God Never Will Be Reconciled to Sin

June 6, 2021 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Confession, Depravity, Judgment, Justice, Meditations, Responsibility, Sin

Psalm 5:4–6 (NKJV)

4 For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, Nor shall evil dwell with You. 5 The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity. 6 You shall destroy those who speak falsehood; The Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

There is a grain of truth in the maxim, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” The truth is that God has acted in Christ to deliver sinners from their sin and reconcile them to Himself. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have everlasting life. God sent His Son because He loves fallen men and women and children who are made in His image and precious in His sight.

We must be careful, however, lest we permit this maxim to obscure God’s utter and complete hatred of sin, a hatred so holy that He had to send His Son to the Cross to turn it away; a hatred so pronounced that He will condemn sinners who refuse to repent of their sin to hell. On the Last Day, God judges both sin and sinner not just sin. Matthew Henry writes:

“[God] sees all the sin that is committed in the world, and it is an offence to him, it is odious in his eyes, and those that commit it are thereby made obnoxious to his justice. There is in the nature of God an antipathy [a natural aversion, hatred] to those dispositions and practices that are contrary to his holy law; and, though [a solution] is happily found out for his being reconciled to sinners [through Christ], yet he never will, nor can, be reconciled to sin.”

God “never will, nor can, be reconciled to sin.” While God can be reconciled to sinners through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus, He can never be reconciled to sin.

Believe it or not, this is good news. For if God could be reconciled to sin, then we wouldn’t know that our cries for justice, our cries against evil and wickedness, are meaningful or heard by God. We would have to conclude that evil is a normal part of the world. Perhaps, as some eastern religions teach, good and evil are just opposites that must perpetually exist in balance and we just ended up on the wrong side of the yang. Perhaps, as atheistic materialism implies, good and evil are just social constructs that different cultures can design wholly on their own without reference to a transcendent standard and we just didn’t have enough power to force others to comply with our desires. If God can be reconciled to sin, then the world is a dark and dreary place.

But thanks be to God, God cannot be reconciled to sin. Evil is always evil and good is always good. God does not take pleasure in wickedness. He abhors the one who does evil, the boastful, the worker of iniquity, the speaker of falsehood, as well as the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. He will not and cannot be reconciled to sin nor to unrepentant sinners.

So what of you? Have you reconciled yourself to your own sin? Are you making excuses for your greed? Excuses for your dishonesty? Excuses for despising the poor? For refusing to hear the cries of those who long for justice? For your racial animosity? For neglecting your children? Excuses for failing to lead your wife and children? For looking at porn? For indulging your children’s disobedience? Excuses for refusing to submit to your husband? For grumbling against God’s providence? For pitying those executed for murder or kidnapping? Excuses for disobeying your parents? For yelling at your sibling? For neglecting your aged parents? Excuses for nursing your bitterness? For coveting your neighbor’s house? For envying the rich?

Such excuses are simply ways that we attempt to reconcile ourselves to our sin. We call good evil and evil good. We attempt to define good and evil on our own terms, to pretend that we are wiser than God. But we are not wiser and the soul that sins shall die. Disaster and judgment come in the wake of excuses for sin, of reconciling ourselves to our sin. But hear the good news: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Pr 28:13).

So reminded of our propensity to reconcile ourselves to sin, let us not make excuses for our sin but let us confess it to the Lord. And as we confess, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in bulletin.

The Resurrection and God’s Promises

May 2, 2021 in Bible - NT - Romans, Church Calendar, Easter, Meditations, Resurrection

Romans 8:31–35, 37

31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… 37Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

 We have been emphasizing in our worship that the celebration of Easter continues in this period known as Eastertide. We continue giving the liturgical greeting, Christ is Risen! And I have devoted some of our exhortations to this topic of the resurrection. Why did Christ rise from the dead and what does this mean for us?

As we continue on this theme, let me remind you that it is the hope of the resurrection that has invigorated Christian witness throughout the ages. In the verses just prior to the ones we have read, Paul reminds us that all those whom God has predestined to life, He will call to faith in Himself; and all those whom He calls to faith, He will justify; and all those whom He justifies, He will glorify. The culmination of God’s work, in other words, is glorification: God will raise us from the dead and present us before Himself spotless and blameless. He “will transform our lowly body so that it may be conformed to Christ’s glorious body” (Phil 3:21).

It is in response to this promise, this promise of glorification and resurrection, that the words of our text are written. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

The promise of the resurrection assures us that all the promises that God has ever issued to His people will be fulfilled. God commands children “honor your father and mother that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (Eph 6:2). So what are we to think when a child loves and serves the Lord by honoring his parents and then suddenly dies? Will God’s promise fail? No – for in the flesh that child will serve God and with his own eyes and not those of another he shall see his Redeemer and worship Him.

Jesus promised, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this age…” (Mk 10:29-30). What are we to think of this promise and its application to the martyrs who lost life in the service of God? Will Jesus’ promise fail? No – for in the flesh those martyrs will serve God and with their own eyes and not those of another they shall see their Redeemer and worship Him.

The resurrection assures us that all the promises of God are yes and amen in Jesus. Because Jesus has risen and by His resurrection has overcome sin and death, because through Him and the power of His Spirit all creation will one day be renewed and resurrected, therefore, all the promises of God will reach their fulfillment. Not one promise will fall to the ground. So we can cry out with confidence: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

This is our privilege and right as children of God – to live in hope of the resurrection. Too often, however, we live in fear – pressed down by the cares of this world, overwhelmed with the needs of the moment, forgetful of the promise of resurrection. We stand in need of the mercy of God and the empowering grace of God’s Spirit to enable us to live resurrection lives in the here and now. So, as you are able, let us kneel and let us confess our sins to the Lord, seeking His mercy. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

What does Baptism reveal?

April 18, 2021 in Baptism, Bible - OT - Exodus, Children, Church History, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Human Condition, Justification, Meditations, Parents, Sacraments, Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:4–6
4“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

This morning we have the privilege of baptizing Samuel Seitz into the faith. As I do so, it is beneficial to consider the meaning and significance of our baptisms. Christ sent His disciples into the world to disciple the nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. So what is the significance of these baptisms? Baptism says something about us and baptism says something about God.

First, baptism says something about us. Baptism declares, in no uncertain terms, that we are sinners in need of salvation by Christ. We are dirty and our filth must be washed away. And the baptism of infants announces the sober reality of original sin. On one occasion, the theologian John Gerstner was a visiting preacher and was asked to baptize one of the infants of the church. They explained to him one of their local traditions – prior to the baptism, the minister would give a white rose to the parents. Gerstner, of course, wanted to know why. They replied that the rose symbolized the innocence of the child. In his pithy way, Gerstner replied, “Then what’s the point of the water?” Baptism announces that we all, even infants who are not yet old enough to know their right hand from their left, are born in sin. By nature, we are all subject to God’s just wrath and curse. Baptism, therefore, reveals something about us – that we are sinners in need of salvation by Christ – only He can save us, not we ourselves.

Second, baptism says something about God. It announces that God has graciously provided a way of salvation, a way to be cleansed of our sin, cleansed of our corruption – both the original sin with which we are born and the personal sins that we ourselves begin to practice. God has provided a sacrifice to cover the guilt of our sin in the Person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism reveals something about God – His forgiving grace through Jesus Christ.

And the baptism of infants declares something further about God’s grace. Infant baptism proclaims that His grace is not confined to atomistic individuals but extends itself to families, from generation to generation on those who fear Him. In baptism, God Himself speaks to our children. He promises them that He will be their God and the God of their children after them. Notice our text today:

For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

What is God like? What is His character? He is a God who shows mercy to thousands of generations of those who love Him. So Mary, the mother of our Lord, sang in her Magnificat: “For God’s mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Lk 1:50). In our baptisms, God summons us to believe His Word by loving Him and keeping His commandments.

Baptism, therefore, reveals something about us – our sin; but it also reveals something about God – His abounding grace. And so reminded this morning that baptism proclaims our sinful corruption and our sinful actions and our need for the forgiving grace of God in Christ, let us confess our sin to the Lord. 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.

Habituated to the Contempt of Death

April 12, 2021 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church Calendar, Church History, Easter, Meditations, Quotations, Resurrection, Trials

1 Corinthians 15:51–57
51Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—52in 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. 53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54So 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?” 56The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57But 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 – so today is the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Jesus’ resurrection 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.”

So what does this mean? It means that we can have immense hope and 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 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. As Paul declares, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It is this confidence in the face of death that enables us to fulfill the twofold task that Jesus has entrusted to us as His disciples. On the one hand, Christ calls us to lead lives of godly sincerity and purity no matter what opposition we may face, no matter what others may think or say. On the other hand, while living this way, Christ does not permit us to retreat into a little hovel but calls us to engage all the nations of the earth with the message of the Gospel, to be the light of the world. He calls us to stand against the world on behalf of the world. So how can we accomplish such a task? The early church historian Eusebius writes:

[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… error: a conflict the dangers of which [we] would never have been prepared to meet, except as habituated to the contempt of death.

We are called to maintain the truth of God against all opposition with fearless and unshrinking zeal. We can only accomplish this when habituated to the contempt of death. And what is it that habituates us to such contempt? Deep meditation on the resurrection of our Lord. Jesus has died and risen again “that He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb 2:14-15). Jesus has risen from the dead to free us from the fear of death. Hence, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). So what should characterize our lives? “A fearless and unshrinking 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 this morning of the power of Christ’s resurrection but no doubt reminded also that we frequently are fearful and shrinking rather than fearless and unshrinking, 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 that is found in your bulletin.

What is the Meaning of the Resurrection?

April 4, 2021 in Authority, Bible - NT - John, Church Calendar, Creeds, Easter, Faith, Holy Spirit, Judgment, King Jesus, Meditations, Resurrection

John 20:19–23 (NKJV)
19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

For nearly two millennia now our fathers and mothers have been celebrating the feast of Easter – the celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. On this day, the first day of the week, nearly two millennia ago our Lord Jesus rose bodily from the grave to conquer sin and death.

So what is the meaning of the resurrection? Is the resurrection just a nice story about the tenacity of life over death? Is it like the fairy tales of old, a tale that’s obviously not true but meant to teach us some moral lesson? Certainly not! The Scriptures declare that the resurrection is, first of all, historical. Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. It is God’s proof to the world of the reality of His existence, the certainty of coming judgment, and the promise of forgiveness for those who believe in the Risen Christ. It is then, second, theological. Because Jesus rose from the dead, He has conquered death and now reigns as the Messiah, the Ruler over all the earth. As I said in our greeting this morning, Jesus Christ is “the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

John records the significance of Jesus’ Lordship in his Gospel. In the evening of this day, Jesus appeared to the disicples and pronounced His blessing upon them and commissioned them to be His emissaries to the world. “Peace be to you!” he said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Even as the Father sent Jesus into the world to seek and to save that which was lost, to reconcile us as human beings to Himself, so Jesus has sent the Church to proclaim His death and resurrection to all nations. He has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation. We petition the world, on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5:20)

To accomplish this task, our Risen Lord has poured out His Spirit upon us and given us the immense privilege of proclaiming forgiveness in His Name. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” We have the privilege of declaring to all those who put their faith in Christ, “You are forgiven. Jesus really has conquered sin and death. He is our great High Priest who reconciles us to God.” And because the forgiveness of sins is such great good news, the elders have decided to supplement our liturgy with a congregational response to the pronouncement of pardon. Henceforth, after I declare, “Your sins are forgiven!”, you get to respond, “Alleluia! Praise the Lord!”

Alongside this joyful task, the Church has the solemn duty of warning the nations that apart from faith in Christ, there is no forgiveness or reconciliation with God. “If you retain the sins of any,” Jesus declares, “they are retained.” If human individuals and societies would prosper, then they must seek God’s blessing through Christ alone. As Jesus declared to the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish nation, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All other paths end in judgment.

So listen – where have you placed your confidence for acceptance by God? Jesus is the Risen Lord, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. On the last day, we shall all rise from our graves and stand before this King as our judge and give an account of how we have served Him. If we remain in rebellion against Him, refusing to find in Him the One who reconciles us to God, then we shall be judged. So turn from your sin and turn to Christ; rely on Him and Him alone for forgiveness. Only in and through Jesus can we be reconciled to God.

Reminded that we can only be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus, let us confess our sin and seek His forgiveness in Christ. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we confession. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession that is found in your bulletin. Our confession for Eastertide acknowledges the ways we have transgressed each of the Ten Commandments.

Your Problem is Internal not External

March 28, 2021 in Bible - OT - Jeremiah, Children, Confession, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Heart, Human Condition, Meditations, Regeneration, Responsibility, Sexuality

Jeremiah 17:9–10
9“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.

In our sermon this morning, we study Romans 3 and the universality of unrighteousness. As Paul will summarize, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Or, as Jeremiah reminds us today, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” So let us consider some implications of our sinful, fallen nature.

I am sure that many of you have heard of the man who shot and killed several people at a massage parlor in Atlanta recently. A professing Christian, he apparently told police that he had been struggling with sexual sin and so decided to attack the massage parlor. Apparently, he believed that if he were to get rid of these women then he would be eliminating that which he found so tempting. In other words, he believed that his primary problem was outside of him.

But what Jeremiah insists is that our fundamental problem is not outside us; the problem is inside us – in our hearts and minds. Your problem is not other people. Your problem is not your circumstances. Your problem is your heart. You are corrupt and do not fear God. This is your root problem.

So if you are a man dealing with sexual temptation – your problem is not women. If you are a woman dealing with envy or bitterness – your problem is not that others have wronged you or that others have the gifts you want. If you are tempted to drunkenness – your problem is not alcohol. Your problem is not outside but inside. Men are not the problem; women are not the problem; sex is not the problem; liquor is not the problem; money is not the problem; the problem is your sinful heart that twists and abuses these good gifts that God has given.

So notice what this means. This means that the chief threat to your home is not outside your home. The chief threat to your home is inside your home. It is inside every sinner who resides in your home. You are a sinner. If you are married, your spouse is a sinner. If you have children, your children are sinners. And the chief threat is there, in those sinful hearts.

So let’s say you’re relatively poor. You don’t own your own home, have as nice a car, have as many toys; you can’t travel like your neighbor does or afford those organically grown foods – truly you’re suffering for Jesus. So you make some impulsive and foolish financial decisions. You buy a car you can’t afford; you run up credit card debt; you get yourself in a bind and now you feel like you’re drowning. What do you do? Do you blame your circumstances for your impulsive decisions? If you do, then you will never grow, you will never change. In most situations, finances are more about our hearts than our circumstances. “The love of money,” Paul writes, “is the root of all kinds of evil…” If you’re willing to confront that heart issue, then you can truly grow.

Or, fathers, let’s say you’ve had a hard day at work. You come home. Your children disobey and, rather than get up and do the hard work of lovingly disciplining your child, you lash out at him with your voice or strike him in anger. Whose fault is that? When your conscience smites you, can you say to your conscience, “Hey, I was tired! He shouldn’t have disobeyed. It’s his fault. It was a hard day.” No! Your circumstances do not justify your sin. Now, they may help contextualize your sin. By observing them, you may be able to learn more about yourself, to understand when you are particularly tempted to sin so that you can fight that temptation in the future. That is the process of sanctification and it is a good and right process. But what you cannot do, if you really want to grow in Christ, is blame your sin on your circumstances.

Let’s say, teens, that you get frustrated with your parents. You don’t think they’re listening to you or understanding you or seeing things the right way. So you roll your eyes or you speak disrespectfully. Whose fault is that? When your parents confront your disrespect, can you excuse yourself? Can you say, “Well you made me angry! It’s your fault!”? Is your disrespect their fault? Will God excuse you? No!

There are times when we Christians act as though our problem is primarily external not internal. We say to ourselves, “We are raising our kids in just the right way, so we won’t have the problems that people out there in the world have. Our kids won’t look at porn. We won’t have unwed mothers. Our kids won’t be drunkards. We’ll never have a child tempted to commit suicide. Our method will work.” If you think that way, then you have not yet reckoned with the depth of your sin, your spouse’s sin, and your children’s sin. Methods will not save us. Laws will not save us. Only the grace and mercy of God in Christ can save us and our children from destruction.

And so reminded that our hearts are desperately wicked and that we cannot save ourselves, let us confess our sin. Let us confess our need for the forgiving and transforming grace of God in Christ. And let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The 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.

Mind your Business

March 14, 2021 in Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Bible - OT - Exodus, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Love, Meditations, Responsibility, Sanctification, Wealth, Work

Exodus 23:9 (NKJV)
9 “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

One of the most challenging things that many of us face in our daily lives is that of identifying honest and reputable businessmen. Our car breaks down; our sewer backs up; our computer crashes; our reputation or livelihood is threated by a lawsuit. We find ourselves strangers in a strange land – having to deal with problems we’ve never faced before. What we need is someone honest and skilled to assist us: to tell us exactly what’s wrong and then fix it for a fair price.  But what we often find instead are charlatans who expand the list of things wrong and charge far more than is just to do the work.

Last week we observed in our text from Exodus that God expects us to be gracious and loving toward strangers which implies that we are to be actively welcoming visitors into our congregation. Today I’d like us to consider a second implication of the text: namely, we are to treat others justly. When others are dependent upon our expertise or knowledge in a certain area, we are called to use our knowledge to bless them rather than to exploit them. As strangers in a strange land they are entrusting themselves to us. So we are commanded to treat them as we would like to be treated were we in their situation. Moses reminds us:

17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Dt 10:17-19)

God commands us to love the stranger, to care for and protect him. He does this for two reasons. First, this is what God Himself does. He loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. As our Lord Jesus reminds us, God causes His rain to shine on the just and the unjust. His mercies are over all His works. And so, as those called to imitate our God, our Lord summons us, like Him, to love the stranger.

Second, we ourselves know what it is like to be strangers in a strange land. Hence, we are to love them. The principle embedded in this exhortation is none other than that articulated by our Lord Jesus in the Golden Rule. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 7:12). When relying upon others’ expertise we would have folks treat us fairly and justly and graciously – assisting us in our need and not exploiting us in our ignorance.

Thus we are to practice the same – especially in the realm of business. As a businessman I must beware lest I take advantage of another’s ignorance and so exploit them. My work should be done honestly and well – giving them an accurate assessment of their problem and charging them fairly for the work I perform.

Reminded of our obligation to be just and fair to others, let us acknowledge that we often take advantage of our customers and exploit their ignorance rather than loving them. 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.

Loving the Stranger

March 7, 2021 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Meditations

Exodus 23:9 (NKJV)
“Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

As our Scripture today reminds us, God commanded Israel to be hospitable, merciful, just and gracious to “strangers” – that is, foreigners or immigrants in Israel who were most susceptible to abuse and exploitation by those who understood Israel’s language and customs. God warns Israel lest they use their knowledge to swindle these newcomers or to humiliate them.

Note that in our passage today the rationale God uses to enforce his command is Israel’s own experience in Egypt. The Israelites were to remember that they had once been strangers and that, therefore, they knew what it was to be in a different land – unfamiliar with the language, ignorant of the customs, uncertain of the expectations, vulnerable to exploitation. Israel knew the heart of a stranger. Therefore, Israel was not to oppress a stranger.

This principle is repeated throughout the law. We read, for example, in Leviticus 19:33–34:

And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Israel was to take special care that strangers be treated justly and compassionately. So what does this command have to do with us? Much in every way. After all, Paul commands us in the book of Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…” (Heb 13:2). As Christians we have an obligation to welcome and protect those most vulnerable to exploitation or humiliation.

There are numerous implications that follow from this principle – today let us consider one and we will address others in weeks to come. One implication is that we need to love strangers to our congregation. When there are visitors, we have an obligation in the sight of God to love and cherish these folks and to assist them to feel at home. We have a certain language and certain customs with which visitors are unfamiliar; we have relationships with one another that visitors don’t yet enjoy. So we have an opportunity to make visitors feel welcome, loved, appreciated, and included. This may mean making sure they’re able to find a seat, assisting them with their bulletin or their hymnals, and engaging them in conversation before and after the service. We are to be gracious, hospitable, and welcoming. The goal is to make them feel at home – for you understand, do you not, the heart of a stranger? You know what it is to visit a new congregation – you know that it is awkward and that when members of that congregation make you feel at home it is a welcome oasis in a barren land.

But often we are so consumed with our own troubles or our desire to be with just our friends that we neglect to think of these visitors in our midst. Rather than think of others, we primarily think of ourselves. This exhortation I would urge particularly upon you young people and children. Look for opportunities to welcome new youth and children into the congregation. You have been doing well – excel still more. Welcome them and make them feel at home.

Reminded of our obligation to welcome strangers and of our tendency to think of ourselves more than others, let us confess our sin to the Lord. 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.