Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Coronation of the King

Romans 1:1-4 (NKJV)1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

Today is Easter – the most significant of the various holy days in the Church calendar. More pivotal than Christmas, more central than Pentecost, more crucial than Epiphany – Easter celebrates the single most world transforming event in all human history. Because of the resurrection, we have the Gospel. Because of the resurrection, we have cathedrals. Because of the resurrection, we have computers. All because of the resurrection.

It is this world transformation that Paul points out to us in the introduction to his letter to the Romans. After assuring us that Christ’s advent was proclaimed beforehand by the prophets and that he came as was foretold a son of David, Paul goes on to declare that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead. What does he mean by this turn of phrase?

While many have supposed that Paul is here outlining the two natures of Christ – according to his human nature he was of the seed of David but he was also the Son of God – the text does not support this notion. For how could Jesus’ status as the eternal Son of God undergo a transformation as a result of the resurrection? He has and ever will be the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. This is not what Paul is addressing.

What is Paul saying then? He is telling us about the transformation that has occurred in the ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as a result of the resurrection. He was born of the seed of David – had indeed the natural right to rule as King. But simply having the natural right to rule does not establish that one does in fact rule. Bonnie Prince Charlie may have had a rightful claim to the throne of England; but a mere claim means little if one does not actually have the throne. And it is this that Paul addresses with the next phrase. Not only was Jesus born to be King – not only did he have a legitimate claim to the throne – by the resurrection from the dead He was declared to be the Son of God, the King of Israel, with power – that is, the resurrection was Jesus’ coronation as King. God, as Peter says elsewhere, made Him to be both Lord and Christ by the resurrection from the dead.

What is the significance of Easter then? On this day we celebrate the coronation of our King. Nearly two thousand years ago he was crowned King of the Universe, the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords. And in His coronation psalm the lesson of His Kingship is driven home:

10 Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, And rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.

Let us kneel therefore and acknowledge our rightful King, asking His forgiveness for our sins against Him.

Good Friday Homily

Colossians 1:19-20 (NKJV)19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

This evening we celebrate Good Friday, the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified nearly two thousand years ago. A frequent question asked and answered on this day is, “Why call it Good Friday?” We often answer this question in terms of why the cross was good for us. In the cross, we are forgiven, we are cleansed, we are restored. And of course these things are very true and biblical. This day is good because it was and is good for us.

Paul, however, in the text before us today encourages us to consider another reason Good Friday should be called Good. And the reason proceeds from God’s attitude toward this particular event. Good Friday should be reckoned Good because it pleased God to orchestrate the event. God calls this day Good and so we should too. Notice that Paul says “it pleased the Father” – it gave Him delight, satisfaction, fulfillment.

What exactly is it that pleased the Father? What is the “it” of which Paul speaks? Paul draws attention to two things. First, it pleased the Father for all the fullness of deity to dwell in our Lord Jesus Christ. It was no accident that the Second Person of the Trinity assumed human flesh for us. He did so because it pleased the Father. Before the foundation of the world, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in eternal communication and fellowship with one another planned our redemption, planned the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, planned His death on the cross, planned His resurrection to new life. Our redemption was not some afterthought; no plan B; no accidental insurance plan. It was the very plan that delighted the Father before the foundation of the world and that continued to delight Him when our Lord Jesus Christ took on human flesh.

But Paul doesn’t stop here. Not only was the Incarnation of our Lord pleasing to the Father, so too is the effect of that Incarnation on the world. This second point is directly connected with Good Friday. Paul says that it pleased the Father through the death of Jesus on the cross to reconcile all things to Himself.

Recall that at the beginning of human history things went awry at a tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan triumphed over man at the foot of a tree and ever since man was subject to slavery and death. But not only was man subject to slavery and death, the creation too was subject to decay and destruction. All things were put out of joint. The whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. The original vision for creation was warped and marred by the evil one through Adam’s failure at the tree.

And so, Paul tells us, the great delight of the Father was to reconcile all things to Himself through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ – all things. Jesus didn’t simply come to reclaim sinners; he came to reclaim the world. To reconcile all things to himself – whether things in heaven or on earth or under the earth. All has been reconciled and eagerly awaits the full revelation of the sons of God. On the cross, the new tree of life, our Lord Jesus Christ put to death the devil and overthrew his works, dealing the mortal blow to death and slavery. In the garden we perished at a tree; in Christ we live through the tree.

So why is Good Friday Good? Because on this day, our Lord Jesus Christ went voluntarily to the cross, humbled Himself, that He might rescue the creation and demonstrate the full glory of our Triune God – the very God who planned our redemption before the foundation of the world.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Palm Sunday

Zechariah 9:9-10 (NKJV)9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; The battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.’

How often have we heard it stated in the modern church that Jesus came as Savior in His first advent but He shall come as King at His second. If you, like me, once embraced this kind of thinking or, perhaps, still do, then you may have a hard time getting your mind around the text from Zechariah and the celebration of Palm Sunday. For today is Palm Sunday, the day the Church historically has celebrated the Triumphal Entry of the Lord Jesus Christ into the city of Jerusalem – the very thing Zechariah in his prophecy anticipated. But the question is – in what sense was this entry a triumph since He didn’t really enter as a King?

But such a question reveals how distorted our concept of kingship has become and how we have allowed the world to define true kingship rather than allowing our Lord Jesus to define it. For Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his entry into Jerusalem to suffer and to die for His people, His entry into Jerusalem to serve is the preeminent definition of what it means to be a king. What does it mean to be a king? It means to be humble and lowly, to be a servant, to give your life for the benefit of your people.

And it was precisely this type of King that our Lord Jesus was and is. He came to give his life a ransom for many. He came not to be served but to serve. He came as the prototype for all the kings of the earth – this is what it is to be a ruler.

To our fallen nature this type of kingship seems utterly foreign and ultimately useless. Such kingship, we imagine to ourselves, is utterly ineffective. No king who comes to serve rather than to be served will be respected and honored; no king who acts in this way will really be successful – will really accomplish things. Rather it is those like Alexander who push and prod and grapple for their own glory that are ultimately great and who accomplish great deeds.

But the text before us today gives the lie to such thinking. For immediately after proclaiming the humility and lowliness of the coming King – the one riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey – it declares that this very One will destroy warfare from the earth and will establish universal peace under His rule. How effective shall Christ’s Kingship be? His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.’

So what of you leaders out there – what type of kingship have you been exercising? Whether you are a husband, a father, a mother, an employer, a foreman, a manager – what type of kingship have you displayed? Have you demanded, cajoled, manipulated, and wormed your way to the top? Or have you served and given and made yourself the least of all the servants of God? For the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Reminded that we have been unrighteous kings and queens, let us kneel and let us confess our sin to our Sovereign Lord.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Applying the Law

James 2:8-11 (NKJV)8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

Having exhorted his readers to cease showing favoritism to the rich and famous, James counters a potential objection. “But James,” his readers think to themselves, “has missed the point of Jesus’ exhortation. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Aren’t the rich our neighbors?”

To this objection James responds with typical acumen. If you really are simply loving the rich as yourselves then you have done well, he declares. The rich are in fact our neighbors, and there is nothing inherently wrong in riches nor anything inherently virtuous in poverty. But James proceeds to ask the probing question – is this really what’s going on? Is this really what’s motivating you as a congregation? Because if you aren’t loving them as yourself but are instead showing partiality then you are convicted by the law of God as transgressors against God.

“How so?” we are tempted to ask and James answers. First, notice that James highlights the goodness of God’s law. The law of God has been given to us to direct our conduct as the people of God and to evaluate our behavior. When Paul says we are not under law but under grace, he is by no means contradicting what James has to tell us here. Rather Paul is announcing our freedom from condemnation, while James is addressing the lawful use of the law as a standard by which to evaluate our conduct.

But notice, secondly, that a proper use of the law requires wisdom and discernment. The law is not to be applied in some wooden, ham-fisted way. Rather it reveals principles of life and godliness that describe for us the life of our Lord Jesus Christ and that have to be applied carefully in any given situation. And notice the way James makes application of the law in this particular situation – an application that may cause us to do a double-take – he identifies the showing of partiality as a species of murder and thereby convicts his readers of transgressing the law.

Showing partiality, murder? Yep. When you favor the rich over the poor for your own selfish ends you are committing murder. For what is murder but the taking of innocent life to further one’s own desires? And here you are crushing the dignity of the poor, humiliating them in your assembly, making them sit at your footstool, and for what? For their benefit? Hardly. Rather for your own. You are murderers.

So the next time you are tempted to slight someone for your own advantage remember the stern words of our brother James – to do so is to commit murder and be convicted by the law as a transgressor.

Reminded that we frequently fail to handle the law with wisdom and that we fail, thereby, to see the true character of our sin, let us kneel and confess to our Lord that we too have been guilty of murder.