Song of the Drunkards


The Gift of Forgiveness

February 25, 2024 in Bible - NT - John, Forgiveness, Meditations

John 20:21–23 (NKJV) 

21So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

One of the great controversies that surrounded Jesus’ ministry was the forgiveness of sins. Recall that when a paralytic was brought to Jesus and let down through the roof into the house where Jesus was teaching, Jesus looked at the man and declared, “My son, your sins are forgiven you.” Immediately, the Pharisees began questioning among themselves, “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7)

The Pharisees’ question was entirely reasonable. While I can forgive you for intentionally breaking my nose, I cannot forgive you for breaking my neighbor’s – I wasn’t the one wronged, so how can I forgive you? The same principle applies for sins against God: only God can forgive those who sin against Him. So how can we know whether God has forgiven us? Who speaks for God on earth?

In the old covenant, the Aaronic priests spoke for God. God used the sacrificial system and the priests to assure people of forgiveness. 

5‘And it shall be, when [someone] is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; 6and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. (Leviticus 5:5–6) 

The priest shall make atonement for him; over the sacrifice, the priest would announce, “Believe God’s promise! He has provided a substitute to bear the guilt of your sin. You are forgiven!” This feature of the old covenant helps us understand why the Pharisees were disturbed by Jesus’ forgiveness of the paralytic: Jesus was not an Aaronic priest, nor was He at the temple where a sacrifice was being offered. So how dare He presume to speak for God? “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew the Pharisees’ doubts; He knew their questions. So He asked, “Which is easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Arise, take up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (he said to the paralytic), “’Arise, take up your mat and walk.’ And immediately the man arose, took up his mat, and walked” (Mk 2:9-12). According to Jesus, the healing of the paralytic proved that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus now speaks for God. With these words and actions, Jesus was announcing the end of the old covenant, the sacrificial system, and the Aaronic priesthood. Now, in the Messianic Age, the forgiveness of sins is declared in Jesus’ Name, based on His once-for-all sacrifice. Jesus speaks for God.

So that brings us to our text in John 20. After Jesus had been crucified and then risen from the dead, He spoke to the Twelve. “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you…”  Jesus commissioned the Twelve as His representatives; they were to speak for God in the world and to declare the forgiveness of sins in His Name. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In other words, the sacrificial system has forever come to an end and the forgiveness of sins is now preached to all nations based on the sacrifice of Christ alone.

So every Lord’s Day, following our confession, I have the privilege of reminding you, assuring you, that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, there really is forgiveness with God. If you acknowledge your sin and turn from it, seeking God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, then you are forgiven. My word does not grant forgiveness; only the sacrifice of Jesus can do that. My word simply reminds you of God’s promise and summons you to believe His word: all those who trust in the once-for all sacrifice of Jesus shall be forgiven and cleansed. Your calling is to hear that promise, even as the paralytic heard the words of our Lord, and to believe Him. “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

So reminded that God offers forgiveness only through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, let us continue to confess our sins in His Name, not denying or hiding or minimizing or medicating them but trusting that God will indeed forgive all those who confess their sins in Jesus’ Name. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins.

Through Many Tribulations

February 18, 2024 in Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Meditations, Trials

Deuteronomy 8:1–5 (NKJV) 

1Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. 2And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. 4Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. 5You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. 

On his first missionary journey, as the Apostle Paul traveled through the various cities where he had planted churches, he encouraged the brethren and reminded them, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). That which was true for our fathers in Paul’s day is likewise true for us. In His wisdom, God uses tribulations and trials to accomplish His purposes for His people.

So why does He do this? If we are children of God, objects of His love and affection, then why must we enter the kingdom through many tribulations? Our text offers three reasons – for even as we face many tribulations throughout history and our individual lives, so our Israelite fathers did; for forty years they wandered in the wilderness, suffering various trials and tribulations. So what are these three reasons?

First, trials and tribulations humble us. God led our fathers through the wilderness, “to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (8:2). Nothing reveals the depths of our hearts and the many ways in which we still need to grow in holiness (to be sanctified) than trials. We’re sick and what do we do? We, who when healthy are remarkably patient, begin snapping at the kids, are short with our spouse, or grumble and complain against God. So what are we learning about ourselves? We’re learning that we aren’t quite as sanctified as we thought, learning that there is still work for God to do, learning to confess our sin and to acknowledge our continuing need for God’s grace. Trials and tribulations humble us.

Second, trials and tribulations teach us to rely on God’s Word. God tested Israel “that you might know that man does not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (8:3). Rod Dreher, in his book Live not by Lies, recounts that, during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, Silvester Krcmery [kirch-MERRY] faced persecution, imprisonment, and even torture for his faith. Krcmery wrote later in his biography that he came to realize “that the only way he would make it through the ordeal ahead was to rely entirely on faith, not reason. He says that he decided to be ‘like Peter, to close my eyes and throw myself into the sea’” (153). Tribulations force us to rely on God’s promises even though we cannot see the fruit of them at present. Trials and tribulations teach us.

Finally, trials and tribulations remind us that we are children of God. “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you” (8:5). In times of trial, if you are in Christ, then know in your heart that this trial has not come because the Lord hates you but because He loves you. As a loving Father, the Lord is sending this trial to chasten you that you might learn to remain faithful to Him and to grow in maturity. Trials and tribulations remind us that we are God’s children.

As you may have noticed, today is the first Sunday in Lent – so our call to worship, our greeting, confession, creed, color, and benediction have changed with the season. Lent, like Advent, is a time of preparation and anticipation, a time of longing. We await the coming of Easter and the celebration of Christ’s triumph over death. Lent reminds us that, until our own resurrection, we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God. Lent harkens back to Israel’s 40 years, and to our Lord’s 40 days, in the wilderness. Hence, Lent is a time to remember that times of trial and tribulation are not strange. Paul writes that even our Lord Jesus, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered …” (Heb 5:8). So if our Lord Jesus had to learn obedience by suffering, dare we think that we shall be exempt? Let us then “count it all joy when we fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas 1:2-4).

So reminded that times in the wilderness, times of trial and tribulation humble us, teach us to rely on God’s Word, and train us as His children, let us acknowledge that we often respond to such trials in unbelief rather than in faith. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sins to the Lord.

Reciting the Creeds with Heart and Mind

January 28, 2024 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Meditations, Worship

Isaiah 29:13–14 (NKJV) 

13Therefore 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, 14Therefore, 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.” 

Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. Currently, we are reciting the Apostles’ Creed, but we use others at different times of year. In churches like ours that use the creeds – as well as other written responses and prayers – there is an ever-present danger of mindless repetition, of drawing near to God with our lips while our hearts remain far from Him. As our passage in Isaiah illustrates, this is not a new problem. The prophets regularly rebuke our fathers and mothers for this sin, the sin of failing to love God and instead trying to manipulate him with proper external rituals. So if reciting the creeds entails this danger, why even do it? There are numerous reasons – consider just a few.  

First, reciting the creeds enables us to declare boldly and clearly whom we worship. Amid a pluralistic society in which a variety of gods are honored, we declare our trust in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do not worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the Mormon deity; neither do we worship America’s idol, some general theistic deity. We worship the Triune God; in Him is our trust.

Second, by reciting the creeds immediately after the reading of God’s Word, we declare our trust in the Sovereign Lord who has revealed Himself in sacred Scripture. The creeds do not serve to replace Scripture but to summarize its central teachings. And as God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and even in many churches, reciting the creeds enables us to declare openly, “We trust in God and His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him.” 

Finally, reciting the creeds reminds us to preserve the faith which has been handed down to us. Jude commands us to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to the saints who have gone before us. We confess the faith that they preserved for us; and this now is our duty for future generations. The God we worship is the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Perpetua and Monica, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield, Machen and Sproul. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us, and we are called to hand it down in turn.

While remembering why we recite the creeds, it is also important to emphasize how we are to do it. And this brings us back to our opening danger – the danger of mindless repetition. As we recite the creed each Lord’s Day we declare, “We believe…” It is important to ask, believe it or not, what we mean by the word “believe”? James reminds us: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” (2:19) There is a certain type of belief that will not deliver in the day of judgment. So when we confess the creed, the belief that we should be confessing is not a mere admission of intellectual assent, “Oh, yeah, this is what I think,” but rather an expression of heartfelt commitment, “This is the One I love, I trust, I cherish, I adore.” Whom do you trust?

So what about you? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who has called you His own in the waters of baptism? Are you approaching worship in faith, hungering to hear the voice of Christ, to be changed and transformed by His Spirit? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely to you? Are you reciting the creeds intelligently and faithfully or merely by rote? Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing your heart.

Reminded of our propensity to draw near to God with our lips and fail to draw near Him with our hearts, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and make the fruit of our lips a pleasing sacrifice in His sight.