Sunday, May 29, 2011

Harold Camping and the End of the World

“I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’”
Ps 2:7-9

No doubt you all, like me, have witnessed with a mixture of mirth and mortification the failure of Harold Camping’s prediction that the end of the world was to have arrived a week ago Saturday. And now, apparently, rather than repent of his original folly, he has announced that really he was right. Last Saturday was the spiritual judgment of the world and come October it will all be wrapped up.

I say that I have witnessed this with a mixture of mirth and mortification. Mirth because it is hard to believe that any teacher of the Bible would be so ignorant of Jesus’ refusal to pinpoint the day or the hour of His return – either to judge Jerusalem within the generation of those living or to bring human history to a close at His second coming. How could he get something that Jesus makes so clear so wrong? And so I sometimes laugh.

But not only has sardonic laughter echoed in my head, I have been deeply mortified. Why? Because Harold Camping professes to be not simply a follower of Jesus but a teacher of God’s people. And his false prophecy, in company with the false prophecies of many others throughout history, has only served to undermine legitimate faith in the second coming of Jesus. “Can you believe these folks actually believe that Jesus is going to return again? What a fairy tale! After all, look how many times their teachers have gotten it wrong!”

And so I’ve viewed all this with a mixture of mirth and mortification. But our passage today reminds us why Harold Camping is all wrong, why it is certain that Jesus is not yet going to return in glory, and why we need not fear for the long term success of the Gospel despite the follies of false prophets like Camping. Why? Because the Father promised to His Son, promised to our Lord Jesus Christ, that He would give Him all the nations of the earth as His inheritance, and all the ends of the world as His possession. He promised His Son that all kings would bow down to Him, all would worship Him and pay Him homage as He subdues them through His power.

And given the promise that the Father has made to Jesus to give Him all the nations of the earth as his inheritance, how can we imagine that the state in which we observe the world at this time is the time of the fulfillment? The nations of Europe are in apostasy. America is under the sway of political polytheism. China is in bondage to communism. The middle east is trapped in the darkness of Islam and Judaism. Large portions of Africa are still in the grips of paganism. The nations have yet to acknowledge the supremacy of Jesus. But one day, our psalm assures us, they shall.

And it is to this end that we are called to pray and to labor and to strive. Jesus commissioned His Church, not to hunker down and await some cosmic rescue plan, but to march forth to victory, proclaiming the cosmic reign of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ whom the Father raised from the dead and seated at His right hand. We are to call upon all the nations of the earth, including our friends, families, politicians, business owners, and entertainers, to kiss the Son and acknowledge His rule, lest He become angry and they perish in the way. You see, at any time Jesus may come for us personally. Death may strike us at any moment and we may be called upon to meet our Maker. But Jesus will not return finally in judgment until all the nations of the earth have bowed before Him and acknowledged His rule – and so our job as the people of God is not to speculate about the date of his return but to get to work.

Reminded of our collective failure to bear witness to the Lordship of Jesus and our tendency to make the exalted Lord look foolish by our teaching, let us confess our sins together. We will confess privately and then corporately using the printed confession in your bulletin. Let us kneel together as we confess.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rejoicing over the Death of Osama Bin Laden

Exodus 15:21 (NKJV)
21 And Miriam answered them: “Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!”

For the last couple weeks one of the pervasive news items has been the killing of the notorious terrorist Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 2011 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. After nearly ten years eluding capture, bin Ladin was finally slain by an elite Navy Seals team on May 1, 2011. Perhaps as interesting as the killing itself is the controversy that has erupted in its wake – is it right to rejoice in the death of such a man?

As Miriam indicates in our text today and as the Psalms pervasively reveal, it is good and right to rejoice when God executes justice on the wicked. “Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” The Lord is the ruler of all. There are at times men and sometimes even women who are notoriously depraved. When such folks are brought to justice it is good and fitting to thank God for the same.

As Steve Wilkins has written, "While we are forbidden, as Christians, from rejoicing over our personal enemies – as though they deserved to die and we didn’t – we surely may rejoice when evil men who have oppressed and killed others perish." To rejoice in the demise of a Pharaoh, of an Ahab and Jezebel, of a Herod, or a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Pol Pot, or an Osama bin Ladin is good and right.

Nevertheless, the fact that justice has been executed on bin Ladin reminds us that justice does not play favorites – justice too will visit us. We have been used by God to execute justice on a man who deserved the same – but unless we Americans repent, seek the forgiveness of God for our own sins, and return to the worship of the Triune God, we stand guilty under the same standard of justice.

Shall we execute judgment on a terrorist who has killed his thousands when by our laws we have slain millions of innocent children still in their mothers’ wombs? Shall we condemn this man for his numerous wives and mistresses when by our laws we scorn the marriage covenant and even sanction the abomination of sodomy? Shall we condemn this man for exploiting the poor and needy when by our laws we spend money to get out of debt and enslave future generations so that we can steal the fruit of their labor? We too stand guilty.
“Woe to America,” God Almighty says, “the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hand is My indignation…
Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it?
Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it?
As if a rod could wield itself against those who lift it up,
Or as if a staff could lift up, as if it were not wood!
Therefore, the Lord, the Lord of hosts,
Will send disease on his sturdy frame, from head to toe,
And within his flesh a fever like fire shall burn."
(cf. Is 10:5-11)
Reminded of our guilt as a people, let us kneel and confess our sins to God, seeking His mercy upon us as a people.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reciting the Creeds in Faith

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19

In confessional churches there is an ever present danger – the danger of mindless repetition. The prophets in Israel were stern in their rebukes of the people of God for failing to draw near to God in their hearts and substituting external ritual for an inward love for Him. “Woe to those who draw near to me with their lips but whose hearts are far from me.”

Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. It is Eastertide and we have once again shifted the version of the Creed we are confessing – singing now the Apostles’ Creed – and so it is always good to remember why we do what we do.

1. Common confession is a fitting response of faith to God’s Word, a declaration of trust in the Sovereign Lord. As God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and in our churches more and more we need to confess--we trust in His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him. The creeds are an excellent way to express this faith--we trust Him.

2. In light of the massive syncretism in our culture, the recitation of creeds is a forceful way to declare whom we worship. We will not bow to America’s idol, some general theistic deity. Neither shall we worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the green revolution. We will invoke the blessing of the Triune God and no other. We worship Him.

3. It enables us to verbalize our thankfulness to God for those who have gone before us. We worship the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield. When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to our forefathers. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us and we lay hold of it with everything we have. So we thank Him.

While remembering why we do this, 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”? For “believe” can be used in a variety of ways – as we see in our passage from James today: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” 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.”

And so, how are we doing? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who calls you His own in the waters of baptism? This morning we’ll have the privilege of witnessing a baptism and reaffirming our faith in God. But the same basic reaffirmation is made each week. 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? Are you reciting the creed intelligently and faithfully or by rote? These are the questions that the different meanings of the word “believe” force us to ask. Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing their meaning.

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.

Easter Sunday

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. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him and this includes, because He conquered death, authority over death itself. He has the keys of death and hell. He opens and no one shuts. So death is conquered; death is destroyed. Christ is risen and those in Him shall arise as well. Death is no more the final word.

So give heed to the exhortation of the psalmist in Psalm 2, the coronoation psalm of our King:
Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. 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.