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.

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.

Two Humanities

May 26, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Easter, Faith, Glorification, Meditations, Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:20–26 (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.

Today we continue to meditate on 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.

In our text Paul reveals the 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, the head of a new and renewed humanity. While the sin of the First Adam plunged himself and 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: 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. These two humanities are called elsewhere the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the circumcised and the uncircumcised, the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares, etc.

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 have ruled my life by my own standards; I have been my own authority; I have lived for my glory not yours.” 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 and redeemed me so I have lived for your glory not my own.”

So in which group will 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, believing in Jesus for forgiveness and, like Him, treasuring God’s commandments? These are our two options; these are the two spokesmen. One will speak for you; there is no third option.

Of course, there are those who try to fool God; those who unite themselves with the Second Adam, Jesus, 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, 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. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

God Listens to Mothers

May 12, 2019 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Children, Meditations, Parents, Prayer

Psalm 113:4-6,9 (NKJV)
The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold The things that are in the heavens and in the earth? … He grants the barren woman a home, Like a joyful mother of children. Praise the Lord!

Sarai was barren. For nearly eighty years she had longed for a child, longed to cuddle and nurse and play. But now her hope was gone; she no longer dreamed. But God heard her. He sent his angel to announce that she would give birth to a son. And though Sarai first laughed in scorn, reasoning that this man in her tent didn’t know the first thing about barren wombs, Sarah later laughed in joy, understanding that the wisdom of God is foolishness to men.

Leah was unloved. Passed off in the night as her more attractive younger sister, she saw in her husband’s eye the pity and resentment that broke her heart and made her weep. And when her sister was likewise married to her husband, her personal grief only increased. But God heard her. He opened her womb and gave her many children – and though her hope that her husband would love her was never fully realized, God loved her and raised up her son Judah to be the father of our Savior.

Tamar was shamed and scorned. Married to two men who had both been scoundrels, she was now being deceived by the father of those scoundrels, Judah. Though he had promised to give her his third son as husband, Judah’s promise was empty. He had decided, as most scoundrels do, that Tamar was the problem not his sons. So Tamar cried out to God and God heard her. He granted her success as she laid plans to entrap the worthless man Judah; and when she had conceived and Judah was prepared to destroy her, God delivered her from his hands, changing the scoundrel Judah into the man Judah. And Tamar’s son Perez became the ancestor of our Lord Jesus.

Manoah’s wife was barren. Her lifeless womb had given them no children and her grief was great. But God heard her. He sent his angel to announce that she would give birth to a son who would deliver Israel from her enemies – and she, unlike Sarai, believed and told her husband. And so Manaoh went in to his wife and she conceived and she bore a son whom they called Samson.

Elizabeth was old and barren yet full of faith and good works. She and her husband Zacharias served the Lord, loving him, cherishing his laws, delighting in his ways – all the while longing for a child. God heard her. He gave her a son in her old age and made him the last and greatest of all the prophets of the Judaic Age.

Mary was a righteous young woman, pregnant by God’s own power and facing the prospect of a betrothed who was determined to divorce her. She cried out to God and God heard her. He visited Joseph in a dream and Joseph remained with her becoming the human father of our Lord.

The Syro-Phoenician woman was desperate. Her daughter was deathly ill and no physicians could help. Then she received news that the Jewish prophet Jesus was in her town. She frantically searched for him and, humiliation of humiliation, begged him to heal her daughter. But he rejected her plea. And so she cried out to him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the scraps from under the master’s table.” And God heard her. He healed her daughter and sent his new daughter home.

Clotilde was anxious. Her first child had died shortly after his baptism and now her second child, only a few weeks old, was also ill. Her unbelieving husband mocked and scorned – this is what comes of following this new religion of yours! Clotilde cried out to God and God heard her. He rescued the child from death and used Clotilde’s faith to turn her husband Clovis, King of the Franks, to Christ.

Brothers and sisters, the love of mothers has prompted God to move and to act from the earliest days of biblical history to today. So mothers – love your children and pray for them. God will hear you. Others – love your mothers and give thanks to God for them. Reminded that we have taken our mothers for granted, let us kneel and seek God’s forgiveness. 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.

Death, thou shalt die!

April 28, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church Calendar, Easter, Evangelism, Meditations, Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:51–57 (NKJV)

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Last week we celebrated Easter. But lest we think we can exhaust the glory of Easter with one day of worship, the Church has historically celebrated this period of time as Eastertide – today is the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Jesus’ resurrection is far too significant an event to be celebrated only one day – it inaugurates a season for rejoicing! Jesus has risen from the dead! And this means that for all those who believe in Him our bodies likewise will be raised.

It is this theme upon which Paul dwells in our text today. This corruptible body shall pass through the furnace of death and be raised incorruptible; this mortal body shall pass through the furnace of death and be raised immortal. And when this has happened, when at the Last Day Christ has returned in glory and raised us from the dead and transformed us into His own image – righteous, incorruptible, immortal – then shall come to pass the promise of Scripture, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Or, in the 17th century English poet John Donne’s famous words, “Death thou shalt die.”

In other words, brothers and sisters, we have immense hope. Death is not the final word. As horrible as death is, as devastating as it is, death is a conquered foe. Jesus rose from the dead; Jesus dealt death a death blow. We now live in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead; because Christ has risen we too shall rise.

So what does this mean? It means that we can have immense confidence in the face of death itself and in the face of all death’s minions – sickness, pain, torture, persecution, hardship, trial. None of these things have the last word – the last word belongs to Jesus and to life. As Paul declares, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We stand in great need of such confidence given the twofold task that has been entrusted to us as Christ’s disciples. On the one hand, Christ calls us to lead lives of godly sincerity and purity no matter what others may think or say. On the other hand, while living this way, Christ calls us to engage all the nations of the earth with the message of the Gospel not retreat into a little hovel. We have to stand against the sinfulness of the world for the life of the world. What could possibly enable us to accomplish such a task? Listen to the father of church history, the 4th century church historian Eusebius:

[To accomplish this twofold task] the strongest conviction of a future life was necessary, that [we] might be able with fearless and unshrinking zeal to maintain the conflict with Gentile and polytheistic error: a conflict the dangers of which [we] would never have been prepared to meet, except as habituated to the contempt of death.

The only way we can accomplish our twofold task is as habituated to the contempt of death. And how can we be so habituated? By meditating on the glory of Christ’s resurrection. Even as Christ rose from the dead, we too shall rise. The power of death has been broken. So what should characterize our lives? A fearless and unwavering zeal to maintain the truth of God against all opposition – whether from our own flesh or from the world or from the devil himself. Congregation of the Lord, Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed!)

So reminded of the power of Christ’s resurrection but no doubt reminded also that we frequently are fearful and wavering rather than fearless and unwavering, let us kneel and confess our lack of faith to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Resurrection and Immorality

April 21, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Easter, Homosexuality, Love, Meditations, Resurrection, Sexuality

1 Corinthians 6:13–20 (NASB95)

13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Throughout my ministry, I have made it one of my goals to articulate the significance of Easter, the most momentous of the various holy days in the Church calendar. More pivotal than Christmas, more central than Pentecost, more crucial than Epiphany – Easter celebrates the most world transforming event in all human history, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection frees us from the fear of death by securing our hope in the face of death: because Christ has risen from the dead, we too shall rise from the dead. This is our hope.

But it is precisely this hope that is being undermined in the broader Christian world with our inordinate emphasis upon going to heaven when we die. Rather than proclaim the hope of the resurrection, we proclaim the hope of heaven. This is no minor difference. The New Testament repeatedly links the resurrection of Jesus with our resurrection. Consequently, if we start denying or tinkering with our resurrection, we will inevitably end up reinterpreting Jesus’ resurrection and/or the significance of it.

Perhaps you have seen in the news this past week the controversy surrounding the decision by Taylor University, a Christian university in Indiana, to invite Vice President Mike Pence to speak at their commencement. Over 3,300 people, many former students, have signed a petition to get Pence’s invitation rescinded because of his outspoken opposition to homosexual behavior and same-sex mirage. Thankfully the university is refusing to comply. But here’s the thing to note: many of the critics are professing Christians. They claim the name of Jesus and yet want to excuse and extol sexual sin.

Let me suggest that this has happened, in part, because of our inordinate focus upon the immortality of the soul and the hope of heaven. If Christianity is just a nice set of ideas about the immaterial part of our body called the soul, then what do our bodies really matter? Isn’t all that matters what happens with our soul, with what happens inside? Can’t my soul be pure regardless what I do with my body? Why does the body matter? As some among the Corinthians seem to have been justifying their sin, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them.” We don’t need to worry about the body.

Paul responds forcefully. He writes to the Corinthians, “Yet the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” So how does Paul know this? How does he know that the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord and the Lord for the body? Listen to verses 14-15: “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” Your bodies are members of Christ, joined to Christ. How so? Because that body that you are defiling with your sexual impurity will be raised from the dead. Your body matters. That is what the resurrection announces. So Paul concludes:

Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

So on this Easter, let us meditate on the purity of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not defile Himself sexually but devoted Himself to the glory of the Father. And let us pray, that He would have mercy upon us as a people. So many of our fellow countrymen and even our fellow Christians have defiled themselves sexually, denying in practice the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We have given ourselves to impurity and have, like King David, endeavored to cover our tracks by murdering the innocent. So let us confess our sin to the Lord and seek His forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. 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.

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.

Household Baptisms

March 31, 2019 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Acts, Children, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Election, Meditations, Parents, Responsibility

Acts 16:31–34 (NKJV)

31 So [Paul and Silas] said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

 Later in the service I have the privilege of welcoming several new members into our flock and of baptizing several of their children. While these parents have been baptized, their children have not. And so, having come to the conviction that God welcomes not only them but their children into His church, they are bringing their children forward for baptism today. So why have they come to this conviction?

As we consider this question, it is helpful to remember that throughout redemptive history God has dealt with His people both as individuals and as families. His covenants, His relationships with His people, are almost always generational. So, in the beginning of creation, God made a covenant with Adam and all those in him (Rom 5:18). At the flood, God covenanted with Noah and his descendants, rescuing his entire household from destruction (Gen 6:18). Similarly, God called Abram and his household out of Ur of the Chaldees and covenanted to bless all the families of the earth through his Seed (Gen 12:3). God made a covenant with David and his descendants, promising that one of David’s sons would always sit upon his throne (2 Sam 7:12). Characteristically, God works not just with individuals but with families, with households. And this is why the final promise of the Old Testament is that God will “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers” (Mal 4:6).

It is no surprise, therefore, that this same feature characterizes the new covenant. Consider the anticipations of the prophets. Jeremiah prophesied of the day when God would give His people “one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them” (Jer 32:39). Likewise, Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones that come to life closes with the glorious promise, “David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes and do them…. and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children forever…” (Ezek 37:24-25a). Similarly, Isaiah promises those who turn in faith to the Messiah: “Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the posterity whom the Lord has blessed” (Is 61:9).

When we turn to the pages of the New Testament, therefore, we find our Lord Jesus at work not only among adults but among children and infants. He raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead; He cures a father’s son who suffered from epileptic seizures; He listens to the woman of Tyre who pleads on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter; He raises the only son of the widow of Nain; He blesses the little children and even nursing infants who are brought to Him; He welcomes the praise of children in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Jesus ministers to families not just individuals.

Consequently, the Apostles did the same. Notice our text today: Paul and Silas proclaim to the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, you and your household.” The message they preached to him was the same message that they had preached the day before to Lydia. So, having believed, “she and her household were baptized” (Acts 16:15) just as in our text the jailer “and all his family were baptized.” God deals with families and welcomes us and our children into His church through baptism.

So what does this mean for us? Parents, it means that your children are not your own. Your children belong to the Lord of heaven and earth and have been entrusted to your care. So you are called, in Paul’s words, “to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4), a vow that these parents will be affirming this morning. Children, it means that you are not your own but that you belong, body and soul, to your faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. So you are called, in the words of the 5th commandment, to “honor your father and mother that it may go well with you and you may live long on the earth” (Ex 20:12).

And so reminded that God deals not just with individuals but also with families, let us confess that we have often neglected our responsibilities as parents and children alike – we parents have neglected to train our children as we ought and we children have neglected to honor our parents as we ought. 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.