Monday, December 27, 2010

The Root of David

Isaiah 11:1-5 (NKJV)
1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight is in the fear of the Lord, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; 4 But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist.

Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NKJV)
5 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. 6 In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Zechariah 6:12-13 (NKJV)
12 Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the Lord; 13 Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” ’

Luke 2:8-20 (NKJV)
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

The passages before us today from the prophets and from the Gospel of Luke share a common theme – the arrival of the Branch of the Line of David. The Tree of David was faltering, falling into sin repeatedly. In Isaiah the tree was diseased, in Jeremiah dying, in Zechariah nearly dead. So God promised a Branch who would be a planting from the original tree of Israel, the true fulfillment of all that which the dying tree of David’s royal line anticipated. It was Isaiah who first heard God’s promise of the Branch who would rule and reign in righteousness. He would not be like the false shepherds in Israel – looking out only for their personal interests, pursuing personal gain at the expense of the sheep. Rather, He would be filled with the Spirit of God, filled with wisdom, knowledge, and discretion – modeling the character of God Himself. But for the time being, Israel endured the darkness of kings like Manasseh and Amon.

Over a hundred years later, Jeremiah picked up on this promise. Disgusted like Isaiah with the selfishness and folly of the kings of Israel, he reminded his readers of God’s promise through Isaiah. One day God would raise up to David a Branch of righteousness. This king would reign and prosper, saving and protecting His people, upholding righteousness and purity in His person. But for the time being, Israel continued to endure the darkness of men like Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.

Over a hundred years later, Zechariah again returned to the promise. Told by God to set a kingly crown upon the head of the High Priest Jeshua, Zechariah announced that like David, the Branch would be a Temple builder. Zechariah announced, “He shall build the temple of the Lord; Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord.” But He would not merely build the Temple, He would serve in it, for He would be not only King but also Priest. That which King Uzziah was forbidden to do – to rule and reign not only as king but as high priest – this King would be able to do. “He shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne.” Why? Because He would not abuse the authority granted to Him but would rule and reign in righteousness and justice. As Zechariah insisted, “The counsel of peace shall be between the two offices.” But for the time being, the offices were divided and our fathers endured the darkness of Persian, Greek, Maccabbean, and Roman rule.

But then an angel spoke to some shepherds. The long-promised Branch of righteousness, the Shepherd of Israel, the One who would rule and reign in justice was to be born. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And this was good news not just for Israel but for all people, all the nations of the earth, all the families of the earth. The light has come, the world will change. Then glory filled the sky, the light and life of the Messiah’s rule reflected in the voices and faces of the angelic hosts as they declared that the prophecies of Isaiah and of Jeremiah and of Zechariah were coming to fruition. Praise filled the sky as the angels marveled that the mercies of God would now extend to all the peoples of the earth. The light has come!

So what do these words mean for us? Just this: the darkness of the Judaic Age has come to an end. The Judaic Age – when God’s presence was by and large limited to the land of Israel, closeted behind the veil in the Holy of Holies – the Judaic Age has passed. Now the Age of the Messiah has come – all nations have been given to Him and so the Word of Truth, the light of life, is going forth to all the nations of the earth. The Spirit of God has been poured out on the Church and is now pouring forth from her into the world bringing life and salvation in His wake. God has begun to fulfill the promises He made long ago through the prophets. He has given a King to rule and reign in Justice; He has given a High Priest to minister in the Temple. And this King, this High Priest is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Branch from the Stem of Jesse.

It is this transition from darkness to light that we sung of just a moment ago. In the darkness of the ancient world, amidst the rot and decay of paganism, amidst the folly of apostate Judaism, came the Root and Branch of David.
Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half-spent was the night.

And from this Root, this Branch, planted by the hand of God, a great tree has grown which shall one day fill the entire earth.

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

It is the planting of this Branch, the Branch of Righteousness, which we celebrate today. The light has come – let us feast! Our King sits upon His throne – let us rejoice! Our High Priest has offered up a perfect sacrifice on our behalf and offers up prayers and petitions for us continually – let us give thanks! And let us start even now. Let us pray together:

Lord Jesus Christ,
Your birth at Bethlehem
Draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth.
You have saved us, you have delivered us,
You have done far beyond anything we could ask or think.
Accept our heartfelt praise
As we worship you,
In harmony with the Father and the Spirit,
Our Savior and our eternal God.

Does God Love Us or Hate Us?

Proverbs 3:11-12 (NKJV)
11 My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor detest His correction; 12 For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.

One of the great consolations that attends a deeper awareness of God’s sovereignty and control over all of life – over the good and the bad, the favorable and the unfavorable providences – is the knowledge that no matter what is happening God is in control. God is on His Holy Hill – He shall not be moved. He who causes the constellations to do His bidding shall even so cause the sons of men to go where He wills and do what He desires.

Solomon uses the knowledge of God’s exhaustive sovereignty to comfort his son, to remind his son how to respond to hard providences. He urges him, “Do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His corrections.” When hard providences come, don’t kick against the goads; don’t shake your fist at God; don’t be like Job’s wife, cursing God and dying.

Why not? Well here it is necessary to make an important distinction. For those who are in rebellion against God, who do not love Him nor desire to serve Him through Christ, the Scripture offers little comfort. As we read in Psalm 7, God is angry with the wicked every day. In so far as we are in rebellion against God, hard providences are not signs of God’s love and care but His judgment. Our response, therefore, ought not to be to comfort ourselves that this suffering has some purpose but rather to repent and acknowledge that we have failed to love and honor our Creator as we ought.

However, provided that our relationship to God is not one of “rebel to lawful Lord” but rather one of “son to father”, Solomon assures us that the hard providences we face are no longer a sign of His wrath and anger but His love. “For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”

So what challenges are you facing? What hard providences? Here is Solomon’s word to you: God has you in that situation. Make no mistake about it – God is absolutely sovereign. This situation didn’t catch Him by surprise. He crafted this providence just for you. So the question is, did He craft it just for you because He loves you or because He hates you? That’s the question. Did God put this trial in your path because He loves you or because He hates you? If you are God’s child, trusting in Him through Christ our Lord, then the promise is that He has you there because He loves you. So our call is to trust that He knows exactly what He is doing and that He is orchestrating this for our good.

But we often respond to hard providences in unbelief, do we not? We imagine that we are victims of others’ folly; victims of unseen powers; even victims of our own folly. And no doubt God does sometimes use these means to bring us where we are. But make no mistake – God is the One who brought us here. Hence, the call to endure hard providences is a call to faith – to believe that the God who has given us this hard providence is our Father who loves us and has put this providence in our path for our good and not for our destruction. “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, even as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Reminded that we often fail to trust God in the midst of our trials, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Pleading the Blood of Christ

Job 1:4-5 (NKJV)
4 And his sons would go and feast in their houses, each on his appointed day, and would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did regularly.

Several weeks ago we spoke about various things that separate the men from the boys – and one of the things we mentioned is that men take responsibility. They do not point the fingers at others. They do not make excuses. They avoid undue explanations. They take responsibility.

In our text today we observe Job doing this very thing. His children loved one another and so frequently enjoyed a good time feasting and drinking together, celebrating the goodness of God and His kindness in providing them with such largesse. But Job was fully aware that whenever one attempts to honor God in feasting, there are always pitfalls: tempers can flare, indiscretions can be committed, drunkenness can rear its ugly head, relationships can be strained. And so at the conclusion of the feast Job took responsibility for their condition, reminding them of their sacred obligations to serve the Lord and to honor Him, and pleading the blood of Christ on their behalf in the presence of God.

Pleading the blood of Christ? How did he do that? Well note that after the party Job not only sanctified his children – reminded them of their sacred duties and prayed for them – but he also offered burnt offerings “according to the number of them all.” He didn’t leave out any of his children but made a sacrifice for each of them.

So what did these sacrifices mean? In themselves, these sacrifices were worthless and empty. After all, how could the blood of an animal take away the sins of a man? The animal didn’t sin. Man did. We rebelled against God; we transgressed His law; we spurned His authority. The blood of bulls and goats could never truly take away sin and this is why, Hebrews tells us, these sacrifices were repeated again and again and again. Every sacrifice pointed beyond itself, declared the need for the true Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, pointed to our Lord Jesus Christ, the man who would offer Himself in our place.

Every time Job offered up an animal as a burnt offering for his children, this is what he was saying: “God, have mercy on my son ___________ and forgive his sin for I know that Your mercies are everlasting and that one day Your are going to send a Lamb who will truly take away all our sins. So have mercy on my son and forgive him.” This is what he said every time he offered up an animal; he plead the blood of Christ for his children.

So, husbands and fathers, have you plead the blood of Christ on behalf of your families? Plead with God to have mercy upon their sins even as He has had mercy on yours? This is part of what it means to take responsibility for them.

And children, I want you to notice this day the seriousness with which God takes sin. Sin is no light matter. The psalmist reminds us, “But there is forgiveness with You, O Lord, that you may be feared.” Forgiveness of our sin comes at a terrible price – a price that none of us, not one parent, not one child, not one friend, not a collection of them all – forgiveness comes at a price none of us could ever pay. But Jesus paid it. So children, how seriously are you taking your sin? Do you daily plead the blood of Christ for your own sin knowing that all our sin deserves the wrath of God? Do not treat sin lightly – it sent Jesus to the cross.

All these things remind us of our need to confess the seriousness of our sins and to plead the blood of Christ on our behalf. So let us kneel and confess to the Lord.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dominion Mandate

Here's what it means to be a shepherd! Thanks to Steve Turney for the heads up.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fear an Instrument in God's Hands

Deuteronomy 11:25 (NKJV)
25 No man shall be able to stand against you; the Lord your God will put the dread of you and the fear of you upon all the land where you tread, just as He has said to you.

The book of Deuteronomy has a lot to say about fear – fear of God, fear of men, fear of enemies, and even, as we see in our text today, fear of God’s people. God promises Israel as they are on the cusp of entering the promised land – trust in me, believe in Me, serve Me, fear Me, and I will cause your enemies to fear you and to fall before you.

We witness the fulfillment of this promise in the words of Rahab to the spies that Joshua sent to Jericho. Rahab informed the men that the terror of them had fallen upon the city and that the inhabitants were fainthearted because of them. We see God using fear to bless His people again in the book of Judges. Gideon, for example, sneaks into the enemy camp at night and there hears two soldiers speaking in fear of the way God had raised up Gideon as a deliverer. When we as God’s people fear Him, He grants success to our labors by causing dread to fall upon our enemies.

However, fear is not only an instrument that God uses to bless His people, it is also an instrument he uses to judge us. For if we fail to fear Him, fail to honor Him, to serve Him, to glorify Him, then He causes us to grow fearful of our enemies.
‘And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a shaken leaf shall cause them to flee; they shall flee as though fleeing from a sword, and they shall fall when no one pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as it were before a sword, when no one pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. (Lev 26:36-37)

What we see, therefore, is that fear is a tool God uses – He is the one who instills the dread of others. Sometimes He uses it to bless His people – making others fear them to the advance of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, however, God uses fear to judge His people – making them fearful of others that they might be purified and learn to fear Him once again. Both types of fear come from the hand of God – one in blessing, the other in judgment.

So here’s the question: which are we experiencing? By and large, the people of God in America are afraid and our enemies are not. Unrighteousness is on the increase. The attacks on God’s rule are more and more strident. Why? Because the Living God, the One who rules and governs the affairs of men, is chastising His Church for her unfaithfulness. The problem, in other words, is not out there but in here. We haven’t feared God as we ought, we haven’t served the Lord as we ought, and so He has delivered us over to our fears. There is sin in the camp and so God is judging His people so that we will remember to fear Him, to honor Him, to serve Him.

So what is the solution? Confession, repentance, and faith. We must confess our fear, turn from our sins, and put our trust in the Lord, standing firm against our enemies knowing that the Lord is on our side and so we need not be afraid. So let us begin this morning by confessing our sins to the Lord together.

Church Calendar

Colossians 3:17 (NKJV)
17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Last week we insisted that as we enter into the Advent season, the beginning of the Christian calendar, it is imperative for us to remember the distinction between the Word of God and the traditions of men. But given that the observance of the Christian calendar is not a matter of necessity, why have our elders decided to emphasize it? Why have we decided, among the myriad of things that we could emphasize, to emphasize this? Aren’t there bigger fish to fry? Isn’t this perhaps putting an unnecessary stumbling block in front of God’s people? Aren’t we straining at gnats and swallowing camels?

As we consider these questions, I would like us to meditate on the meaning of calendars. What do calendars do? They measure time, they organize our lives, they shape us and mold us as creatures made in the image of God.

“Solomon reminds us that there is a season for all things. That is, that timing
is an important feature of wisdom. God tells us that the whole sky that we walk
under was created so that man could understand the season and timing of things.
Then God descended upon Sinai and gave Israel a calendar of holidays as part of
its heritage… which the gospel writer John shows pointed to Jesus. Even Jesus
himself tells us that he comes during an acceptable season. Seasons, timing,
memory. memorial, history, heritage, and holy days are all a central concern to
our God and concern for God’s people. For he divides times, and we are made in
that image.” (Troy Martin)

This centrality of time, the centrality of calendars, was made evident in the French Revolution. For one of the first things that the revolutionaries endeavored to accomplish was to change the calendar, to reorient it – not around the birth of Christ but around the beginning of the French Revolution since that was the most important thing in history.

So what does this all have to do with the Christian calendar? Consider for a moment what the Christian calendar does. First, it dates all things in history from the birth of Christ declaring in no uncertain terms that Jesus is the center of history. Second, it not only dates all things from Christ’s birth, it also orients the entire year around the life of Christ. Advent – awaiting his birth; Christmas – celebrating His birth; Epiphany – celebrating his revelation as Messiah to the Magi and in his baptism; Lent – remembering his suffering; Passion week – remembering his final week of challenge, betrayal, death, burial, and glorious resurrection; Ascension – celebrating his enthronement at God’s right hand as King of kings and Lord of lords; Pentecost – celebrating the outpouring of the Spirit by our Risen and Exalted Lord. Between Pentecost and Advent? Celebrating the work of Christ by the power of His Spirit throughout the course of history.

In other words, the Christian calendar is a reminder that “Christ marks our time, Christ marks our calendar. It is wisdom to know the season of things, and Christ is our wisdom, …” (TM)

Why is this important? Precisely this: our calendars always reflect the god we worship. In the ancient world, it was the lives and doings of the gods that structured time. In the Muslim world, it is the actions of Muhammed and the operations of the heavens that govern the world. In the Western world, a world that still clings to the vestiges of a Christian heritage but is now apostatizing, rejecting that heritage, what gods do we worship? We worship the god of self.
Our schedules are dominated by us. Our thoughts about time are filled with
thoughts about our own time, our own work, our own busy schedule. And should we ever have a holiday, we understand it only as a personal vacation. So today’s
exhortation is an invitation, to remember who marks your steps and determines
your times. You were bought with a price, you do not belong to yourself. Neither
does your time.
(Troy Martin)

So whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Reminded that we have failed to do so, let us kneel and confess our sins to God.

Traditions of Men

Matthew 15:1-6 (NKJV)
1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

The passage before us in Matthew is no doubt familiar, highlighting the tension between Jesus and the religious rulers of the day. As we see, one of the central controversies that divided Jesus and the Pharisees was the issue of authority: By what standard do we declare something to be right or wrong? Whose Word has the authority to bind the conscience and to direct the lives of God’s people? In our passage Jesus insists that in all things we must maintain a fundamental distinction between those things that are human traditions and those that are commandments of God. When we fail to make the distinction between these two things we inevitably run the danger, which the Pharisees failed to avoid, of substituting human traditions for the Word of God or of imagining that our own traditions have equal weight with the Word of God.

Traditions are not inherently bad. In fact, traditions are inevitable. They are one of those things that we cannot avoid. And when we try to avoid having traditions we simply end up with a new tradition – namely, not having traditions. Traditions are not the problem.

The problem arises when we don’t make a distinction between our traditions and God’s commands and we soon become incapable of differentiating them. This then leads us to the point where our traditions take precedence over the Word of God and we find ourselves incapable of seeing the way in which our traditions actually undermine the Word of God. This was the situation of the Pharisees. So much did they laud their traditions, that they could no longer see the way in which their traditions were making the Word of God of no effect – substituting spiritual sounding “This money is Corban, dedicated to God’s service” for the down to earth support of their parents who were in need and hungry.

This morning we have instituted a few changes in our liturgy. It is always good on such occasions to understand why we have done so. Among the various reasons one of the central ones is reinforcing the distinction between the Word of God and our traditions. We are firmly convinced that our basic order of worship is reflective of biblical principles laid out in the Old Testament sacrificial system. We are just as firmly convinced that the details of our worship, while also reflective of biblical principles, are nowhere absolutely commanded in the Word of God. They are our own local traditions – the methods by which we implement biblical principles. As a means of ruffling feathers and making sure that we don’t get so set in our ways that we imagine all the little details of our liturgy are found in Deuteronomy somewhere, we periodically change the liturgy.

And so, as we come into the presence of our Lord this day, let us remember to draw the distinction between the commandments of God and the traditions of men – and let us confess to our Lord that we have too often failed to make this distinction. We will have a time of silent prayer followed by our responsive confession.