship lacks these traits. So as we enter into the presence of the Lord, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. And, 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.

Tree-Like Growth

October 25, 2020 in Bible - NT - Luke, Church Calendar, Creeds, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Tradition, Worship

Luke 13:18–19 (NKJV)

18 Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”

Routinely at this time of year, I have invited us to consider the nature of Christ’s work in our lives. As Americans, we tend to have a love affair with that which is spontaneous or new or different. As American Christians, therefore, we tend to grow tired of what we call the “same old thing” and hanker for some new fad to bring life back into our Christian walk.

But what Jesus articulates for us in His parables of the kingdom is that the way the Holy Spirit works both in our individual lives and in the life of His Church is better pictured by the growth of a tree than the lighting of a sparkler. Sparklers, of course, are fun and exciting – they burn bright and shed their fire on all around them. But sparklers soon burn out while trees, planted and taking root, slowly grow over time; growing almost imperceptibly, soaking up the nutrients in the soil and increasingly displaying the glory of their Creator.

This steady, slow, natural growth is the way Christ typically works in the lives of His disciples. Normal Christian growth involves long periods of steady plodding – plodding that brings prosperity but plodding nonetheless. Typically God works in our lives through steady plodding, slow growth, gradual transformation – through what theologians have called the ordinary means of grace: reading and hearing the Word of God and participation in and meditation upon the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Steady plodding. Few sprints; mainly marathons. A long obedience in the same direction.

You may not know, but the last six months in the Church Year – roughly June through November – are called “ordinary time.” There are no special feasts and celebrations; just the regular time of the Spirit’s work in the Church. After the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit began working in the Church, gradually transforming the people of God into the image of Christ. Hence the color of this period is green, a color of growth. Tree-like growth.

In several weeks we’ll be introducing some liturgical changes: entering a new church year when Advent arrives. We will have a different Call to Worship, a different Confession, a different Creed. Before we change, I wanted to draw to your attention the fact that for the last six months we have not changed these things.

Why have we done this? There’s no biblical requirement that we do so. We could have changed them weekly, monthly, or periodically. God has left such decisions to the wisdom of church officers. And for six months we’ve chosen to use the same ones. Perhaps you noticed; perhaps you’ve wondered if this is ever going to change. And perhaps you’ve thought the same thing about periods in your own life and spiritual development. And the message of Jesus is that He is at work growing His kingdom and even growing you – so trust Him and keep plodding.

Reminded that Jesus’ work in our lives is often gradual, like the growth of a tree, we are alerted that often our hankering for something spontaneous or new or different is not an impulse of our Christian faith but our Americanness. And this reminds us that we need to confess our fickleness to the Lord and ask Him to enable us to practice a long obedience in the same direction. So let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession that is found in your bulletin.

Kneeling in Worship

September 27, 2020 in Bible - OT - 1 Kings, Confession, King Jesus, Liturgy, Meditations, Prayer, Tradition, Worship

1 Kings 8:54 (NKJV)

54 And so it was, when Solomon had finished praying all this prayer and supplication to the LORD, that he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.

In its public worship, every church has traditions. Whether it is a tradition of spontaneity or a tradition of regularity, traditions are unavoidable. They are an inescapable part of human life. It is important, therefore, that we regularly evaluate our traditions to make sure that they reflect and not undermine biblical principles.

Among the traditions we have as a congregation, one of them is kneeling when we confess our sins. In just a moment I will invite all those who are able to do so to kneel with me to confess our sins to God. Many people find this practice uncomfortable or objectionable – in fact, many have refused to return and worship here because we kneel during our service. The preaching is fine; the music is acceptable; the fellowship seems sweet – but why do you kneel?

This question often causes me to scratch my head and wonder what is wrong with the church today. What is it about kneeling that bothers us? Some say it reminds them too much of Roman Catholic worship. But, of course, if we were to reject whatever the Roman church practices, then we’d have to eliminate Scripture reading and prayer as well. Others are bothered by what kneeling means in other contexts. After all, there are times when kneeling is inappropriate. Mordecai refused to kneel before Haman; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to kneel before Nebuchadnezzar’s statue; God reserved 7,000 in Israel who would not bow the knee to Baal; and several stalwart Christian sports players have refused to kneel in homage to the Black Lives Matter propaganda. There are times when kneeling is compromise or even sin.

But there are other times when kneeling is good and right: all Israel bowed the knee to King David; a leper kneeled before Jesus begging to be healed; a man kneels before his beloved and asks for her hand in marriage. In such situations, kneeling is the right thing to do.

So what about worship? Is it fitting to kneel? Well note our text today: Solomon – the Son of David, the King of Israel, and the wisest of men – kneeled before God to make supplication and prayer. And Psalm 95 summons us, O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our God our Maker! And note that this isn’t a summons to private but to public kneeling – O come, let us kneel ­– let all of us together bow before God for He is worthy! And so the four living creatures and the 24 elders in the book of Revelation fall down before the Lamb and they sing a new song saying, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!

This morning we have entered into the presence of Almighty God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, the High and Holy One – the One whose glory fills heaven and earth; the One whose power governs all that occurs; the One whose love compelled Him to send His only-begotten Son to rescue His people from sin and Satan and death – is it not most fitting to kneel in His presence, particularly when we recognize the many ways in which we sin against Him and stand in need of His forgiving grace? So, as you are able, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

By Nature Sinful and Unclean

June 28, 2020 in Bible - NT - Mark, Confession, Depravity, Heart, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Liturgy, Meditations, Regeneration, Sexuality, Sin

Mark 7:20–23 (NKJV)

20And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Those of you who have been at Trinity Church for some time know that we regularly rotate our liturgical greetings, confessions, and creeds in the course of the year. These changes enable us to focus on a variety of Scriptural commands and promises throughout the year. And, occasionally, we will tweak these liturgical elements in order to grow in faithfulness or to emphasize some other Scriptural principle.

One of the things that you may or may not have recognized is that we made a slight change to the confession of sins that we use at this time of year. In just a moment we will confess as follows:

M: Most merciful God,

P: we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone…

You may have recognized that that first sentence is new, “we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.” In the past our confession began with the words, “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed…” So why the change?

The purpose of this change is to emphasize that we are not only guilty of those actual sins which we commit but also of the corruption of our nature, historically called original sin, with which we are born. Because we rebelled against God in the beginning of human history, we are sinful by nature. We are, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:3, “by nature children of wrath.” By nature we are guilty in the sight of God and justly deserve to be condemned for our sin.

In other words, sin attaches itself not only to our actions but also to our nature. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. It is from within, out of the heart of men, that our evil actions proceed. Consequently, we need both to have our sins forgiven and also to have our nature renewed, to be born again by the grace of God.

So why emphasize this? Well, there are many who are attempting to sow confusion in the church regarding same-sex sin. Some of you may be familiar with the Revoice conference last year where various teachers claimed that while same-sex sexual acts are sinful, same-sex desires are not. But this is a gross distortion of Scripture. The Scriptures insist that the desires themselves are twisted and perverse and must be confessed as sin. They are part of that which must be put to death, must be mortified, if we are to serve Christ faithfully.

So what does this mean for us? It means that our sinful actions are the fruit of our sinful nature – and I am responsible both both and I must confess both. Further, my sinful nature distorts not only what I do but fundamentally what I desire, what I love. A man who commits adultery is a man who has long indulged adulterous desires in his heart; a woman who slanders another is a woman who has long indulged bitterness and resentment in her heart. If we would grow in grace, therefore, we must not simply modify our sinful behavior but mortify our sinful desires. The mere fact that I possess a certain inclination or desire is no proof that that desire is upright or pleasing to God. God’s law is the standard by which my desires must be measured. We must pray that God renew our nature and rid us of covetousness, destroy our sexual lust, uproot our bitterness, humble our pride – for it is not only our actions which are sinful but the nature from which those actions proceed.

And so, as we enter into the presence of the Lord today, let us confess both our sinful nature and our sinful actions – for He is the only one who can forgive us for both and who can renew us in His own image. And as you are able, let us kneel together before the Lord as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

My God, in Him Will I Trust

March 22, 2020 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Discipline, Faith, Judgment, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Providence, Sacraments, Sovereignty of God, Worship

Psalm 91:1–8 (NKJV)

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” 3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. 4 He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. 5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, 6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you. 8 Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked.

Well it’s been an interesting week! We thank you for your prayers that we and the Schumanns were able to return home from Guatemala. We witnessed many evidences of the Lord’s lovingkindness and care for us while we were away – we managed to arrive in Guatemala just before they began quarantining visitors from America; while at the airport in Guatemala City waiting to have our temperatures taken, we stood in line immediately behind a fellow believer who “just happened” to take his family to Antigua for the weekend and “just happened” to stay in the rooms right next to ours and who provided us with timely counsel and help as we were trying to decide whether to leave Guatemala or not; while we were unable to contact the airlines from our hotel in Antigua, Andy Schumann worked tirelessly back home and secured us tickets on one of the last flights out of Guatemala; and in the midst of all the turmoil, we experienced remarkable peace and enjoyed a relaxing, fulfilling few days in a beautiful hotel with friendly people and sweet fellowship. Praise God.

Now we’ve returned home and we have this appalling circumstance in which I am speaking to a mostly empty sanctuary rather than gathering face to face with the flock. I should be seeing your faces, shaking your hands, hearing your voices, rejoicing in God’s mercy and deliverance together. Instead, we are broadcasting a service of prayer and preaching. I trust that you recognize that this is not normal, nor is it an acceptable substitute for our assembling together – livestreaming is not assembling. We must view this as a chastisement from the Lord on our nation for our many sins and transgressions. God is isolating us from one another as a small taste of the isolation that shall face us for all eternity if we do not turn from our sin and seek the forgiving grace of God in Christ.

God has placed us in the wilderness. So what ought we to do? We ought to acknowledge our sin, acknowledge the justness of the Lord’s rod of correction, and entrust ourselves to God Himself and to every word that proceeds from His mouth. We have yet to see what the final outcome of the current crisis will be. Yet we know that our Sovereign Lord is in control, that He governs in the affairs of men, and that He is at work. For all those who acknowledge their sin and trust in His forgiving grace, He promises to grant us long life, eternal life, through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He so loved us that He sent His only begotten Son to deliver us from the fear of death and to grant us the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead – is that not good news?

And so reminded that we are to turn to the Lord in times of disaster, let us do so together. Let us confess our sin to the Lord and seek His forgiving and empowering grace, praying that He would have mercy upon us as a people. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As we confess our sins to the Lord, let us kneel together as you are able.

Trinity Sunday 2019

June 16, 2019 in Bible - NT - John, Creeds, Image of God, Liturgy, Meditations, Trinity

John 17:1–6 (NKJV)

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday we explicitly remind one another that the God we worship is Triune – three Persons in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Later in worship we will recite the Athanasian Creed, one creedal attempt to articulate our Triune faith.

As we saw in our study of John 17 last month, Jesus’ prayer reveals the relationship that has existed for all eternity among the Persons of the Trinity. For all eternity, the Father and Son have loved one another with such a deep bond that that love is Himself a Person, the third Person of the Trinity, the Spirit. In their bond of love, the Father and Son share glory with one another. Jesus prays, And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. Jesus asks the Father – the Father who declared through Isaiah, “My glory I will not give to another…” – Jesus says to this Father, glorify Me together with Yourself… And note that it is a particular type of glory, the glory which I had with You before the world was. Prior to His incarnation, Jesus existed in the form of God and, though His deity was veiled during His time on earth, now that He has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, that glory has been restored to Him. Jesus was and is God Himself in human flesh. The Father, Son, and Spirit share glory.

Second, Jesus reveals that in eternity past, before the world was, when the Father and Son shared glory, they communed with one another, they lived in a relationship of love with one another. Jesus alludes to this eternal fellowship a couple times. He says, I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. In eternity past, before the world was, the Father gave Jesus a task to accomplish, a work to perform. Not only did the Father give the Son a task to do, He also gave Him a people to call His own. Jesus prays, I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me So when did the Father give these people to the Son? Before the world was. As Paul writes in Ephesians, the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.

This interaction between the Persons of the Godhead prior to the foundation of the world is sometimes called the Covenant of Redemption or the pactum salutis. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have dwelt in covenantal life for all eternity. As we consider this Covenant of Redemption, that before the foundation of the world God thought of us, loved us, and gave us to be Christ’s own people – apart from any merit of our own; indeed despite the demerit which He knew we would deserve – ought we not to be humbled and awed that the Creator of all took notice of us? As our opening Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians records, But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thes 2:13-14).

And so reminded of the great love which the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has bestowed upon us, and that He loved us before the foundation of the world and loves us despite our unloveliness, let us confess that we are unworthy His love. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

With Palm Branches in their Hands

April 14, 2019 in Bible - NT - Revelation, Easter, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Worship

Revelation 7:9–12 (NKJV)

9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which our Lord Jesus entered into Jerusalem and was acclaimed the long-awaited Messiah by the people of Israel. To celebrate Jesus’ entrance into the city, they gathered the branches of palms, laid some upon the road and waved others in the air, rejoicing in His arrival. In Christian history, we have called this event Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.

In Revelation 7 this vision of praising God with the waving of palm branches is repeated. John beholds an immense multitude standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb of God. They are clothed in white robes which point to the forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of Jesus (cf. 7:14). And in their hands are palm branches. So why palms? Why have we distributed palms in worship today so that your children can disturb you with them during the service?

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery notes that throughout the Old Testament, “the palm tree was associated with the oasis, a place of fertility in the midst of the wilderness. It provided food in the form of the date, and its sap could be used as a sweetener or for making wine… the palm frequently connoted fertility and blessing” (622). Consequently, the righteous are compared to the palm in Psalm 92:12-13 –

The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the LORD Shall flourish in the courts of our God.

The palm tree makes its way into the construction of the Temple. Palm trees were carved into the walls and doors of Solomon’s temple according to 1 Kings 6:29, 32, and 36. Later in Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glorious Temple, he describes the palms that decorated each of the gateways and gateposts of the Temple – likening the Temple to a fruitful garden, like the Garden of Eden, a place where God’s blessing dwells.

So when John beholds the righteous, clothed in white robes and carrying branches of palm in their hands, it is this vision of fruitfulness and delight that he wishes to communicate to us. We are palm trees adorning the temple of the Living God. So the righteous cry out, while waving their palms, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And the angels join in the praise, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Then the angels explain the significance of the palms with these words, “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters [in other words, He will lead them to oases where palm trees grow]. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:16-17).

So as we enter into worship this Palm Sunday, waving our branches of palm, let us rejoice that our Lord Jesus has given Himself for us, He has shed His blood that we might stand before our God clothed in garments of white and that we might be fruitful palm trees, reflecting the fruitfulness of our God. The only way that we can be here in such joy is by confessing our sin, our need for the cleansing blood of Christ, and our need for His empowering grace. So let us confess our sins to the Lord and rejoice in His goodness. Let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.